The Vanity of Idols

Meditating on Psalm 135.

The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
The work of men’s hands.
16 They have mouths, but they do not speak;
Eyes they have, but they do not see;
17 They have ears, but they do not hear;
Nor is there any breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them are like them;
So is everyone who trusts in them. (Ps. 135:15-18)

The psalmist lamented about the worship of idols of the nations surrounding Israel, but the irony is that, Israel has also adopted it. Their fathers saw the mighty works and wonders that God performed in their midst; Moses taught them to worship only the one true living God, inscribing the commandments on tables of stones so they and the generations to come would not forget. Yet, the generation that came after soon turned aside from Moses’ teachings and followed after strange gods and served them.

I could utter the same lamentation for our country. The Philippines was colonized by Spain for more than 3oo years. The Spaniards’ arrival was described by Carlos P. Romulo’s I Am a Filipino, “…and my sire was the West that came thundering across the seas with the Cross and Sword and the Machine.” Tears pool in my eyes as I am brought back to 4th grade when our class and that of the 5th grade recited this in a program, an important celebration of sorts. This line has stayed with me all these years. When I came to serve the one true living God, I knew why.

The Spaniards brought their religion to us together with the worship of all their graven images . The Filipinos have embraced it ever since.

Most Filipino households have altars where they set up the graven images made of wood or stone. When I was a kid, my grandparents’ house had a built-in altar in the living room full of statues of different sizes and costumes. Every time I passed by the place, I turned my face the other way. Those images spooked me!

Until now, the adoration of images pervades the country. One can find them in public transport, parks, streets, etc. People offer sampaguita garlands to them. They adorn them with bright-clored fabrics and dust them regularly. When I was a kid, everyday during the whole month of May, we offered flowers to the image of Mary enshrined in the church. We would bow down our heads and pray before it. We knelt before the image of Mary! (How truly lamentable!).

During Lent, an image of the infant Jesus would be placed on the altar and the devotees would form a long line to bow before the stone baby and kiss it. I was one of the many who thronged that cold, unmoving baby made of stone. How crazy was that! Before someone would violently  react, I would like to remind you of this commandment:

am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God… (Ex. 20:2-5)

God lives forever! He speaks, He moves, He is mighty and powerful! He saves and delivers!

During calamities, the people carry their images to safety. The images of wood and stone cannot walk and save them, for how can they seeing they are non-living things! But the people cannot see that!

 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god [Satan] of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. (2 Cor. 4:3-4, annotation mine)

The Philippines’ national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, died for the country’s freedom. The country has gained its independence from the Spaniards, but it has remained in bondage to their religion. The parting line of Carlos P. Romulo’s I Am a Filipino still rings true today:

“I am a Filipino born of freedom and I shall not rest until freedom shall have been added unto my inheritance – for myself and my children’s children – forever.”

Amen. We will not rest until true freedom has been obtained through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Your name, O Lord, endures forever,
Your fame, O Lord, throughout all generations.
14 For the Lord will judge His people,
And He will have compassion on His servants. (Ps. 135:13-14)

(Photo courtesy of my cousin Bill Raras).

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Turn From Idols

Meditating on Psalm 129.

“Many a time they have afflicted me from my youth,”
Let Israel now say— …
“The plowers plowed on my back;
They made their furrows long.” (Ps. 129:1,3)

(image source)

The nation of Israel had gone through a lot of tribulations. When Joshua died and all the fathers who had known and served the living God, the next generations of Israelites who had not known Him and His works turned to strange gods, the gods of the nations around them, and served and worshiped them. During the time of the judges, God would raise up to them a judge to deliver them from those who afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people went back to their idols, setting up altars for them and sacrificing to them. This would make God so angry that He would deliver them to their enemies to afflict and punish them. And their afflictions were so severe that they cried out to God in pain and helplessness.

