Friday, May 29, 2015

The Comfortable Church: Who is God's Best?

This is a preaching manuscript for my Expository Preaching Class at International Graduate School of Leadership, February 11, 2015. 

The True Love Waits Dilemma
I have come to somewhat despise the True love Waits movement and what it has done in my life and even to a handful of church leaders and pastors. It's not really their fault. It's not like their teachings are unbiblical. I actually do believe in waiting for the right time with regard to marriage and sex. The problem is actually what my generation of church leaders have noticed about how we grew up as a result of True Love Waits. We were told to wait for God’s best, and in turn, be God’s best ourselves.

But the question then is, who is God’s best? How do you become one? You see for me, the True Love Waits movement caused me to view God unknowingly as the ultimate vending machine. That he would give me a super car Lamborghini of a wife: Expert on the bible, has generations of disciples under her network of disciples, and has the perfect Christian family! But as we all know it, God doesn’t really give super cars or even supermen and women. He can do that, but in whose terms are we defining the super wife? The super husband? The best that God has to offer us?

Kidding aside, in the same way,  this caused me not just to view “God’s best” differently from God’s point of view, but also caused me to become the youth leader most churches define as a textbook growing and maturing Christian. That as I long as I attended church, I was going to be just fine and and would naturally grow up like a good church boy should! 

photo credit: wagmuna.com
However, I found myself time and again, not making the cut and not fitting the bill as "God's Best". I felt that if church people knew about who I really was, they would see me as I was: Not good enough. True enough, I wasn't the kid who stood out for the right reasons. I was not good enough to remember bible verses and was not great at answering bible questions in Sunday school. So as I grew up in church, I did my best performing "church" and tried to look like a choir boy should and presented myself as “God’s Best”. It also shaped and affected how I treated kids my age. Not just with choir girls I tried to impress, but even with other “troubled” kids: the weird ones, quiet ones, the loud and awkward ones, the confused ones, and the ones with the tattoos... Kids like myself just trying to fit-in and be welcomed. 


I was not aware of it, but I was actually furthering myself away from how God truly viewed me. I somehow faked my way through Sunday School, and hid how I truly felt all because the church was filled with textbook church-loving boy-next-door types. I wanted to be like them to fit in but I didn't want to. I couldn't. Yet I struggled to try because I wanted to fit in badly. So to those who didn't fit the bill? Those who were not choir boys and choir girls? They're nothing but trouble. They're outcasts. They all tried their best to fit in, but they couldn't.

In the same way, in light of Luke 18:9-14, Jesus turned the world upside down by radically challenging the notions and stereotypes people had about the kingdom of God. People thought they had an idea of who would make the cut to enter in. They thought they had it all pegged as to who truly is Gods Best

Yet as Jesus revealed in this parable, peoples ideas then were far from the beating of Gods heart, and far from who truly made the cut in his kingdom.


Revisiting an Old Story: The Pharisee and The Tax Collector
So Jesus taught about the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee because as Luke recorded it, he wanted to paint the picture of how Jesus and his disciples saw and experienced first-hand how people had become cold and judgmental. How they had drawn lines and boundaries among each other, reverting to trusting their own morality and righteousness by treating others poorly and with contempt (v. 9). This then set the story up by which Jesus, in front of the crowds, described two contrasting personalities: a Pharisee praying to God and giving thanks that he was not like a sinner, like the tax collector (v.11), tremendously happy and secured of his stature as a religious man who fasted and gave tithes regularly (v. 12). While the other, a measly, sinful, hated and ridiculed tax collector, beating on his chest hard, praying and asking for God's forgiveness (v. 13). 

The question then, in light of Gods Kingdom and in light of the parable is this: who truly makes the cut? Who can enter God's kingdom? Why is it that the tax collector, a despised and corrupt sinner, considered righteous and justified by Jesus as opposed to the religious leader, the expert of scripture, the devoted spiritually upright Pharisee (v. 14)? Why doesn't the Pharisee make the cut? Wouldn't he be the obvious choice? 


Figuring Out the Kingdom of God
The answer here is that the kingdom of God is not for those who believe they can earn their way in, but rather for those who believe that they can’t (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:4-5). Perfection is not exactly what God looked for back then and is surely not looking for the same today. God is not looking for the most well-versed bible scholar, the most eloquent and active leader, one with the most disciples, the one with the most time spent at church bake sales, medical missions and orphanage outreaches. 

Rather, God is looking for those who turn toward him like an ever dependent child, earnestly, constantly in need of the warmth, security and care of the loving arms of a father (v. 14; 18:8, 15-17). 

It doesn’t matter then what one has and can accomplish, where a person comes from, her family background, or the content of his bank accounts, or even his past failures, her current struggles, her numerous broken relationships and one night stands. What matters most is that the heart is in its rightful place. A heart that is humble and meek, a heart seeking for forgiveness, mercy and grace, exactly just like the Tax Collector. 

