Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. Jeremiah 1:5
In the opening scene of the film “Sister’s Keeper”, Anna narrates about babies being born as coincidences. That there are millions of babies floating around the universe waiting to be attached to a female body. Looking deeply into this thought, every human being exists because of coincidence. Every man or a woman is an accident. You look at yourself or you see someone in your house or at the streets, all are not meant to be there. You have a family, your parents or your siblings and those people you love are all coincidence. You look at your dearest own children and your neighbor’s kids, based from this birth coincidence, there is a chance you might have swapped babies at the hospital.
God told Jeremiah , “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” With God’s stand point, we are not a coincidence. With God, nobody is an accident. He knows us before we were formed in our mother’s womb. He has a plan for us to be with Him. He has a holy scheme for us to be empowered to serve Him in His kingdom. This is not predestination. We have choices or options to make. And whatever path we take, God meets us there to fit His plan with our choice. God has a plan for us to be born and serve Him as missionaries to the nations.
You have been given an entry to the US for a holy purpose.
You are in Singapore to expand His kingdom.
You are a medical practitioner in Europe to care for His people.
You decide to stay in the Philippines to do God’s work.
Middle East is your mission place as you work as an engineer or an accountant.
Every time, you look at the mirror. Every time, you look at your child’s face. Take heart the grand design why you and I exist. To know God. To be dedicated for God. To make God known. That is not a coincidence.
Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ Luke 10:9
The house should be located near our daughters’ school. It must be within their school’s area. This was our primary consideration when we were scouting for a home. We did not want Praise and Bless to transfer to a new school because we are moving to a new house. There’s familiarity with that place also, meaning our surrounding will not change that much. Most of the time, other people call this “location” based. If one is transferring from one point to another, then the new place must be near the malls or maybe near hospitals. Someone may like their place near something. Near their church. Near their school. Near your relatives. Near parks. Near fast foods or restaurants. Near convenient stores. Near your workplace. Near the gym. Near the farmlands. Near the highways. There’s a good word to describe that – accessibility. And who will never want that?
Jesus gave this instruction to the seventy two men, “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.'” When the kingdom is near, then the King is near. God is accessible. He can come to us. We can come to Him. We are in a good location. He is near. We do not need to walk or drive a long way. We do not need to wait for a queue in the telephone line to get an appointment. See God through your family – your spouse and your children. Anytime and anywhere, we can converse with God through prayer and reading the Holy Scripture. Eat with Him through your co-workers at your office kitchen. Listen to Him through that Christian radio station. Be inspired by Him through that faithful preacher. His kingdom is near, too. We have at our disposal God’s grace. God’s bounty is for us to enjoy. We have at our hearts God’s mercy and strength. His power is within reach and let His power reach us within.
God is near. And who will never want that?
He said to them, “…Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way.” Luke 10: 4
I always pass by this reformed church as I drive to and from work. I have never entered the church. Yet, the church has deeply inspired me by the sign in front of the church. Once, the sign read “Anger is one letter short of danger.” It gave me the conviction to control my temper. The other month the sign presented, “The future comes one day at a time.” It prompted me to thank God who supplies my daily bread. One memorable message the sign carried was “When carrying heavy loads, bend your knees.” It reminded me to kneel and pray. The church sign has no sound system. It has no pulpit. No flares and stage. It just stood. Rain or shine, the sign was always there. Its presence presented the message.
When Jesus sent the seventy two men, He told them not to carry money. He sent them without bags. No sandals were allowed in their mission. No friends are to be asked for help in their ministry. They were tasked to go in unfamiliar territories. Imagine doing this missionary work. Yet, these men brave the mission. All they have was their blessings from Jesus and faith in God. To wherever they were sent, they went there. Their presence presented the message.
These scenarios are very far flung nowadays. If I am going to mission, I want connections and budget. I must have a team with me. I will bring the best administrator. I would bring my bible resources. If there is a mission trip, I have a music ministry with me. The best servants must be chosen to partake in the mission. If available, I would bring audio and video devices for sound system effects. It would also help to have a computer to present my ideas and talks. All these will allow me to present the message.
Jesus calls us to depend in Him, not on the resources we have. He sends us to mission empty handed but heart full of faith. He calls us to be that church sign, maybe to just to stand and let others read our lives. Living signs who will encourage others to live positively in following God. He calls us to be like the seventy two men. Our hands not clasp but open to His leading and mercy. Jesus calls us to an exciting lifetime of mission. He calls us to be there. By His grace, our presence will present the message.
(he appointed the twelve:) Simon, whom he named Peter; James, son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, whom he named Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; Mark 3:16-17
His name is Alan Bondoc yet we named him Bijong. Alan looked like my cousin from whom we derived the name. Joram Vitug is his legal name and we re-named him Dodong. There was a little boy, who looks like Joram, with that name in our outreach service for children. We call Edwin Eco as Balugbug (Ear), for his ears tell the story. Jocas is for Jose Castro, a dear brother in Christ. Elmer Lacsamana prefers to be called Mheayaye. Allan Angeles is Apa, being a look-alike of a popular journalist. These are some of the brothers and fellow followers of Jesus with whom I have served. Their nicknames bring distinction among us. They serve God with the same passion and same zeal. Each one has a role to occupy. Bijong after his volunteer work with us became a missionary priest in East Timor, Indonesia. Dodong became a faithful husband and loving father but before that he has served the group in every capacity. Balugbug is an excellent music leader whose gift is still unparalleled as of this writing. Jocas is best remembered for serving with us with his availability in providing his administrative and management skills. Mheayaye and Apa are well-known for their leadership skills. Mheayaye continues to work in building a covenant community among our brothers and sisters. Each has made an impact. Distinct from one another yet united in serving God and His people.
