Selfless Love

Matthew 16:24 (KJV)  Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

That was the Scripture God gave me when I had a motorcycle accident in 2015, teaching me to offer my life for His service. A year later, God reminded me of the same thing – if I wanted to show love to God and to others, it must be selfless.

I had the motorcycle accident when we were traveling for our Bible Study in Naujan. I suffered a large cut on my head and the people said it was by God’s miracle that I did not suffer internal head injuries. That time, God was testing me if I would still serve Him despite what happened – it was the test of willingness to offer to God my physical life. After a year, I was not the patient anymore – it was my father. He suffered from a pulmonary disease and a mild heart attack. And still, God was teaching me to serve Him by loving others selflessly.

How did God teach me to love selflessly so I could serve Him with a fresh start?

Firstly, God taught me to deny my comfort for the comfort of others. My father suffered from a mild heart attack because of strenuous physical labors. Partly I was blaming myself because I should be the one doing those heavy labors – I knew the doctors warned my father against heavy tasks after he suffered his first heart attack in 2007.  Worse, in the hospital, God revealed my selfish heart – it was so self-centered – I hated the discomforts of staying in the hospital. I was not thinking of the discomforts of my father who was in the ICU, I was only sympathizing with my own hard feelings. I felt ashamed. How could I be that selfish!

As days went by, God was pushing me more to realize my selfishness. As I was seeing the patients and their families, my heart was aching to see them broken and hopeless. I always wanted to comfort them with the love of Jesus from the Bible – but one thing was hindering me – too much thinking of the self! I argued in my mind that I needed more sleep, that I needed more time for myself, and some other reasons. There was a clear battle between thinking of myself against my desire to serve others. I saw clearly that prioritizing my wants hindered me from loving and serving others.

Secondly, God taught me to be sensitive for the needs of others. I found it true that as you deny your own comforts to give comfort to others, you will naturally be sensitive to their needs. The hospital was full of patients and people from all walks of life – from the rural and urban places, the rich and the poor, the believers and the unbelievers – but they all shared a common trait – they were all in need.

Being sensitive to the needs of others did not call for a reactive thinking, but for a proactive one. The former was telling me to respond to the emerging needs I saw in them; the latter was instructing me to think what I could possibly do before things might actually happen. Being proactive in thinking trained me to adjust my whole life and time management. I had to wake up earlier to pray for strength and guidance. Then I would talk to some people and pray for them. I also had to think always of different ways to give strength and comfort to my father and to the others – some ways work for certain people, but not to the others. I was the one adjusting for them and not the other way around.

Lastly, God taught me to exalt Him and not the self. This was the lesson I found to be the hardest to learn. As I was ministering in the Emergency Room, the different Medical ICU Rooms, and the semi-private wards – doctors, nurses, and people began to notice me as a religious and spiritual person. Soon, I earned their respect. With their high respect and regard, I felt that my ego was being fed! The natural self-centered I was coming to life! Grant me Lord the Grace to exalt You and not the self (Psalm 115: 1)!

The test of character was even stronger when I gained friendships with the opposite sex who were attractive. Soon, I felt that I had to make my physical appearance and gestures better to maintain and develop those friendships. I really saw myself taking decisive actions to draw people to myself and not to God – but of course with the ministry as the outside covering. But God was gracious in convicting me of my sin of self-glorification, and soon I was praying for a new heart with the right motives (Psalm 51: 10). After that prayer, every time I would go out to minister to the people, I would pray first for true humility and selflessness.

During my ten days of staying in the hospital, did I really learn those three truths of selfless love? To a small degree, maybe – but I know that learning is a lifetime process. I know that in the future, in everyday life, I will find myself again being entangled so much in the self that will hinder me in loving Jesus and serving others. But my prayer is that God will always give me the Grace to fight this sin of self-indulgence, and be a more selfless person.

Whether it is the offering of life like in the motorcycle accident that I had or the denying of personal comforts and glory like in my ten days of staying in the hospital, they both call for a selfless love as my service to Jesus. For Jesus Himself, the great God (Hebrews 1: 8; John 1: 1), also denied Himself greatly of heavenly glories and humbled Himself as the Father’s Servant (Philippians 2: 6-7; Isaiah 53).