Dents, scratches and rough patches unseen in the naked eye can envelope even the mightiest of super cars, the flashiest of Lamborghinis. It is in the same way true with us as a people. People will always have scars, unresolved family issues, past hurts, heartaches and pains. Yet, in spite of having the same kind of unresolved issues and having known the truth of God’s love through Christ, why are we still struggling with how we view and treat other people? Why do we try to tailor fit ourselves and our churches, hoping that we all would be the boy and girl-next-door types, trying hard to look and sound like choir boys and girls? The truth is, God's love abounds for everyone, for all people who seek and desire him earnestly, humbly and repentantly (Matthew 7:7-8)? Yes, even for the tattooed ones, the broken ones, the "back sliding" ones, God's kingdom is for everyone (Romans 8:38-39)


Even inside our churches, why are we still treating gossip as holy sharing of confidential prayer items? Why are we still arduously comparing successes and failures, analyzing them as if we truly know people's motives and minds? Why do we still pass through the hallways of our churches, our campuses, our dorm rooms and kitchen tables wearing a fake, warm smile?

If we are all truly about community, about truth, about God and about Jesus and about the kingdom of God, then why are we still not coming clean with probably our most difficult issue: PRIDE. 


The Truth about "God’s Best": We All Are 
Even when I was in my ugliest, struggling young self, a kid trying his best not to succumb to peer pressure, temptation and to raging hormones, I was actually in God’s standard, “God’s best” not because of who I am, but because of who Christ is (Galatians 2:17-21). Yet I could not embrace the truth about my faith, about being saved by grace, all because of pride. You see, pride blinds us from viewing ourselves as recipients of grace, and it puts us in a pedestal of religiosity that contrasts and veers ourselves away from those who are not like us, those who won't fit the bill, those who won't make the cut. So then pride destroys how we ought to view people: with grace, mercy, empathy and patience. 

I learned and experienced this truth the hard way, that at the most difficult and painful event in my life, I expected wrath, judgment and ridicule from my youth group. So as I confessed my sin and struggles to my youth leaders and pastors, to my surprise, I found the weirdest of responses. I was embraced. I was assured.

I wasn’t given a painful ear-popping sermon, nor was given the rod and the spanking. I was rebuked hard. I was corrected with the truth of scripture. Yet I was also assured of my place as a disciple, a valuable leader, and a friend. I had fallen into sin, but what my leaders showed me was a compassion I had never felt before. They taught and reminded me that I had not fallen out of my relationship with them, and more importantly, I had not fallen out from the loving assurance and forgiveness of God. 


Photo Credit: trystanowainhughes.files.wordpress.com
As a young leader then, I could not understand and comprehend how I was not asked to strip off of my leadership roles and not asked to stay away from fellowship. Instead, I felt a tighter bond and friendship from my ates and kuyasAs I recovered, I walked side by side with God and with my my leaders not just with bibles, not just with discipleship books and mentoring materials. My ates and kuyas walked alongside me through basketball, mountain biking, food trips, and movie dates. 

And in moments I needed a shoulder to cry on as a result of loneliness, despair and grief, they were there at my worst... still choosing to accept me, patient with me, a sinning, miserable and struggling young man.


Kingdom of God Applied: Real Grace
So this is what it means to be truly humble, to be truly rid of the very same pride that clouded the Pharisee’s hearts. Are our hearts truly in its rightful place, or are we still faking it, still playing "church", pretending as “God’s Best”? How have we viewed, treated and talked about other people? If the Tax Collector would show up in our midweek service, in our lobbies, our cafes and our lunch tables, what would be our heart's response? 

Photo Credit: http://epicinvitation.com
In view then of God’s forgiveness and mercy through Jesus Christ, we too ought to dispense the very same grace just as it was granted to us, and begin to see ourselves and other people the way God sees us. At the end of the day, like the Tax Collector weeping for God’s mercy, we all will find acceptance in God’s kingdom as “God’s best” not because we can earn our way in, but because we understand that we can’t. 


Our acceptance is in God, in his loving arms as our father, welcoming us through Jesus Christ. 

Though we struggle day by day with sin, God willing through the lens of grace, like the Tax Collector, may we too beat and pound our chests in grief. May we, hand in hand as a community, find ourselves all in the same boat, all in need of God’s loving arms, all in need of His mercy and his grace. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

My Rock Star Guitar Teacher: Bobby Balingit

I originally wrote this story on my Multiply blog in the middle of a 5-month long vacation and job hunt in the lovely city of Calgary, Canada, October 2007. This was how much I missed everything about the Philippines.


"Oplan Kahon" by Wuds (Photo Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tl2_R9G-ifI&hd=1)
Wuds? Sino to?
Uncle Mike had records of everyone, from the A to Z of rock, from Metal to Punk. He had Deep Purple, all the way to the Juan Dela Cruz Band. I saw in his room all sorts of foreign and local bands, but there was always this one tape that intrigued me for no apparent reason. It sat inside a blue Adidas shoe box alongside Teeth and other OPM acts... and I wondered to myself, “sino to? Alam ko Prinsesa and Banal na Aso..." but I have never heard of this Pinoy band. I laughed at their band name, and their album cover. They're practically nobody's! I haven't heard from them in RX or LS, so I never really bothered. 

