Matthew 5:1-12

First, what does it mean to be blessed? This word is spoken to mean, always, “God’s favor be upon somebody.”

A child sneezes and the parent says, “Bless You.” A godson kisses the hand of his Ninong for a blessing. Many greetings wind up in a “God-bless”.

But what does it mean? How are we blessed? The “who-blesses-us” may not always be expressed, but is there anything or anyone else associated with these words?

“To Bless” is God’s exclusive favor. We are blessed only by God and by no other. And when we say, “God bless you,” we are praying God’s favor to fall on somebody. These words may have become highly trivialized by those who’ve come to use it as a mere expression, but still it is a wish for the best to come into one’s life. And this “wish”, to reiterate, can only be granted by God.

Second, what is this blessing that should come upon us? In Matthew 5:1-12, Jesus is speaking to His disciples – or as The Message puts it – “to the committed,” who climbed with Him, “His companions.”

Is it possible to experience God’s blessings if we don’t even know who God is?  When we are “at the end of our ropes” and we don’t know God, who do we call? What do we resort to? But if we know God, then, there is our blessing, only more apparent, at least to us, who may have forgotten that it is available – MORE OF GOD – since it is to Him we run to, we give Him the reins of our lives, we submit to His rule.

It is the same as when we, for example, lose a loved one, when we are stripped of everything we hold dear and realize we have the very things that we may have taken for granted but are essential to keep our hearts at peace and our eyes sparkling in contentment.

If we know God, we understand that His hand is upon us, and this is our blessing – knowing He is around, He is present, He is Immanuel. He is our sustenance. We are blessed when we have stopped being indifferent and started looking and caring for others. This means that God has given us a wider plane of existence – we are not here merely for ourselves, for our survival, for our prosperity; we are here for others: that they too may live, may survive, may prosper, but from God’s perspective.

We are blessed as we have been given inner peace, that peace that only God can give because “He has conquered the world.” Conquering the world means being victorious over whatever evil this world may use to entice and trap us. It is victory over sin – becoming holy – not in the sense of getting ordained or awarded a memorial statue for living a life of great righteousness – but in the sense of understanding and accepting the truth that Jesus has indeed given his life in exchange for our sins, therefore we have been cleansed – and thus – blessed.

And we are blessed if we know that God’s peace means that our role on earth is to make known the way and rein of peace. This peace is our task to keep in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, in our countries, in this world. This is our role only because WE BELONG TO GOD’S FAMILY.

So we, the committed, the Jesus-followers, the Christians, His companions, are blessed in these ways, because WE KNOW that God has promised these blessings upon us. Even all the  mocking we receive as a response to our KNOWING GOD and LETTING HIM KNOWN make way for more blessings upon us. So this is the reason why we are ready or should be ready for these persecutions.

Blessings are precious favors to those who know they can claim these favors. You are blessed because God is your God and You Know It, and Live it, and Breathe it, and Share it. 

May all His blessings be completely yours even as 2013 promises us no easy ride. 

Milestones of Faith

Genesis 35:1-4; 35: 9-12

Jacob led a life of constant wrestling with God. It was a life filled with schemes that often met his desires by hook or by crook. By the time Jacob yielded to God completely, he had been through many agonizing experiences that brought him sorrow and depression. He had lost his wife Rachel, and his daughter Dina was raped. His other sons pillaged and terrorized a community. In his old age, his sorrow was great because of a long rift from his brother Esau whom he tricked to get Isaac’s blessing.

Despite the life he led, God blessed him, and changed his name to Israel, which means, “Triumphant with God.” This name change effectively erased his own estimate of himself. From God’s point of view, the covenant with Abraham will not be broken. Jacob is blessed because His God is not any other god or himself, but the God of his fathers Abraham and Isaac. This is evident in his acknowledgement that in all his distress God never left him. Thus in Paddam Aram – he builds another altar to mark this milestone in his faith journey. God changing his name to Israel fortifies the covenant, extending to him the blessings due to Abraham’s descendants.

In acknowledging God to be His ever present companion “in the way I went”, Jacob witnessed to God’s faithfulness, which did not depend on his good acts  or right conduct. God was faithful to him because that is God’s character. It is who God is. God is faithful.

How many times have I failed, or refused, or forgotten to build those altars of praise, thanksgiving, and worship that should have commemorated His grace, goodness and glory?  Yet God is faithful.