 

Soli Deo Gloria! To God alone be all the Glory!

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The Poor has Always Got Something to Say

Around four million1, the current number of poor Filipinos today. The poor, Chavannes Poor Fisherman

though serving as a constant challenge to the government is still the powerless and voiceless group in the society. By the term ‘poor’ we may extend the meaning also to the physically and mentally disable. Big steps are always considered to alleviate their condition, but their real needs as human beings are not always truly met. The longings of their hearts are still unheard but they have much to say, if we are only willing enough to listen. Listening to them is not easy. It would often require the unmasking of the strong self, and stooping down to embrace weakness.

Very fascinating to me is the example of Jesus as stated in Philippians 2:5-8 “You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, ​​​​​​​who though he existed in the form of God ​​​​​​did not regard equality with God ​​​​​​as something to be grasped, ​​​​​​​but emptied himself ​​​​​​by taking on the form of a slave, ​​​​​​by looking like other men, ​​​​​​and by sharing in human nature. ​​​​​​​He humbled himself”. Jesus lived it out for us – the perfect example of true service, which means identifying yourself with the people whom you serve. And the very same principle is true if we would like to reach out to the poor and listen to their hearts.

The life of the late Henri J. M. Nouwen is an outstanding example of this humble service. He was a strong man – a catholic priest, and a theology professor. He taught at Harvard, Yale, and Notre Dame, and many looked at him as great, but deep within he felt depressed and discouraged – there was a big hole in his heart that is left unsatisfied. All of that would change as he spent the last ten years of his life ministering as a pastor of the L’Arche Daybreak community in Toronto, a place for those with intellectual disabilities. Living with these ‘weak’ people made him realize that his vast knowledge of theology is futile and in fact making him incapable of relating and ministering to them. It was then that God spoke to his heart that he had to let go of his greatness and embrace the world of these people. He was then healed from his depression by listening to these people, and found his deepest fulfillment as a priest, friend, author, lecturer and mentor. What God taught him thru these weak people is far greater than all that he learned as a student and a university professor. God spoke thru the mentally incapable, teaching him more the realities of God’s love and brotherly love, and Henri became a better person.

My own experience of serving a poor community of fishermen at Pinamalayan recounts the same thing. Forgetting and setting aside my comfortable life at Calapan, I ventured to live the life of the poor. I was continuously interacting and listening with (not just to) them, trying to get in touch. Literally living with them opened my heart to what these people have to say to the world.

I admire many things about these people. They taught me how to rest and be still. Rest is such a beautiful practice! It is giving yourself some time to set free from busyness, to relax and let the thinking mind and the longing heart blend on a wondrous contemplation. True reflection has become a stranger to many, thus they are deprived of a wonderful way for self-searching and communion with their Creator.

Living with them imparted unto me simplicity of life and contentment. I have found out that much of man’s worries are unrealistic, because they emerge primarily from being not contented. Living simple and being content goes hand-on-hand; if you live simple enough it shows a heart that is content, and if you are content then you are willing to embrace a simple life.

They also showed me perseverance and faith. I have interviewed some of them and was surprised that one family earns for as low as Php. 15 weekly, yet still life goes on. Sometimes, these fishermen catch nothing or very little at all during a night of stress at the sea – yet, they still manage to support their families. They just say that it’s normal, and they don’t take it too seriously to avoid added stress. They simply believe and they know that there will be better days ahead.

These people know very well to give thanks and be appreciative to every little gift they receive. Their hearts are always full of gratitude, amidst all hardships. In some sense, they are greater worshipers than I am, for I tend to give praise to God only when receiving grand privileges or gifts. But these people are constant praise-givers and they do honor God in everything, big or little. Though poor, they are rich in heart.