Having grown up during the OPM band craze of the 90's, and being fully aware that I was a tweener too young to head bang with Gen X college kids to Razorback and Wolfgang, Uncle Mike's room was the closest thing I had to Club Dredd. His room was always a mess: Clothes on the floor, bed smelled like it always needed some extra Downy, stacks of shoe boxes in ever corner, and seemingly out of place, even old Catleya spirals and yellow pads with his grade school spelling quizzes... it was beautiful! I always wished my room looked the same but the Sunday School Christian in me feared for my parent's wrath to even consider it. So my father and I frequently visited Lolo and Lola's place in Tandang Sora, and I always visited and snooped over Uncle Mike's junk. So if it wasn't for Uncle Mike's room, I never would have met her, my first love.

Fernando, My First Romance
I never missed a pilgrimage to his room to check out his records, but this late afternoon visit was different. There were big carton boxes and big bundles of plastic bags, bubble wraps outside the place, and I knew it wasn't plumber's equipment. So as I enter his room, I felt the very same rush hearing Deep Purple's Highway Star for the very first time blasting on the stereo of our red L200 pickup. Like hearing Metals gods, I was smiling from ear to ear, excited and glad with what I was seeing in good old Uncle Mike's. So there she was, standing right beside the stack of boxes of tapes and records, right at the foot of the bed. I approached her slowly, and held her for the very first time. It was love at first sight. I fell for Uncle Mike's flaming red Fernando drums. 

So I finally got the chance to learn the drums during the summer of 1997 (i think, or was it 96?) Thanks to a kuya I met in our old Conservative Baptist church in West Avenue during Summer Bible Camp. I learned the most basic of all patterns, the 4/4 drum beat, and from there a marriage had been arranged. I was in love. Though I only knew 4/4's, it was all I needed to self-progress. I never had formal Yamaha instructors or teachers who took time and taught me to go from from level 1 to 5. I never had that and I’m glad I didn't. I only had my Uncle's flaming red Fernando, Zildjian 5A sticks, Sony Discman, my Eraserheads and Rivermaya records, and my raging hormones. 

I kept at it time and time again, every time we visited Tandang Sora. I played easy mid-tempo tracks, songs that I could follow ranging from Toyang, Pareko Ko to Laklak, and somehow knew and developed drum patterns and the listening ear to make and hit the right cymbal and drum, slowly but surely building my repertoir. I couldn't get the groove right, and I didn't know yet the concept of lagkit and dikit, but I rocked loud, and hit the drums as passionate as I could. Grandma and Grandpa didn't mind. I guess they were just glad I wasn't doing anything stupid. They let me go at it sun up to sun down as the drums vibrated and rang throughout the entire house, week after week. 

Another year would would go by however, and I still didn't have my own drum kit. I still knew very little too with the drums. I didn't know how to shuffle, didn't know enough musical genres to be more well rounded in my playing. It’s not like I asked my parents to buy me my own kit. I never actually asked. I had my Jordan 12, my Penny II's, and Hexalites for my after school basketball, for two years training and fighting for the last roster spot with our SBP basketball team (I never made it out of the reserve list). I was actually preoccupied with other things, but still, I really wanted to learn and play the drums much better. Sadly, uncle Mike eventually sold his drums, and so the kit that practiced on week after week was gone. I was heartbroken, but then I knew even then as a kid it was a stretch to think that he would just give his drums to me. 

Worst Christmas Ever
Okay fine, so maybe I got a little upset, but yes of course, no hard feelings. Now that I'm older (and hopefully wiser) I understand that it was purely a business decision, nothing personal. Don't get me wrong, I still think Uncle Mike is the coolest guy ever. He actually bought me my very first acoustic guitar for Christmas! So that same year, we were all at Tandang Sora, and of course it wouldn't be December for a kid without his presents. I was hoping, praying and thinking hard about that flaming red Fernando drum kit, but alas, all I got instead was a dark brown Weinstein acoustic guitar. Uggh. 

So I got it, and I hid my emotion well. I said thank you like a polite nephew should, but at the back of my mind, I was on Super Saiyan mode. I was disappointed and upset. Weinstein on one hand, and drum sticks on the other, I was a young ungrateful kid faking a jolly old Christmas smile. 

Weeks went by and of course my mom, being the good mother that she is, wanted me to learn my new instrument. So one day while we were walking in Ever Gotesco Ortigas after grocery shopping, we saw a sign that said: "Guitar Lessons at Your Home. Acoustic or Classical. Contact Bobby..." 

So Mom got the number, called the guy, and set things up for me to have Weinstein 101 after school at home. It sucked, but I had no choice. Might as well go with it. 

"Bobby Balingit" (Photo Credit: http://excretaonline.com/?p=4266)
Guitar Teacher = Baby Sitter
Finally, the dreaded day came. My first guitar lesson. He was thin, had long hair, tattoos, tattered faded denim jacket with worn out dark Levis, had long brown boots, and a matching Black motorcycle. Unreal! He fit the bill, head to toe Rocker! I never noticed it though at first because I was just too preoccupied thinking how I would have loved and preferred to instead: 1) play the drums, or instead 2) train and play basketball with my team mates. 

So teacher Bobby taught me how to play chords, how to position my fingers, how to read chords as I played songs, how to read notes, how to pluck, and taught me how to play Black Bird by the Beatles. Come to think about it, maybe it's one of his personal favorites. I never actually asked to learn a specific song, I just did whatever it was he asked me to do. He timed-in and clocked-in week after week, and I did the same. The difference was I was just too preoccupied with Uncle Mike’s Fernando, and preoccupied mimicking Kobe Bryant’s insane in between the legs dunk. So I held my guitar, learned chord for chord with my mind flying to some place else. I was just there together with a guitar teacher as babysitter, 4 hours a week. 

