OUR JOURNEY TO FINANCIAL FREEDOM

A debt-free adult is either really well-off in life or just really educated in the area of financial management. But most, if not all, have some kind of financial obligation to an institution or an individual. Debts, per se, are not a sin, but the Bible did say enough to emphasize the disadvantage of being in debt. The latter part of Proverbs 22:7 states, “…and the borrower is slave to the lender.” That clearly means losing financial freedom.

STARTING LINE

As I write this post, we are currently undergoing strict debt management. My wife and I longed for financial freedom in the middle of 2019. We prayed for God’s favor in our plans to curtail our spending and set up a livable debt management routine and pay off all our outstanding debts in 5 years’ time. But then, we found out that my wife is pregnant. You gotta love God’s sense of humor. This did not stop us to push through with our initial plans. This actually motivated us to stick with the plan because we have another responsibility to feed and clothe. Then, the global pandemic transpired. Talk about challenges. Still, God never failed to amaze us in the perfect timing of His provisions. A lot of things happened during the pandemic and we acquired more debt than what we planned to settle. The journey was hard and oftentimes disheartening, but we routinely kept tithing, paying, and praying that what God left for us will be enough until the next payday. Amazingly, God blessed our efforts and we are now over 50% of our projected goal.

PARADIGM SHIFT

To be honest, our initial reason for obtaining financial freedom is materialistic in nature. We wanted to invest and create wealth. After a while, we realized that wealth will be the obvious effect of being financially free. Creating wealth is really understanding the source of wealth – GOD! Now, we are aiming at the opportunity of being a conduit of God’s blessing to other people. It’s hard having that burden to help financially but can’t do anything about it. Financial prosperity is equally proportioned to our spiritual progress. 3 John 1:2 says, “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” Matthew 6:33 also emphasized, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided to you.”

TRUE PROSPERITY

We are not yet financially free. We are still struggling and we understand the sacrifice needed to attain our goals. We also know that the journey we are going through is a way for us to solely depend on God and acknowledge His ultimate sovereignty. True prosperity is not just about creating wealth, but more about developing accountability and Biblical stewardship. It’s unlikely that our names will be published along with the billionaires of this world, but we do know that our names are written in the book of life, and whatever we gain in this world will pale in comparison to the glory of Christ that awaits us in heaven.

 

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. Roman 13:8

Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

WE CREATE TO SERVE

My creative intentions are for the purpose of serving others. It may seem superficial, but that is the truth. My actions may not look like it, but that is the reality. The moment an artist starts the creative process, we subconsciously look at the end in mind and ask ourselves “who will benefit from this?” This is a million-dollar question for artists like me because once we fail to fulfill this, then technically we have failed our project. Either we don’t finish or it gets rejected at first glance.

Serving may not come naturally to most people, but I think artists innately have a small percentage of this desire whenever we create. The moment we realize and use it to leverage our skills and abilities, we open up a whole new realm of possibilities. Success becomes one of the options.

SERVANT’S HEART

We have to understand the power of serving and having a heart that is willing to serve. As a Christian, I usually hear the phrase SERVANT’S HEART. It gets thrown around in Christian circles so much that we start getting immuned and start to disregard the weight of the concept behind the phrase. Internalizing the heart of a servant or a slave is what we need to do. Most of the scriptures were written during a period when slaves are in existence. Slaves are not free and they work because their lives depend on it. So, most of the time, when we see the English word “servant” in the Bible, it is pertaining to a SLAVE! With that in mind, having a SERVANT’S HEART is really having a SLAVE’S INTENTION. Take note…we are not promoting the SLAVE’S MENTALITY, but their INTENTION!

SLAVE MENTALITY

The mentality of the slave is confined to the limited freedom they are provided. They have limits and boundaries that they dare not cross. The intention of the slave, on the other hand, is to stay alive and get the approval of their master. They work for the master. As a Christian creative, I work for my heavenly Master. I now hone my whole being to my sole purpose in life – Love God, love others, and make multiplying disciples! So, am I a slave? Yes…I am should be willing to enslave myself to Christ. Because in Him, there is freedom. I know that sounds contradicting, but it’s really not. Let me illustrate it for you.