I also learned that real education of the heart takes place as we invest quality time with the people. Giving gifts is good but what a person really wants is your time, approval, and acceptance. Small gifts become so much bigger only if you show that your gifts are wrapped up with genuine love. A hypocritical show of love is of little value, but genuine expressions of love even in small ways could produce miracles. These people have showed me again and again, to my shame, that what can truly help these poor people are not gifts but love and acceptance. So quality time with them becomes too important.

Another important lesson is that though the mind matters, the heart is still much more important. The first months of my service to them arose some oppositions from differing religious beliefs. Some key church leaders wanted a debate, but I just kept silent. I just continued to show them genuine love and to continue harness a good relationship with all of them. In a relatively short time, we gained their trust and approval.

The most important lesson of all is that I have understood more the reality of God’s love in a much deeper way. How could God love a people whom He allows to live poor for so long? Now I think I have the answer: in God’s mystery He uses their hardships to bring them closer to Him. And secondly important lesson is that God has taught me to become a greater lover of men: exercising love for them has little by little taken away my prejudices, biases, and selfishness in life.

These lessons I have not learned during my four-year seminary studies inside a four-walled classroom at a Bible School. But these poor people are great instructors of the heart. I now see life on a bigger perspective. Thanks for a communal life with them, I have been set free from my wrong thinking and ideals in life. Yes, though they are the voiceless in the society, yet they have taught me big things, and indeed they are people of powerful positive influence – only if we would listen.

1 Annual Per Capita Poverty Threshold, Poverty Incidence and Magnitude of Poor Families, by Region and Province: 1991, 2003, 2006 and 2009, National Statistical Coordination Board

Politics, the Prosperity Gospel, and the Christian Servant

What about a founder of a large Christian Church who decides to leave this spiritual leadership so he could serve in the political world of politics?Are Christians (which includes great Christian leaders) the only ones whom God has called to serve as public servants or politicians?I believe, that yes, God could use (as He has done in the past) even the unbelievers for His Kingdom purposes (Take a look in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2). In fact, those whom He raised as politicians (public servants) are more equipped and trained in public service. And about their integrity? I know that there are some few out there whom He has preserved from the corruption of the heart regarding bribery, graft and corruption.
It is a very wrong view that God would not use the unbelievers for political purposes. More often than not, He uses the unbelievers for this purpose. And He calls the Church to influence the society more often through witnessing, having a holy life and getting involved in other social activities, rather than entering politics.

The church, very often, as evidenced in history, is easily corrupted when engaged in the world of politics. It is a wonder to me that many Christians today dream of getting rich, and even preach of getting rich and accumulating material prosperity in this world as a sign of God’s favor and approval. That is one inner motive why Christians enter politics – not really to serve, but to be served and for self-gain. Not all, but most of them.

But that was the opposite of the example of Jesus, the apostles, and the martyrs of the Church. They lived simple lives, the kind of life that looks on the eternal life with God as their inheritance. Their pleasures are fed on God, and not on the material things of this world. I am not against money or being rich, but I despise the passionate desire to be rich, especially among God’s servants. Surely, God has called a few people who will serve in the Kingdom by abundant giving and material resources but they are very few and in God’s design that is not always the case.

The prevailing Gospel today is the Prosperity Gospel (also called the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel), wherein it is taught that a Christian is destined to live a prosperous life – materially in this world as a sign of God’s approval. This is the Laodicean Church, the lukewarm church as portrayed in Revelation 3: 14-22. This Church has prosperity and material riches on the inside, but Christ was outside knocking at the door of their hearts. Take heed.

As a conclusion based on my daily observation in light of God’s Word:

1. Most Christians that enter politics are looking for self-gain and prosperity, inspired and motivated by their strong belief in the Prosperity Gospel.

2. Public service is only their second real agenda.

3. If elected, they will only bring economic prosperity, and not true spiritual progress. This may seem tolerable because as politicians, their primary aim is economic progress and not spiritual progress. My point is that their current thinking will sacrifice the spiritual to give way to the economical.

4. These kind of leaders will only lead the Church to aspire also for financial prosperity, sacrificing their spiritual condition before the Lord. Aiming for money and loving for Jesus could never go hand-on-hand. They will always be against each other.