Saturday, November 29, 2008


Last Wednesday, November 26, I did something crazy for my wife Ellen.

As you well know, my brother-in-law died due to liver cancer last November 19. (That’s about 11 months since my dear mother-in-law died. That’s two deaths in the family within the year.) Ellen immediately went home to Pozorrubio, Pangasinan to oversee the funeral arrangements while I had to stay here in Metro Manila until last Sunday for our church anniversary. After our church activities, my three boys and I joined Ellen there. Though somewhat surreal, it was a family reunion of sorts. Relatives as far as Baguio visited us. We even had the chance to share the Gospel during the last night of the wake. (We praise God because last November 1 my sister-in-law who is also a believer shared the Good News to her brother. He prayed to receive Christ. Nineteen days later, he died.) Last Tuesday we laid his mortal remains to rest. Then, we traveled back to Manila.

The next morning, I woke up to my wife’s cries. She was and still is grieving for her brother. During the wake, she was so busy that she didn’t have enough time to mourn. I read somewhere that insufficient grieving is not good for a person’s emotional health. So, when she told me she is rushing back to Pangasinan to be with her surviving brothers and sisters, I could not say no. Ellen hastily left. On my way to the church office, I had this nagging feeling in my heart. I thought, “I should have been with Ellen during her time of grief.” But duty calls. I have to return to work. Still, I could not shake off the guilt. So, I called Deacon James Tioco about my predicament. He only answered with a word, “Go.” I felt it’s crazy. We just came home from Pangasinan. That’s 200 kilometers one way! But, still I went with Derek, my youngest son who has autism. Family first. We drove four hours to the province. We arrived dinner time. We had a sumptuous meal with our pleasantly shocked relatives. But, God seems to have other plans. My nephew surprisingly asked me to share some advice to their family now that their father has died. It was, I believe, God’s appointed time.

God’s schedule is not our schedule. His plans are not always the same as ours. He will not ask us to do His bidding in our convenient time. It will always be out of our comfort zone. But obey we must, even if it means driving a total of 400 kilometers back and forth.

Brethren, obeying God may seem crazy but it really does make sense.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Safe or Significant?

In his talk “Just Courage: Charging the Darkness” (Global Leadership Summit 2008), International Justice Mission (IJM) president Gary Haugen spoke about choices that effective leaders make in the face of difficult tasks. Haugen knew courage amidst difficulties firsthand. IJM rescues the sexually exploited, the enslaved and the oppressed globally. “Dateline NBC” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show” have already featured Haugen and the IJM work.

One of those choices is the decision not to be safe. Being safe and being significant are not one and the same. To be safe is to watch things happen. To be significant is to make it happen. Safety says “Enough. Significance says “Excel.” Always keep in mind that we serve a God who wants us to be significant, not safe. That’s why C.S. Lewis' “The Chronicles of Narnia” depicted Aslan the lion (a symbol of Christ) as good but not safe. He is, after all, “not a tame lion.” God is more concerned with our character than with our comfort. He is the Lord who would call us to “Launch out into the deep” (Luke 5:4, NKJV). He beckons us to be like Peter to step out of the boat and walk on water. In short, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19). Obedience is never safe. But it leads to significance.

People walk around life carrying a sign that says, “Business as usual.” But the significant life is not usual. To paraphrase one of my favorite authors, a significant life is outside the realm of the safe, the predictable and the expected. As a church, we can just go through the motions. Busy as bee yet not having any impact at all in our spheres of influence such as our families, our workplace and our community. We can even be devoted but not make a dent at all. We can start being significant by opening our hearts to people, going beyond the “Kumusta?” (“How are you?") and really listening to the answers. We can go out of our safe zone and start making a difference in others by opening up our schedule to join a small group. We can even host it in our homes. We can invite people to our church. Then, we can invest time in following them up. If we are too busy for people, then we are really too busy. Getting involved with people is not safe. But it’s significant.

Brethren, are we safe or significant?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

So Young Yet So...

Senator Allan Peter Cayetano’s decision not to inhibit himself from the probe on the fertilizer fund scam made me feel “delicadeza” (a sense of what is proper and improper, a sense of shame) is really in near extinction.

Though Senator Ping Lacson clarified that he was “not casting aspersions and giving any hint of indictment” on Cayetano, the fact that he raised is that Cayetano’s name is on a list of supposed beneficiaries of the fertilizer fund.

But Cayetano still refused to inhibit himself. Yet I find the reasons he gave self-serving. It is because he was the one who cleared himself and not the proper authorities like, for example, the Ombudsman. The one who clears and the one who needs to be cleared cannot be one and the same person.