Imagine committing a heinous crime and you are bound to live your whole life in prison. You have been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt and you yourself know that it is true. Then, someone, you don’t know volunteered to live out the punishment for you. I know that our justice system does not work that way, but what if the judge says OK and swaps you out. Then, after a while, you found out that the person who volunteered is the judge’s son. What would you feel? Aside from feeling confused, wouldn’t you feel indebted? Somehow, your body would want to do something to repay their kindness. Let’s add to the plot. Since people know that you are guilty and despise you for being free, you have a hard time living your life outside. Life becomes hard and unbearable. But then, you are invited to live in a big house, free of rent, and your basic needs are provided. You are also given the opportunity to start a career and succeed. What would you do? How would you feel if your opportunities in life also came from the judge – the father of the volunteer?

PURPOSE

Basically, that’s how I view my life here on earth. The moment I responded to the grace of God in Christ, I realized the privilege and opportunities that are laid out for me. I am free because of Christ, so now I dedicate my life to Him…even to the extent of enslavement. Galatians 2:20 says –  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. My life is now lived for Christ. So, therefore, my ability to create is a form of service, first to God, then to people around me.

As a Christian Creative, I do what I do for Christ. With every blog I post, every artwork I conceptualize, and even every conversation I have, I need to fulfill my ultimate mission in life – Love God, love others, and make multiplying disciples. I create to serve…until people recognize my Master.

So now, ask yourself. – “Why do I create?”

EVALUATING YOUR CREATIVE SELF

It takes a lot of effort to sustain creativity. As a person who started in the design industry almost 20 years, I could attest to the fact that motivating myself to create quality output is always a challenge. I tried a lot of ways to keep the creativity flowing and maneuver it to the place I need it to flourish. While all of that is happening, I also consider deadlines, client preferences, maintaining branding, and other projects I am working on. Not to mention my ministry in the church and my responsibility as a husband and dad. So, before I start burning out, I need to do some self-evaluation. Assessments and evaluations are crucial to any kind of growth. That is why I would like to go through my personal evaluation question on my creative self.

WHAT IS MY ULTIMATE PURPOSE?

Creative people are subconsciously trained to strive to visualize the end in mind. Every project has an ultimate purpose. Every design has a definitive objective. In every project I involve myself with, I always remind myself of my ultimate purpose. I’m not talking about the purpose of what I am currently working on, but my own ultimate purpose in doing this project. Why am I even doing what I’m doing right now? Why do we create content? Why do we pursue these things? It might be a cliché, but having a definite purpose in life will create certain standards in our life processes. Objectives and goals are easier to conclude when you are guided by your purpose in life.

If you haven’t thought about your ultimate purpose then maybe you have to go back to your core beliefs. What do you believe in? In my case, as a professing Christian, I hold on to the standards set forth by the Holy Bible. My purpose is then founded on my spiritual walk. Don’t get me wrong, this post is not designed to push my belief system on you. But it is not an impossibility for you to also acquire what I have. Whatever you decide on, one thing is clear – WE NEED AN ULTIMATE PURPOSE IN LIFE!

Now, what you are about to read next might confuse you, so take your time and re-read if needed. YOUR ULTIMATE PURPOSE IS BOUND TO CHANGE OVER TIME. Huh!? Yes, and I can attest to that. When I was young, my ultimate purpose was to survive. Get through everything as quickly as possible, by any means, to get to the next thing. Then when I started to work, I looked for stability. My goal was quantitative. I wanted to reach a certain salary grade and a certain amount in my bank account. Then, I got married and started a family, and I think I found my ultimate purpose with much finality. It’s letting God lead me to a life where I can point people to my core beliefs. Every project, write-up, event, family gathering, business tie-ups, and future endeavors are pursued with that in mind. As I type away, I think about what people will receive once they finish reading this (I hope you do finish reading this).

Once you refocus your mindset on your ultimate purpose, then it’s time to move on to the next question.

