form and substance

2018 saw me participating once more in a CCF Friends camp, FRIENDS 10. Truth be told, FRIENDS 10 was probably the one with the least anticipation from my end since I began attending. Compared to how things were when I first attended in 2012 (FRIENDS 5: Breakthrough), life was far more hectic in many ways. Work was by far more of a big deal than back then. Time spent with growing social circles in Davao (my home city) was taking up more of my attention.

Was it because I was drifting away from the Lord, then?

A quick review of the time I allocated for matters of ministry and of the Lord quickly told me that He was still a priority in my life. I had just recently been blessed with the honor of leading a bible study group. I was neck-deep in an online apologetics program with RZIM and enjoying my learning there. I was an active core member of a small ministry family for geeks called Level Up Game Nights (LUGN). I was a regular member of a local discipleship group and had recently gotten into a mentorship with a pastor.

And yet.

Yet, this lack of deeper connection told me something. It told me that the fire of the Spirit was not burning too deeply within me. That I was stifling something in my life. That I had been covering the light of joy that had used to spill out in waves and overflowed into every aspect of my life.

Yet, despite this, God sustained me. He had answered my prayers of old. That no matter how “disconnected” I got from Him, that He would never let me descend into a life that was too far from Him. That my lifestyle and behavior would have a higher, more ethical, more moral ‘baseline’. And this request He had kept. He kept me within the boundaries and grounds of His ways, despite my inner struggles and growing stubbornness.

And as always, He never let me stray too far from His side. The living water has softened the hardness of my heart. He has not allowed me to live in a way that blinded myself, that covered up the potential landmines in my thinking and behavior. No matter how difficult it might be, God has kept me on track in confronting that which needed to be removed from my life and what needs to be put into place into my life.

I needed to live out in truth some of the things I had been shying away from. In particular, living out and obeying the imperatives of self-control, compassion, discipline, and love for others. In many of these aspects, I view as dizzyingly uncomfortable. Or rather, in all these aspects. And yet, I also understand that to take that step out and to do these things are also good for me – both in the short and long run.

Some things, perhaps, cannot be taken in baby steps. Some steps require leaps of faith. It is becoming clear to me that the appearance I may have in life needs to be filled out in completion with the full essence of who I know Jesus is, in my life. And in doing these things, in being more of who Christ wants me to be, I know is a step closer towards a life that is not merely one of form, but of substance.


Meaning of Marriage

It is rare for a book to stay in my work bag long enough to become as battered as this book has been. Its rather long tenure in my backpack was due to the lengthy time I took to read it and process it in bits and pieces. During the course of long road trips (when not driving, of course), multiple flights, and random cafe down times, I got to appreciate the way these ideas on marriage was presented.

A little review of my life might perhaps be in order. I grew up in a family fairly typical of a Chinese-Filipino template. Asian culture tends to place a high value on the family unit and its traditional role in a person’s life. What it tends to be weaker on, perhaps, is unpacking underlying reasons for why such things are the way they are. If a lifestyle or behavior is not clearly explained or understood by me, I have a tendency to try and formulate own thoughts about it – which can be hit or miss, much like any other.

And so, to a person like me, who largely functions by understanding and processing information via written material like books, in particular, the regular exposure to what was visible in society and community wasn’t enough.  This was all the more so since I particularly wanted to avoid the missteps I’d made in personal relationships in my not-too-distant past. As a person who believes in Jesus Christ, it would then make great sense to observe and study the marriages and relationships of those whom I’ve witnessed as successful. And furthermore, to read material from those whose lives have been shown to be faithful and loving in their marriages.

I’ve long finished this book, but it still stands as one of the most grounded and well-rounded pieces of writing on the topic of marriage and relationships.  I feel and think that it is a must-read for anyone who wants to have a more mature perspective on marriage and romantic relationships – regardless of whether they believe in Jesus or not.


Image from timothykeller.com 


ramblings & musings 002

When did I mistake the ephemeral for nonsense? Or perhaps I misunderstood what appears to be ephemeral, when some of these things may actually be of eternal value? A gentle word spoken, an utterance of poetry, or a line of song? Perhaps these things are not considered of much weight in the field of everyday life, of work and business, and the things that move and shake the powers that be in this world.