He said the Department of Agriculture has already disowned that list. But that is the very office that Cayetano is investigating. He claimed that his district did not get any fertilizer fund when he was a congressman. But he added a caveat to be safe: “to my knowledge”. He claimed that list was bogus. But since that list is also submitted to the Ombudsman, then it should be declared as such by that office, not Cayetano. Former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocjoc Bolante, the alleged mastermind of the scam, cleared Cayetano. But Bolante also cleared the president. Yet, the senate probers themselves would not accept his exoneration of the president. How can we then believe his exoneration of Cayetano?

There were signs of such a lack of “delicadeza” when he ran as senator. He toyed with the anti-dynasty law and insisted that there’s nothing wrong with him and his sister serving together in the Senate and his wife serving as a congresswoman at the same time. Yes, the people elected them. But lawmakers should be the first to set an example in obeying the law to those very same people. When the Senate President Manny Villar was accused of double-insertion of a budget for a so-called “road to nowhere,” Cayetano immediately rose to defend Villar without even calling for an investigation.

Like Lacson, I am not casting aspersions or indicting Cayetano. He has all the right to defend his good name. It is also possible that he is not really a beneficiary of the questionable fertilizer fund. But I think he should have the “delicadeza” to inhibit himself. I feel that he just couldn’t resist the glare of the news cameras.

To paraphrase a famous quote of a former Manila mayor, Cayetano seems to me so young yet so… confused.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Coach

All his life, Doug Blevins always dreamed of becoming a National Football League coach. So, he flooded New York Jets manager Dick Steinberg with letters. He pointed out the flaws of the team’s place kicker, Cary Blanchard. He also suggested how Blanchard can improve his kicking ability. Blevins so impressed the team manager that he got hired as its kicking consultant. Fast Company magazine praised Blevins’ coaching in an article aptly titled, “This Coach Helps the Best to Hit Their Stride” (Sept. 2008 issue): “Trainers in every business can learn from Blevins’s teaching techniques. He breaks every motion down to its component parts, then squeezes out incremental but critical improvements. And he knows just how much he can change in a player—and when he should leave well enough alone.” Sounds like a coach at par with the great Vince Lombardi.

What’s so amazing with Blevins is that he never coached any team before. He never even tried a field goal. To top it all, he has never ever walked!

Blevins was born with the debilitating cerebral palsy.

Yes, his flesh is weak. But he overcame it with his more than willing spirit.
Sadly, when a door opens for us to serve God through our church, we close it outright. Our flesh is not only weak. Our spirit is even unwilling. No matter how learned or how gifted or how talented we are, unless we make ourselves available for God we will not attain anything significant at all. When Isaiah saw the glory of God, he saw how unworthy he was. “Woe to me! ... I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5, NIV) He could have used that as an excuse. He could have claimed, “I’m unworthy to serve.” But God dealt with it. He cleansed Isaiah. So, when the Lord asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah cried out, “Here am I. Send me!” (v. 8) What’s your excuse? God’s grace is so sufficient for whatever it is that is keeping us from obeying His call. For “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

Brethren, yes we are weak but we can be strong in the Lord.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

That Popeye Moment

“That’s all I can stans. But I can’t stans no more.”

That’s one of the famous lines of Popeye, the legendary cartoon sailor man. (I think next to “I yam what I yam.”) Then he would ingest a whole can of spinach to gain superhuman strength and beat the daylights out of the villanous Bluto who threatened the love of his life, Olive Oyl.

Last Friday, as we watched the videocast in the 2008 Leadership Summit, Bill Hybels (senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, the second largest megachurch in the USA) connected that Popeye line with what he called “holy discontent.” He described holy discontent as that strong feeling about something that “breaks the heart of someone who loves God that most likely breaks God’s heart, too.”
When for example you could not stomach injustice or apathy in society anymore, when you are so brokenhearted about it that you exclaim, “That’s all I can stand and I can’t stand it anymore”, when you are so frustrated that you knew you have to do something about it, that’s your Popeye moment. That was your life defining moment. That’s holy discontent.

Nehemiah knew that moment. His brother Hanani reported to him, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (1:3, NIV) How did he respond? Just shook his head and sighed, “God bless their soul”? No. “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (v. 4) It broke his heart. He resolved to do something about it. That’s his holy discontent. So, he took a leave from his high-profile influential job as the cupbearer of the king (something like an ancient executive secretary or the chief of staff) and built the Jerusalem wall in a record 52 days!

What about you? Do you see something that needs to be done and you have this nagging feeling that you have to do something about it? Do you see a gaping need for a volunteer in a certain area of ministry in our church or a need to address an issue in your sphere of influence and God seems to be tugging at your heart? Do you feel responsible to meet that need? That could be your Popeye moment. Time to act upon it.

Brethren, what is it that you can’t stand anymore?