"If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday" - Isa 58:10 ESV.

In this time of the pandemic, everybody seems to be on the lookout for that which promises either protection for those who aren't yet sick and healing for those who are. But we as a people are more than just bodies. We need healing in many more areas of our life. Some of us are suffering from emotional distress, others from mental ones. There are those who battle with psychological problems of one kind or another and others from social ones. Aside from these, there is still the spiritual battles that people have to contend with. Any "disorder" or issues related to these other non-physical areas are equally of great concern for they will eventually affect our physical health as well. 

Sometimes we ourselves can be so immersed in these issues that we barely have enough relief from them. Much less to spare some time for other people who also deal with their own. But our passage today has a totally different idea. It tells us that in order for us to turn "the darkness of your own gloom be as noonday" we need to look outward and not inward. In short, instead of becoming so busy addressing our own troubles, we need to "pour yourself out for the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted." This may appear illogical at first but recent studies support this advice. Science is slowly catching up to the bible when it comes to the effect of altruism or of being "other-centered" instead of self-centered in the process of healing or even bringing a sense of well-being.

Bible readers have surely encountered the passage in the gospels that say, "You are the light of the world" (Mat 5:14a ESV) or "...let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Mat 5:16 ESV). for some of us who have read this, we may be asking how exactly we can serve as light to the world. Maybe we have been told that we should live a life that's honest and righteous so that the world may see that living so brings peace to the soul and spreads inspiration and hope. This is one way to do that. Or that by being a man of faith and trust on the power of the Lord and His sovereignty over everything in this world, we can set an example of calmness even in times of panic, peace in times of war and turmoil, gladness in times of trial and tribulation, etc. This too is correct. 

But in today's passage, we are told one more: to be a person for others, especially with an active participation in the alleviation of their suffering. We are promised that as soon as we take our eyes away from ourselves, even if we are also suffering the same way, by looking out for others to help we are hitting two birds in one stone: we bring good to them and bring good to ourselves as well. Our benefit actually comes from the Lord who "will guide and continually satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong" (Isaiah 58:11).

There are many more things coming the way of one who rises like light in the darkness for others. The Lord isn't slack nor miserly in blessing those who do. The passage assures this:

...and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in. (Isa 58:11-12 ESV)

This is a lot to take in. This is a hundredfold return for a simple act of goodness rendered for others. But it's also a biblical truth. This is key to blessedness and prosperity. The fact that many miss this is testament to the sad truth that majority of us have stopped looking beyond the confines of our own need and problems.

So maybe it's time to change perspective and to widen our view. Look out for that someone today who needs something more than we do and respond to that need. God promises you that you will be also watered.

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts...forgiving each other...and above all these, put on love" - Col 3:12-14 ESV.

This triplet of character traits is often talked about on a regular basis. We can't avoid talking about love for every single day of our lives, we deal with people we care about. We extend the use of this word even to things and ideas - such as loving chocolate or a vacation or science. Compassion too is something we can't avoid feeling. Every daily news outlet has some harrowing tale about people meeting one form of disaster or another - war refugees in Syria, the daily Covid-19 deaths in India, etc. And how can we avoid forgiveness when the world is full of people who, despite their best effort to be kind to one another, even such attempts can offend or hurt?

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"..for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks" - Luk 6:45 ESV.

"Walk the talk." is a good life principle. It's about consistency and integrity. It's being careful with what we say and standing up for what we have said or promised, even if it hurts to do so. In fact, it is a biblical life philosophy. Jesus said, "Let your word be yes, yes; No no." (Mat 5:37) which Apostle James paraphrased when he says, "Let your yes be yes, and your no, no" (James 5:12). Consistency. It is a staple of character. It is a boon in relationships. It builds trust and honor.