I remember talking with him a number times during snack breaks in between lessons, and he would just share excerpts of his life. I remember one time, he told a story about his daughter being home schooled because his work demanded him to move from one place to the next. I'm not entirely sure if what he shared was true or if I remember his story correctly, but out of the very few things we did talk about, what stood out was how he spoke about his kid. Sadly, it is only now that I realize that he was just sharing the realities of the "rock star life". 

I listened to him. I wasn't that impolite. I wasn't interested yes, but I wasn't a jackass to the point that I totally shut him off. We actually talked from time to time. It just never occurred to me that I was in the presence of one the pioneers of Pinoy Punk rock, and my innocence and ignorance was just at his mercy. Despite my lack of interest, he was really cool and collected to still share about who he was even though I never talked about myself. He actually never knew how much I loved playing the drums!

"SI TEACHER BOBBY BA TO?!"
Years down the line, I finally knew how to play both the drums and the guitar. Having been able to hold my own as a drummer for our youth band in church, and having been sooooooo close signing a record deal with my college band and LSGH buddies Fire Lane (representing DLSU-Manila in the very first Nescafe Soundsook Battle of the Bands back in 2006), I finally found a way to appreciate music, and to love the drums just as much as I loved playing guitar. I re-learned to play guitars on my own, at the same time remembering the basics taught by Bobby. I also explored merging my love for poetry with my meager guitar skills. So I wasn't just a musician, I was had also become a songwriter.


"Fire Lane wins DLSU-Manila leg of the very firs Nescafe Soundskool!"
(Left to right: Me, Orvin Reyes, Glenn Mapalad, JP Kabuhat. Not in Photo: Dan Du)
It was also during this time I set aside P100-150 from my allowance just so I can enjoy my monthly dose of PULP Magazine goodness. I had stacks of copies growing up from my Junior year in high school until college. So thanks to Mr. Vernon Go and the rest of the amazing Pulp crew, I was able to see my guitar teacher again after so many years. 

I stumbled upon Bobby in a Pulp magazine article. Reading about the Wuds and seeing his photos. I was floored and deeply puzzled. I positively knew the guy, but I wasn't 100% sure. I was puzzled because I just couldn't believe that the guy I seem to recognize vaguely, the guy I was reading in the legendary pages Pulp, is being featured, captured and immortalized in the same magazine where I read about Karl Roy's resurrection with Kapatid, and about Ely's saga with Raimund, Marcus and Buddy, and how Rico Blanco, Mark Escueta and Nathan Azarcon fought the music industry with their iconic Free album up until their Umaaraw ,Umuulan to Balisong hits. 

"Kilala ko to eh! Weh??" 

So as I was sitting there inside the G-Liner on the way home after picking up the month's issue from Filbars in Robinsons Galleria, reading word upon every word, scanning through every photograph... I was Marty McFlied back to 1998, back in our old house, in our living room, with my guitar teacher, and my brown Weinstein acoustic guitar. 

There he was, Bobby, on the glossy sheets of Pulp, beneath the bright Amoranto lights, with smoke machine haze in the misty air, with his beat up guitar, screamed upon by thousands in the biggest rock concert of the year. I was left silent, dumbfounded and amazed. It finally hit me: My guitar teacher is a rock icon. The man, Bobby Balingit, the famed front man of the pioneer Pinoy punk band, Wuds, singer/ song writer of the cassette tape I ignored in Uncle Mike’s room, the record that I didn't care to listen for, the black and white album cover I laughed at. Yes, it was Bobby and his Wuds. 

But the Eraserheads/ Teeth/ Wolfgang fan that I was, crushing over Grant Hill’s crossover dribble and mimicking Michael Jordan’s post-up fade away always had a wandering imagination, hoping and waiting for our sessions to end. I was going through the motions, and I’m pretty sure he saw and knew it too. Any musician can tell. Music just wouldn't sound right if its not done from the heart. So I did my G’s, Am’s and my C# correctly, but I was always somewhere else as we sat there in our living room week after week, chord progression after chord progression. I was at the presence of greatness and I had no idea. 

It's like playing American football for the first time with Peyton Manning, only that you just notice his thinning hairline, or like standing in front of the great wall of China but you take a piss on it because you never bother looking for the CR. That was me. My guitar teacher was a celebrity rock icon. 

Had I just listened to Wuds' record back then, instead of just ridiculing their "stupid" black and white album cover, or had I conversed with him more, or had an ounce of interest to even ask him what he actually did for a living, then maybe things could have been much different. We would have chatted in our living room, and I would have just listened as he would talk about his formative days with bands like Betrayed, Dead Ends, the Dawn, and all those other rock icons during 80’s and 90’s. We would have sat in my living room, had iced tea and Cheese Whiz sandwhich, and I would just ask him abut his songs, song writing process, his touring all over the Philippines, and his celebrity and rock star friends, and all other sort of stupid questions smitten fans would always ask. 