Today, I praise God for every gift of peace and gladness in my heart; for every sadness that led me to Him; for every twenty-four hours of breath and health; for every problem which made me strong; for every failure which humbled me; for every timely and exact provision; for his shield and protection against evil and man’s cruel intentions; for every precious moment of the living Word which is my guide and strength; and for the imperfections of family, friends, community and country which make me kneel before Him in intercession.

Today, I am building an altar of praise through this expressed witness of thanksgiving. As I do so, I will remember those milestones in my faith journey and thank God for my blessings. This is indeed a Merry Christmas, and my golden year, a Happy New Year.

Tsunami is a Sign

    I wrote this because I was distrubed by a passed-on text that goes “At 4:30 PM sumabog yung isang power plant sa Fukumi (Japan). Kapag umulan daw mamaya at bukas, wala daw lalabas, siguraduhin ninyong nakakapote o nakapayong kayo, dahil kapag naulanan kayo, delikado daw. May tendency na masunog balat ninyo, makalbo o magka-cancer.” (At four thirty pm today, the power plant at Fukumi, Japan exploded. If it rains later on or tomorrow, nobody should leave his or her house without a raincoat or an umbrella. Otherwise, It would be dangerous….There is a tendency that your skin will burn [if rained on], you will be bald, or you will have cancer.)

Last night, I adjusted the premium on my life insurance, setting it half-lower from the original price I bought it. My insurance agent told me that in case my check up yields negative medical findings, I would have difficulty claiming my medical benefits. Up to this time, I still don’t understand this. My life insurance has a rider which allows for a lump sum amount in case I would be diagnosed with a dreaded disease. And if I get hospitalized, I have hospitalization benefits as well, as long as I provide PHILAMLIFE with the certifications that I was indeed hospitalized. I took all these provisions for granted when I bought the insurance. All I was interested in at the time I bought it was the dividend I was supposedly going to earn, that is, double the amount I would be paying in twenty years.

In my middle age, in preparation for retirement in my 60th year, I race against time to get the lowest premiums on mutual fund investments and insurance. I just recently finished paying for my eternal plan. Two years ago, I decided to invest in a mutual fund. Meanwhile, this would be my third year of paying my annual life insurance premium.

Yet who knows if this world is going to reach the twentieth year – that is – the year 2031. By 2031, according to my insurance plan, I would get back all the premiums I paid, without interest. I would be covered with the same amount as long as I live, from the time I bought it and long after the twentieth year. But would I still be alive at that time? Just in case I would still be alive, I would be 68 years old.

Eight years after I would have gotten my senior citizen card, how many more tsunamis, earthquakes and wars (war is ongoing today in the Arab countries of Libya and Yemen) would have singularly and/or collectively devastated this earth? Add to this men and women’s propensity for destruction of human lives, governments and institutions, intentionally or unintentionally. What would the Philippine landscape be like at the time? How many more areas in all continents would have been erased from the map? And where would all the remaining Christians be in twenty years?

It seems silly to pay a yearly insurance premium unless I console myself that somehow, my premium covers me only for this day, not even for this year. I am much aware that God’s gift to us is a total of 24 hours each day, no more, no less. In fact, I shouldn’t put too much hope on gaining anything from any of my investments. Really, given the trend of fall outs and double crossing among big-time investors in first world countries these days, who wouldn’t be scared?

The best way to live this life, according to the book of Ecclesiastes, is to live it at the moment, spend the money wisely, and save for the rainy day, (maybe not in any insurance firm but in the bank, where one can access his or her money immediately). Furthermore, how can a very small, insignificant amount benefit the living after I die, in the same capacity this same amount will benefit them now? When I’m sixty eight, say, 500,000 could have the equivalent value of 50000 or 5,000, given the fluctuations in money value brought by war, rumors of war, natural disasters and calamities. The beneficiaries would probably have just enough to pay for my casket! Add to this that in my health card – a subsidy of Meralco through my brother’s employment – the medical benefits are more comprehensive than what a life insurance medical rider can give me. So why buy insurance?

