Nehemiah

After the Iloilo journey, I immersed myself to the new series of The Feast dubbed “WorkaHolyc”.

The title of the series is a twist of the word workaholic. A workaholic is a person who loves to work, works all the time, and cannot stop working to the point that he is so addicted to working, that work, like a prohibited drug, is already destroying him.

Nehemiah

Nehemiah creating and sharing an inspiring mission for the city of Jerusalem. He took initiative. He didn’t want for anyone else to do it. He asked the king if he could go to Jerusalem. He asked the king for the materials he needed. He asked the king to provide protection for the travel. He went to the city. He did rebuild the wall. He showed them what was possible. He told them how God had been so gracious to him in the presence of the king. He said “let’s.” He knew that he could not rebuild the wall alone. He was going to rebuild the wall with them. He knew that city transformation had to be done together. Nehemiah would work alongside them the entire time with his time and with his money. He prayed. Nehemiah prayed when hearing the news, when sharing his desire with the King of Persia, during the work, when the work was done.

Being a workaholic may be bad for you. But if you must work, you can be a Workaholyc— which means you can make your work an important part of your journey to a holy life.

You can make your work your worship to God.

The story of Nehemiah took centerstage for the Sunday service.

Nehemiah 1:11
O LORD, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king’s cupbearer.

This is the end of Nehemiah’s prayer to God in which he asked for God’s mercy and guidance so that he could accomplish the task of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls in accordance to God’s will and promises. In the very last sentence of the verse, right after the conclusion of his prayer, Nehemiah identifies himself as “the king’s cupbearer”.

A cupbearer is a butler. So, Nehemiah the butler was offering himself to God to spearhead the huge project of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. The people had been unable to accomplish this task for 94 years! But the king’s butler is now preparing to do the job.

The lesson for us is clear: God can use anyone to accomplish His will. God does not care about our worldly qualifications; He cares about our yielded spirit. Nehemiah worshipped God, Nehemiah knew God’s Word, Nehemiah was humble before God, Nehemiah would obey God’s will: those were ALL the qualifications that God was looking for.

When Jesus chose His disciples, He didn’t choose the “best and the brightest”, He chose fishermen, rebels and a tax collector. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being smart or ‘well qualified’. God Himself has blessed us with brains and various abilities. However, scholarship and other human accomplishments are not what qualify us for joining God’s workforce. God looks for devotion over degrees, desire over duty, enthusiasm over experience, fellowship over fame, and connection (to Him) over ‘connections’.

To accomplish the work God has planned for each of us does not depend on how much wisdom/knowledge we have (or don’t have), or how much might/power we have (or don’t have), or how much riches/money we have (or don’t have). To accomplish God’s will, to do what seems difficult or even impossible ALL we need is to know Him, to live in humble fellowship with Him, and to obey His commands.

God has already supplied ALL believers with EVERYTHING needed to do the work He has prepared from the beginning of time.

God used a butler to build a city wall; He can use you too – if you answer His call.

Pen

Who writes your life story?

Today, Good Shepherd Sunday the message of Bro. Audee Villaraza, The Feast Bay Area AM Session Builder was on Joseph in the bible.

He said, “Don’t be so focused on what God has taken from you that you can’t see or believe that God will do something through you and He will turn it into good.”

Those words hit me hard.

When confronted with suffering that won’t go away or with even a minor problem; when every day feels like an insurmountable struggle, and the details of the present are all-consuming, it’s impossible to imagine anything else is happening.

Pen

God sees how it’s all going to work out in the end. He has a plan and we are all a part of it. And when God writes The End, the story will be a masterpiece that will leave us in awe and bring Him glory.

Few years ago, I was in an excruciating part of my story. It felt like an unending nightmare. In fact, it was probably the hardest year of my life.

How could anything good ever come out of unimaginable pain?

I prayed, trusted and waited for the Lord to change my situation, yet nothing had changed.

It wasn’t the plan I wanted for my life. Or for my wife and for my family. I felt helpless and hopeless. I couldn’t see God working in any of it.

Somewhere, in the middle of all the pain, God became real to me again.

Those desperate years when the Lord was silent, he was not absent. He had been there all along.

He gave me strength and courage to face life one day at a time.

I am still a work in progress. I don’t know how things are going to turn out.

But we can trust that God is in the story. And he is orchestrating the tiniest detail. We may not understand why, but we can be certain that God has a glorious purpose to the pain we are enduring.

I’m still in the middle of my story. While none of us know the joys and trials we have yet to encounter, we do know that Jesus will be with us through them.

Who is writing your life story today?