What Could Have Been... 
Who knows? Maybe he would have also introduced me to his drummer to teach me the drums as I learned guitar with him! It’s not even inconceivable to think that maybe, had we become friends, maybe we could have been band mates too. But I guess more than that, the more difficult thing here really is the realization that we actually could have been really good friends. 

My guitar teacher is a rock icon, a rock star, but still had to teach guitar just to get by. Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Ramones... Bobby Balingit is just as important as those guys in the Pinoy Punk Rock scene. The punk rock god needed to teach guitars on the side, but so what? Whatever! He actually was never awkward about it, nor did he ever mention Wuds, ever. He was never boastful, and was never arrogant. In our living room, with his guitar, teaching proper techniques and various guitar scales, he was just a regular Juan Dela Cruz, and never ever flaunting himself as THE Bobby Balingit. He was simply Bobby, guitar teacher of David. 

Bobby doing solo!
(Photo Credit: http://diannediwata.deviantart.com/art/Bobby-Balingit-On-His-Solo-194882637)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Christianity & Homosexuality: Christians Do (Should) Care

Jason Collins: First active pro sports athlete to come out as gay.
In the wake of Jason Collins' coming out as gay and the prevailing issues on same-sex marriage, I admire the courage of ESPN NBA analyst, writer and Christian Chris Broussard. He did the unthinkable by expressing his Christian beliefs publicly regarding homosexuality. However, in a time when we all talk and preach acceptance and  tolerance, I wonder if there is such left for Christians and for Chris, who politely and explained clearly his position. Chris cared enough to be real about his faith, and be real even to a friend who is a homosexual. 

So for Chris to be real about his faith, I'm going to be real with mine as well. Christian principles and beliefs may be old fashioned, but that does not mean we all have a pitchfork, noose and fire ready for every sinner we see doomed for the eternal fires of hell. Please, it's not like that at all. 

So let’s get down to it. What do we really believe and feel about this issue? Where are we coming from?

The Bible & Sin
Old school as it may seem, what does the bible say about the issue? For Christians, the bible is clear about sin, and there are plenty of references to go to: 

"The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." -Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV)

“So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.  Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming.” - Colossians 3:5-6 (NIV)

To be more precise, the bible also mentions homosexual sin along with other sins:

"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality" -1 Corinthians 6:9 (NIV)

"For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done." -Romans 1:26-28 (NIV)

So that's getting it straight. We are not sugar coating this. The bible stands firm: All people who practice these sins, are sinners. No, its not just the LBGTs. Practically everyone and anyone who commits these acts are all sinners. Period. Just as adulterers, liars, sexually active unmarried men and women... all of them are sinners. So, in the same way, homosexuals are also sinners, just like everybody else. This is where Chris Broussard is coming from, and this is where I am coming from as a Christian. We're not singling people out, we're saying we're all in the same boat of messed up people in need of Christ!
  
But that does not give a complete picture does it? Because the reality is that so-called spiritually mature and enlightened men and women of faith (whether Christian or not) do have pitchforks ready against the LGBTs! Just scroll down the comments sections on any Jason Collins article, and you will see what I mean. People do hate. Christians hate. But again, that's not the entire story. 

Faith ≠ Hate
Back in college, one of my closest friends was a bisexual. She knew about my faith, and I knew hers, but our beliefs never became an issue with regard to our friendship. We went to classes together, had lunch and dinner during breaks, rode to and from school together, visited each other's houses, and hung-out even outside of school! We knew we were genuine friends regardless of our personal beliefs. Even for  Chris Broussard, Faith was never an issue in terms of how he related to his friends: "I'm a Christian. I don't agree with homosexuality. I think it's a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is. [ESPN's] L.Z. [Granderson] knows that. He and I have played on basketball teams together for several years. We've gone out, had lunch together, we've had good conversations, good laughs together. He knows where I stand and I know where he stands. I don't criticize him, he doesn't criticize me, and call me a bigot, call me ignorant, call me intolerant."

I'd like to believe a lot of Christians feel the same way. We're just getting bad rep. 

Our principles and convictions may be different than what is now widely accepted, but it's never an issue with regard to how we genuinely see and treat people. Does that change who I am as a Christian? Of course not. Does that change how I view sin and homosexuality? No. But that doesn't change how I am genuinely fond of my bisexual friend. It never was and will never be an issue with regard to our friendship.

The “Perfect Christian”
I myself admit to struggling with sexual temptation day by day. Any Pastor, Priest or Rabbi who says he has not had any sexual struggle, whether they're married or not, surely is not being honest about their faith. I've talked to many Pastor-colleagues who have expressed that even marriage does not solve their problems with lust and sexual temptation. So the struggles they experienced in puberty? It still haunts them even in their married life today. But does that make us lesser humans? No. I’d like to believe it only proves that even Pastors too do struggle like everyone else. 

So then should two men who struggle with pornography but have differing sexual preferences be viewed and treated differently? The bible is clear that God sees both as sinners, so why should we, specially Christians, treat them differently? Shouldn't we care for them both like how Jesus would care for the both?