As I pondered on these things, only one thing came to mind – the hapless state of our country Philippines. Philippines is considered as the only Christian country in Asia, and yet, the blessings [peace and prosperity] that are due it have been long withheld, and in their place are calamities, insurgencies, widespread corruption, and endless poverty. If it is called a Christian nation, why, then, does the Philippines continue to be battered by calamities that bring massive destruction, and corruption that bury the poor deeper into abject poverty? The answer: Because majority of the people worship idols (graven images). They set up altars in their homes upon which they put up images made of wood or stone, and to these they bow their knees and pray.

Some even offer food to their images upon the altar. Devotees all over the country celebrate religious festivals where they parade their images of different kinds, arrayed in diverse colors and adornments. They dance in the streets, toting and displaying them. But the people that do them will as soon go back to their depraved way of life – alcoholism, drug addiction and trafficking, corruption, adultery, gossip, and so on. Why? Because what they do are pagan practices. They do not worship and serve the one true living God. They don’t worship Him in spirit and in truth.

God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24)

They are as unsaved as those who had not known the Lord Jesus Christ. These were the words of the Lord regarding them:

 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Mat. 7:21)

But we, the redeemed, serve as salt and light to the world, pulling down strongholds and preaching the true Gospel of salvation.

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He Who Overcomes

They stand among the debris, mismatched flip-flops protecting their feet from the hazards they are stepping on, remnants of their homes, as they answer a local reporter’s questions. Three women, wives and mothers, probably related to each other or neighbors. The reporter notices their pretty-once mismatched flip-flops and comments. The women giggle, amused. No, these are not theirs. They found them among the debris that’s why they don’t match. The reporter asks one of the women if she loves purple. She looks down at her feet and says, yes, she thinks she likes purple, and laughs.

The reporter was trying to bring to the surface that endearing quality of the Filipino women: warmth in the face of life’s vicissitudes. Even when nothing matched or made sense.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper squats in front of the shanty made of blanket and sticks. He is talking to two men, one young, one old. They are what’s left of their families, of what once a neighborhood. The old man cooks for the two of them. They have each other. Cooper stands up and approaches a lone woman and asks how she is. She’s looking for her daughter is the answer. She will not leave the area until she has found her daughter. Alive or dead, she needs to know. So, she keeps on walking, searching.

Anderson Cooper saw the courage and resiliency of the Filipino people. He later said, “Thank you for showing us how to live.” How to live in the midst of indescribable grief.

(Photos from BBC)

The senior BBC reporter hops off his chartered helicopter on a small island, signs of Haiyan’s destruction everywhere. Suddenly, the kids come running to him. They come from everywhere. They congregate around the Brit reporter. He at once seems to assume a father-like stance (or maybe Santa Claus?) and asks the children what they need. The tallest among them, a skinny girl, answers earnestly, “We have been given food, but we need shelter. We lost our houses. We need materials to build our houses.” She speaks in unbroken English and one can feel she’s loving that chance to be able to talk to a foreigner. The reporter repeats her request in a question and they all answer in unison: Yes! The reporter warms up to them. The kids are bursting with gladness that someone visits them; with gratitude that someone listens to them; and with hope for still a bright tomorrow. Because they just believe and trust. Children do that.

All these scenes that play out in my mind bring me to two things: the promises of the Lord to those who overcome and the untarnished faith of a child which opens the kingdom of heaven.

2 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3 and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat. 18:2-4)

In The Book of Revelations, the Lord pronounced many promises to those who overcome. In the early months of my illness and salvation, when I was still trying to grasp what had happened to my life, these passages in Revelations helped me understand and, yes, overcome my dejection and confusion. In Revelations 2 and 3, seven times the Lord said that “He who overcomes” will receive the specific promises.

I began to understand that God gives us things, hard things, to overcome so that we can qualify for those promises. I thought that if He doesn’t give someone something to overcome, how can that someone get the chance to receive His promises? Only he or she who had had things to overcome will receive each promise. Therefore, when God gives us something to overcome, He is actually giving us the chance to be recipients of His promises.

