Namárië

•March 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Dear ICS Batch 2014,

Before anything else, I would like to congratulate you for finishing High School. You may have various expectations and dreams, and these might not necessarily be in line with what is happening in your lives, but you having made it this far is already testament to the Lord’s blessing in your life. Nonetheless, there’s a couple of things I want to share with you.

First, keep in mind that I am not saying this as a teacher. We entered ICS High School at about the same time, and many of you already know that we are also leaving it at the same time. (More on this later.) Thus, I consider you to be my batchmates—the high school batchmates I never had.

See, my experience in high school wasn’t that great. In the maladjusted, macho-oriented culture of an exclusive boys’ school, you either survive by conforming, or by running as far away from the crowd as possible. I did the latter. As such, while I did have friends, they were very few, and although I did share some good times with my classmates (who were my classmates all throughout the four years), we weren’t–and aren’t–really that close.

With you guys, however, I feel a special kinship that I can’t really explain. It’s not a superficial “we-like-the-same-things” deal, although we do have common interests. In addition to being brothers and sisters in Christ, we just seem to be on the same wavelength, whether or not we hang out together often or not. Whenever we sit in the lobby and share stories, jokes, and rants, I feel that we understand each other. I don’t know where it ultimately comes from, but I am sure that I would not exchange this special bond for anything else. For simply being who you are—each and ever one of you—I’d like to thank you.

That said, dear batchmates, this is a graduation message and testimony of God’s faithfulness from your not-quite-senpai. Again, please do not take this as an ex cathedra statement from a teacher, but as a loving message and testimony of a fellow struggling Christian and scholar, a heartfelt letter that I wish you’d take the time to read.

We entered this school together.

My first clear memory of my interactions with your batch was me yelling at you for leaving trash scattered in the lobby. Not all of you were there, but those who were probably got a terrible first impression of me. I do also remember being genuinely impressed by your Filipino plays (Sirkulo!) and also enjoying the odd cuteness of your English plays.

In second year, we got to meet in the classroom. It was difficult to keep you quiet most of the time, and I was terrified of what might happen when we went on bondings. And true enough, at 11:30 pm, in the hinterlands of Laguna, I was sick to my stomach as I called your parents to tell you that you were bleeding profusely due to swimming pool accidents. And let’s not forget the location shoots for the English films, that were plagued by the rain and sun alternately.

The horror of those times  has since been tinted sepia by nostalgia and made beautiful by distance, and now we carry them as wonderful shared memories. There are many more: the playfests, the immersion, the immersion R&R, guild activities, and those idle lobby moments.

There were trials, too. Many of you have seen me performing at my best, and also at my worst. You’ve seen me glowing with infatuation in a relationship, and you’ve seen my face darken with the weight of my breakup.  You’ve seen me fight, and you’ve seen me quit. Likewise, I have seen you soaring with success, and I’ve seen you crushed with defeat. I’ve seen you beaming with joy, and I’ve seen your hearts torn apart. We’ve fought side by side, and by God’s grace, for better or for worse, we have come to the end of our shared high school experience.

It is not an accident that I began my graduate studies at pretty much the same time as I began my work in ICS. I’ve almost quit before due to the workload, and it was only due to the coaxing of my parents that I persevered. Perhaps you’ve experienced the same feelings. Or perhaps it wasn’t schoolwork, but a relationship, a family problem, an illness, or just a period of spiritual desolation. But we’re still here, aren’t we? And best of all, He is still with us.

The Lord has brought us to this point, through all the triumphs and tribulations of high school, as part of His plan for us, and now He is about to bring us to the next stage. You are entering college. As some of you know, I am moving on to another school. Like you, I will not find it easy—ICS was our home for the last four years, and despite the lyrics of a popular song, letting go is not as simple as it sounds. ICS is a comfort zone for us. But God has a way of taking us out of our comfort zones, just as He called Abram. (Genesis 12)

God called Abram out of Mesopotamia when the man was seventy-five. How do you think you would feel if suddenly, a God whom you have never met before appeared to you and gave you a fantastic promise, all dependent on you simply obeying his command to go? Abram had no idea where God was going to bring him. He had no idea how God was going to bless him, an ironically-named (his name meant “Exalted Father,” but he had no children) seventy-five year old man with a barren wife, and bless all families of all nations through him. He just knew he had to obey—crossing over a thousand miles of difficult terrain in the process. We all know that eventually, God used Abram to fulfill His plans of bringing a Savior into the world, and Abraham is immortalized even in the New Testament, and is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. It all started because Abraham decided to trust and obey.

Four years ago, I decided to trust and obey God by taking my graduate studies. I’ve shared with many of you how studying Martin Luther’s writings made me understand just how important my calling was to God’s kingdom, and so I obeyed his calling to leave PSHS and teach in a Christian school. I thought it was going to be easy. It wasn’t.