In my life right now, I am embarking on a new chapter of my life. I am venturing this year to a new challenge soon. It’s scary. It frightens me and I often worry what the future holds.

What joys will I experience and what sorrows will I endure?

But when I do this, when I worry and fret what the next chapter holds, I get in the way of the One who is supposed to be writing my story for me.

So often we try to control the pen. We try to direct our own lives.

We need to give God control of our lives – to let Him write out our life stories.

He knows what lies ahead of us.

Through the whole story, the Author (our God) is with us. He isn’t just watching our story unfold; he is guiding it, moving it along. He is intimately a part of it.

Alleluia

Are you living as an Easter people of God or still in Golgotha?

As married couples, there are a lot of practical lessons that we can learn about relationship from the death and resurrection of Christ as shared by Fr. Mark Demanuele, MSSP during the Easter Recollection organized by the The Feast Bay Area Couple’s Ministry.

As a missionary, Fr. Mark shared his journey of challenges as an Easter person.

Easter people of God

The beauty of the cross is in the promise of Easter, where God shows His natures as a redeemer and restorer. If your marriage is in a time of stress and pain, put your hope in the one who sees past the immediate circumstances of your life and into a hopeful and wonderful future. It is very possible that God could use the current difficulty in your marriage to create something even more beautiful and enduring than you could ever imagine. As you celebrate Easter with your family this year, take some time to reflect on the meaning for your marriage. Allow the wonderful and powerful spiritual truths of Easter breathe new life into your relationship, and your bond will be stronger for it.

He pointed everyone to the powerful exhortation of St. John Paul II back in 1986:

“We do not pretend that life is all beauty. We are aware of darkness and sin, of poverty and pain. But we know Jesus has conquered sin and passed through his own pain to the glory of the Resurrection. And we live in the light of his Paschal Mystery – the mystery of his Death and Resurrection. “We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!”. We are not looking for a shallow joy but rather a joy that comes from faith, that grows through unselfish love, that respects the “fundamental duty of love of neighbour, without which it would be unbecoming to speak of Joy”. We realize that joy is demanding; it demands unselfishness; it demands a readiness to say with Mary: “Be it done unto me according to thy word”.

In particular if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up.

If Calvary means putting to death things in your life that need killing off if you are to flourish as a Christian and as a truly human being, then Easter should mean planting, watering, and training up things in your life (personal and corporate) that ought to be blossoming, filling the garden with color and perfume and in due course bearing fruit.

Jesus resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.

Characteristics of Easter people as shared by Fr. Mark:

  • Easter people rejoice in Jesus’ death AND resurrection. (Romans 5:10)
  • Easter people preach the resurrection more than one day a year. (Acts 4:2)
  • Easter people long for their resurrection brought by Jesus as much as or if not more so than a temporary bodiless existence in heaven. (1 Corinthians 15; Philippians 3:7-11; Revelation 21)
  • Easter people long to see Jesus restore creation from the curse of decay. (Romans 8 )
  • Easter people speak up at great cost against the ‘principalities and powers’ of this world because Jesus is our risen King and he is king over them all. (Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 2:7-9)
  • Easter people are willing to deny themselves and lose all things for the sake of Christ now because Christ, by the power of his resurrection, has promised to restore all things and reward his disciples in the ‘life after the next life’. (Matthew 19:27-28; Mark 10:28-31; Revelation 21:5)

As an “Easter People,” our response to the gift of forgiveness and eternal life compels us to try to live lives that reflect our new status. We are a people forgiven, healed and renewed by Jesus’ Body and Blood, and we are called to share that Good News with the whole world.

Our response can and should be rooted in love. As Jesus himself has told us, love for God and love for our neighbor is the foundation of Christian living. Because God first loved us, loved us so much that we were given God’s only son for our salvation, our response to this love is not only to love God as deeply and fully as we are able, but also to love everyone else as deeply and fully as we love ourselves.

As couples, our relationship with God matters most.

We need to nurture the loving relationship of husbands and wives like how Christ offered His life in the cross.

In this time of violence, strife, argument and disagreement, God continues to call us to love not to hate. God continues to call us to look beyond the immediate to the eternal.

What in a moment of anger or outrage might satisfy our pride is most probably not consistent with the loving future God wants for us.

It is not God who has created the turmoil that surrounds us; it is turmoil of our own making born from our love of self above our love of others.

This Easter, amidst the joy and celebration of our new lives in Christ, let us also celebrate the joy of new life with others.

Let us begin to set aside our pride and petty difference that not only separate us from each other, but also separate us from God.