HOW AM I CONTRIBUTING TO MY ULTIMATE PURPOSE?

As we define our ultimate purpose, it’s now time to assess if our decisions in life are contributing to it. The artistic mind might seem to be very complicated, but it processes data and information just like any other person. In my opinion, we are just wired uniquely because of our heightened imagination and the ability to look at a situation from different perspectives. That is why this question should technically be easy to answer. SHOULD. But nothing in life is a walk in a park.

Countless decisions are made every single day and considering all of them is daunting for a creative like me. So focus on major decisions that are game changers – pursuing a new client, changing the artistic direction of a project, investing in a new partner, etc. Look into them with our special artistic viewpoint and evaluate if they would contribute to your ultimate purpose.

Just recently, we moved into a new home and the process my mind had to go through was the most meticulous I ever experienced to date. I had to reconstruct different situations in my mind from the time we make the down payment up to the actual move. It was like Dr. Strange going through every possible scenario to find the crucial one that would fit my ultimate purpose. Don’t get intimated by possible failures, because it hasn’t happened yet! Fear of failure may be a setback for artists like us. Risks are part of life but don’t make it a necessity. Adhere to the natural inclination of our mentality as artists and make that a basis of making calculated risks. Don’t delay your growth just because you see failure ahead. Inevitably, we move forward…just make sure you turn to the direction where your ultimate purpose is served.

AM I GENUINELY HAPPY?

As we create art, either for ourselves or for other people, is there joy? With every brush stroke we place in our painting, every word we add to our story, every element we include in our composition, does our heart jump in natural elation?

All my life I am taught that HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE. We choose to be happy. I always struggled with that saying, because I felt that emotions are somehow uncontrollable. But as I grew older, I accepted the reality that happiness IS a choice! In my experience, it’s not a conscious choice with immediate results. Happiness came from past choices that constructed my current condition. Just like any other emotion, it is built upon the norms and standards that we have. That is why most normal people don’t burst out of anger, because our conscience says otherwise.

If the reason for your self-evaluation is because a current situation is stealing your happiness, then mentally step back from where you are and consciously look into your other affairs and assess if you are still happy doing those things. Sometimes, I also get caught up in the hassle of my current project that I immediately dismiss life as unfulfilling and unfair. But as I refocused on my family and my other personal projects, I instantly realize that life is good. So don’t let a hard situation define your overall happiness. That is why we need to evaluate ourselves from time to time and just be reminded of the important things in our lives.

THAT’S IT!

Only three (3) questions? Yes. These are the only questions I need to realize the general status of my life. If you really think about it and chew on the questions, a lot of other questions will come up. I often do this whenever I was woken up by an upcoming project or a pending problem that I need to address. I alternately reflect on the questions while talking to God in my mind.

I pray that you take the time to slow down and evaluate yourself as you pursue creative excellence in your life and career!

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

THE DESIRES OF OUR HEART

Our mind has conditioned the heart to subconsciously long form something through the years. Our preferences and even our convictions in life are built from principles that we have accepted as true and favorable for our well-being. These principles are introduced through teachings, personal influences like family and close friends, and even in certain environments. These desires will either bring us to our ultimate purpose in life or will cause our ultimate downfall.

We are all created differently by God. Yes, I did say “created” and I did say “God” because the foundation of my preferences and convictions come from my background as a Bible-believing Jesus follower. I put a premium on the written Word of God and regard it as truth. Going back to what I was saying, WE ARE ALL CREATED DIFFERENTLY BY GOD with varying degrees of desire in life. Let me expound it for you – let’s say 5 people graduated at the same time and all of them want to be an engineer. You may argue that all of them desire the same course, but when you dig deeper, you find out that one wants to take Civil Engineering, one wants to take Electrical Engineering, then the rest wants to take Industrial Engineering. You might think, that three of them have the same desire, but if you go down to a different level, you’ll find out that the reason would be different to a certain degree. One desires to go abroad, one wants to give their family a better life, and the other was just making their parents happy. Every life on earth is a unique strand that starts and ends in its own unique way.