It came to a point where I thought I should just quit my graduate studies and just try to take the Licensing Exam for Teachers. I went on leave from my studies for a while. However, my parents challenged me to get back into it, and the Lord gave me strength to do so. It wasn’t easy—my classes were either on weekday nights, from 5 pm to 8 pm, or on Saturdays, from 8 am to 4 pm. I was tired, stressed, and addicted to caffeine. The requirements were difficult, and class partners were not always reliable. But the Lord used my obedience.

Last Saturday, I went to ADMU to submit a paper, the last for this semester. I know that I needed to take another subject for my course before I could take the final comprehensive exams and the final paper requirement, so I inquired what their offerings were. The secretary, Ma’am Fe, took a look at my online profile, and then began looking for my course folder. She took longer than I expected, and she said my folder was somewhere else, so she went to retrieve it.

When she got back, she apologized, saying my folder had been included in the PAASCU [organization that accredits Catholic schools] accreditation portfolio. I asked if that was a good thing, and she said “Of course. Take it as a compliment.” This meant that my performance in my graduate studies was something worth showing off.

I am not boasting about whatever intelligence I might have. That’s a gift and a talent from God; furthermore, as a high school and college student, my grades were actually quite checkered and mediocre. My work ethic was terrible and I didn’t know why I was doing what I was doing.

But when I decided to follow the Lord’s leading to graduate studies, He gave me a fresh leading and a clear purpose. I knew I was doing it for God, and as such I was inspired to do my best. I boast this in the Lord: That since I began my graduate studies, I have only received As and A-minuses. He has given me the desire and the skill to excel for His glory.

Later on, He further clarified that instead of just taking MA-Basic Education, He wanted me to be in a position of authority in a school. I shifted to MA-Educational Administration. Suddenly, I didn’t have to deal only with Educational theories—I had to take various business-end course material, including a Management subject and a Law subject! That was terrifying, but once more, God allowed me to excel.

He then led me to transfer to another institution. It was (and still is) scary and painful as I took my first steps out, and submitting that resignation letter was more difficult than I thought it would be, but the Lord prospered my application process, and now I am going to be joining the new school this May.

After all this, going back to last Saturday, I found out that my course work was actually already completed, and that I could already take my comprehensive exams as early as this summer–at least a semester earlier than I had expected. This entails a huge amount of saved time and money–once more, a blessing from the Lord, a blessing that I could not have experienced if I did not trust and obey.

Dear batchmates—I encourage you, I exhort you, to seek Him with all your hearts. Learn to trust Him, even if things don’t seem to make sense; trust and obey. Don’t trust in circumstances or in people; trust in God’s character and in His sovereign plan, because only He can make the oddest and most difficult of circumstances a blessing. In seeking Him, you will know what He wants in your lives. Always remember Romans 12, which we often quote, but often out of context:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.–Romans 12:1-2

The command here is a single command branching into three: 1. Offer your bodies as a living, holy sacrifice pleasing to God; 2. Do not conform; 3. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. I don’t think I need to elaborate on these; I believe you have all studied God’s Word sufficiently to know what these entail. But the amazing thing is this: the consequence of doing all these, is being able to test and approve what God’s will is. It is when we are surrendered to God and transformed in our minds that we find out what He wants to accomplish in our lives. 

It’s not that He will reveal us everything about our future: often He just reveals the next step, and the rest is shrouded in darkness. It’s well and good–if God had told Abram all about Jesus from day 1, I don’t think Abram would have understood how important his role was in God’s plan. And the same is true for us—for most of us, it is only the next step that is illuminated. For many of us, the steps are in different directions, but the calling is the same: take that step.

We entered ICS together, and we are leaving it together. But this is not goodbye. I will miss you, but I don’t want to miss you, and I will make every effort not to miss you, because I will still be seeing you in one way or another. Our steps may lead us away from each other for the moment, but I wholeheartedly believe that they will cross again, for some, perhaps sooner than others.

I’m already at a loss for words, so I beg your indulgence as I borrow the work of a more eloquent author to say my last blessings.

Namárië! Nai hiruvalyë Valimar.
Nai elyë hiruva. Namárië!

Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar.
Maybe even thou shalt find it. Farewell!

“And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”–JRR Tolkien, The Return of the King

Immersed in a Torrent of Grace

•April 24, 2013 • Leave a Comment

While I’ve been on immersion programs in the past, none of them have been as intensive and as long-term as the one I just came from. I came as a teacher in charge of students, but in the end I ended up learning as well. I felt like a high school student again.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned:

1. You cannot outgive God.

Whenever we go on immersion or outreach trips, we tend to think of ourselves as the people who are doing the giving. This is partially true, but in the greater scheme of things, we will find that in the end, we receive far more than what we have given. We thought that we were helping and teaching, but it was we who were helped and taught. I thought I was a teacher and supervisor, but every experience there seemed to have been clearly orchestrated by the Lord to teach me something. It’s just the way God’s economy works, it seems—it’s not about “fair trade” or “give and take,” it’s about an onrushing torrent of grace that floods over us.

