The Broken Christian

There are some instances that what we feel is only pain and it seems that all joy is lost.

Frustrations do come, in most cases they are inevitable. There are really phases of life wherein we realize our limitations and see our weaknesses. In those times we feel utterly helpless.

The feeling of helplessness, incompetence, inability, and incapacity is more than a monster that eats the soul – it is a decay that destroys from within, inside-out. A person who suffers from this for extended periods of time will result to a troubled and frustrated life, one that has no meaning or purpose.

A fulfilled life begins with Jesus. But often, the Christian life is frustrated, and is full of setbacks. Many factors contribute to the brokenness of the Christian life – inherent weaknesses and flaws, sins and God’s discipline, and most importantly – trials and tribulations. If we desire to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, it has been promised that we should first go through trials and tribulations.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10: 25-30)

There are major differences though between the three major sources of pain and sufferings in the Christian life: 1) of sins and weaknesses, 2) of God’s discipline, and 3) of trials and tribulations.

Regarding the first one, of sins and weaknesses, the source of pain is very inherent and inward. It is something that the saint continuously fights and struggles with all the day of his/her life since the day of his redemption. The fight stops only when the saint reaches perfection in heaven. The weaknesses alone of the saint, like lust and greed, cause much pain already, but when the weaknesses bloom into acts of sin, the pain and the damages are magnified a hundredfold.

Regarding the second one, of God’s discipline, the pain is even worse in greater proportions than the sin itself committed, for it is God Himself who does the discipline and He intends to hurt the Christian. The more the Christian choose to live in sin, the more the discipline intensifies. It is only appropriate that we respond humbly to the discipline, submitting to God’s standard of righteousness, as the only way to benefit from the pain of the discipline.

My son, regard not lightly the chastening of the Lord,
Nor faint when thou art reproved of him;
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth,
And scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

It is for chastening that ye endure; God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father chasteneth not? But if ye are without chastening, whereof all have been made partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore, we had the fathers of our flesh to chasten us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed good to them; but he for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness. All chastening seemeth for the present to be not joyous but grievous; yet afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit unto them that have been exercised thereby, even the fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12: 5-11)

And lastly, regarding trials and tribulations, the pain like the second one is also caused by God, directly or indirectly, for it is often thru pain that God teaches His greatest lessons. If we think that most of what is bad that comes to us is caused by the devil, then we have a wrong understanding or belittling of God’s sovereignty. Remember when Satan wanted to hurt Job, he had to secure God’s permission, ultimately it is by God’s will that Job was hurt.

And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” (Job 2: 3)

Indeed, it is part of God’s plan to hurt us first before we bless us; God wants refinement of our character so we could handle His blessings.

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The Virtue of Waiting

They say patience is a virtue, and so it is also in the Christian Faith. Patience is not just an important ingredient for growth – it is essential, it is necessary, and it is foundational.

God does His work to His children in His timing, and never in our own timetable. No matter how much we struggle and fight against it, His timing will always win. In fact, the more we fight against it and the more we try to hasten up things, the more God delays it – patience is essential.

Patience is hard for us because by nature we do not like waiting. Experience tells us that waiting is painful. We never like the experience of being still. We always want to get at once what we desire, because in our heart is self-centeredness – we would like to run things in our own ways and timing.

God is the potter, we are the clay; and those functions and roles will never change. It is especially true in the area of sanctification. Just like all Israel we are just too stubborn and can never learn fast. Worse, often we do not like to learn God’s ways, so delay becomes even more inevitable. The more we resist God’s dealings the more we live in the flesh; the more we deny ourselves and let God do His work the more we yield to His Holy Spirit in reverent submission. Sanctification is a life-long process; sanctification is a lifetime battling against sin and flesh.

Let us then cooperate with God and His Holy Spirit. Let us then vehemently pursue to live in His Word as our daily practice and occupation. Let us be like diamonds, which are stones that when taken anew have no beauty and lustre, but when carefully carved little by little by a thousand strokes slowly reveals their natural beauty and sparkle.

20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8)

One Day When We Get to Heaven

One Day, a song from Matt Redman is one of my favourite Christian songs. It speaks of God’s Transcendence and Immanence, His Sovereignty and Intimacy, and our Fulfilment and Perfection in His presence. These things are only realized in their highest fulfilment on heaven when we get to heaven and see Jesus. But right now, what we can do is to wait and hope for the best things that have been prepared for us.

Waiting is often painful, and so is hoping for the things that are seem impossible to get. Well, praise God, we know that God’s promises are true, and God’s holy character puts us in the deepest assurance that whatever He has promised He will fulfill. Then comes the greatest object we are waiting and hoping for – Jesus Himself – our Redeemer, our Salvation. This is indeed the greatest of all waiting and all hoping because the Object is simply beyond known human perfections and aspirations.