But such little flecks of light, these little glimmers of fun, the glimpses of beauty, things we hear, see, taste, and feel, are but reflections of an eternal good that we can only experience as if peering through a glass, darkly.



B1G13: Persevere

One would think that after these past years volunteering and attending the various singles retreats, particularly those focused on the foundational yet critical aspects of the Christian life, a person would finally learn enough. It is an easy enough idea to consider, especially when we compare it to other things we learn in life such as the various concepts or models of behavior, lifestyle, etc.

Time and time again, God has proven that thought wrong to me. Each year, no matter my role or emotional/mental condition, He has always been able to whisper (or hammer) lessons that strike me and reveal to me how much more there is to grow. This year, I didn’t expect to be able to learn too much from the sessions since I was a Logistics volunteer – too much time running around and being general assistance to the various committees.

And yet, despite not being able to sit down and really listen to most of the sessions, He was able to hit me with the snippets and lines of the various plenary speakers in those brief moments I wandered through the main hall. Those moments provoked me to think and examine myself and how I was behaving and thinking.

Much of it though, boiled down to a key concept of the Christian’s walk with Jesus Christ – surrender. It is the choice to surrender to the will of God, to choose to set aside personal desires and to instead seek His Kingdom. For all the fancy theological sounding reasons and philosophy I may read, ultimately what is making my heart and mind veer away from the Lord is found in the fundamental struggle to surrender what I want to experience and enjoy and instead seek what Christ wants me to be.

The three most foundational elements in what Pastor Peter Tanchi (Sr) likes to call the “funnel” to know God’s Will, was a simple but striking reminder to me of how I needed to focus my heart and mind. I needed to bind together the elements of having a heart of surrender, to fill my mind with the Scripture, and to act out my faith in obedience, step-by-step.

I also realized that over the years, as I grew to know the Lord, I had made the mistake of putting Christ in a box. My understanding of Him grew my faith – but in a different way, it also limited His power in my life. I had begun to view Christ only through the lens of my own understanding. And yet, God is beyond our limited understanding. Though He may reveal more and more of Himself and make Himself more understood to us, I fell into the trap of thinking that He would only act within that narrow band of how I saw Him in my life.

By nature, God’s power and actions surpass what we can conceive. Especially while we are bound by the limitations of our flesh and within the confines of this fallen world. I had allowed a combination of fear, comfort, and pride, limit the way I accepted God in my life. Where before I had accepted Him without limits in desperation and hope, I had in recent times accepted Him only in the way I had preferred.

But we will not see the mighty hand of God do great and powerful things in our life if we do this. We will not see Him exceed our expectations and perform miraculous things beyond our dreams. We will not see Him radically change and renew our lives beyond our hopes and meet our God-given desires. These are things we need to approach in trust and in faith, recalling His faithfulness in our lives and the fullness of His promises to us.

Indeed, the title of B1G13 is something I will hold dear to me. Both as a point of excellence – to persevere and cast all things aside – and as my hope – to persevere in the knowledge and power of God’s grace and love in my life. For His love never fails, it renews me unendingly, and it brings all people from death to life.


Rekindling Your Spiritual Passion (IDMC 02)

The second plenary for IDMC was led by Rev. Edmund’s wife, sister Ann Chan. It is almost inevitable that the majority of us have at some point or another gone astray. We have chased “emptiness”, just as the Israelites in Jeremiah 2:5. We have gone far from God and run after worthless things in this world. The question posed to us is this: where has our fire for the Lord gone? Where has our passion, fervor, and intensity gone? Where are the things that warm our hearts and tickle our minds? This situation is shown in Revelations 2:4 which says, “…you have lost your first love” – the first love for God, for His gospel.

The character focused on during this session was the prophet Elijah and we look at his life to see how his fire was rekindled. We can divide one of the major seasons in his life, the confrontations against the rulers of Israel, into three parts.

  1. Great Victory – 1 Kings 18:16-40, the against the prophets of Baal
  2. Amazing Race – 1 Kings 18:41-46, the run to Jezreel
  3. Flight of Terror – 1 Kings 19:1-21, ‘What are you doing here?’