2. The wonder of the Body of Christ.

This dawned on me during the worship at the end of the recital. I’ve always believed that the Church was never meant to be uniform (the Bible is pretty clear on that), but the Christ-centered DNA that each group has is the same and bonds us together more than any uniform practices or rituals could. Most of the immersion team was from a megachurch background, and there we were, helping a small, provincial community church—yet we did not feel any difference in terms of identity. We were all believers in Christ, that’s what mattered. Denominational lines, ethnic boundaries, and social strata did not matter. We were brothers and sisters in Christ. Christ mattered. That was enough for us.

3. How thankfulness makes everything so much easier.

It’s been a while since I had to take a bath with a bucket and flush the toilet with the same. Normally I would whine about not having the food I like (though the food we had was so delicious I forgot that I had other preferences and just dug in. The food cooked by the ladies of the church was absolutely wonderful). But everything was made more amazing by a simple attitude of thankfulness. On Saturday, when half the group was away on the boat ride to the outreach and we were left to clean the church, the water dispenser actually had cold water in it, and it was made even better by being thankful. The food was already good, but the attitude of gratitude made it even better. The bathroom was an admittedly low point, but we had water, an enclosed private bathroom, and none of my things fell onto the floor or into the toilet. Everything becomes awesome.

4. How dependence on God is so important.

I was struggling with certain fears and doubts. They were racing through my head over and over again, and I kept going back to 1 John 5:1-5, which I think summed up the immersion experience nicely for me: Obedience to Christ, identity in Christ, and overcoming through Christ are all one and the same thing. You can’t have one without the others. Holding onto the Lord and His promises was so helpful when I was being assailed by these doubts. I knew that through everything I went through, God was with me.

All in all, it was an amazing experience, and I’m so thankful for the many things I’ve learned.

It felt like the New Testament times. It felt like we were living in the book of Acts. I guess to a certain extent, we are–I’ve heard it said that the book of Acts is the one book of the Bible that is still being written today.

We’re part of that story–a story that is not about us, but about God–yet He still gives us opportunities to dive into His torrent of grace.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,which God prepared in advance for us to do.  – Ephesians 2:10

 

A Piece of Paper

•March 22, 2013 • 4 Comments

For extra effect, listen to this song while reading.

Congratulations. You are now the proud owner of a piece of paper. This piece of paper represents your successful compliance of certain numerical standards. This piece of paper will quickly lose its value as the numbers lose their value. A few days from now, you may entirely forget that you attained such numbers in the first place. Any awards that you attained will suddenly lose their meaning once you step into high school, college, or the “Real World,” or for some, graduate school. Everyone will forget. You will forget. None of it will matter.

Such is a life that you will live if you gave value to the end product and not the process. We live in a society that values products for a moment and discards them like pieces of scratch paper. We live in a society that values end results and not the process that makes them, that values your diploma and not you, that values your grades and not the experience you went through to attain them.

During my application process for my first job at PSHS, I quickly realized that none of the academic lessons I had learned in high school prepared me for the job. None of them, except one lesson that we learned in Tulong Dunong class (an outreach-centered Christian Living subject): writing a lesson plan, which I learned because we tutored public school kids once a week. Everything else was peripheral; grammar was easily Googled. What mattered at that moment was that when I was asked to write a lesson plan, I actually knew how, and remembered that I had learned to do it in my senior year of high school.

On my first official teaching day, when I first stood before the first class of the day, I remembered that I hated public speaking. I also realized that I couldn’t back out anymore. None of my other lessons helped me. My grades and past awards surely did not. What helped me was the long list of “what-not-to-dos” I had learned from all those public speaking assignments I had done poorly in, and the stark realization that I could not shy away from something I had chosen and had been selected for–that I had to do what I had to. I am not invalidating your awards and grades. They will serve you for a while, but this brings me to a question: what kept you going?

Ladies and gentlemen, I do not need to tell you to do your best. You are far more driven than my 17-year old self was. What I would like you to evaluate or re-evaluate is this: why are you driven? Why do you stay up so late writing your papers? Why do you study the way you do for your exams? Why do you try your best to write that play script or design those props? What motivates you to edit that video despite it repeatedly failing to render? What do you hope to get out of this? A piece of paper?

I am a graduate student. It isn’t easy—the readings have a tendency to cause massive epistaxis attacks. The papers tend to be long and technical, and I have to cite EVERYTHING (thank God for Word’s auto-bibliography function).  Every Wednesday I have to beat the C5-Katipunan traffic to get to my class on time. The standards are much higher, since a B-minus is already considered failing. Why am I subjecting myself to this insanity?

At this point it is no longer required by law nor something my parents required of me. It was my own decision, albeit encouraged by my parents. Do I do it for a piece of paper? No, at least, not ultimately.

The obvious answer would be for God’s glory, but I would like to offer an alternative perspective behind this: you cannot honor a God you do not know, nor would you want to. On the other hand, if you knew the God that I do, you would want to glorify Him with all you have. That is the point of a Christian education—that you may know the Lord.