Let us strive to become an “Easter People” who know and reflect God’s love through our love for one another as equals—equally beloved children of God.

Puso

How do you pray?

Bro. Alvin Barcelona, The Feast Bay Area District Builder shared during the ‘Deeper’ Holy Week Retreat 2018 the importance of praying from the heart.

To have a relationship with God, we have to keep in constant communication with Him through prayer.

Remember, when you pray, let your prayers spring from the heart. There is no need to scour for words. Words flow naturally when you pray from the heart.

Puso Pray from the Heart

The best way to begin anything is with honesty, so you might want to say something such as, “OK. Here I am, God. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. I’m scared. Teach me. Guide me and protect me, and lead me to You.” Remembering that Christ told us to pray constantly (Luke 18:1), so that the lovely garden of the Spirit He planted in you at baptism receives careful cultivation and does not go to weeds, do not be afraid to repeat your improvised prayers constantly. Moreover, maintain a constant awareness of God’s presence by talking to God about everything you do, telling Him of your difficulties and frustrations, asking for His guidance, and doing everything for love of Him.

When feelings of loving devotion arise from the heart, it will nourish your soul.

Fr. David J. Dohogne shared that as Catholics, we are well aware of the importance and necessity of daily prayer in order to maintain a strong and healthy relationship with the Lord.

The Church reminds us that there are different types of prayer which we offer to God.

These are namely prayer of praise (thanking and glorifying God), prayer of petition (seeking something from God), prayer of contrition (seeking forgiveness from God), and prayer of intercession (seeking God’s blessings on behalf of another person).

A healthy “balanced” prayer life would include each of these types of prayer.

Be excited about your daily times of prayer! Following the example of Jesus and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, may the words of our prayers be real, sincere, and truly come from the heart and not just from our lips!

Bro. Alvin shared during the retreat that all thoughts and feelings are valid material for prayer.

Simply put: When you go to pray, lift up what’s inside of you at that moment. If you are bored, lift up that boredom; if you are angry, lift up your anger; if you are tired, lift up that tiredness; if you feel selfish, don’t be afraid to let God see that.

Jesus said that we must become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. One of the qualities in children to which this refers is precisely their honesty in showing their feelings.

Children don’t hide their sulks, pouts, and tantrums. A good mother handles these rather easily, often with a smile. God is up to the task.

If we do that, it makes it easier for us to “pray always”, as scripture asks. What does this mean?

Obviously it doesn’t mean that we should always be at formal prayer, that we should strive to be full-time contemplatives, or even that we should seize every possible occasion we can to pray formally.

To “pray always” invites us rather to live our lives against a certain horizon. It doesn’t necessarily mean to stop work and go to formal prayer, important though that is at times.

The point is rather that we need to do everything within the context of a certain awareness, like a married man who goes on a business trip and who, in the midst of a demanding schedule of meetings and social engagements, is somehow always anchored in a certain consciousness that he has a spouse and children at home.

Despite distance and various preoccupations, he knows that he is “married always”. That awareness, more than the occasional explicit phone call home, is what keeps him anchored in his most important relationship.

Our relationship with God is the same. We need to “pray always” by doing everything out of that kind of awareness.

Let us offer everthing to Him and pray from the heart.

Real

Fr. Bob McConaghy, Spiritual Director of The Feast Bay Area puts it succintly that we are servants not volunteers in doing God’s work.

A volunteer can leave anytime but a servant has a giving heart.

They focus on others, not themselves. This is true humility: not thinking less of ourselves but thinking of ourselves less.

When we stop focusing on our needs, we become aware of the needs around us.

Real Servants

With my fellow servants in The Feast Bay Area together with Fr. Bob.

God is always more interested in why we do something than in what we do. Attitudes count more than achievements.

Jesus “emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant.” When was the last time you emptied yourself for someone elses benefit? You cant be a servant if you’re full of yourself. Its only when we forget ourselves that we do the things that deserve to be remembered.

We serve to get others to like us, to be admired, or to achieve our own goals. That is manipulation, not ministry.

Pastor Rick Warren shared these thoughts about being a real servant for God.

Real servants don’t try to use God for their purposes. They let God use them for His purposes.

We can measure our servants heart by how we respond when others treat us like servants. How do you react when youre taken for granted, bossed around, or treated as an inferior?

Real Servants Think Like Stewards, Not Owners

They remember God owns it all.

Servanthood and stewardship go together since God expects us to be trustworthy in both. The Bible says, The one thing required of such servants is that they be faithful to their master. How are you handling the resources God has entrusted to you?

To become a real servant, you’re going to have to settle the issue of money in your life.