The real problem lies when “Perfect Christians” believe that homosexuality is more disgusting, inhumane, revolting, and more sinful than their lesser sinful lives, only committing "lesser" sins. They're perfectly better off than gays. For them, they're the normal ones. To those guys who feel this way? To those who feel disgusted about homosexuals? To those who doesn't want to do anything with homosexuals because they're surely 100% bound for hell? Check and re-read your bibles please: Psalm 86:15; Job 34:19; John 13:34-35; 1 John 4:7-8. Realize that we are all just as much sinful because of our sins against God. 

I repeat however, not all Christians feel they're so much better of. In the same way that not all Muslims are Terrorists, not all Christians preach and breed hatred toward LGBTs. A lot of us do care. There are those who genuinely provide support and a helping hand at a time when the world, including Christians unfortunately, choose not to. Heard of the Gay Christian Network? They minister to LGBTs! They even have healthy dialogue and discussion about homosexuality despite members having differing views on homosexuality. In the end they're still all committed to love, care and understand better LGBTs.

How Jesus Dealt with Sinners
Jesus and the adulterous woman: "Neither do I condemn you."
So how did Christ himself deal with this issue? How did he relate with people deemed "outcasts" of society? For that, we look at an example from scripture: 

"At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus,“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”" -John 8:2-11 (NIV)

This did not happen just once. This was how he showed he truly loved all people regardless of their background. Time and again, Jesus spent time talking to tax collectors, to adulterers and prostitutes, spent time conversing with them, eating with them and being with them (Luke 15:1-2; Luke 19:7; Matthew 9:10-11). He chose to love the seemingly unlovable, those rejected by society in order to give us all a picture of the type of patience, understanding, mercy and love he expects from his true followers. That's what being a Christian is. Being just like him. But are we really being like him? 

Jesus came for all sinners, that every sinner would have life through him, by people understanding that we all can only live life through a savior who would bridge the gap between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. He came that all of us may have a sure hope and a have a real committed loving relationship with God (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:4-5; 1 John 4:9-11). That's what Jesus did. If Jesus had only chosen the perfect ones, then we all would never make the final cut, ever. 

Sadly however, a lot of Christians do shove their faith down people's throats to a point that it suffocates, that it bleeds and that it hurts others. A lot of Christians just simply can't get over the fact that they are just as fallen as the guys they are trying to "minister" to. Christians have lost friends and have lost favor from people because of what some brothers and sisters are doing, and I apologize for them. If only we can all be in the same page as Christians. We have portrayed hate and we are sorry. Admittedly, even I myself am guilty of this. We are sorry for our ignorance, for not caring enough, and for not caring at all. We're sorry for hating, for not understanding, and for not loving like how Jesus loved. 

Hear Us Out
I can only hope people can give Chris Broussard and the rest of the Christian community the kind of tolerance, understanding and patience they would give others. We're still a work in progress, but a lot of us are trying and we are doing what we can. Not all Christians are morons, ignorant, insensitive and hateful. So help us out then:

1) Get to Know us! Get to know us first. Have coffee with us, play basketball with us, have dinner with us! Don't judge us right away, please. My church, Greenhills Christian Fellowship - Ortigas, has regular basketball pick-up games every Tuesday night after work, open to everyone and anyone. Even GCF members and PBA players Bitoy Omolon (Air 21) and Jireh Ibanez (Rain or Shine) played with us one time. It's part of our project and ministry called The Shed. So go ahead and attend, we want to hangout with you! For more info about The Shed, please visit: facebook.com/TheShedAtGCFOrtigas.

2) Partner with us! Let's work together to help out those who need help (homosexuals, poor, marginalized, orphans, etc). We understand you don't need pity but simply just want to belong like everyone else. So let's work together then? Check out your local churches and Christian organizations. Have you heard of Liberty Street Clothing? They're helping out survivors from challenging backgrounds through a sustainable business. Ask them how you can help them out! Check out their facebok: facebook.com/LibertyStreetClothing.

3) Pray with us! Christianity is not a faith by and for good people only. It's made up of messed up, sinful people in need of Christ. We're all in the same boat here. So let's all pray for each other: Struggles, concerns, joys, triumphs, everything! In GCF, we have a prayer chapel and a Prayer Hour every Saturday, 4PM led by volunteers and leaders of the Youth and Young Adults Ministry of GCF. Join us!

Final Thoughts
I know this isn't comprehensive enough and still comes of subjective even on a Christian standpoint, but I feel it serves its purpose to establish that we all have common ground. I can only hope for a time when people can just simply play basketball without looking at the color of people's skin, looking at their social status, looking at their physical appearances, looking at people's sexual preference. But as we wait for that day, may we all find the patience and love toward each other as imperfect people, still being chiselled into the masterpieces that we are intended to be.

*Any thoughts on the matter? Suggestions? Likes? Dislikes? Let me know how you feel about the matter by commenting below. Be polite and kind with your comments though please. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Making Christ Known: From Laguna to Manila and Beyond

Greenhills Christian Fellowship (Ortigas)
Know Christ and Make Him Known
Greenhills Christian Fellowship (GCF), since its expansion in 1990 and through the leadership of the late and former Sr. Pastor Dr. Luis Pantoja, Jr., has established itself as an active team player in God’s worldwide ministry. Through its guiding motto: To Know Christ and Make Him Known, GCF has planted various satellite churches in strategic areas in the country and abroad. By the Lord's direction, the growth of GCF can be traced back not just from its founding Pastor Rev. David and wife Patty Yount, but ultimately from the overall mission and vision of the Conservative Baptist Association of the Philippines (CBAP) [4]. 