The feeling of pride and elation swelling within you when you step on stage to claim your diploma (which, during the graduation ceremony is in fact a blank piece of paper) or your award only lasts for a few hours, a week at most. (For your parents it might last quite a bit longer) What you really take with you are the experiences, learning, and wisdom that seemed incidental at the time, but in the end were really the point of it all: That you might know the Lord through learning about the amazing world you live in, through learning how to love beyond feelings, through learning how to see His work in the big and small things, through learning to take responsibility for your actions, through learning how to read and study His Word, through learning how to use your talents to the best of your ability, through learning how to respect authority and how to appeal to it, through your mirth and your sorrow, through your victory and through your failure, through beginning well and through finishing well.

That is why I put myself through the difficulty of graduate school and why I wholeheartedly pour myself out in my work: I want to know the Lord, and I want to make Him known to you. Even though you might go to a secular university or a university of another religious profession, make it your personal objective to know Him.

I find that in my desire to learn and in loving the process of learning, I am able to actually do my best, and I experience true blessing. The good grades don’t hurt, either. I wish my undergrad report cards looked half as good as my graduate transcript.

People often quote Jeremiah 29:11 but forget about the verses that follow it.

“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord…”  (Jeremiah 29:11-14a)

You see, it really is about knowing Him, and how knowing Him changes you.  You may think that your diploma is the product, the result of all the blood, sweat and tears you have poured into it. However, the true product is something else–the product that you—and your teachers, and your parents, and the Lord, have poured blood, sweat and tears into: you.

In reality, you are the product, and I think Alex’s, Janine’s, and Patcab’s testimonies spoke volumes about what this really all is about.

All this time, you might have thought you were working on your education. The truth of the matter, is that we have been working on you.

“…we should give a hundred florins to protect us against ignorance, even if only one boy could be taught to be a truly Christian man; for the good such a man can accomplish is beyond all computation.” –Martin Luther, Letter to the Mayors and Aldermen

Finally, I admonish you, ladies and gentlemen, to seek Him in all things. The world likes to pretend that life can be separated into convenient little boxes that are unrelated to each other, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. All things are related to the Lord, and will inevitably point to Him. Make it your goal to learn—not just the academic lessons, though those are of value. Make it your goal to grow—not just physically, though that is of value. Make it your goal to excel—not only academically, but in your pursuit of the Lord. The awards and diplomas will follow.

In the end, what you make of your education is your choice, but I think I realized I make the most out of it when I see it as an opportunity to know the Lord more, and not just as a mad chase after pieces of paper.

—————————————–

Now for the overly dramatic part. I have forgotten the grades I gave you last year and the year before. However, true to what I have said above, I will never forget the following: (By surname alphabetical order nalang para maayos)