Sometimes though, our trust in the Grandest Object becomes dim because of our environments. We desire truly to hope, but the strings of our trust are often cut off during the worst of times. We believe, but our belief becomes lukewarm. We strive hard to remain faithful, but our strength fails us sooner than we think.

But one day all of these will change. One day all troubles and sources of doubt will be swept away. One day all hope will be realised, felt, and seen. Indeed that day will be the full fulfilment of Jesus’ prayer. The prayer was beautifully recorded in John 17, and let us again read some most glorious parts of the said prayer.

20“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17)

A New Beginning

So this is again a new beginning for me, and for us to start anew.

Everything has changed. The environment, the people, the sound and the noise, the tasks and the processes – all seem changed and transformed.

I do not know what this means to me, but one thing is for certain – it is for my growth. So on the path towards maturity, let me face the things unknown, let me embrace what I do not like, let me battle whom I fear, let me tread the path of uncertainties, and let me discover what I do not know.

This is it! Forward on towards maturity! Forward on the road to everlasting growth!

I try my best to step – only to see the stones bigger than my toes, and the pain overwhelming my enthusiasm. I feed my hands with new energy – but the tasks seem depleting me inwardly. I think and plan slowly and carefully – but the goals seem distant. I clear up my head and focus my mind on one thing at a time – only to be bombarded with dozens of urgent tasks.

I might have surrendered, but it will not be the best for me. If I turn my back on these new challenges, I cut off the new opportunities to grow. There is only one road for me then – to move forward and to go on!

Writing the Introduction of the Sermon

Every good sermon demands a well-written and well-executed introduction. An introduction basically serves as the ‘face’ of the sermon; it is the first thing the listeners see in a message, it gives the message its appeal and serves as the first door to perceive the holy things of God. Hence, an introduction, despite being short in length, should be thought of carefully.

Before we discuss how to write a good introduction, let us first talk about some certain characteristics of a good introduction.

Firstly, a good introduction captures the attention of the listeners. An introduction is never a good introduction if it fails to do so. A discerning preacher knows quite well that his listeners have many burdens and difficulties in life, and they come every Sunday service to listen to God thru his preaching, for a relief, an enlightenment, or strength. Thus, an introduction must pass through all those burdens, worries, and thoughts and be powerful enough to engage the listeners to be ready to grasp God’s message. It must be relevant, timeless, understandable, and most of all, interesting for everyone to hear.

Secondly, a good introduction serves as the bridge to bring the listeners to the message. An introduction does not only captures the attention of the listeners but also transports them into the world of the Biblical Text that will be used in the sermon. An introduction therefore must always be in sync with the message of the sermon. No matter how catchy or interesting an introduction is, if it is not relevant to the sermon, then it falls short of its function. An introduction gives the general idea of what the message will be all about, without giving its summary. To achieve this, it must relate to the everyday life of the listeners while at the same time brings them to the world of the Biblical text, or vice versa.

Thirdly, an introduction should not be long. It is always tempting for the preacher to put many important ideas all at once in the introduction, but we must refrain to do so, for the introduction is only an introduction, and not an abstract nor the outline nor the summary of the whole message. At most, the introduction should be only around three minutes in length when delivered.

Now that we know the basic characteristics of a good introduction, we are now ready to discuss the steps in writing it. Let us begin first about the prerequisites in writing the introduction.

The prerequisite steps in writing the introduction is firstly, to make sure you know in mind and heart the message that you are going to preach. If you do not know exactly the main thrust of your message, you will be having a hard time constructing the introduction. Secondly, is to make sure you know who your listeners are. You must know your listeners so you could write something that relates to them.

Now, the steps in writing a good introduction are as follows.

Firstly, determine what would be the form of your introduction. The form could be a question, a saying or a popular proverb in the context or culture of the listeners, an alarming statistics, a Bible verse, or just a strong declaration or statement. The most appropriate form depends on the nature of the message you are trying to deliver, and what would be the most effective way to make it relevant to the listeners.

Secondly, write down your first three to five sentences. After determining the appropriate form, begin to write the first sentences and read those sentences over and over again, for at least ten times. In fact the introduction could be as short as three to five sentences, or just a little more. At most it must be only around ten sentences, going beyond that is too much. As you read it, picture in mind your listeners, every single one of them, as much as possible. Try asking these questions: 1. Will all of my listeners likely understand these sentences? 2. Are they likely to be confused, or have multiple interpretations? Confusion or multiple interpretations should be avoided. 3. Are they likely to get offended, or bored? Of course the Word of God is likely to offend the guilty heart, but at this time a Bible Verse may not yet have been spoken, so the introduction should at most catch the interest of the erring saints, and not yet to offend them.