But if a good walk is one that is consistent with good talk, where should talk come from? Where it comes from must necessarily be good also and again for consistency. Our passage sheds light to this question. It tells us this:

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth the good. And an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth the evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luk 6:45 MKJV)

There we go. Talk is a result of what's in the heart. Walking the talk isn't possible consistently unless the one that feeds the talk - in this case the heart - is also of the same disposition. If the heart is suffering and its condition is far from well, talk suffers and so does walk. Some may attempt to hide what's in there, putting on a facade of wellness and cheerfulness. But it only makes the condition of the heart even worse. The usual flow of good things is from the inside out and not the other way around.

As per the bible, the heart is like a repository. Or maybe a well of some sort. It's from there that we fetch that which will eventually come out into the open - our words and our actions. But does the buck stops at the heart? I suspect not. I think the bible still goes beyond this when Apostle Paul writes:

"Finally, my brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are right, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, think on these things." (Php 4:8 MKJV). 

If the heart is a repository, this verse seems to tell us that what gets deposited in the heart is a product of the mind or our thoughts. On closer examination, we know that the mind is the birthplace of ideas, both good and bad. On good days when the mind is full of pleasant, pure and lovely things, the heart follows along fine. But on evil days when the mind starts to conspire and conceive evil things, the heart also quickly darkens. We can also validate the antecedence of the mind over the heart from other verses. For example the process of our transformation from an old natured sinner to a new creature in Christ happens through the renewing of the mind. Notice:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, in order to prove by you what is that good and pleasing and perfect will of God. (Rom 12:2 MKJV).

There are many more of these type of verses but I think you get the idea. Our walk goes a long way before it becomes the type that it is. For it to be good, the mind must dwell on the good as enumerated by Paul. Then and only then can the chain leading to it can have that consistent goodness.

Our work is cut out for us. We can't afford to do a quick work of our action without going through the complete chain. You want to be a good person? Start from the very beginning and that is your thoughts. The band aid solution of going against what's in your heart or mind is unsustainable. At best, it will only make you miserable knowing that you are being hypocritical. At worst, it will be short-lived for the real you will surface sooner or later and the backlash can be painful.

But I would like to push this even beyond the mind. For what kind of mind do we have? It is a corrupted mind. It didn't escape the fall of Adam. It is tainted with sin and is corrupted. To have one that's conducive to healthy thoughts, we need the mind of Christ. Apostle Paul instructs us:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned...But we have the mind of Christ. (1Co 2:14,16b ESV).

Beyond the mind is Christ. Only with the mind of Christ can spiritual and therefore godly thoughts become possible.

(Photo credit: mountainridgechurch.org)

"Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples" - Luk 11:1 ESV.

There are many instances in the bible where Jesus had a conversation with His disciples. In the Old Testament, we read the same thing between Jehovah and OT saints. Even after Jesus was taken up to heaven, we still have biblical accounts of God speaking directly to NT saints like when Peter had a vision of a carpet loaded with different animals in Joppa or when Paul was confronted by the resurrected Jesus in road to Damascus.

The gift of speech is an important distinction of humans compared with the rest of the living things that God created. God can talk. We can talk while the rest of creation cannot. Speech is one of the things that puts humans in close similarity with our God. God can hold a conversation. Man can hold a conversation while the rest of creation cannot. And if conversation is an important means for persons to connect with each other, speech enables us to actively connect with our God. Wonderful, isn't it? And this wonderful connection usually happens when we use speech to pray. "Speech distinguishes men from animals; speech rising into prayer distinguishes the children of God from the children of this world." - Arnot.

And prayer is the subject of our passage today.

Let's take a look at that passage and you will immediately notice it starts with a strange request:

Luk 11:1 ESV "Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.".

Why did I say that this is a strange request? Well, the disciples of Jesus were Jews. Jewish people are taught religion from childhood and most definitely, that training includes praying. But if they already know how to pray, why the request?