These hard things that He gives us, often we think we can’t possibly overcome. The initial reaction is fear. But I believe that when He does, He will also supply the grace we need to be able to overcome: faith, strength, wisdom. Sometimes it’s a tough battle, long and excruciating. But we continue to wrestle until He gives us victory.

In my long years of sickness and suffering, there was, and still is, a wide array of things I needed to overcome: fears, complainings, bitterness, doubts, self-pity, sorrow, discouragement, hopelessness. The Lord has faithfully helped me through all these, to overcome each one. Victory in these areas doesn’t always come easy. But I now have a clear understanding that we are called to be overcomers. To be more than conquerors.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[a]

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:35-39 NIV)

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Pray for the Peace of the Philippines

Meditating on Psalm 122.

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Ps. 122: 1)

(image source)

Before super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) landed in the Visayas Region, Church brethren in Cebu Outreach had begun praising and worshiping the Lord. There was a video shared by one of the sisters in Christ there showing the faithful in Christ clapping and singing to the living God, the only One who could save them, while the winds howled and the rains lashed. But I know that even the outreach stations in Leyte also spent the whole time praising and praying. That is, before the typhoon wiped out the outreach building in Tacloban and the beloved workers with their families ran to the nearest mountain and took refuge there until the typhoon passed.

Who wouldn’t be glad to go to the house of the Lord in the face of a looming catastrophe? Psalm 122 was written by David for his beloved city of Jerusalem, but I cannot think of Jerusalem now, now that our country is mourning the lives of our fellow countrymen that perished in the cruelty of the super typhoon that had just passed. I cannot get my mind off our own. How do we see Psalm 122 as applied to our present lives? It is for our cities and nations, too. We can say “Pray for the peace of  ______” (state your city or country).

Pray for the peace of the Philippines. After being pummelled by a string of calamities that took lives and destroyed properties worth millions, Philippines needs the urgent agonizing, earnest prayers of the Church. The unrelenting calamities are one thing, the vexatious and seemingly endless political bickering is another. It is wearisome to see these politicians whose actions are motivated by self-serving agendas. Pray for the peace of the Philippines.

(image source and story)
After receiving their allocation of relief goods, the children served the military men who brought the goods fresh coconut juice in the shell and freshly-caught crabs — their simple token of gratitude to the people who showed kindness to them. Look at those kids carrying their share of goods to relieve them of their hunger and thirst. (These scenes bring me to the verge of crying). “May they prosper who love you”, Philippines.

I was totally blown away by this story that was shared on Facebook. It tells about the hospitality of the Filipinos. I was actually planning to write about it, how that Filipino families would willingly sleep on the floor to give the bed for their guests. Or how they would prepare the best food they could afford and serve the best fruits to their guests before they would even consider helping themselves (to the food). But this story, it says so much. I was touched. It’s like praying Psalm 122: “May they prosper who love you.”

Pray for the peace of the Philippines:

“May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls,
Prosperity within your palaces.”
8 For the sake of my brethren and companions,
I will now say, “Peace be within you.”
9 Because of the house of the Lord our God
I will seek your good. (vv. 6-9)

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Love Walks Here

Just as I am overwhelmed by the enormity of the devastation Haiyan brought to our country and our people especially in the Visayas Region, I am also overwhelmed by the outpouring of international (and local) aid. We can see and feel how foreign nations scramble to bring relief to the worst-hit areas, deploying their military personnel, doctors, equipment, and best air and water transports like modern helicopters and warships. One can’t help but be touched and inspired by the tremendous display of love and care. Evil had wreaked havoc, but now love walks here.