As we contemplate the purpose of our lives, we don’t realize that the desires of our hearts have already taken shape through things we passively delight in. Some people never realize that their careers have always been a product of things they have been enjoying in life. I know people who finished college in a particular course but ended up in a different career because people will always gravitate towards things they like. But as a Christian, I understood that my purpose is defined by a higher standard. Psalm 37:4 says that the desires of my heart, the design of my whole being, will only be evident if I delight myself in the Lord. If I consume my time and efforts in knowing my Savior, only then will I understand what my heart ultimately wants.

Wait a minute…the verse says God will GIVE US the desires of our heart and not make us realize them! Yup, you’re right…but what I also found out as I was delighting in Him, is that my desires are now closely aligned to His desires. In His omniscience, he already knows what I want and what I need even before the world began. Psalm 90:2 says that from everlasting to everlasting, He is the eternal God. His knowledge of who I am has been complete even before I was born. That is why, delighting in Him is the only way I would be able to know what is in store for me in the coming days, weeks, months, and years!

As Christians, I don’t think there is another way for us to live than for Christ. Philippians 1:21 says that for Paul, life is not just FOR Christ, but IS Christ. He takes it a couple of steps further. The last part of the verse even says that death is not even a loss for a Christian, it’s GAIN! We gain glory after our life here on earth is done…so better live it like Christ! People are watching. Unbelievers are observing. John MacArthur once said, “You are the only Bible some unbelievers will ever read.”

When we decide to delight in Him, we have to be consistent because our lives depend on Him. I love what C.S. Lewis said, “Relying on God has to start all over every day as if nothing has yet been done.” I hope and pray that we do not cease looking unto Jesus, the author, and perfecter of our faith!

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

EIGHT

Looking back and considering all the times I have failed you, I am so blessed that we have reached this point. Thank you for being sooooo patient with me and your kids (Alam kong minsan parang tatlo anak mo at panganay ako). We have so many pending plans partly because of the pandemic, but I know God has already set the perfect time for all of them to come into fruition. I won’t make this post longer than it should because all I wanted to say has been said in our prayer time a while ago. So…I will leave you a link to the song of our first dance (hindi ko na kinanta kasi di ko kayang hindi naiiyak…haha!)

Love you Pag!

3 A.M. MUSINGS

Yes, I am writing this in the wee hours of the morning and No, this is not an ode to the song by Matchbox 20, though some similarities may be seen except for the part where it says “…I must be lonely.” (just search the lyrics if doesn’t make sense)

A lot of things are keeping me awake these days – health scares, financial worries, pending projects, etc. Out of all those things, nothing is more potent than thinking about your purpose in life. “What should I be doing with my life?” I’m almost at my 40’s and I might still be considered young by most of the people I work with, but then it does not exclude me from wondering if I am doing what I am supposed to do. Don’t get me wrong, I love my work and most of the people I work with, but then something at the back of my mind is telling me that there is more I can do. This is the main thing that makes me turn on my computer and just start typing away.

IS IT TIME TO FINISH MY STUDIES?

This is always my insecurity. I was privileged to go to college but there came a moment in my life that I had to stop and help out. It was the common route for the struggling Filipino family. The eldest would start working so that the other siblings could continue their studies. I did not hate the idea. I did not despise my parents for it. I even felt that it was the honorable thing to do and I am glad that I submitted to my parents. Somehow, I feel like I am part of my sisters’ success – An Elementary Teacher and a Medical Technologist.

The privilege of restarting my educational journey was always available but often put aside. A lot of things were considered a priority. Then I got married, given two kids, and now a full plate at work. As I look at my life and the niche God had carved out for me, there is this need of upgrading. I am grateful and still at awe that God would use a high school graduate to manage His ministry. There is no doubt that God can use anyone He wants, but then I read somewhere that GOD USES PREPARED PEOPLE. Willingness is not enough to get us there. At some point, we will need to develop and enhance a particular skill set and learn to use new tools of our chosen trade.