Thirdly, watch out for grammar and some technicalities. A good introduction though personal in message must not speak as if meant to a single person. So pronouns like ‘we’ and the plural ‘you’ must be preferred over ‘I’ and the singular ‘you’. Moreover, an introduction must only be around three minutes when actually spoken. It will be helpful then to actually read aloud the introduction and test its spoken length yourself.

Lastly, but most importantly, does the introduction actually serves its purpose of introducing the sermon? No matter how well written your introduction is, if it fails in this part, then it is not an introduction at all.

A good introduction catches the attention of the hearers, relevant and understandable, short but has a message of its own, and most importantly, introduces the sermon to the listeners.

There is a time for everything

There is a time for everything. Right now, you are maybe busy about a task, that you need to accomplish a little later. Or maybe you have just finished something, and you are beginning something new. Whatever it is that you are doing, there is something that you would like to finish and something that is yet to be done.

The same holds true to your life. No matter how old you are now, even if you realize it or not, you are in a middle of something; you are in a road or in a journey, and in that journey you are accomplishing something and there are some things else that you need to do afterwards. If you like to see it this way, life is a big journey consisting of many several journeys that are composed of interwoven and overlapping tasks – that is basically what life is.

These tasks, no matter how big or small, have the power to influence the progress your life is taking. Important undone tasks will surely result to some loops, cycles, and setbacks, hindering progress, while finishing tasks at their most appropriate times will certainly result to a progressive life. So two things become inevitably important: making sure of what is the most important task for the moment, and making sure you do it efficiently as soon as possible. If you can secure these two everyday, your life will surely be without a doubt be productive and successful.

So may I ask you, dear reader, what is your current task? And after doing that, what is your next one to accomplish? Would you mind if I tell you that some small tasks, no matter how small they seem, could give you a big progress not only in this life but also in the next life to come?

That seemingly small task that is actually quite big revolves around the wonderful man called Jesus of Nazareth. About two thousand years ago, He literally walked on the Earth to try to show us the true purpose of life, and that is a life that embraces God and His Son the Christ. The reliability and authenticity of His message could never be doubted or put to dust, for millions of people in all of human history had experienced a new dynamic level of fulfillment, joy, contentment, and power the moment they embraced this wonderful man called Jesus of Nazareth. This man called Jesus, whose historicity had been proven even by His most fierce skeptics, has gained the faith and trust of innumerable people.

And no wonder, for this Jesus was not only man but also God. Only a true living God could exert such a lasting, timeless, and omnipotent influence among its believers, beyond any measure of illusion and doubt. To embrace Him is truly to make a certain progress in this life, that will grant the lover of God the opportunity and power to forsake all that is negative in his/her life, and only experience those that are positive and new. Moreover, the lover of God has been granted the most fulfilling achievement of all – and that is joy in the next life to come.

There is a time for everything. A time to dream and a time to work; a time to rest and a time to eat; a time to think and a time to act; and a time to lay down and a time to rise up; a time to be less and a time to be more; a time to cry and a time to laugh; a time to reminisce and a time to aspire; and a time to ponder the most beneficial decision that you can have now.

Now is the time to take seriously the present condition of your life, and see the real status of the progress of your life. Are you really progressing or only got stuck in a never-ending loop or cycle? My own life is a testimony that nothing really great happens until I act to embrace Jesus. Only Jesus could move your life forward. Try to embrace Him today and see the eternal benefits of this seemingly small task.

God taught me again

I was the guest speaker at Bukang Liwayway for its Baccalaureate Service. I used Deuteronomy 8 with the title, Remembering God with Thankfulness.

I preached with an almost unprepared heart. I mostly relied upon the prayers of others. Blessedly, God helped me and I was so glad that the night before I once again cried in prayer and there was a genuine change in heart.

The church is a large one, with a good number of youth and children. They have more than twenty leaders. The church is spacious too with a large room for visitors. They also sponsor many children and youth for their academic scholarship.

The moment I arrived there, it dawned on me that I have to tone down the message. I also wished I chose a different Text. Yet, by His Grace, the message made its full impact upon the parents – and partially upon the graduates.

I was also humbled down by the fact that they call Ptr Paolo as Kuya and not pastor. I was a bit ashamed of myself.

God taught me to be sensitive – to feel and discern the surroundings. He also taught me adaptability – the wisdom and courage to adjust instantly according to needs.

Thank You Lord for these learnings.