      1. That time when Nikki pulled off legit crying during her auditions for Theospian two years ago. That was very impressive.
      2. Julie’s  passionate discussions of literature and history, which was awesome, and her fangirling, which is very high on the scale of terrifying.
      3. How Patrick transformed into a money-grabbing landlord for It’s A Wonderful Life, and a Chinese man who didn’t have a Chinese accent, and being totally awesome at the keyboards.
      4. How Lemuel was totally freaked out by the DVD menu of Shutter, and his heartwarming portrayal of Rufus Miller in All On A Christmas Day, and the kilig-inducing painting scene with Ange in The Woman in White.
      5. PatCab’s radiant smile and her super cute portrayal of an angel-in-training in It’s A Wonderful Life, and your testimony, which was a blessing to me as much as it was to so many others in the audience. A lot of people struggle with self-esteem in our school.
      6. Rae Belle: tried to convince me that a broken bag needed Scotch tape to fix, and I immediately saw through her plan. Also, that time when I cut my hair in front of the class to prove a point about haircut compliance, and she cried out in horror.
      7. Della’s glamorous designs (though she never actually showed them to me) and her gentle and quiet spirit.
      8. Arielle’s epic prop designs, which inspired a whole new generation of anachronistic foam swords and armor (please pass on this art before your sister graduates and the art is forgotten).
      9. Damielle’s contagious sabawness, the backwards “P,” and countless moments of utter hilarity, but most of all the epic tag-team with the rest of the Prod Angels. Also, “Sweet and Calm.”
      10. Hanah: Prod Angels forever.\m/ You guys were awesome, and you really inspired the juniors. “Sweet and Fierce FTW”
      11. Cheska’s portrayal of several characters, including a Chinese matriarch and a beggar prosecutor, and her plundering of the anime on my external HDD, and that time how we were utterly disturbed by the creepy behavior of Alodia’s fanboys at ToyCon. (I’m already inviting you to AME for next year. But I guess ToyCon works too.)
      12. Faith: your love team with Patrick in Canal de la Reina. :> “Sweet and Panicking!” You guys should totally get a “Prod Angels” jacket.
      13. Josh: Your Italian accent, our dialogue about the stock market, your being White Scroll house head, and the video that refused to render.
      14. Daryn: How your sweet outward demeanor belies your being a total metalhead, and your portrayal of a surprisingly mobile terminally ill girl who…who…just can’t….she can’t..!! *runs away*
      15. How Camzy barged into the classroom to tell everybody that she was back (even though I wasn’t there) after exposure to dangerously high levels of spray paint, or her fangirling, which is often more terrifying than Julie’s.
      16. Issa: “Please don’t make tambay in the hallways.” Your “Sweet and Stressed” demeanor while running the back end of the Evangelistic play was epic. Also, your epic re-design of the Aladdin set so that you managed to pull off the moving castle with limited props. Prod Angels forever. \m/
      17. Su Bin: “Teacher, the exam’s so hard.” *gets 99% in exam* and “ETO KAIN TAYO PANSIT.”
      18. Julia: How you portrayed a crazy landlady, a guttersnipe who was taught how to be a fair lady, and Anne Frank without even trying. I also still have that video of you with straightened hair.
      19. Hyemi:  Your lovely singing voice (which you should use more) in All On A Christmas Day.
      20. AJ: Your appreciation for music, your totally awesome song number with a heavy Polish accent, and Willy Loman. Thank you for your testimony as well; since I came from a broken home, I struggled with thoughts of having a sad family life as well.
      21. Carlo: The strange things you share with me, and how you ALMOST convinced me to allow you to use Dr. Horrible as your third year film.
      22. Ryan: How you taught everyone else to love unconditionally, and how you would ask me whether I wanted spaghetti. (I always want spaghetti.)
      23. Patport: Your epic drawings, snarky side comments, comics of boss fights with your teachers, your being a great mom-figure to White Scroll, and “Woman marries world’s best thesis.”
      24. Daniel: The “totally legit” floating hat rack, your stuffing Julia’s mouth full of Mentos, and your heartbroken emo act after she left.
      25. Beans: Your lovely art, Nodoka from K-On!, and The Timepiece. I look forward to an actual animated short film of that later on. ;D
      26. Miguel: How your stomach is a black hole that converts everything you eat into boundless energy, how you had to convince that priest in Ateneo that you weren’t actually about to hang yourself, and “How do you…HOW?!!?” which has become a meme of its own in ICS.
      27. Ange: How I surprised you when you were trying to surprise me for my birthday by sneaking up behind you, and the painting scene.
      28. Mel: Your bottomless well of bouncy energy that causes you to always be cheerful even when you’re tired, and how your hair refuses to be straightened. Your portrayal of Linda Lo was likewise something I will never forget.
      29. Janine: Your portrayal of the head angel in It’s A Wonderful Life, your continuous effort in school, and your heartwarming testimony, which I can really identify with.
      30. Spammy: Your soup sessions with the Theo people, your being forever alone every Monday evening, your totally freaky (and totally awesome) appearance as the Hukom in Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio, and your subtle but effective comedy as Mrs. Pierce.
      31. Gabby: Your LitAn paper on Coco Chanel’s biography, which was very helpful in helping me communicate to Corinthians’s costume committee what exactly girls wore in The Great Gatsby. Yes, you actually helped them without knowing it.

I will forever cherish those times that I laughed with you and cried with you; those times I shouted at you and read God’s Word with you.

I pray that all these made you better men and women, as they have made me a better man.

Alright. I’ve kept you long enough. It’s time to let you go.

“‘“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’

27 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”-Numbers 6:24-27

Instruments

•March 17, 2013 • Leave a Comment

This is a topic that I’ve been trying to avoid writing about for a while because of the perceptions that it might raise. I don’t want to appear to be a rebel or look like I’m channeling a spirit of dissension. Neither did I want to appear passive-aggressive about the issue and not speak to the people directly involved. However, after talking to my mom–a full-time church worker–this morning, she encouraged me to write about it, because she actually agreed with me, and that this is an issue that might be beneficial for the whole church to hear.

A brother of mine recently raised a discussion on what discipleship was and what it meant exactly. He was concerned about certain practices that were being undertaken in church which he felt stifling, to say the least. He felt that he had already been pouring so much into ministry and proclaiming the Gospel and yet because the church was requiring certain things, (or at least he felt that he was being required to do certain things) the impression he was getting was that his already heavy ministry burdens were being deemed insufficient and that if he did not have a certain number of disciples under a particular model, it was not enough.

A counter-argument that was raised during the discussion was that the method being used was the model that Jesus had used, and that it was the most efficacious. However, I think there was a miscommunication here: what was not being questioned was the philosophy of discipleship. My friend was all for discipleship. What was being questioned was the formula, the procedure, the prescription.

During the discussion, my heart went out to my brother. Truth be told, I had been feeling the same way.

Firstly, my calling was not to disciple men my age, but teenagers. I have observed that I have a better rapport with them. I don’t think this is a bad thing; I have accepted this as the way things are. Now naturally, when invited to gatherings that involved bringing my downline, I could not. Out of sensitivity for my disciples, it would be better than I did not bring them. This alone made me feel somewhat alienated from the rest of the group. I chose not to let this affect me, however, but instead just did my best to keep doing what I knew the Lord wanted me to do. There was no point in discipling my co-workers (as we were all being discipled at school and at church), but since I had a close relationship with my students, I figured that I should not make excuses and disciple them.