While I take care that I stay healthy and sound, I should be able to see beyond present realities. The world is going down, the earth is moaning, twenty years is too long a time to save for retirement, yet too short a time for this world to recover from ages and ages of devastation by the men and women who populate it. How best to spend the equivalent of an annual insurance premium, or how best to save it are not going to give me the ultimate security. If the money stays in the bank, it will still accumulate to its target amount in 20 years, and with interest unlike if saved via an insurance policy. If I got sick on the seventh year of saving, I would have money at my disposal, and I don’t need to pester anyone to claim any insurance benefit for my sake. But even the biggest banks go bankrupt. But really, this is not the point.

The only sure security is the truth that I belong to God. Whatever happens, I know He will be there for me. No insurance or bank money will shield me from the catastrophes that will surely come to every man and woman in every corner of the world. No medical card will suffice for the maiming of human parts and lives via a nuclear holocaust. No hospitalization benefit will prop anyone from poverty resulting from loss of home, business and property.

In the light of these, I am convinced that God’s expectations of me as a Christian – a Christ follower – are twofold. One, watch and be ready for the last days, and two, be alert and discern the signs of the times. These expectations are coupled with the responsibility of staying in the gap to pray for mercy and/or justice where these are warranted. People today suffer from utter confusion, loss and insecurity. Christians have much opportunity to share the security of Hope found only in THE ONE who will not fail, THE ONE who is constant, THE ONE whose blessings are never late to meet every need, THE ONE whose love gives indescribable peace and joy.

In Jesus, THE ONE, we are secure, not from suffering of any kind – although He promises that the chosen ones will be lifted to heaven together with those who died in Christ and they will not experience Armageddon. But our security IN HIM is against the constant onslaught of distress, bitterness and cynicism. These kills the spirit even before any boulder or radiation could hit the physical body, now, and in the future (just in case one gets left behind, and suffers more earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear explosions).

    As i post this, another text comes saying, ‘3rd nuclear plant explodes. 4th reactor is on fire. Japanese government confirmed fresh radiation leaks.


Will God Adjust?

The movie The Adjustment Bureau is about a “Chairman’s” setting up of a plan for an individual for a good cause. So in this movie, the “Chairman” has written a foolproof plan for David Norris to win three senatorial elections and become the president of the USA. Unfortunately, David’s exercise of his strong free will messes up the plan of the Chairman. However, the Chairman uses all his power to keep David on the path. (Note that even the choice of a name for the main character echoes some parallel from the biblical tale of David and Goliath.)

Meanwhile, the plan includes David falling in love, and his love interest was supposed to just affect one important political speech that would turn around the people’s votes in favor of David. Unfortunately, David could not fall out of love, and never stopped thinking about the woman Elise. So he exerted all his might, even earning the sympathy of one of chairman’s hat-boys, to insist on his free will and thwart the PLAN. When he kissed Elise, the kiss of true and risked-all love, the Chairman decided to rewrite the plan. And so Elise and David could live happily ever after, hopefully, in line with the Chairman’s rewritten PLAN.

There has been a long-time debate between predestination and free will among theologians. These two theological truths seem to contradict each other. It is interesting to note that in the history of the world, before and after it was created, it is God who has always adjusted HIS PLAN. In the garden of Eden God created man to have dominion over all other creation. Man and woman were created in His image, full of understanding (read-unconfused).

Did God give man free will? Or did He say “Do not eat from the fruit of knowing good or evil” because if they did eat it, the consequence is that they would have free will, and then they would find it more difficult to accomplish anything according to plan? That is, instead of them, walking along God’s path and enjoying the full blessings in His garden, hearing Him, and walking the garden unafraid, they would be filled with conflicting thoughts and emotions that could yield evil, that could give birth to guilt, that could make them hide from God? Or they would be making choices that would diminish their potential as God has equipped them? But this is saying we could take free-will as either a gift or a curse.

The choices we make every day of our lives are so much that sometimes, we are incapacitated by them. Walking the “intended’ path is not anymore a factor, because we’ve lost our sense of direction since the fall. Today we deal with a thousand crossroads. Even choosing what to eat in a fast-food restaurant using the menu before us takes plenty of time. We have long rationalized that this is really what makes life exciting. Maybe this is also what makes free will a gift. So we have intentionally or unintentionally foiled God’s PLAN for our lives. Instead, we insist on being “us”; we pretend to know the way; we fight for how we wanted to live our lives; we take pride in the chances we take.