Things that we learned since we were children and keep on doing over and over again can become mechanical, a reflex or an obligation. When that happens to prayer, it loses its edge, its sharpness, its fervency. It can sound hollow and empty. Compare for example the memorized prayers that we learned when we were children to the prayer that we pray when we have a heartfelt request, a deep need or a urgent request. Big difference, right?
I suspect, the disciples of Jesus saw that difference in the way He prayed and then realized hey, what we have been doing is way inferior than what the Master is doing. Ours just didn't have that intimacy, that submission, that confidence. In other words, watching Jesus pray made the disciples realize they don't really know how to pray properly.

Isn't this actually true with things in life? How many times you thought you know something until someone shows you that you don't? The question is, do you have the humility to say to that person, "Can you teach me how to do it?" The disciples were humble enough to do that.
Importance of a good example in teaching others. Jesus' good example became the reason why the disciples made this request. But there is another good example and that is of John, referring to John the Baptist, not John the apostle. Disciples don't always learn because we tell them something. Sometimes they learn because we showed them something. Dr. W. Graham says, "Influence is not the less powerful because it is silent." And Jesus and John showed the disciples how to pray, at first without words, until they asked. Is our prayer life something that when other see, they will be compelled to say, "Sana all!"

Now we are all familiar with the pattern of prayer that Jesus gave in response to this request. We have memorized it as children but have we given it much thought? Maybe not because that's the danger of memorizing prayer. However, can we truly say that the way we pray today isn't similar to the memorized prayer that we learned in the past? 

Imagine two friends: Juana and Petra. One day, Petra noticed that every time she meets Juana, she sounds more and more like a sound recorder, repeating the same words over and over again.

A sample of their conversation goes like this:

Hi Petra. Ang ganda ganda mo pinagpala ka talaga ni Lord. Walang kang kaparehong babae sa lahat ng mga babaeng nakilala ko. At ang mga anak mo sobrang babait.

This repeats over and over again every time this two women meet. At first, Petra may be flattered to hear what Juana says but after a while, it becomes stale, meaningless and insincere.

What do you think will happen after this? Here's what I think will happen. Petra will begin to avoid meeting or having a conversation with Juana. I can imagine one day Petra inside a grocery with her husband who saw her friend Juana in a distant aisle. When her husband says to her, "Isn't that Juana over there?", I'm sure Petra will say, "Yes, it's her. Come on let's move so she won't see us."

I'm not saying that it's bad to say the same thing over and over again. But a lack of variation in the way you say it attests to this: that you lack creativity, lack forethought, lack preparation and yes, lack sincerity. 

Do you catch yourself praying for your meal and how you sound when you do? Do you ever pause and ask yourself first, "How should I pray for this food so that it won't sound the way I sounded the last time?"

Let me give you an example from the pattern that Jesus gave. "Give us each day our daily bread." How many ways can you say this? Lots of ways, but only when you give it some thought before you open your mouth to pray.

How many ways can you say, "Lead me not into temptation."? Lots of ways but again only if you think first of how you have been tempted in the past, the kind of temptation that you are prone to, how you contributed to your own fall, how you suffered the consequences, etc. 

If there is anything more that this request is telling us it is this: there is a difficulty in true prayer. Coleridge in his book, Table Talk said this:
“I have no difficulty in forgiveness... It is to pray, to pray as God would have us; this is what at times makes me turn cold to my soul. Believe me, to pray with all your heart and strength, with the reason and the will, to believe vividly that God will listen to your voice through Christ, and verily do the thing He pleaseth thereupon—this is the last, the greatest achievement of the Christian’s warfare upon earth."

I believe much of the difficulty in true prayer is the amount of thought that must be given given to it. Don't make the mistake of thinking that when the person praying has so much to say and easily churn out words like a fountain spouts water is right away a true prayer. While words make up much of waht we call prayer, check what the bible says about some true prayers:

Rom 8:26 ESV  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Thus, John Piper chooses to define prayer as, "Intentionally conveying a message to God." With words? Yes and no. One can use words or not as in what Rom 8:26 says. A message out of groaning. A message without words.