SHOULD I GET A NEW JOB OR START A BUSINESS?

Financial security is one of the goal we have as a family. Currently, we are undergoing debt management. A lot of wrong decisions in life have pushed us deep into debt and we are starting the long journey out.

Some of my friends of the same faith have asked me, “Shouldn’t you just build capacity and let God handle your finances?” Technically, that’s what we are starting to do. Exercising my faith in finances does not mean doing nothing and waiting for God to bless me. I believe that building capacity is also being financially literate. Being a good steward means creating good cash flow and knowing when to invest. The underlying purpose in our goal to be financially secured is not just for comfort sake but also to open possibilities of helping out people and ministries. That’s why a second job or my own business seems promising.

There is this fine line between acceptable profits and selfish gains that I don’t want to cross. I don’t want to work my ass off just for the sake of making money. I want to make it clear for myself and my family why we need the extra money. Having a clear objective makes it easier for us to lay out our petition to God. As of today, we have a lot of things lined up and we are earnestly praying for God’s timely provision. Our family has gone through a lot of tight financial situations, and every single time, God has proven himself as the great provider. So now, upon the realization of God’s overflowing provision, the motive behind getting a new job or starting a business shifts from a point of financial gain to an opportunity of influence. This is what contributes to my early morning self-reflection moments.

EXPANDING OUR INFLUENCE

I believe that our purpose will have a lasting impact that would echo even after we are gone. What legacy are we leaving behind? What kind of influence do we have with the next generation? As a father of two kids, I have to take those question seriously. There is only so much I can do with the remaining time I have, so I have to make every day count. I cannot change the world for them, but I can equip them with the right mentality and attitude needed to respond to the changing times. If there is one thing I desire, that’s making sure my babies establish a belief system that can give them hope and confidence in living their lives. As a Christian, I know that Jesus is the foundation of that belief system.

For what shall it profit a man,
if he shall gain the whole world,
but lose his soul
?
Mark 8:36

My self-reflection will always come to this conclusion – Whatever I am doing, it should serve the ultimate purpose of God which is spreading the good news. Whether I would pursue my studies, get a new job, or start my own company, everything should serve the ultimate purpose. So now, the end is in mind, what’s next?

THE TIPPING POINT

The pandemic is slowly getting to me and my routine. My way of doing things is starting to have a bad taste in my mouth. Working from home was a joy at first. No early morning preparation. No long commute. It sounded like a dream. Fast forward to today, working from home has become a potential hazard to our mental state. I’m about to tip over and just lose it. An imminent breakdown of massive proportion is about to happen. I had to step back.

Just the other night, while my wife and I were chatting, I began to self-assess. What am I really feeling? Am I angry? Frustrated? Sad? Discontent? Why am I being overwhelmed by so many emotions? What is the root of my current problem? I bounced everything back to my wife and was given more questions to ponder. At some level, she is also struggling to find stability in our current situation.

MY CURRENT DILEMMA

I am an idealist and also a realist. I have a lot of things in my mind that I FEEL like I have to do but are constrained to what I can REALLY do. Back in our old church, I surrendered myself to be used by God in the mission field. I can still remember the moment I stepped forward to the front and get emotional to the distinct feeling of being called to actively involve myself in mission work. I started teaching in our local church as part of training and was even part of various ministries. Years started to pass and the FEELING of being a missionary boiled down to the question – am I REALLY called by God. As of today, I still have the same feeling but then other things are also impressed in my heart like starting a business, starting a ministry, finishing my studies, and even starting a second job. All of these are currently compiled in my brain and it’s starting to bleed over my routine and affect my current roles and responsibilities.

I remember telling my wife that I wish I knew what God was preparing me for. It’s like telling me that we are leaving in 10 minutes so I better prepare but then no other information is given. Where are we going? Are we going to stay long? Should I bring food? Then my wife said the most God ordained thing that smacked my spiritual senses. For her, not knowing builds up a good kind of anticipation and reminds her of God’s sovereignty. I could only do so much, and for the other things I am not capable to do, I have to apply FAITH!