God’s promise to those who will follow HIM is eternal life. In an eternal life, there won’t be any need for “adjustments.” Once we decide to follow God while in this knot of God’s eternal time, God helps us to understand that all can’t be governed by free-will, but His word explicitly says that we are to live “by faith”. The risks we will take will be risks to please God, and not anymore risks that will please ourselves.

Yet following God requires more than an adjustment bureau. As in The Adjustment Bureau, we enter one door, and we end up disoriented. But if that is what it takes for us to fulfill “OUR OWN” plans, we don’t take a minute to say yes to our desires, wear His hat, and make ourselves “happy.” We prefer to be surprised and disoriented, given our impulses, rather than ensconced in a safe clear-cut destination.

Happily, God is not the chairman of an adjustment bureau. Happily He lets us suffer the consequences of our choices. Happily, all he wants is for us to have REAL and LASTING happiness. That void within us can only be filled with God HIMSELF. When we realize that we’ve been running away too long, He is never too far away to hold us when we ran back to him.

God Trains His People for a Purpose

1 Samuel 16-18:5

David faces different challenges every day as he tends his father’s sheep. Foremost among these challenges are the loneliness of isolation and the danger of wild animals that prey on his flock. What David learns in the field is valuable as preparation for his future task as King. He first has to gain confidence and learn how to be brave before God lets him face Goliath – this Philistine who “insults the army of the living God.” He has to be alone for long stretches of time to become meditative and sensitive to God’s voice.

David’s call is to protect and preserve the land God gave Israel. His basic ground training for leadership is guiding and leading foolish animals to safety and provision. This he does expertly and with pride, that when Saul tells him you-are-just-a-boy-how-can-you-fight-Goliath, he replies boldly:

    “Your majesty, I take care of my father’s sheep. And when one of them is dragged off by a lion or a bear, I go after it and beat the wild animal, until it lets the sheep go. If the wild animal turns and attacks me, I grab it by the throat and kill it.

    “Sir, I have killed lions and bears that way and I can kill this worthless Philistine. He shouldn’t have made fun of the army of the living God. The Lord has rescued me from the claws of lions and bears, and he will keep me from the hands of this Philistine.”

David’s confidence comes not merely from his knowledge of what he is capable of doing. He does not boast only of his own strength. He repeatedly stresses that God is the secret of his successes. When Goliath mocks him, saying,

    “Do you think I’m a dog? Is that why you’ve come after me with a stick? Come on, when I’m finished with you, I’ll feed you to the birds and wild animals.”

David faces up to the challenge and says,

    “You’ve come out to fight me with a sword and a spear and a dagger. But I’ve come out to fight you in the name of the LORD ALL-Powerful. He is the God of Israel’s army, and you have insulted him too!

    “Today the LORD will help me defeat you. I’ll knock you down and cut off your head, and I’ll feed the bodies of the other Philistine soldiers to the birds and wild animals. Then the whole world will know that Israel has a real God. Everybody will see that the LORD doesn’t need swords or spears to save his people. The LORD always wins his battles, and he will help us defeat you.”

In all of David’s life as King, through his rise and fall, God is his captain and his shield, the promoter of his causes, the ONE who goes before him in his battles. When this is not the case, he loses the fight. He becomes a poor steward of his skills, and he is defeated. He fails to listen to God’s direction on his leadership, and he gets surrounded by more enemies.

David’s rule is one of the bloodiest times in Israel’s history. But David’s training, interests and ambitions not merely coincide with those of God’s, but rather are God’s own causes. God in His goodness has determined long time ago, that King David, will go down in history as “a man after his own heart.” David fails, falls and flounders but his weaknesses highlight God’s might and strength. His victories promote God’s agenda. His mistakes give way to God’s judgments. His failures underscore God’s mercy. Whatever skills and talents David have gained through the years are never for his self-actualization but for the fulfillment of God’s plan to bless him and Israel. The word “bless” is an understatement, because in order to do this, God has to work through him, a man, using even all the limitations of his earthly life.

Questions to Ponder
Read Also: Psalm 139
1. What are your natural abilities? Have you thought about who gave you those abilities and why?
2. How do you nurture those abilities? Do you take care to become better at them? Do you discipline yourself in order to develop them towards excellence?
3. What skills have you gained through the years in all phases of your life? How are you using those skills now?
4. Have you ever pondered on how God has blessed other people through the abilities, training, and skills He has given you? Or are you using your skills and abilities to the detriment of others?
5. Have you ever praised God for all his blessings in and through your life? Or do you consider yourself self-made?