Leaving now this aspect of prayer allow me to move on to the next thing I want to point out in our passage. 

In His lesson to His disciples, Jesus mentioned a couple of important things  to remember about prayer. He said it by way of a parable. Beginning with verse 5 he says,

Luk 11:5-8 ESV  And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves,  (6)  for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him';  (7)  and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything'?  (8)  I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.

What does this tell us? That when we pray we can't pray like we don't actually care. Rather we pray like we don't actually accept a non-answer. I don't mean a "No" answer. That we can accept. I mean a non-answer. What we can't accept is a non-answer. That means we expect a response. If we don't we insist. How? By not stopping. Why should we do this? Because we know it is in the nature of our father not to forsake, not to deny, not to ignore. To support this lesson, Jesus added:

Luk 11:9 ESV  And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

R. Collyer said, "that the best things in the Divine life, as in the natural, will not come to us merely for the asking; that true prayer is the whole strength of the whole man going out after his needs, and the real secret of getting what you want in heaven, as on earth, lies in the fact that you give your whole heart for it, or you cannot adequately value it when you get it."

Yes, there will be discouragement in prayers. There will seem to be delay in the deliverance of the answer. But if we persist it will come. Regardless of the season. Notice that in the parable it was asked in midnight. We come to God any time and He will respond. Our persistence should follow this pattern: ask fo that which you wish; seek for that which you miss or lost; knock for that which has been shut out.

Ask, seek and knock are three actions words that bring results. While there is another biblical principle that says, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask (Mat 6:8)." we cannot be slack in asking, seeking and knocking. Why is this? Because the former is a principle and the latter is a command. Between the two, the latter should be the one that requires obedience. What it tells me is this: if I want answers to my questions and solutions to my problems, I should ask in dependence, seek in faith and knock with persistence. 

(Photo credit: preventsatan.com)

"Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad" - Pro 12:25 ESV.

We are not all rich in materials things. But that doesn't mean that we don't have anything to give that is of value. Things of value are relative to many people. In a work environment, a good idea to save cost can be invaluable. In a kitchen, a simple suggestion to add a dash of a certain spice or ingredient can make or break a dish. In a highly emotional situation, a gentle reply or a kind remark can go a long way to bring back a little bit of calmness. And you may have noticed that all that doesn't necessarily require that we must be rich to bring something on the table.

It is usually this stereotypical perspective that hinders many of us to be kinder or to be more generous or to even conceive of an idea, a program or a project that will benefit many. It is not uncommon for a person to exclaim, "If I were as rich as so and so then I would do such and such to help my community." It is typical to associate helping with having unlimited material resources by which help can be extended. But then again as I said, not all of us are rich. What then becomes of this desire? Do we keep on wishing and waiting for that elusive wealth and do nothing in the meantime?

Our passage today tells us one thing we can do without being rich like Bill Gates. We are aware of how many people are struggling with a lot of problems and issues in life. You can always find one in your workplace. Behind those smiles and laughter can hide a hurting soul. That worker who is quietly working in his corner may be dealing with a burden that is weighing him down. Or that office clown who makes everybody laugh can himself be masking his own sadness. All it takes to help these people are good words, kind words which are gentle and understanding. Words that are reassuring and comforting. And the best thing of all is that we all have more than enough to give away freely.

When someone is dealing with an emotional, psychological or spiritual problem, no amount of material riches can solve that problem. But sometimes a good word can. When someone is looking for acceptance, no expensive gift can take the place of a simple, "I'm always here for you." When a person is confused, a brand new car can't take the place of "I will fervently pray that the Lord will give you wisdom to make the right decision."

Kind words are usually all that we have most of the time. And it is also all that we need in certain situations. I wonder how many of us realize that. Maybe those who have received some are the ones who can readily appreciate their value. Yes, we usually understand how much another person needs something when we ourselves experienced needing the same thing. But we don't have to wait for personal experience to teach us. That's the work of the word of God. It tells us before we even experience it. We will soon realize that when we try and do what it says, there is always a resulting gladness afterwards. And gladness goes both ways.