(image source)

I am deeply touched seeing men and women from all over the world practicing genuine solidarity: swarming the ravaged places and doing what they can to save lives and help appease hardships caused by hunger, dehydration, wounds, and other problems the survivors encounter in the aftermath of the super typhoon. As I see these people working tirelessly not wanting to waste any time, I imagine the hands and feet of the Lord Jesus Christ in action: giving, reaching out, caring, comforting, healing, saving, restoring. Yes, love walks here.

(Photo by Ces Drilon of ABS-CBN)

During WW II, our neighbor Japan stormed our shores and conquered our skies, land, and people, but the Americans came to our aid and we regained our liberty. It’s been over half a century ago, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur, after promising the Filipino people, “I shall return”, did indeed return and landed at the beach in Palo, Leyte, near Tacloban. Now, Japan is a neighbor country which would stop at nothing to help us in our time of need. And America, after that famous landing almost 70 years ago, would again be storming our shores and flying our skies to come to our aid. Love walks here and it brings tears to my eyes.

One of our house helps who is from the Visayas lost six of her loved ones in Tacloban. Their mother wasn’t able to bear all this tragedy and suffered a stroke. She needed immediate surgery. Our house help was distraught. I requested for prayer warriors from our Church to visit the mother in the hospital, pray over her and lay their hands on her for healing. Our maid informed me that her mother no longer needed surgery after the pray over. She breathed a sigh of relief and thanksgiving to God. Love walks here.

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A Place to Hide

When I see the photo of the Philippine flag tattered but still flying, I can’t help but bite my lip and try not to succumb to weeping. Our tattered flag symbolizes a country and a people broken and battered by the continuous onslaught of evil: corruption, war in Mindanao, insurrection, floods, earthquake, and just recently, super typhoon that took lives and property, and maybe, even hope to some. With these sentiments and tears, I begin my post today.

There were news that, after Typhoon Haiyan devastated our country, a big and famous church refused to receive townsfolk seeking refuge to their sturdy building in the heart of Tacloban, Leyte, the hardest hit province, while the typhoon raged. Those people were desperate and ran to that church’s edifice, hoping that they would be received and find safety there. But they were cruelly turned away because they were not members of that church.

This is a homegrown and second largest church in the Philippines next to the Roman Catholic Church. They are called Iglesia ni Cristo (translated: Church of Christ), but most people call them by the name of the founder, Iglesia ni Manalo, which is just as well since it appears that they don’t have the right to carry the name of the Savior. Would the Lord Jesus Christ turn away anyone? They may boast of their sturdy edifices, their churches’ buildings high spires proudly reaching to the clouds, but if the Lord doesn’t dwell there, what good does it do? Absolutely nothing!

In 2006 when our family traveled to nearby provinces to attend crusades of our Church, I had observed this one thing: most, if not all, of our Church’s outreach stations’ buildings are not made of a sturdy foundation. I was barely three years old in the Lord and still had that worldly thinking in me. I was ashamed to feel dismayed seeing the unattractive and seemingly weak structures that composed the outreaches’ buildings. I was still in the worldly mode thinking that a church building should look magnificent. Our main church regularly holds worship service in a stadium which is not at all unusual for huge congregations.

But our Church’s outreach stations’ buildings symbolize the poverty and humility of Christ when He walked on earth. Not that they would rather keep it that way, but, in the provinces where life is hard, the Gospel is brought to the poor and the needy. They may be poor materially (some outreach stations have curtains for walls), but they are rich in faith. And I might have forgotten where the Lord delivered His sermons: on a hill, on the mount, on a boat, at the seaside, in someone’s house. Our outreaches’ buildings may be weak but our Church’s foundation is the Lord Jesus Christ.

News reached us that in one outreach station that was directly along the path of the super typhoon, when the outreach building was wiped out, the beloved brethren in Christ tried to flee but couldn’t stand up to the force of the howling winds and lashing rain, so they just lay flat on the ground in a vacant lot, their faces kissing the wet earth. They yielded their bodies to the mercy and protection of the Lord God Almighty.