When We Seek Honor

1 Samuel 15

The Amalekites were cruel to the Israelites when the Israelites passed by their territory on their way out from Egypt. This was at the time of Moses. But remember that to God, a hundred days is as one day, and in His eternity, the transgression of the Amalekites happened only yesterday.

Samuel recites to Agag the sin of his fathers, “You have snatched children from their mother’s arms and killed them” (v 33). Why Saul spared King Agag when God commanded him to annihilate every man, woman, child, and animal among the Amalekites is a mystery. The Bible says that the Lord told Samuel, “Saul has stopped obeying me, and I’m sorry that I made him king.”

Saul was beginning to have a taste of glory and he was reveling in it. “[He] went to Carmel where he had a monument built so everyone would remember his victory,” (v 12).
After Saul’s 210,000 troops conquered the Amalekites, the valuable sheep and cattle they looted and left alive to sacrifice to God did not please God at all. After all, these were blood-acquisitions. How could anything won by sheer murder of the innocents be pure in God’s sight? God wanted everything destroyed; everything was worthless and tainted in His eyes. All have sinned. Everybody was guilty by virtue of their ancestor’s acts of cruelty. Indeed the sins of the Amalekite fathers had been passed on to the next generation.

Saul turns out to be a deeply flawed man, who craved for recognition. It turns out that he wanted to please his men (v 24). But first, he rationalized his actions and belittled his act of disobedience. His pride won’t let him accept that indeed, he committed a serious act of rebellion against God.

What were his intentions? Did he really want to sacrifice the best animals? Or was that a second thought because he was pressed against the wall by Samuel’s accusations? “Tell me,” said Samuel, “Does the Lord really want sacrifices and offerings? No! He doesn’t want your sacrifices. He wants you to obey Him. Rebelling against God or disobeying him because you are proud is just as bad as worshipping idols or asking them for advice. You refused to do what God told you, so God has decided that you can’t be king.”

Once Samuel had declared him persona-non-grata, Saul’s main request was for Samuel to honor him before the leaders of the army and the people of Israel. Saul, who, before he became King, felt little, still felt insecure even while he was King, and this insecurity never left him until the day he died. He remained so in spite of God’s anointing: “You may not think you’re very important but the LORD chose you to be king, and you are in charge of the tribes of Israel.” God placed a heavy trust upon this man who never thought himself important. But Saul wasn’t able to see his value in God’s eyes. Instead, he sought value and approval from the eyes of the people. In doing so, he lost his anointing.

God sees our worth even if we think we are worthless. He puts us in positions of His trust, even if we think we aren’t capable of delivering His assignments. He gives us honor even if we don’t seek it. We sin when we crave to be recognized through acts of patronage to gain people’s acceptance and approval. Often times, we can be truly unpopular, but if we are sure about God’s appraisal, our actions toward goodness and benevolence should be motivated only by love of God and obedience to his will.

Malusog ang Sikat ng Araw sa Ika-walo ng Umaga

Binabalak kong maging payak
Iiwasan ang paglalakad nang may kung anu-anong tinitingnan
Marami ang pulubing nagsasayaw sa lansangan
Paroo’t parito ang namimili sa tindahan
Walang tahimik na pahingahan
Hindi malapitan ang simbahan
Napakatagal ng katarungan.

Susubukan kong maging payak
Malusog ang sikat ng araw sa ika-walo ng umaga
Ito lamang ang gagawin – maglalakad, maglalakad
Paakyat sa bangketang papunta sa noon ay burol ngayo’y paaralan
Walang reklamong nilalanghap
Ang buga ng usok mula sa mga sasakyan
Kasabay ng mga walang-muwang
Walang hinahabol, walang binabantayan
Payak ang paghingal.

Tutuparin ko ang pagiging payak
Isang tunguhin lang sa bawat pag-alis ng bahay
At pagdating doon ay babalik lamang
Hindi na lilingon hindi na sisinsay hindi mag-aalam
Ng mga pighati
Maliban na lamang kung sa ‘king paglabas
Di man lang masilaw
Pagkat walang araw.

Jophen Baui/ Enero 8, 2010