Conservative Baptist Association of the Philippines (CBAP)
CBAP, founded in 1958, had only five member churches through the Fellowship of Baptist Churches in Southern Luzon [1]. Since then, CBAP now has more than around 500 churches all over the Philippines, and still growing [2]. What contributed to the growth of the association was programs like the “center approach.” It was the association’s church planting strategy to start building churches in Metro Manila and not just in the provinces [4]. The association also had the “0-200” program, which aimed at planting two-hundred churches in a ten-year span throughout the Philippines [4]. It was through these programs that brought upon the birth of churches including GCF, currently the biggest church under CBAP [3]. CBAP had always been ministering and planting churches mostly to rural and provincial cities. But through GCF and other Metro Manila churches, the association was able to plant churches in strategic areas in urban Metro Manila  [4]. This became one of the reasons why GCF found its first home in Greenhills, San Juan City [3]. 

Conservative Baptist Association of the Philippines
GCF’s Beginnings
GCF was established through the missionary effort and strategic church planting initiative of CBAP’s leadership which included Luis Pantoja Sr., (The father of the late Sr. Pastor) in partnership with Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society (CBFMS) members Rev. David and Patty Jo Yount [4] [5].
Pastor Love Tira along with the Younts, during late 70's toward the 80's, saw and experienced first-hand what the Lord was doing through discipleship and small groups, their committed relationship building, their proximity to the suburban community of Greenhills, and the ability of their ministry to adapt and relate with their target audience then, the "influencers" of society. Also, prior to its current location in Ortigas, GCF resided at the Greenhills Sound Production, at the Medecor Building along Ortigas Avenue during the late 70’s. The church, which was growing close to a thousand in members, desired and prayed for relocation within the San Juan-Ortigas Avenue area [6]. But after countless failed inquiries with various lot and building owners along the Ortigas Avenue strip in San Juan, GCF together with CBAP’s leadership was led by the Lord instead to the neighboring, emerging “empty parking lot” in Ortigas Center, Pasig, right across EDSA [6]The Lord proved faithful to the church by providing GCF finally a lot of their own at a large discount, and at an area now considered as an important business district, home to various local and multi-national corporations, and home to a thriving residential area surrounded by malls and condominiums [3]. 

GCF-Ortigas Main Worship Auditorium
Photo Credit: Pastor Jon Las
GCF Satellite Churches
According to Pastor Love Tira, GCF expanded, as envisioned by CBAP, through the challenge he and Dr. Luis Pantoja had given to selected growth groups toward the building of satellite churches in their respective communities. The church planting strategy entitled “Church transplanting,” enabled growth groups to minister to their communities and make Christ known through satellite church. Pastor Love, under the leadership of Sr. Pastor Dr. Luis Pantoja, Jr., led the charge, planting the initial batch of churches in Alabang, Pampanga and Bulacan during the early 90’s. It was a time of great harvest as GCF began to expand its borders [6]. Throughout the years, From its roots in Laguna to the growth of GCF in Ortigas, down to the major cities of the Philippines, GCF has established satellites in various key cities: Alabang – Muntinlupa (GCF South Metro), Taytay, Rizal (GCF East), Commonwealth, Quezon City (GCF North), Batangas City (GCF Batangas), Pampanga (GCF San Fernando), Cebu City (GCF Cebu), Bicol (GCF Naga), Bulacan (GCF Malolos), Marikina (GCF Marikina Valley), Legaspi (GCF Legaspi), Laguna (GCF Sta. Rosa), North Edsa, Quezon City (GCF Northwest), Makati (GCF Makati), Bicutan-Paranaque (GCF ParaƱaque), Fairview, Quezon City (GCF Northeast) and Baguio (GCF Baguio). However, the work did not stop there [5].

GCF Connect (Call Center-BPO Ministry) with Pastor BJ Sebastian
Photo Credit: GCF Connect (Facebook)
From Manila to Toronto
GCF also on May 6, 2007 established its very first satellite overseas, GCF Toronto [7]. A year after Toronto, the establishment of GCF Peel followed, followed by GCF Vancouver, GCF Calgary, GCF York and GCF Winnipeg [8]. What began in Ortigas, has now arrived across the Pacific thanks to the Lord's leading and his faithfulness. Dr. Narry Santos, the Sr. Pastor of GCF Toronto, has been spearheading this growth and has been instrumental in embracing the vision that CBAP had ingrained in GCF through the Yount's and through Dr. Luis Pantoja, Jr. 

CBAP and GCF Today
Today, CBAP has set its sight toward “Vision 2025”, as it plans to plant 2025 churches by 2025 with the vision of CBAP churches multiplying churches [3]. CBAP plans to plant churches with the strategy of 1) Establishing churches for missional reproduction, 2) Energizing the body for health and growth, 3) Equipping authentic leaders for health and growth, and 4) Empowering people for community transformation [2]. 