The rich can have their own toys and charitable causes. But we who are not endowed with their blessing aren't exactly short on bringing something that can make a difference. We have our words. And when we look at how God used words, we will be reminded how awesome words can be. Let's be generous with ours. There's plenty in us for everybody or even the whole world. And so, let's realize this that we are rich too. Rich enough to make a difference in the lives of many.

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Devotion, May 10, 2021: Joh 3:7-8

Like  a Blowing Wind

PROMISES TO POCKET

When I was little, well old enough to work in the farm anyway, I experienced working in a sugar cane plantation removing weeds from under young canes to prepare the soil for fertilizing. The height of the plants were well beyond my own height standing up and we were in squatting position as we work. Now imagine the heat under there. This was an 8-hour job from 8 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon with a one-hour break at 12 noon. It was back-breaking even to a twelve year old but my biggest complaint was the heat. You just don't get any refreshing breeze at all in a work like that. This was made worse by the fact that once in a while I could hear the wind rushing above me, enough to sway the leaves of the canes but not a whiff ever came low enough to get where I was. This idea of much-desired refreshing wind available and me not getting any was killing me.

Wind blowing pattern is a mystery to ordinary folks like us. In Barangay Halayhayin in Pililla Rizal stand more than twenty five wind turbines generating 2MW of electricity each. This is enough juice to power tens of thousands of Filipino homes. This wind farm is located in this particular place because the wind blows in this part of Rizal twenty four hours without letup. I know this for a fact because we used to hold a yearly camp in the adjacent barangay during summer before there was Covid-19. And it's not just that the wind is super abundant in that place too but it has the added bonus of being cool even in summer making the campsite a very comfortable place. The more I think about it, I wonder where all the wind is coming from and why there is no change of direction at all. It's always coming from the east so there must be a return path for it somehow somewhere.

POINTS TO PONDER

This mysterious wind pattern is used by the Lord Jesus to describe the work of the Holy Spirit. Man is saved from the effect and the punishment of sin through a phenomenon called salvation. Salvation is a favorite topic in the bible. This salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit. But who gets saved or who isn't is a mystery, just like the path of the wind. I can come suddenly without warning and leaves just as quickly. It can blow from any direction. You can only feel it but can't see it. It can blow through anybody and leaves a definite effect to the soul. Much like that much-coveted wind I was talking about while working in a plantation. Just a short passing of that wind over my tired and overheating body would have brought much comfort and refreshing.

Today we talk about wind not just in positive terms. The wrong wind direction can be responsible for forest fires to rage for days or weeks and destroy a lot of forests and residences. Sometimes killing people and animals too. Wind can bring fumes and smog which can be dangerous or lethal. And we can't miss the fact that devastating cyclones, typhoons and twisters are wind phenomena.

PLANS TO PURSUE

But going back to the work of the Holy Spirit as Jesus describes it, we are told that it blows where it wishes. This prompts us to a very important truth about salvation. This truth is that salvation is something that the Holy Spirit decides by Himself. Any person can be hit by this blowing wind of salvation. A person can be expecting it or not. He can be wishing for it or even avoiding it. It doesn't matter at all. Just like a wind it can just suddenly overtake you when you least expect it. 

The story of Paul is a case in point. He was traveling toward Damascus in pursuit of fleeing Christians so that he might bind them and bring them back to Jerusalem to be punished. But out of nowhere the wind of salvation blew upon him and he came back to Jerusalem later not as an enemy of Christians but as their stalwart defender.

Our life is a story of different kinds of blowing winds. Some days, the wind can be what the Africans call mazuku or Swahili for "evil wind". In other days it can be the wind of the Spirit of God. Pray that it will be the latter that comes visiting soon in your house or your own soul.

(Photo credit: thepoortraveler.net)