Here we see Elijah coming from a powerful victory against the enemies of God to a depressed, sad state where God asks him, “What are you doing here?” It is curious because God was obviously with him during the earlier occasions, and yet Elijah felt as if he was alone and disempowered during his ‘flight of terror’. And so the Lord summons Elijah to Mt. Horeb and there the prophet encounters God.

The Loud Clamor

When we think of encountering the Lord, we might naturally think of a majestic, powerful appearance. But we see in 1 Kings 19:11-12 that the big, dramatic gestures of the wind, the earthquake, and the flame, God was not there. What does this mean to us? It means that God is not usually found in the way we want or expect Him to appear. We are reminded that we need to shift our point of view from external manifestations to internal tranquility, which is what Elijah lacked.

The application here is that we need to realize we have to worship the God who is. An old theologian once said there can be three phases in a Christian’s worship of the Lord. First is the God we seek, when we first look for the Lord. Once we come to find the Lord or He reveals Himself to us, we shift to the God we want. Here we ask for more and want for more. But this is usually still incomplete, as we need to progress to knowing and worshipping the God who is. This is a fuller reality of God – a God who is near to us, yet still high and lofty. We must trust this God who reigns, trust His heart as it is, loving and desiring to spare nothing to align our will to Him.

The Gentle Whisper

And so, we see Elijah encounter the Lord in the quiet whisper. There is a meaning to this as it shows that Elijah’s private world needed reordering and restructuring. We know that Elijah was not truly alone, as the Lord had preserved hundreds of others. And yet in his apathy and self-view, Elijah was not able to be aware of God’s presence and had to retrain him to find him in the low whisper. He had to be reminded that God was always present with him, not silent. He was a God who cared and was not aloof, taking no action.

In Genesis 28:16, Jacob says that “Surely God is here, and I did not know it.” Despite our life situations, we can still be aware of the Lord. Even if we have been drawn a long way from “home”, God is still with us. The trials of life and the accolades we have all have their purposes and effects of us and our testimony. But certainly what we can learn from this is that we should always seek to have a listening heart that hears the Lord.

The Clear Calling

As we enter the final segment of the session, Sister Ann gives us a short story of a student seeking to learn from a master. The student is likened to a teacup being too full that it can no longer contain more. We as people are often this way, we are too full of ourselves, that we think we have so much knowledge and experience. But as we age, we should actually realize that there is so much we do not know, and should thus be humbler especially before the Lord.

So, with Elijah finally re-encountering the Lord, the Lord straightens him out and tells him to return and retrace his steps. This is important because God does not just tell him to get back to the work that He has for Elijah, but God tells Elijah to return to where he had fallen and pick up from there. We often are this way. We are tested many times, but we should always go back to where we stopped honoring God in our life – and resume honoring Him again from there.

Elijah was given three major tasks as he returned to his calling:

  1. Appoint Hazael as King over Syria
  2. Appoint Jehu, the son of Nimshi, over Israel
  3. Appoint Elisha as his successor

The closer here is that we must return to the Lord so we can answer the call of God in our life. We must repent for our lack of spiritual fervor, going back to where we lost it, and returning to the Lord. We must go back to scripture, beg for the still, small voice of God, repent from ourselves, and start over. The heart of spiritual revival, after all, is nothing else but a return to a life of obedience.


Reflections on Fallow Ground (IDMC 1a)

Listening to Rev. Edmund Chan speaking about breaking one’s fallow ground was something I appreciated a lot. As a person who loves using metaphors to help explain concepts, the agricultural example was something I found rather thought provoking. Visualizing the field as my own life and looking at the experiences of my life made the message quite understandable.

I consider my “field” of life as one that is currently being worked on. With a hand plow, I would think, considering the rather sluggish and fitful pace that I am maturing and bearing fruit at. But definitely a field in progress, even if some rocks remain in the field, and some thorns still need uprooting.

