Musings from the Garden

The parable of the sower is a familiar one for many: 4 kinds of soil with 4 results. Only 1 seed = gospel (good news of Jesus) yet there are two categories of the results: the saved and the unsaved.

Matthew 13
18 “Listen then to the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one sown with seed beside the road.

20 The one sown with seed on the rocky places, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution occurs because of the word, immediately he falls away.

22 And the one sown with seed among the thorns, this is the one who hears the word, and the anxiety of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

23 But the one sown with seed on the good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces, some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty times as much.”

I used to wonder a bit about what is the difference between soil 2 & soil 3. One thing is similar: both are affected by the concerns of the world = affliction, persecution (v.21) and anxiety of the world (v.22). The difference is soil 2 falls away. The person received the good news with joy but he turned away from his belief when hardships come. Soil 3 becomes unfruitful. This person is like the plant that grows with the thorns. The cares of the world prevent him from bearing fruit:1) fruit of the Spirit; bearing fruit like 2) sharing the gospel to make disciples of people.

To be like soil no. 3 is to be like a believer of Jesus yet not bearing the semblance of Jesus. To be unfruitful is like having no joy, no patience, no love, no peace, no faithfulness, no gentleness, no goodness or kindness and no self-control. To be an unfruitful Christian is because his focus is on the “anxiety of the world” and the “deceitfulness of wealth” not on the ‘Power of the Word.”

To be fruitful, I need to ‘hear’ (really listen, read and study) the Word, ‘understand’ (really live and apply it to my daily living). To be fruitful is to bless my neighbor as I obey God’s command to love him with all my being. How do I bless my neighbor? I love them like Jesus loves me. I forgive as I am forgiven. I give as Jesus gives. I multiply the gifts and make more givers out of my giving = that is making disciples of all nations. That is the great commission of being a fruitful follower of Jesus. So help me God.

Today is another day to bear fruit and be fruitful, dear friend.

Of Last Will & Testament… Of Memories & Legacies

Have you ever wondered about the end of your life? How? Where? When? Or would you rather not think about it? Death is a reality of life. Christians need not fear death because we know what happens after we die. I am not afraid of death, I just hope that it would not be too painful to bear. I wonder how my final days will be.

There once was a Biblical hero who knew how, where, when he would die, doing all that God told him to do before he died.

Deuteronomy 30-34 recorded all that Moses did in his final days. It was like his last will and testament.

1) Moses’ will: He charged the people to remember God’s word – obey and be blessed, rebel and be cursed. (ch. 30)

2) Moses’ legacy: He passed on the baton. He told the people that Joshua would take his place and lead them into the promise land.  He encouraged Joshua. (31:1-8)

3) Moses’ testament: He wrote down the law as God instructed. He read the written law to the Israelites to warn them to carefully obey God. (31:9-18)

4) Moses’ song: (31:19-22) God’s words for the song were vv.20-21 expanded into chapter 32 as Moses’ song. The song is their life (32:47). The song is written so they will know who God is, what He did for them, and remember to obey Him.

5) Moses’ benediction: he blessed each of the tribes of Israel. (ch. 33)

Moses’ last conversation with God: (32:48-52)
On that same day the Lord told Moses, “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”

No regrets… no further plea to enter the promise land. He already did that in Deut. 3:23-28.

Moses’ final moments: (ch. 34)
1) His last journey: He climbed Mount Nebo. v.1
2) His last vision: He saw the whole promise land. v.2-3
3) His last call: He heard God’s final words. v.4
4) His death: He died in Moab. v.5
5) His burial: God buried him. v. 6
6) His physical condition: at 120, he could see clearly, he was strong. He climbed Mount Nebo to see the whole land God promised to give His people. v. 7
7) His wake: The Israelites mourned 30 days for him. v. 8
8) His successor: Joshua was filled with spirit of wisdom because Moses laid his hands on him. The people listened to Joshua and obeyed what God commanded Moses. v. 9

Moses’ epitaph: vv. 10-12
Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

What a life! 

To ponder:
I do not know when my last days will be. When that day comes, what will be said of my life? Will there be a song? Will there be a blessing? Will there be a legacy? Will there be sadness? Will there be a celebration? Will there be a memory of God’s goodness and faithfulness?

I am not Moses nor I need to be. I might not be able to do such great signs and wonders as Moses or show such mighty power or perform awesome deeds as he did. But at the end of the journey, will it be said that I am one whom the Lord knew face to face? Or rather, will I be able to pass on with certainty that I knew the Lord face to face?

To Work or To Pray

Question, have you ever felt too busy to pray? too tired or sleepy? too noisy or distracted? worried or perhaps too self-sufficient to pray? Me too.. all of the above!