APPLYING A HOSEA MOMENT

I’m currently restarting my personal devotion and was led to the book of Hosea. I concluded, that in order for me to successfully apply FAITH, I need a stable belief system that is founded on the absolute TRUTH of God’s Word. I believe that I have been complacent with my spiritual life, thinking that once a week is enough to nourish my soul. I was starving and I had no clue. That was also the dilemma of the kingdom of Israel during the time of Hosea. That is why, the whole book is a reminder of the effect of neglecting the most important thing.

When you go to the second verse of the first chapter of Hosea, you will see the heaviness of what Hosea will be undergoing for God’s work. It says there, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness…” Now, I will not go into the whole reason behind why God ordered such thing (Because there is always a legitimate reason if it came from God) but focus on the first 4 words in God’s message – GO, TAKE TO YOURSELF.

Hosea was a prophet. Mostly, prophets go about telling people God’s message for them like how Jonah was ordered to tell the people of Nineveh of their impending doom. But then, God would always have a message for the prophet themselves. The first order of business for Hosea was for himself. A heavy task that was met with pure obedience once you get to the next verse. Why did Hosea obey? A commentary I was reading once said – It is easier to obey if you understand WHO is giving the command.

Hosea was not blindly obeying. Hosea was simply obeying out of love and reason. The logic behind this is established on a belief system where God is the ultimate foundation. That is the basis of FAITH! That’s what I need. I know the story of Hosea and how He repeatedly took his wife back into his arms even to the point of buying her back, but I am still excited to go over the story verse by verse and really soak into the grace, mercy, and compassion of God without neglecting His justice and perfect Righteousness.

BROKEN AND SPILLED OUT

I remembered Steve Green’s song BROKEN AND SPILLED OUT about the woman who broke a box of expensive oil and poured it into Jesus’ feet. The song shifted the focus on Jesus, where it says that He was also broken and spilled out for us on the Cross. Then, the last verse of the song was more of a challenge for the Christian.

In sweet abandon, let me be spilled out
And used up for Thee

Eventually, we would reach a tipping point where we are not able to do anything. In that point of helplessness, we can still be used by God. We are still able to move forward. I’m not saying it would be easy. It would even be painful. But then, with God, nothing is impossible.

I pray that as we move forward, especially during these trying times, that we do what we can do and trust God with what we are not able to do.

Photo by Lane Smith on Unsplash

ACTIVE STILLNESS

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

I love the song STILL by Hillsong, especially the chorus where it says “When the oceans rise and thunders roar, I will soar with You above the storm. Father you are king over the flood. I will be still and know you are God.” My wife and I found a tagalog version of this song. It’s not translated word for word, but the thought of the song is expressed more accurately, in my personal opinion. The Tagalog version of the chorus goes like this “Suliranin man ay dumating (Even if predicaments come our way) Ikaw lamang O Diyos ang sasambahin (I will praise you alone O God) Panginoon ko sayo lamang, mananatili kalian pa man (Forever I will remain still in You o Lord).” I know, it’s not a very accurate translation, but the song is not the point.

Whenever I am confronted by verses that command me to BE STILL and get a grip of my anxious soul, I always think of just giving up. Most people would even say LET GO AND LET GOD and it always feels like a last resort. It’s like driving your car until it runs out of gas and then letting the momentum take you wherever. Subconsciously, I have equated being STILL to passively quitting. Que sera sera – whatever happens, happens. This was my mentality before I was confronted by a sermon preached in church just recently about INTENTIONAL GROWTH.

We Christians are saved by God’s grace alone. Our faith and understanding of God is also a gift that is made possible by the ministry of the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truths (John 16:13). We are privileged to understand spiritual things because we were permitted to understand spiritual things. When it comes to our spiritual growth, we are commanded to endure and show character in the light of hardship and persecution (Heb 12:7). Even Jesus said to love those who persecute us (Mat 5:44). So where does being STILL fit in this scenario of INTENTIONAL GROWTH?