The SHED (Weekly Ortigas Community Outreach)
Photo Credit: Racquel Tira
Thanks to this vision of CBAP, the foundation built by the Younts, the vision of Dr. Pantoja, the heart of Pastor Love Tira, the current leadership of Dr. Larry Pabiona, and the fire of former and current Pastoral Staff, Board of Elders, Deacons, and the many faithful lay-volunteer men and women leaders, GCF expanded and continues to expand by taking to heart the challenge by GCF’s mission of “Making Disciples for Christ Philippines and beyond” and vision of “Lives and Communities Transformed through Christ” through the core values of God’s word and growth groups. Simply put, that is: To know Christ and make Christ known [5].

Kindly answer at least one of the following discussion questions below: 
1. It is often said and observed that large "mega churches" like GCF tend to lose it's sense of community and family atmosphere. Do you agree? How can large churches like GCF address this concern? What are some ways churches like GCF foster a sense of community in the church? 

2. GCF is situated at a strategic location in Ortigas Center in Pasig and have been ministering to the community through various means like the GCF International Christian School, Turning Point (Bi-monthly singles-young adults fellowship), The SHED (weekly community outreach) and Connect (call center small group ministry). But GCF has also been involved in global missions through the One Gospel Conference (Biennial Missions Conference), Kairos (Missions awareness training and equipping), Wetfoot (Short-term missions) and through its support various agencies and missionaries. Shouldn't GCF focus specifically its ministry and its resources for the community in Ortigas? 

3. GCF and its satellite churches maintain a special relationship but are built and established in such a way that each satellite would become independent, thriving church who would also plant churches (like GCF North, GCF South Metro, GCF Toronto etc.) Would you agree that GCF should maintain control and leadership to future church plant and GCF satellites? If not, then how can GCF improve its partnership with its satellite churches ministry-wise at the same time ensure that autonomy and authority is preserved per satellite church? 

Bibliography
[1] Kohl, Manfred. The Churches in the Philippines: A Research Project with Special Emphasis on Theological Education. Mandaluyong City, Philippines: OMF Literature, 2005.

[2] Conservative Baptist Association of the Philippines Vision 2025 Blog "http://cbapvision2025.blogspot.com/" (accessed February 5, 2013).

[3] Pantoja, Noel. E-mail message to author. February 7, 2013.

[4] Guillermo, Merlyn L. Protestant Churches & Missions in the Philippines. Quezon City, Philippines: Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, 1983.

[5] Greenhills Christian Fellowship, "http://gcf.org.ph/pages/about/" (accessed February 4, 2013).

[6] Tira, Unity E. Interviewed by author. Nokia C3 Sound  Recoder Recording. February 4, 2013.

[7] Greenhills Christian Fellowship Toronto, "http://www.gcftoronto.org/" (accessed February, 2013).

[8] Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, 
"http://cbwc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/GOWESTIssue9.pdf" (accessed February 4, 2013).

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Prayer in Chains


I ask forgiveness from thee
For how this wild heart flees
Passions that is not stilled
Desires that burn within
Yes Lord, this mind flies astray
To and fro scripture’s ways
Choices shifted by waves
Apart from love and grace
I ask forgiveness from thee
For this heart and mind seeks
In chains and on my knees
By thy love, be set free

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Unchanging God (Everlasting)


The inspiration for this song is the word "Elohim" and "El Olam".

Bible.org describes that in the Hebrew language, the plural form of EL means the "strong one." It is used to name false gods, but when used of the true God, it is a plural of majesty and intimates the trinity. It is especially used of God's sovereignty, creative work, mighty work for Israel and in relation to His sovereignty (Isa. 54:5; Jer. 32:27; Gen. 1:1; Isa. 45:18; Deut. 5:23; 8:15; Ps. 68:7).

One of the compunds of El is El Olam, meaning "The Everlasting God." It emphasizes God's unchangeableness and is connected with His inexhaustibleness (Gen. 16:13).

This song is simply and plainly about who God is: His greatness. His Rule.

Watch-out for the full-band version coming this 2013, along with other original Youth L.I.V.E. songs! For updates, check-out: www.facebook.com/gcfyouthlive

UNCHANGING GOD (EVERLASTING)
Words and Music by Dags Miguel

Verse 1:
Lord, You are Creator
You are the Mighty One
Lord, You are Forever
You are the "El Olam"

Verse 2:
Lord, you are the Master
You are the Holy One
Lord, You are Sustainer
You are the "El Olam"

Chorus:
Unchanging God
Everlasting, Everlasting You are
Unchanging God
Everlasting, Everlasting You are
Unchanging God

Bridge:
In Your name we dance
In Your name we shout
In Your name we praise
In Your name we sing

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Easy Way Out

GCF Youth L.I.V.E.'s #Prayer247
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. -Proverbs 3:5-6 

We just have to have it our way... because in the end, its all about us. We claim that life presents us with circumstances that enable us to make decisions based on what feels right, what seems logical. We feel we have been left with no other choice but to simply take what we think is the 'best' option available. But our view in life can be at times clouded by fear, dampened by doubt, covered by hurt, shattered by pain... numbed by sin. It distorts our view on being able to make a Godly decision. Consider and see what God has to say in the matter through prayer, through counsel of Godly, mature people and finally through his word, the Bible. Run to him. Ask him. Wait on him. Because faithful men and women will not rely on themselves. They rely and trust on God who provides a way to those who faithfully ask from him.