Money has the greatest potential to replace God in your life. More people are sidetracked from serving by materialism than anything else. They say, “After I achieve my financial goals, Im going to serve God.” That is a foolish decision they will regret for eternity. When Jesus is your Master, money serves you, but if money is your master, you become its slave. Wealth is certainly not a sin, but failing to use it for Gods glory is. Real servants are more concerned about ministry than money.

The Bible is very clear: God uses money to test your faithfulness as a servant. Thats why Jesus talked more about money than he did about either heaven or hell. He said, If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? How you manage your money affects how much God can bless your life.

Real Servants Think About Their Own Responsibilities, Not What Other Servants are Doing

They dont compare, criticize, or compete with other servants or ministries. Theyre too busy doing the work God has given them.

Competition between Gods servants is illogical for many reasons: were all on the same team, our goal is to make God look good, not ourselves, weve been given different assignments, and were all uniquely shaped. Paul said, We will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.

Theres no place for petty jealousy between servants. When youre busy serving, you dont have time to be critical. Any time spent criticizing others is time that could have been spent ministering. When Martha complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping with the work, she lost her servants heart. Real servants dont complain of unfairness, dont have pity-parties, and dont resent those not serving. They just trust God and keep serving.

If you serve like Jesus, you can expect to be criticized. The world, and even much of the church, does not understand what God values. The disciples criticized one of the most beautiful acts of love shown to Jesus. Mary took the most valuable thing she owned, expensive perfume, and poured it over Jesus. Her lavish service was called “a waste” by the disciples, but Jesus called it “significant,” and thats all that mattered. You service for Christ is never wasted, regardless of what others say.

Real Servants Base Their Identity in Christ

They remember they are unconditionally loved and accepted by grace, so they dont have to prove their worth when they are threatened by lowly jobs. Most of us are too insecure to be servants. Were afraid our weaknesses and insecurities will be uncovered so we hide them with layers of protective pride and pretensions.

One of the most profound examples of serving from a secure self-image is Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Washing feet was the equivalent of being a shoeshine boy, a job devoid of status. But Jesus knew who he was, so it didnt threaten or bother him to do it.

If youre going to be a servant you must settle your identity in Christ. Only secure people can serve, when you base your worth and identity on your relationship to Christ, you are freed from the expectation of others. You are freed to serve.

Real Servants Think of Ministry as an Opportunity, Not an Obligation

They enjoy helping people, meeting needs, and doing ministry. They “serve the Lord with gladness.” Why do we serve with gladness? Because we love the Lord, were grateful for his grace, we know serving is the highest use of life, and God has promised a reward. Jesus promised, The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me. And Paul added, He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other Christians.

Imagine what could happen if just 10% of all Christians in the world got serious about their role of being a real servant. Imagine all the good that could be done. Are you willing to be one of those people? Albert Schweitzer said, “The only really happy people are those have learned how to serve.”

Brighter

My first Black Saturday recollection with the Light of Jesus (LOJ) community reminded me that in order for the light of God in our lives to shine brighter and brighter we have to consistently connect with the source of electricity.

Bawal ang jumper!

Bro. Alvin Barcelona, The Feast Bay Area District Builder reaffirmed what the bible said – we are the light of the world, so each of us is a light bearer.

Brighter

We experience a lot of darkness in our life. Sometimes we are scared, angry, sad, depressed, lost, and lonely. Sometimes we are sick and in pain. Sometimes we mourn the loss of someone we love. Darkness can also mean being in sin and unbelief. And then there is death– the ultimate darkness. It’s not good to be in the dark. In the dark, we cannot see. We cannot recognize others and even ourselves. We cannot recognize God and we are unable to see what He does in our lives. In the midst of our darkness, Jesus is there to meet us, to be with us, and to be our light. We know He is there because He, too, experienced all our darkness, even death. Maybe we don’t see Him immediately, but He is there. He may come in the darkest moments of our lives like a small flicker of light that would appear very brightly in the midst of great darkness. He comes to us because God our Father, the maker of light and giver of life, doesn’t want us to be lost in darkness. And when we live in the light, we see who we are, who others are, and who God is.

And as you know, light is intended to enlighten and drive away any form of darkness.

We have to realize though, that we do not have light on our own.

The light we radiate is the reflection of the light we have received from God.

We are to let our lights shine before men in such a way that they will see our good works and glorify God. That’s how we do it. We live for God.

We have to surrender our lives to Him completely. Christ says we are to “let” our lights shine.

In other words, when you get right with God and are filled with the Holy Spirit, He will simply shine through you.