In Mark 1:35-39, we read why, how, when and where Jesus prayed.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Mark started the gospel with Jesus’ baptism and temptation, then his teachings in the temple, and his calling of Simon and Andrew. He cast out demons, healed the sick including Simon’s mother-in-law. From morning till night (v. 32), Jesus did a lot of work. He’s tired and went to bed. Then ‘very early in the morning, while still dark‘ Jesus got up and went to a solitary place: somewhere quiet to pray. He left the house, and everyone to be alone with God. He did not want any distraction. Simon and company went looking for Jesus. Why? Because everybody was looking for Him! They wanted more miracles – more work for Jesus.

What did Jesus say to that? “Let us go somewhere else.” Why not stay in the place where you’re popular? Why leave? SO I can preach there ALSO. That is WHY I COME.

Jesus prayed to sustain His work. He knew His mission: why He came to this world. He did not stay in one place to enjoy the ‘fans.’ Jesus moved on.

The more successful the ministries, the more fruitful the work for God, the more there is the need to pray. Prayer is talking to God one on one – in the place of solitude and priority. Do I go from place to place, from task to task, from one person to another, that I miss lingering in the presence of God? The crowd, the likes, the worries, the issues and challenges of life keep me from praying. People’s praises, my busy-ness and self-sufficiency distract me from experiencing God in prayer.

Be like Jesus, seek God even as the people seek after you. Work then pray. Pray then work.

Burnout But Not Out

Burnt-out, stressed out, depressed, suppressed – hoping to die….

Even the great prophet, Elijah experienced burnt-out and wished to die! Read 1 Kings 19:4. He said “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

Why? What happened? Let’s go back in time.

v. 3 He was afraid and ran for his life. Why?
v. 1-2 Queen Jezebel just assured him that she will kill him like he killed all the prophets. What prophets?

Elijah vs 450 prophets of Baal… Elijah killed all of them. Read all about the dramatic battle: God vs Baal on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18. Elijah even outran Ahab in his chariot to Jezreel after this great victory.

What great strength and power! What happened before that? 1 Kings 17 recorded that there was a great drought/famine when Elijah first appeared. So how did God provide for Elijah? Elijah was fed by ravens. Imagine having your meals of bread and meat delivered by ravens! Elijah drank from the brook till it dried up. What next?!

God sent him to a poor widow in Zarepath. So after having fed by ravens, he was fed by a poor widow getting ready to have her last meal with her son and preparing to die! God really works in mysterious ways.

Some thoughts to ponder:
1) Elijah’s story started with famine/drought. Before that, 1 Kings 16 recorded evil kings one after the other until King Ahab – not better but even worse – (1+1) with a bad queen. When times are bad, God provides.

2) Elijah experienced God’s provisions – one day at a time, first by ravens, then by a poor widow. God provides in most unlikely places through most extraordinary means. Not by man’s standard of stability and security.

3) Experiences of God’s provisions/faithfulness help us to be equipped for greater task ahead. Elijah won a great victory against a big crowd of enemies: false prophets with a bad king and an evil queen.

4) Sometimes, it’s when you think you’re at the peak, there’s nowhere to go but down. Elijah – the brave warrior ran for his life at the word of a woman. He had enough – he was beat! He asked God to take his life! 1 Kings 19:1-4

5) What now? Sleep and food. Elijah fell asleep. Then an angel brought him food (2 times). on the strength of the food, Elijah traveled 40 days and 40 nights into the mountain of God. 1 Kings 19:5-8

6) After physical input, comes the spiritual replenishment. God spoke to Elijah on Mt. Horeb. God asked him ‘What are you doing here?’ Elijah enumerated his accomplishments. (1 Kings 19:10)

There was a great wind, a great earthquake and a fire. But God was not in all three. God came in a gentle whisper. In the gentle whisper, God asked again ‘What are you doing here?’ Again Elijah gave the same answer. v. 14.

God then gave him instructions what to do. He also corrected Elijah that he was not the only prophet left on God’s side. There were 7000 others loyal to God.

Spiritual nourishment comes in the form of subtle, soft whispers of God asking – what are you doing here?

What am I doing? Perhaps I feel burnt-out because I think I am all alone doing the job. Do I hear what God is telling me? What am I listening to? Where do I look for input when I’m out of output? Great wind? Great earthquake? Great fire? Perhaps I should look again or rather listen better!

Strong and Brave in Covid Times

Today, I read Joshua 19-21 – 3 chapters of names and places… names of the tribes of Israel and places in the promise land.
Read and see the last 3 verses of this passage.

Joshua 21
43 So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. 44 The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.