(image source)

Where do you go when there is nowhere to hide? Where do you run to? For even the designated evacuation centers were swallowed up by the storm surge and the people who sought refuge there perished. Where do you go when there is no safe place to be? For even the mansion-like houses of Tacloban were not spared by the fierceness of wind and water.

This was what our family talked about after our nightly devotion around our table. I said, “The safest place to be is in the Lord Jesus Christ.” When buildings fail to harbor us, there is a cleft in the Rock where we are always safe. We are safe in the hand of the Savior.

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. (John 10:28)

Psalm 91 was given to us so we will know who holds, covers, and protects us.

He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;

You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.

Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
No evil shall befall you… (Ps. 91: 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, emphasis added)

And yes, He is able to deliver from any and all harm. Even from super typhoons. Our brethren in Visayas are all safe. Hallelujah!

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Thoughts on Empathy

There is a word that came to me in the aftermath of the monstrous storm that ravaged our land and our people. I see this father in the news, a day after the typhoon left, carrying his lifeless daughter in his arms, his wife beside her. There is chaos around them. Someone is trying to lead them out of that place of devastation. But the father, he hesitates; he looks around, like trying to find the answer why he’s carrying his daughter in his arms, already lifeless. The wife looks at him – utter confusion and shock have locked up the dam of tears inside. They can’t even cry. Mourning can wait, they are probably thinking. There are more pressing matters at hand, like taking one step in front of the other. To where, I know they don’t have any idea.

(image source)

Where do you go from the place where your life has been shattered? Where do you sit? What will you think? How do you breathe? How do you live from now on? Do the people not affected by the catastrophe really care deeply beyond supplying food, water, and clothing? I mean, they would dump clothes they don’t like anymore into sacks and large garbage bags, or write a check, or buy canned goods and noodles to be sent away to the people waiting in hunger and thirst and cold. These graces which we are deeply grateful for will assuage their hunger, quench their thirst, and warm their shivering bodies, but are they enough to reach and soothe the sorrowing soul, stanch and warm the broken and bleeding heart?

(image source)

Really, how do you reach out to them? Or do you even think beyond the giving of relief goods to reaching them where healing could start, by God’s grace? When you think that you will never want to experience this tragedy in your own life, then you can imagine and maybe feel what they are going through, and this realization might urge you to do something more, even beyond the norm. And maybe with that, I have attempted to put meaning to this word called “empathy”.

em·pa·thy

noun \ˈem-pə-thē\

: the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings (Ref.: merriam-webster.com).

If you have empathy, you don’t go about displaying your photos enjoying, celebrating, feasting, and probably having the grandest time of your life. If the people who are suffering and sorrowing see them, they would be hurt. These won’t help them, but may plunge them to deeper despair and bitterness. It’s just wrong timing done in bad taste. If you have empathy, you want to be silent to honor them and what they are going through, and think about them; pray for them with tears; and do something for them to make them feel that, yes, they are loved and cared for by the Body of Christ.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (Rom. 12:15)

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2)

I want to think that, just like Job’s friends who came to sit with him on the ashes and be present for him, we may also sit with the grieving families among the debris, but minus Job’s friends’ condemnations, and just be present for them in their grief. And maybe, the Lord will open our mouths so that we will speak the words that could start the healing process. For you see, the best thing in the world that we can give them, after relieving them of their hunger and thirst, is still the Lord Jesus Christ. The hope and life and healing that are in Him. For He alone can raise up the people from the ruins and the debris, and give them new life: a future and a hope. 

(Our Church is now preparing to go to the ravaged areas to bring victuals with healing hands and prayers, and hope).

From the bottom of my heart to the point of weeping in gratitude, I would like to thank all the nations that donated to our beloved country for the victims of the super typhoon Haiyan, to all local donors, to all the volunteers, both locals and foreigners, and to all who prayed and are still praying for our country and our people. Thank you! You are much appreciated (tears).

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