Second, I was not discipling them under a “registered” status–I did not meet them in church, but at school, and I did not enter them into a database (neither did I have any desire to). In such a case, my school-based dgroup was not counted, not seen as intentional, and somewhere along the line, not seen as discipleship at all, to the extent that I was once told to get with the program. I accepted and understood the terms, but now I’m realizing that this issue is not as unique to me as I thought it was.

The Biblical Truth

The following we cannot deny and I wholeheartedly believe that all Christians must agree: We are called to discipleship. 

 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teachingthem to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Jesus states his divine and supreme authority in giving this command; it is one that should be obeyed with all seriousness. The word translated as “make disciples” in English is “μαθητεύω,” which, when used transitively as in this sense, means to “enrol a scholar;” it does not imply an impersonal proclamation of the Gospel (ala televangelist), but rather a committed, intentional, and regular communication. Thus far, I do not see any problems. None should arise at this juncture.

This same attitude can be seen in the way Christ ministered to His disciples: they were close friends who were kept in close fellowship; they did things together, learned together, and ate together. They were given opportunities to minister to others. They did all these. Christ’s discipleship was committed, intentional, and regular.

No problems so far; Christ’s model is clear.

What things did Christ do with His disciples? They traveled a lot. By walking. Does that mean in our own small groups, we have to walk around Metro Manila and learn about things in the streets? I don’t think so.

Jesus and the Twelve walked through wheat fields, picking grains and eating them—something culturally acceptable and prescribed by the Law of Moses—it was not considered theft or trespassing. Can and should we do the same now? Of course not.

Did Jesus and his disciples watch movies together? Play bowling together? Play sports together? Obviously, they didn’t do the first two. The Bible is silent on the last. Does that mean we shouldn’t do them? I think the answer is obvious.

Jesus commanded us to make disciples. He didn’t say how. He gave guiding core values and general attitudes that were implicit in the term “make disciples,” but there is no prescribed formula. Paul planted disciples wherever he planted churches; other men of the faith didn’t travel as much and settled there. Jesus never left his home region. Either way, the relationships were committed, intentional, and regular.

Paul’s extensive discourse in 1 Corinthians 12 is clear—not everyone has the same gifts, nor does everyone have the same work. (v. 4-6) We do, however, have the same Lord, and as such we all have to obey His command. That command is to make disciples.  This recognizes the innate diversity in the Church (v.12)–Nobody should feel alienated (v. 15) nor should anyone be actively alienated (v.21) on account of being “different”. There should be unity in diversity in the body of Christ (v. 20, 26). It’s not about uniformity, it’s about unity–and Paul goes on to say what exactly unifies us all in chapter 13: Love.

I cannot speak for my friend, but I meet my students every day. I make every effort to incorporate Biblical truths into my lesson plans. When they need to speak to me in order to ask for advice, I stay up to listen even if it’s late at night. By the standard set by the Lord, I think this should qualify as discipleship, registered or not.

It is human nature to be a creature of habit. Creatures of habit seek the comfort of familiarity, and formulas and patterns provide comfortable arrangements for people to follow. However, do we end up serving the format instead of it serving us?

I know likewise that the church aims to equip each member with the knowledge and skills necessary to obey Christ’s command. Without a doubt, this requires training and study. We should make sure nobody has excuses to not follow the command. However, like worship, like courtship, discipleship seems to have no set formula, but there are core principles that cannot be compromised: Do we teach God’s word? Do we influence our disciples positively?

A Paradigm

Ultimately, I think the reason why we are without excuse with regard to discipleship is this: We can do it anywhere.

For most people, it’s their friends or their co-workers whom they can disciple. For almost everyone, there’s family. In my case, there are many students who need to be discipled; teaching in a Christian school helps a lot in that regard.

Whether it’s our own children, or other people’s children in Sunday school, or teenagers at the youth service, or co-workers, or our household helps, we can and should disciple. Whomever we are and wherever we are, we are called to disciple, and we should respect each other’s respective mission fields as the areas that the Lord has given to us to minister in.

The patterns and tools that the church equips us with should remain just that: tools. We only use tools when applicable; one does not drive in nails with a screwdriver; neither does one cut wood with nails. We adapt our methods as the needs demand; we never compromise our central values.

We are instruments in an orchestra. We have one Conductor–Jesus–and play the same song–the Gospel–. We operate in different ways and produce the same sounds, but they all originate from the same piece and lead to the same end. The manner by which a harp is played cannot be used on a violin, and Heaven help us if we think we can play flutes the same way we play cymbals. We are called to unity, not uniformity.

Lessons from 2012

•January 1, 2013 • Leave a Comment

It has been one heck of a year. For all the hype on that ridiculous Mayan “end” of the “world” “prophecy” (yes, those multiple quotes are intentional), I’ve been too busy struggling through my own personal Armageddon to care.

It might not be a good idea to actually post what I’ve been struggling with, but let’s just say there have been multiple things that really shook my geeky and rather shallow existence to its core.

I will not mince words: this year was quite unpleasant. I went through a couple of truly great struggles (as well as numerous minor ones) that tested my faith and at times made me literally sick to my stomach. They were all my fault too.