I believe that being still is not passive in nature. Remember Jesus telling the storm to BE STILL? It required great power. Power that Jesus initially veiled as He lived His life as a human being (Phil 2:6-7). He had the power, He was just not flaunting it. In our case, we have that same power in Christ and we should recognize it. Being STILL requires an active understanding of God’s character and how He directly affects our lives. Being STILL is not giving up but pressing on and moving towards the goal that was set before us. Being STILL is a calling to pursue holiness in the midst of pain and corruption. Being STILL is our best option during times of uncertainty.

When we start to choose to be still, change is never guaranteed. Peace, on the other hand, may be attained in our STILLNESS. I love how the Apostle Paul told the believers in Philippi that God’s peace is beyond their comprehension and is able to guard our hearts and minds as we live in Christ (Phil 4:7).

As my wife and I go through rivers of doubts during her pregnancy, I pray for God’s sustaining grace as we attempt to intentionally grow in Him and actively pursue being STILL.

HOLY WEAK

The end of the Lenten season is at hand topped off with a weeklong commemoration of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. The “HOLY WEEK” is anticipated by the Filipino people, not because of any spiritual undertone, but because of the long holiday weekend. It’s a chance for the working people to experience uninterrupted days of rest. So…who’s excited for a long holiday weekend? (If you’re reading this in the far future, I’m writing this during the enhanced community quarantine where everyone has been in lockdown for more than a month because of the Covid-19 pandemic.)

Celebrating Jesus should be a default for the Christian. Apostle Paul declared it best to the believers in Philippi – “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21 NIV) The life of the Apostle Paul before his encounter with Jesus in the road to Damascus was so much against God, and yet, God in His love and sovereignty pursued Paul (it was Saul back then) to live a life with a greater purpose. That is why, when the great Apostle said “For to me, to live is Christ…” it was a statement that as long as he is living, the life he is living will be in parallel to Christ. He can confidently say that, because he has nothing to lose. Even dying is gain…profit! That is why, if you only have this week to think about Christ, to honor His sacrifice, then what does that make us?

Dedicating our lives to Jesus is never easy. Even Jesus said that the world will hate us because of Him (John 15:18; Matt 10:22). We will even be persecuted because of Jesus (Matt 5:11). The Christian way of living will be hard, and the only way for us to live it out the way it should be is when we understand that our hope is in the Lord (Isa 40:31). That is why, our best shot in this world is to really stick close to Jesus. How close? Like you have “…been crucified with Christ…” (Gal 2:20). When you continue the verse, it says there that being crucified with Christ gives you a grace oriented perception that it is no longer you and I who are living, it is Christ living in us!

So let’s get to my main point.

We, who have been sanctified by the blood of Jesus Christ, draw strength from the God who pursued us. We are spiritually weak and vulnerable. And it is in our weakness where God’s power is made complete and full. That is why we should never be ashamed of our weakness (2 Cor 12:9). Our capacity to comprehend the grace, mercy and compassion of Christ is all because of the power of the Holy Spirit in us who teaches us all things (John 14:26).

In conclusion, during the holiest week of the year, we have to accept the fact that we are weak. If Jesus, in all His power, decided to veil His deity and become man just to fulfill the Father’s plan (Phil 2:6-8), then we, who are spiritually weak, has no choice but to submit to God.

 

This is my first installment in my personal reflection regarding the importance of knowing who Jesus is. I hope and pray, that as we progress in our walk with God, that our ultimate understanding of His nature would radically change the direction of our goals and aspiration in life. 

PASSING OVER

The exodus account is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. Seeing the faithfulness of God all through-out the narrative is a depiction of unfailing grace and renewed mercy. The temporary uprooting of Jacob and his family was pre-planned by God in eternity past so that the lineage of Christ will be preserved. It gives you a glimpse of God’s love towards His beloved. Then, the time came for the Israelites to return.

When you read the first chapter of exodus starting at verse 8, you would see that the suffering of the Israelites started when a new Pharaoh came into power without being oriented to the history and origin of Joseph’s people. Fear was somehow instilled in the mind of this new leader. A major detail to the story of the Passover.