Are you willing to burn brightly for the Lord?

Black Saturday Reflection

Yesterday, Good Friday, there was no Eucharist – simply a communion service, with the Body of Christ from the Holy Thursday Eucharist.

Today, Holy Saturday, there is no liturgy at all. The liturgy this evening is the vigil – the preparation for and entry into the celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection. It is an Easter Sunday liturgy.

Fr. Andy Alexander, S.J. shared that on Holy Saturday we enter into the mystery. Today we contemplate Jesus, there in the tomb, dead.

In that tomb, he is dead, exactly the way each of us will be dead. We don’t easily contemplate dying, but we rarely contemplate being dead.

With death, life ends. Breathing stops, and in an instant, the life of this person has ended. And, in a matter of hours, the body becomes quite cold and life-less – dramatic evidence that this person no longer exists. All that is left is this decaying shell that once held his or her life.

Death is our ultimate fear. Everything else we fear, every struggle we have, is some taste of, some chilling approach to, the experience of losing our life.

This fear is responsible for so much of our lust and greed, so much of our denial and arrogance, so much of our silly clinging to power, so much of our hectic and anxiety-driven activity. It is the one, inevitable reality we all will face. There is not enough time, money, joy, fulfillment, success.

Our physical beauty and strength, our mental competency and agility, all that we have and use to define ourselves, slip away from us with time.

Our lives are limited. Our existence is coming to an end. We will all die. In a matter of time, all that will be left of any of us is a decomposing body.

Today is a day to soberly put aside the blinders we have about the mystery of death and our fear of it.

Death is very real and its approach holds great power in our lives.

The “good news” we are about to celebrate has no real power in our lives unless we have faced the reality of death.

To contemplate Jesus’ body, there in that tomb, is to look our death in the face.

Today’s reflection will lead us to the vigil of Easter.

This night, communities from all over the world will gather in darkness, a darkness that represents all that we have been reflecting upon today.

And there, in that darkness, a fire is lit. That flame is shared around the community until its light fills the room.

Then, a song of exultation is sung, proclaiming that Christ is the light of this night. And, there, in the light of Christ, we will read the scriptures that prepare us to celebrate God’s revelation.

This is the story of our salvation – how God prepared to rescue us from the power of sin and death. The God who created us, who led a chosen people out of slavery, raised Jesus from death.

We can rejoice that death has no final victory over us. We can celebrate our faith that we have been baptized into the death of Jesus, so that we might be baptized into his life.

As we behold the body of Jesus in the tomb today, and as we contemplate the mystery of our death, we prepare our hearts to receive the Good News of life.

We know that tomb will be empty and remain empty forever as a sign that our lives will not really end, but only be transformed.

One day, we will all rest in the embrace of Jesus, who knows our death, and who prepares a place for us in everlasting life.

Our reflection on this holy Saturday, and our anticipation of celebrating the gift of life tonight and tomorrow, can bring immense peace and joy, powerful freedom and vitality to our lives.

For if we truly believe that death holds no true power over us, we can walk each day in the grace being offered us – to give our lives away in love.

Unleashed

We are commanded to forgive others, God is really after our own good. So forgive from the heart and set yourself free.

This is what we shared to the kids last Sunday at the Awesome Kids Ministry service.

Unleashed

Remember, forgiveness is for our benefit. The other person’s behavior may never change. It is up to God, not us, to change others. Our responsibility is to be set free from the pressure and weight of an unforgiving attitude.

We took a bottle of water and some effervescent vitamin tablets.

We encouraged the children to think of someone they need to forgive.
• Someone hit you and pushed you down.
• Someone won’t let you play a game.
• Someone broke something of yours.
• Someone called you an unkind name.
• Someone took what you were playing with and won’t share it.

We talked about how they were hurt. They felt mad.

We encouraged them to ask God to let go of these feelings.

We asked the kids to put a piece of the tablet in the water and the children imagined asking God to help them forgive.

As the bubbles start to come off the tablets, they imagined giving the hurt feelings to God.

The tablets took a while to dissolve, which also illustrated that sometimes it might take a long time to forgive.

The water might also have changed color, which illustrates that it’s not as if the thing that hurt you had never happened, it’s just been changed by God.

For the craft activity, they colored an artwork that reminds them to always be kind and good to others.

I felt God’s embrace every Sunday because of these children.

Their presence affirm God’s abounding graces and mercy.

They taught me more to love and to live life.

A simple activity but has a profound meaning.

It was difficult for me to forgive few years back but I learned to let go.

To more years of serving and loving the children of God!