Jesus named Simon as Peter. He gave James and John the name Boanerges. Thomas was also called Didymus since he has a twin. Maybe, all these disciples have another name to make them distinct. Whatever they were named or called, these men followed Jesus. These men loved Jesus. They followed Him. They walked and ate with Him. They slept where Jesus slept. They went with Jesus for mission. They left their work and families for Christ. Each has made an impact, and their lives are our models to follow. Given their names, they were distinct from one another yet united in serving God and His people.
Today and two thousand years ago, we are differently called but respond to one similar calling – to be a disciple. That is the distinction.
…he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and his hand was restored. Mark 3:5
His hand was withered. If he would compare the other hand with this one, he would find this withered hand has shrunken. This hand has wasted. It has dried up. It has thinned. It has no life. It has no power to lift. It has no grip to hold. It just hangs on his shoulders. Good thing this withered hand sticks to his shoulders. Good thing this man sticks to the synagogue. Good thing Jesus saw him and his withered hand. Jesus told him, “Stretch out your hand.” He gave his hand completely to Jesus. He stretched out his complete trust to Him. He stretched out his faith in God. He stretched it out and his hand was restored. His hand is now equal with the other. It has life. It can lift. It has grip. Man stretched it out completely, God restored it completely.
Do you think your life is withered? You may have been following God for the past years and you seem to be burnt out. Or you may be a new disciple going through a deserted place. You compare your life to your friends’ or relatives’ and find your life is too shrunken. Maybe you think your life is wasted. It is dried up. Yours is life that has no life. Yours is life that has no power to lift and inspire others. It has no grip to hold on to. You just hang on day by day. Here’s the good thing – you still have life. Good thing, you still have God. Stick to God. Stick to your prayer time. Stick praying with your family. Stick to going to church. Stick going to that worship service. Stick going to that prayer meeting. That is where Jesus is. At the right time, hear Jesus saying, “Stretch your life.” Give your life completely to Him. Stretch out completely your trust in him. Stretch out your faith in God. Stretch it out and your life will be restored. Your life will have life. You can lift and inspire others. You can grip on God. Man stretched it out completely, God restored it completely.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them. Mark 1:31
“Baka mabinat ka.” (You might have a relapse). My mother used to tell me those words to warn me about getting sick again. These words are familiar to the ears when we have just got well from sickness and we are about to do some tasks. This is understandable since when you are in sick bay, the whole family is affected or should adjust to your situation. It’s hard to get sick. A television commercial in the Philippines carry a slogan, “Bawal magkasakit!” (It’s prohibited to get sick). When someone gets well from sickness, the next step is for that person to rest and regain his/her physical stamina. A day or two in bed or staying at home is common to prevent relapse before getting back into the groove of things.
This is not the case with Peter’s mom in-law. Jesus healed her from fever. When the fever left, she left her bed. She served Jesus and the Twelve. She prepared the table and their meals. She fed their hungry stomachs. She rushed from the kitchen to the dining room. She waited on them. Peter’s mom in-law did not need an extra day or two to rest to avoid relapse. She had her strength as if she has not been down by fever.
Hope we are like her. But most of the time, we are not. After you get a new job from a long lull in your career, you tell your leaders it’s too much for you to take a new job and to serve at the same time. After you migrated from one country to another to begin a new chapter in your life, you say to your spouse to postpone your passion to actively serve Jesus. After you graduated from university, you explain to God in prayer that you focus on your job hunting rather than caring for His people.
When God heals, expect no relapse. When God puts you back on your feet, expect no relapse. When God renews you, when God revives you, expect no relapse. When God blesses you to another level, expect no relapse. When God expands your territory, expect no relapse. With Jesus near us, with Jesus grasping our hand and with Jesus helping us up, expect no relapse.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit… Mark 1:23
I was sitting at the campus park with the male student I was evangelizing; I was still working with Christ’s Youth in Action (CYA) during that time. Afterward, his classmates pass by us and sarcastically remarked to him, “So, you are a member of CYA now?” The guy seemed deaf in those moments and I quickly answered for him, “Yes he is!” His classmates walked away scratching their heads. In my mind and heart, their scratching of their heads is justified. The guy I was evangelizing was a wretched. This guy is a drug addict. He is drunk when he comes to school. His grades are barely passing. He barely has friends. His family seems do not care about him.
He is like the man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue. With unclean spirit yet welcome in the synagogue. Society tells us only the clean may enter the synagogue. Society tells us the wretched and dirty will be excluded. The synagogue exists for the unclean. The church exists for the unclean. After all, we are all like him. We struggle in our imperfections. We are full of iniquities. Yet, we are in the synagogue. We are part of the church. We are members of this movement or charismatic community. We follow Christ not because we are perfect, but because we are cleansed and forgiven. We falter in loving Him, yet He does not falter in being faithful.
We won’t pretend we are clean. We will not disguise as flawless. We welcome the unclean because they are one of us. Sit with them. Eat with them. See them in your church. Speak with them in your community. Pray with them. Pray for them. The synagogue has a place for each and one of us.
It’s not dirty to be unclean.