What do u notice here? How did Joshua summarize his story? First, let’s review what happened before he began his story.

Deuteronomy 31:7
Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance.

Deuteronomy 31:23
The Lord gave this command to Joshua son of Nun: “Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you.”

Joshua 1:1-5
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Words are repeated for a reason. Be strong and courageous are often spoken to en’courage’ people in challenging times. Moses wrote these final words to Joshua in Deuteronomy. 3x God ‘commanded’ Joshua to be strong and brave. In all these verses, Joshua was given a task – to lead the people into the promise land. Now the task is done. They had finally conquered the land. The land was divided and given to the tribes to possess it.

Joshua concluded: The Lord gave…
v. 43 all the Land he promised to their ancestors to settle there.
v. 44a Rest on every side just as he had sworn to their ancestors.
v. 44b all enemies into their hands. No enemy withstood them.

Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel (and to Joshua) failed; every one was fulfilled. v. 45

To ponder:
Is there a task for me to do? Why am I doing it? Is it from the Lord? How am I supposed to do it? Be strong by myself? Brave it and do it alone?

Which comes first? Be strong and brave, then do the task? Or do it and practice being strong and courageous along the way? Where do I draw my strength and courage? On what do I stand firm, strong and brave?

Be careful to obey all the law… do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. vv.. 7b-8

What is God’s law for me? Just 2: love God and love my neighbor. God promised that He will be with me wherever I go. His promise and command is the basis of my strength and courage. His presence is assurance for success.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

Strength and courage for the task: that is one whole thing. They go together. Each day I need to live as God commanded and promised me.. to be strong and courageous to live the blessed life – a life of prosperity and success by His standard even in Covid times!

Read the Bible and know Jesus. Discover the good news and find out how to live the blessed life.

Sabbath Rest

We live in a hectic world – our lives filled with schedules, appointments, things to do, bucket list, checklist, lists unending… Are we ever at rest – whether body, mind or soul?

Today, in the pandemic world, many are forced to rest. Many are out of job, parties and social gatherings are discouraged, lockdowns and quarantines, travel restrictions… all these made people slow down and rest. Yet are we really resting? Physically, maybe but not mentally, emotionally because many are anxious and thinking how to survive Covid.

Deut 5:12-15
‘Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.

Work is good and so is rest. God commanded His children to observe the sabbath. It is more than just one day of the week or not doing any work on this day. It is about setting aside a holy time to remember the Lord – the Lord who has done great things for us, the Lord leading us through life.

It is good to rest in the Lord, to take time to reflect and think of God’s goodness and faithfulness, to thank Him for His wonderful acts of grace and mercy in the daily details of our lives – things great or small. We need to rest our mind as much as we rest our body. To be still and know that He is God.

A restful and peaceful holy Sabbath to all!

Life is Beautiful

How are you today? That’s the usual greeting I get when I go into shops here down under. It’s a good public relations strategy to greet customers this way. It shows that you notice their presence. Tourism is built on the principle of presence and value of presence.

One morning when I was in El Nido, Palawan, a couple from South Africa said: The Philippines is the best place in all of the vacations we had. How and why? Because of the hospitality of the Filipino people. The Filipinos are the most valuable asset of the country! Nowhere else in the world can u find a more hospitable people giving the kind of service that they give. Wow! What a compliment! Mabuhay ang Filipino!

I had the same thought. These good-natured people with their warm smile and ready hands are God’s gift to the Philippines. We often complain of graft and corruption – what a hopeless situation we have in the government.

I wonder could it be that the nearer man is to nature and works of God, the better he behaves? They are happier with their simple lifestyle – riding on their bangkas, cruising around the seas, swimming with the fishes, with the sun shining on them and the wind blowing in their faces – how rich they are in God’s wondrous creations! Does it matter that their clothing’s are not the latest fashion or branded? A rubber slipper is just as comfortable. To be together with their families and friends from their barangays – to roam in the midst of nature – between mountains, riding on the waves, feeling the breezy sprays of the seawater on their faces, feasting on the green forests atop mountains and soft/cottony clouds amidst the blue skies… how much does it cost them? a few hours ride and few hundred pesos of the bangka rental to b shared by so many people or maybe even the bangka is free – they need to put gas in them.

When I was in Myanmar, I noticed that the Burmese people are courteous. They are sincere and warm in their effort to help the tourists. Their simple lifestyle of working with their hands is enough to live on. Their doors are without locks. When they go on vacation to other places, they leave their homes in the care of their neighbours. They do not need to lock up. The guides told us that it is quite safe to be a tourist in their country. A friend asked about their prisons. The guide said their prisons are for political prisoners. 😥

Back to the Filipinos… Each time I go to the provinces for vacation, it warms my heart to experience the Filipino hospitality. They smile their greeting. They are happy when you thank them or compliment their food. They even reply with thank you to your thank you. They offer ways and means to make your stay comfortable – even before you ask for them.