In particular, I felt impacted greatly by the concept of the thorns. As someone with a tendency towards hedonism (life of pleasure, for the- no wait), I am particularly vulnerable. There are a lot of things in my life that I know I allow or toe the line with, because I enjoy them, despite knowing that I could use my time on other much more productive things.

While I know that God is certainly not opposed to pleasure and enjoyment as a whole, I also know that I do overspend my time on some activities which may otherwise be all right in moderation. Reading, playing games, and viewing entertainment, these are the things which I know have a tendency to turn into thorns that draw away the ‘energy’ that otherwise might make the field of my life more productive in growing as a person.

It is the knowledge that I know I need to surrender these things, day by day, moment by moment, that I struggle with. And to not be deceived by the lie that to indulge in such things is acceptable. There is simply a cost to spending my time and energy in certain things. That is how life simply works.

One cannot become a writer without spending time writing. One cannot become a chef without cooking. One cannot live a life that emulates Christ without constant struggle and surrender against the will of the flesh, that one may live out the will of the Spirit. It is the constant laying down of the heart and the mind before the will and word of God that will produce a godly life and nothing else.

It is only by the proper plowing and breaking of the soil and sowing, by which a field will produce a harvest.


breaking your fallow ground (IDMC 01)

The Intentional Disciple-Making Conference is a major conference focused on a theme directed to equipping and spurring on followers of Jesus Christ towards discipleship. One is held every year in Singapore, hosted by Covenant EFC. It was my first time to attend an IDMC but I had heard about it the past few years and was somewhat interested in it, but I wasn’t able to go until this year. For this, I am thankful.

IDMC 2017: Rekindling Your Spiritual Passion (image from idmc.org.sg)

In his opening session, Rev. Edmund Chan began by speaking about the initiative to return the church to its roots of discipleship-making. He states that the problems we have in the church today can be thought in the following manner:

  • What we have isn’t a church problem, we have a people problem.
  • What we have aren’t people problems, we have heart problems.
  • What we have aren’t heart problems, we have obedience problems.

Therefore, change must happen among the people of God. But change isn’t such an easy thing to execute, as we all know. Nonetheless, he gives us 5 paradigms of change:

  1. People should change, as growth only happens in change.
  2. The good news is that people can change.
  3. But the issue is that people don’t change.
  4. This is because people won’t change – this is a desire of the will.
  5. Most often this is because people short-change change (they think too short-term).

Rev. Edmund brings us to the passage of Jeremiah 4:1-2 where the good prophet is delivering God’s message to Israel saying, “…return to me Israel…” He declares that if Israel returns to the ways of their Lord and would not waver, returning seriously to God, He would make it so that the nations of the world would praise the name of God as they saw how He treated Israel. The key ideas in this passage were:

  • Return to me – the wording here highlights the personal nature of their relationship with God
  • Remove your detestable things – they must remove what is displeasing to God, as He has revealed to them previously in His Scripture (idols etc.)
  • Do not waver – here they must not turn back to their old idolatry (and short-change change, as it were)
  • Blessing and glory – these things shall be delivered to them in the name of the Lord

But how is to be done? How are we (Israel) to return to God? The next set of verses in Jeremiah 4:3-4 gives us some wisdom in how to pursue this.  We are told to break up our fallow ground, not to sow among thorns, and to circumcise ourselves to the Lord. The wording used here is something a bit tricky for many to understand, especially in this urban age and lifestyle. Just like Rev. Edmund I too am a city boy despite being a probinsyano (provincial) and driving past farms almost daily. The context used here was easy for the Israelites to understand in their day and age, written as it was for their culture and their society.

Fortunately, Rev. Edmund did his research and unfolded the concepts in 3 points.

  1. Preparing the Ground (of the Heart) – Break up Your Fallow Ground
  2. Sowing Aright – Do not Sow among Thorns
  3. Redirecting our Life – Circumcise our Hearts

Working the Fields (Photo by Maria Raj)

Preparing the Ground used the Hebrew word nir in the verse of breaking up the ground. This term was used for unplowed, hardened ground. This is a metaphor for our spiritual life which can be equated to our heart. Agriculturally the metaphor was obvious – unplowed ground is unproductive ground. The question thrown to us then, is whether our hearts are plowed and productive for the things of God or hardened and unproductive.