This awful feeling seemed so awkward to me, especially because I see so many of my brethren as always so happy. On the other hand, I see myself as so immature because I’m not “happy,” and therefore I feel envious of others who appear to be, and therefore more unhappy that I am immature because I’m not “happy,” and so on. This reminded me of something brilliant that C.S Lewis wrote on the subject of pride:

Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel good–above all, that we are better than someone else–I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether. –Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1944

I’m an expert at seeing myself as a small, dirty object, but perhaps it might be better to skip on the imploding self-pity and not focus on myself altogether—which is one of the two things I’ve learned from the Lord this past year.

First: It’s not about me. I’ve realized through the pain of this year, that I’ve been so utterly selfish, and I really need to work on putting others above myself. Self-absorption, whether born of pride or self-loathing, is never a good thing and tends to have the same effect on other people as a black hole–it stretches and stretches them until the life gets sucked out of them and they cease hanging out around you. (Wait, what’s with the physics illustration?)

Second: He’s always with me. The Lord has never deserted me, despite all the darkness. In fact, He tends to seem closer IN the darkness. He is a God of infinite momentum—we can’t force Him to move (that’s not what prayer is for), but when He does move–and He does, without us knowing–nothing can stop Him.  (Another physics illustration? I need to stop. I’m an English teacher, for crying out loud!) In the end, when the entire trial is drawn to a close, I realize that things make more sense and I understand Him more.

The synthesis of these two lessons is simple–This life is not about me; it’s about Him. This is one learning that no Christian should ignore. I discussed this in about 520 words; He explained it all in one act.

I wish you all a blessed new year.

The Most Solemn Responsibility

•June 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Lately I’ve been worrying a lot about the future (moreso than usual, at least). I have a melancholic temperament; as such I’m always on edge when things are unclear or not ideal. I take comfort in the cut-and-dry because it allows me to at least manage my expectations. Furthermore, I’m a creature of habit. I thrive on predictability and routine. While I appreciate the occasional adventure, I’m greatly uncomfortable when things change too fast, too often, in rapid succession.

In light of recent changes in my life, my schedule has been left up in the air, and I really don’t know what to expect. No matter what I plan or how I plan, I can’t feel comfortable about this.

I reached critical mass last night, almost breaking down completely as my girlfriend and I talked about it.

While we were able to iron things out somewhat, the Lord spoke to me clearly through my reading of Acts 12 this morning, which for some reason I didn’t pay much attention to in the previous days. (Which is why my previous entry is on Acts 13)

Early on in Acts 12, King Herod has the apostle James (the brother of John) captured and executed. Seeing how the Jews approved of this, he goes ahead and goes after Peter as well, pretty much seeking to neutralize the fledgling Church in Jerusalem. Peter is arrested and detained for a public trial under heavy guard.

The night before Peter’s trial, he’s set free by an angel, and manages to escape, and gets to safety. Later in the chapter, Herod, in the midst of a fit of hubris, is smote by the Lord and dies of a mysterious rotting disease.

This begs many questions: Why did James die and why did Peter live? Why didn’t they both get away safely? Why didn’t God smite Herod earlier. Why does God allow persecution? Why can’t we just all get along? Why do we have to stay on Earth? Can’t we just go to heaven right after accepting? Can’t earth be heaven instead? It goes on. What’s the answer to these questions?

I don’t know.

I can give platitudes that say “God knows best,” and that “God is good,” or even that “God has a purpose for it,”; while those ideas are all VERY biblical, they do not necessarily give the exact reasoning and purpose hidden behind the curtains of those ideas.

What I can say is this, and this may seem seditious and heretical in an age where people worship themselves and think they know better than everyone else, including God: We’re better off not knowing why, and as such, it’s not our place to worry about these things. To think we know better than God in His sovereignty is to rob him of, to borrow the words of Ravi Zacharias, “a very solemn responsibility.”

We think we have the outlook and wisdom to think that a certain way is right. We think it is our moral right to be the architects of our own fragile little worlds. Perhaps we ought to stop and be thankful that God doesn’t smite us in our hubris like He did Herod.

I think that this reason–that God intends to take personal responsibility for our destinies–is greatly liberating, and is the reasoning behind Jesus’s exhortation not to worry about our lives (Matthew 6:25-34), because he gives a both sobering and refreshing thought: Worrying will not fix anything anyway. Well and good that we take the appropriate precautions, but past this, what can additional worrying and speculation accomplish? Nothing, except give us unnecessary stress.

Take this illustration: A father tells his son: “We’re going to the zoo today.” (Granted that the child actually wants to go to the zoo; Not wanting to go to the zoo is another issue altogether), it is the father’s responsibility to choose the method of transportation they’re going to take to go to the zoo, and what time, and to which zoo. Let’s say the father has his own car, and that gas prices are not unspeakably high as they are now, so he can afford to bring his son to Manila Zoo, at the other end of town.