Whereas the American culture emphasises tipping and gratuity, the Filipino culture encourages the bayanihan spirit even in tipping. They suggest that all tokens of appreciation be given to a common fund to be shared by all.

Now why do I feel proud to be Filipino among these people? Why do I feel frustration and hopelessness with those in high places of power and wealth? And I am reminded of the Biblical wisdom that the love of money is the root of all evils. Godliness with contentment is great gain for we take nothing into the world and we take nothing when we leave this world.

Happy are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Poor in spirit means lowly and humble in heart – depending on the God of abundance to supply all their needs.

Poor in spirit is about contentment and gratitude for what is given and what one has. It is free from ambitious striving and greed – for position or power or achievements.

Happiness is to be close to nature and to be embraced by the God of nature – to rejoice in service of others… to enjoy the handiworks of God.. to smile in deep gratitude for the breath of life… Today let me remember to live truly and simply in peaceful contentment with a thankful heart for what God gives to me.

Manila Bay Sunset

Clean Hands or Clean Hearts?

Washing hands before eating… That’s the issue the Pharisees had with Jesus and His disciples. Mark 7:1-13

The Pharisees gave so much importance to traditions. They observed the external state of things – washing of hands, washing pots/pans/pitchers to stay clean. Yet their hearts were of another state. Jesus referred to Isaiah’s prophecy about their hypocrisy. They paid lip-service only.

‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
7 ‘But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’

Jesus said It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man. But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20 These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” Matthew 15:11, 18-20

What about me? How often I observe traditions for the sake of traditions? We think we are serving God inside our church, when we lead or do bible study, when we pray, attend services, fellowships, retreats and camps. People look at all the external stuff but God looks at my heart.

Do I only honor God with what I say? Or even with the things I do – what is my attitude, the internal condition of my heart – which no one sees but God? When the heart is right, even changing diapers, washing dishes, cooking a meal, or holding the hands of a grieving friend honors God.

The Spirit of the Sabbath

Mark 3
3 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

In Jesus’ time, the legalistic Pharisees followed strictly the laws of the Sabbath. It was unlawful to do any kind of work on the Sabbath. Jesus asked an important question: What is the right (lawful) thing to do on the Sabbath? To do good or to do evil?

Not to do good is to do evil; not to save life is to kill – that is the implication of doing nothing. So Jesus healed the man because it is the right thing to do – Sabbath or not!

Lesson for the day: Beware of being legalistic – conforming to the ‘form’ of things but neglecting the ‘essence’ of things. Many things I can follow to the letter of the law e.g. I can do nothing on the Sabbath – I follow the Sabbath law. But in doing nothing, I disobey the greatest commandment to love… Love is an active word. It is never doing nothing.

One Day at a Time

To go or not to go… that is the question.

The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. They lived and camped in tents since leaving Egypt to go to the Promised Land going round and round on a journey that could have been done in just two weeks at most.

Imagine these were at least 600,000 campers. How does one manage the logistics and operations of settling and moving out of camp? Where to camp? When to set out and when to settle down?

God was their guide and director. His presence in the form of the cloud settled over the tabernacle – their portable place of worship. It was cloud by day and fire by night. The cloud is God’s presence over them. When the cloud lifted, they moved out. When it stopped, they stopped. They went wherever and whenever the cloud went.

It dawned on me as I read Numbers 9:15-23 how the people were so obedient to God in the ways of their travel. They complained about food, about water. But not a sound on all the hassles of moving. Imagine going on a trip with no itinerary – no date no specific destination except final destination – Canaan! All the packing and unpacking.

Whenever I go on a trip, I rarely take things out of my luggage if it were just for a few days because I don’t want to be transferring things in and out again and again. Yet that was what they did, sometimes they would stay for just a day, other times for few days, month or year (vv.20-22). Imagine setting up the tent, unpacking all your cooking and eating utensils, etc. in the morning and packing them all up again in the evening. Or imagine living from the luggage for a month, 2-3? and you think, time to unpack and only to have the cloud lifting the next day? I guess it’s one day at a time for them.

How I wish God would be as specific in His direction or leading today. But then, would I be as obedient? On the other hand, it would seem I were a child with no discernment of my own to decide for myself what to do with my life. How to know God’s will? God’s will is for me to obey His Word – to love Him with all my heart and to love my neighbor. How, who, what, where, when and why? His Holy Spirit is the cloud settling on me – His temple. May I watch closely, listen well and obey with a discerning heart and an open mind. One day at a time.