An interesting concept here is that we need to realize that plowed ground is essentially broken ground. And this is a good kind of brokenness. Just as a wild stallion is unusable, only a broken and trained horse can be used. And a farmer will not use ground that is not broken, it would be a waste of his seed and resources. The verses show us that there was a great spiritual neglect in Israel in those days, hence they were fallow. And we need to remember that just like plowing the soil was hard but necessary work, making sure the soil of our hearts is well-plowed can be (bloody) hard work as well, but it is necessary.

This can be a real struggle, especially if there are “rocks” in the field that is our heart (and life). These are things which cannot be ignored, just as rocks in a field cannot be left around. They must be removed even if we need to dig deeper to do so, for they are detestable to the Lord, and will sorely affect the productivity in our lives. These may be emotional or personal issues of various sorts, bad habits, idolatry, or a great many other things. And at times these rocks may not be just small things, but large boulders. Just as a farmer would call others to help him break these boulders down for removal, so might we need assistance in breaking down the boulders that are lodged in our “fields” of the heart.

Sowing Aright is the second concept we’re given here, and at first glance it looks obvious. If we see “thorns” in the field, then, of course, we just put seed around it. But as is explained to us, this isn’t the case for a farmer. In a field, there will always be thorns present, and we cannot just sow around them. What must be done is that the thorns from the field must be removed. Thorns and weeds will choke the seed and steal the nutrition that otherwise should go to them.

In other words, thorns are things of our lives that may steal away our energy in pursuing God. Spiritual complacency may occur if we do not uproot the thorns in our lives. These are often things which we think do not matter so much and let stay, but the truth is that these all need removal. They must all be uprooted. Some examples given are:

  • Doubts and unbelief
  • Past hurts
  • Unforgiveness and bitterness
  • Addictions and bondages
  • Disappointments
  • Lukewarmness
  • Anxieties and discouragements

All of these things do matter to God. I think on these and know that many of these would indeed hinder us and steal away the joy that Jesus promises us. Leaving them behind to linger versus confronting them as soon as the Lord reveals would only slow a follower of Christ down. That said, some thorns do take longer to uproot than others, but what is key is the process of uprooting our issues must be committed to and pursued.

The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. – Rev. Edmund Chan

Circumcise the Heart was the final lesson point delivered. To the modern world, circumcision is a cultural tradition. But it meant something else when God instituted this for the Jews. To circumcise one’s self was a sign of being set apart as one of His people. Similarly, when we are told to circumcise our heart, we are being told to set aside our heart for the Lord. In our lives often the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.

This is why our hearts must be set aside for God. This is a decision we must make, to devote our hearts to the purposes of God. We must be circumcised to the Lord. Our eyes to the Lord. Our mouths to the Lord. All things to the Lord. And when we are given unto the Lord, we will be able to see God’s hands in all things, and we will see that in these things God clears the way.

We must carefully examine our heart’s condition and remove all that hinders us from God. As I am reminded of this, the next series of statements strikes me. Perhaps we say there are just too many rocks. The roots of the thorns are too deep. Don’t lose heart. Don’t give up. Because we all struggle. We all have feet of clay. But our hope is in Christ, and through Him we are delivered. We are a community. Help is there. Get it. We cannot dabble with thorns in our life. For beneath the surface, there is a great war for our lives between the seed of God and the thorns that bring us away.

Returning to the ideas at the start of the session – what kind of problems do we have in the church? We have people problems. But these problems arise from where? The heart! And so what we have are heart problems. But as Christians, are these just heart problems? Perhaps what we really have are obedience problems – to trust and obey in full. Do we obey or disobey God’s word? Do we believe or disbelieve? As life goes on, we hope that obedience gets easier. But the truth is that it doesn’t necessarily get easier. It is a discipline that needs to be developed, over the long-term.

As we closed, Rev. Edmund shared a few parting thoughts with us. The key here is not to know the key, it is to apply the key. We can move in faith because God promises! And that telling Him “You do it!” is not abdication of action, it is the surrender of control in our life. A real Christian should mean real business with God and be totally sold out to Him.