I will not be tackling the whole story. I expect that you have come here with a basic knowledge of the Exodus story, or even the Disney adaptation – Prince of Egypt. Now, let’s fast forward to the very last plague that would be the key to the Israelite’s release.

Now the Lord had said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely. (Exo 11:1 NIV)

Let’s pause. You might be thinking – “Why didn’t God just jump to this plague right here? Why go through all the trouble of sending nine plagues?” Well, it’s a very valid question. I asked myself that years ago, and I came across this study on how all the plagues God sent may have been a direct contradiction to one or two specific gods of the Egyptians. Just like how the last plague hits the ultimate power of Egypt – Pharaoh! The Egyptians worshipped Pharaoh. They even believe that he is the actual son of Ra – the sun god. So, when you think about it, the nine plagues before the final one is a precursor to the ultimate knockout move God has planned out. Now that God has the attention of both the Israelites and the Egyptians, it’s time to show grace and judgment in one pass.

So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt – worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites, not a dog will bark at any man or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. (Exodus 11:4-7 NIV)

There’s the knock-out punch! I love how Moses wrote the last part of verse 7 – “Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. God has drawn the line and made sure that the world will know the difference between those He has chosen and those whose heart has hardened from the mere revelation of His character. Let’s move on.

The Lord had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you – so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country. (Exo 11:9 & 10)

TIME OUT! That’s not fair! Pharaoh was bound to lose in the first place! Let’s clarify. First of all, God will always judge fairly (Psa 9:8). If we understand the nature of God, it’s common knowledge for the believer (It should be) that everything God has willed and purposed is and will be good (Rom 8:28) – final and beneficial. Secondly, God is also a God of mercy, compassion, and grace (Lam 3:23). Never will God contradict His essence just to prove a point. His characteristics operate simultaneously without any contradiction. Remember what I said? GRACE AND JUDGEMENT IN ONE PASS! Now, let’s go back to my first question – Why did it take 10 plagues when it could have been finished in one? What if, it’s also a show of grace to Pharaoh to acknowledge God’s power and sovereignty over everything? I love how an article in The Gospel Coalition explained that for the first five plagues, Pharaoh hardened his heart. It was not until the end of the sixth plague (Exo 9:12) that it mentioned the Lord hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Then, then the article said this:

Well how did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? God simply revealed himself. He revealed his power, supremacy, love for his people, hatred of sin, etc.. Through the signs and wonders of the plagues. It was this revelation of God that hardened his heart.

Even before the plagues happened, in the first verse we read, the information Pharaoh decided to believe was the foundation of his heart being hardened. He did not know who Joseph was, therefore the existence of the Israelites became a threat.

We have come to the part of the story where God gave the Israelites the whole day to prepare for His visit. This part amazes me because of the way God has included specific instructions for the people to follow. The details include what meal to eat, how to prepare the meal, how to eat the meal and even what to wear during the meal. The most interesting part is when Moses said this:

“Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘it is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when He struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshipped. The Israelites did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron. (Exo 12:24-28)

This was an event worth remembering. This was an event that future generations needed to hear about. It’s like God telling the Israelites – Don’t you forget that I chose you! And when I come passing through your homes, remember that I showed you grace! Grace to the Israelites. Judgment to the Egyptians. All in one passing.

So how does this story help us?

Well, dearly beloved, if you are a follower of Christ, then we should not forget that God chose us. Before the foundation of the world, we have been purposed to be In Christ. Spiritual death passed over us the moment we were reconciled in Christ. Grace pursued us the moment we were born to this fallen world. The elaborate story of the Exodus was given for us to deeply appreciate the extent of God’s faithfulness towards us. Even during the times when we fail and complain, just like what the Israelites will do after they are freed, God continued to show grace.

Now, hold on to these principles. Live life with a better perspective. Look at your circumstances through the lens of grace. Remember this fact – that through Christ’s loving mercy, He called onto death to pass over His beloved and offered Himself in our stead. The passing over of death is in itself an act of grace.