All the kid has to do is sit in the car. He can keep asking his dad “are we there yet?” but it won’t help them get there any faster.  The child can shout directions at his father, but his father is the one holding the steering wheel—yet, that’s assuming the child even knows the proper directions.  The child can beg and wheedle and even throw a tantrum about why they aren’t passing by <insert unhealthy fast food drive through here> to have a snack, or why he isn’t allowed to buy one of those string-pull helicopter toys that street vendors sell. The father could answer “But I thought you wanted to go to the zoo?”; in a tantrum, how many of us have answered “I DON’T WANT TO GO TO THE ZOO ANYMORE I WANT <junk food>!!!” (I’ve done that myself; I remember throwing a tantrum at my dad because I wanted pizza, and a particular kind of pizza across town; when we got there, I realized what my dad was offering me was better and didn’t need a trip across town, and barely wanted to touch what we had just bought. I also remember the perplexed looks on the face of the girl at the counter.)

Perhaps the child can even ask his dad if he could drive, that his legs are too short to reach the pedals notwithstanding. He can probably reach the steering wheel, but he might not have the strength to turn the wheel. What the dad can do, however, is to sit his child on his lap, let him touch the steering wheel, turn it as his father does, and be close to his son, forge a strong relationship with him, and be a good example in his road discipline so that when the time comes, the son will be a responsible driver as well. All this on the way to the zoo.

If the child really could wrest the responsibility of driving from his father, then he is robbing his father of a very serious responsibility. He has no real power or wisdom to make such decisions, yet because he thinks he can, he whines and begs and cries.

In John 21, after Peter is reinstated by the Lord, Jesus tells him that someday, he’s going to be crucified. Perplexed and disturbed, Peter asks, “Lord, what about [John]?” (John 21:21)

Jesus’s answer is again both sobering and liberating:

“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” –John 21:22

We have no control over what’s going to happen. If we’re close enough to our Father and he lets us make some major decisions (like taking graduate studies, getting into a relationship, or changing jobs, or getting married), we can help turn the steering wheel. Our legs, however, don’t reach far enough to the pedals; we can’t make things happen faster, slow down, or shift gears. No amount of whining and crying is going to change where we’re going, assuming we even know where we’re going and what streets to take, and what side-streets and alternate routes to take if the main route is bad.

We’re just left with one responsibility, as Jesus said: we must follow Him.

At the very least, let’s be thankful that our Father doesn’t step out of the car altogether and let us drive on our own. That way leads to disaster.

The God of Strangers

•June 9, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I never really paid much attention to the Book of Acts until now. I’ve been reading through it in my personal devotions lately, and I’ve begun to see just how beautiful a picture of unity of purpose and faith it is.

There’s one thing about it that I really think is a beautiful continuum that flows out of the life of Jesus.

In an easy-to-miss passage in Acts 13, a brief description of the major ministers in the church of Antioch is given:

“In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the Tetrarch), and Saul.”

As if the verse itself isn’t easy enough to miss, it’s also easy to miss its context. Let’s take a look at the people involved.

Barnabas: The first mention of this man is in Acts 4:26, where he is described as “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus,” who gave a rather large donation to the church after selling some land he owned. His identification marks him as a true Jew, from the tribe of Levi, who had since emigrated to Cyprus. “Barnabas” is an epithet that means “Son of Encouragement,” as this man had a gift of exhorting his fellow believers.

Simeon, called Niger: Back when the world was not truly cosmopolitan and it was easy to identify a man’s geographic origins by his appearance, being called “black” was not meant to be an offensive racial slur. This man’s Jewish name and his epithet seem to hint at an African convert to Judaism.

Lucius of Cyrene: Cyrene, which is in present-day Libya, was a Greek colony during the historical period which Acts describes. Given that he has a a Latin name, it might hint that this man is not actually a Jew, but a Greek.

Manaen (Who had been brought up with Herod the Tetrarch): The term “who had been brought up with” is a single word in Greek (suntrophos) which means “fellow nursling.” This implies that this man had the same nursemaid as the king of Judea. The same word can also mean “comrade,” which still implies close ties. This man was not a simple commoner. He was an aristocrat.

Saul: Saul, who became known as Paul, is known as one of the most radical converts in the early church. He was a persecutor turned missionary. However, don’t forget why he was a persecutor: He was a Pharisee. Being a Pharisee required a lofty education and strict religious training. Saul also lists both of these under his “qualifications” later on. (Philippians 3:4-6). Thus, he was the equivalent of a Th.D. during his time.

Taking a look at these five men, we can come up with a simple observation: There is no reason these men should be associating with each other.  Jews would shun a Gentile like Lucius. Indigenous Hebrews, while bound to social rules of hospitality, would not necessarily work closely with an African. An upright man like Saul might see something reprehensible about aristocrats like Manaen. Manaen might think it below him to associate with a commoner like Barnabas. They might as well be strangers—rather, they might as well be strangers, if not for the love of Christ.

In a world that so savagely attacks Christianity these days, in the face of so-called freethinkers who proclaim the Gospel as intolerant, we have much to learn from the simple fellowship of five men of diverse and sundry origins. They were brought together by a common faith, a common purpose, and a common love.  Christ is not one who demands uniformity, but unity. He is a God who reaches out to strangers—like ourselves—and brings us together.

 
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