Monday, December 22, 2008

Horton Hears a Who

This movie has a lot of theological meanings. It challenges the popular notion to "see is to believe." It gives a strong case of how to describe faith in a very simplistic way. Simply because one cannot see a thing does not mean something does not exist. Horton strongly believes there are living beings in the speck although he cannot see them.
It also gives a strong illustration of faith. Horton holds on to his belief despite costing him to be banished from his society. He was persecuted. It will even cost him his life as the society clamored for him to give up his belief.
It also challenges the human arrogance that we are alon in this universe. In a sense, it adheres both to the idea that there could be other living beings other than us and there could be a greater being than us. This is what makes the movie interseting, Horton plays the powerful and bigger being that "holds the world in His hand."
Another interesting metaphor is the "tiny little voice" that most people refer to. For most, it could be our conscience. For Christians, it could be God. Well, God is not a tiny voice, so one can also see the metaphor of a Supreme Being talking from the heavens with a great powerful voice.
And then there is the ultimate sacrifice that Horton did to save the whole world - of the Whos. Sounds familiar? Christ came to save the world from the power of sin and death. Horton saves the world of the Who from instability and sure death.
This Christmas, this kind of movies is nice and a good starting point for children and youth to have a theological discussion.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Scared of the Dark

The last episode of Grey's Anatomy deals with our fears of being alone in the dark. When we were children we were scared of monsters. When we grow older our monsters are different - self-doubt, loneliniess and regret, but we are still scared of the dark. We are scared because we feel we are all alone. The darkness that we are in are the challenges and difficulties of our life. When we are sick or one of our beloved is seriously ill. When we are beset with financial difficulties. When we have estranged relationships with our friends and families. When we are faced with pressure from work, school or play. Everyday there is darkness in this broken world. We feel scared in the dark. But as Christians, we have the courage to deal with the darkness in this broken world. We know that God is with us. In our most trying times, the body of Christ - the church, comforts us. Family and friends are there to share with us the love of Jesus Christ. Even in the darkest moment of our life - God is there because God is still Lord of all - even in the dark. Gods light shines brighter than any darkness that makes us scared. And so as Christians who always put our faith and hope to the promise of Christ, we are not scared. For God is with us. Nighttime isn't so scary because we realize we are not all alone in the dark.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Gift of Faith

In Grey's Anatomy this week, they introduced a couple of new characters. But what interested me was the belief of the Navajo patient that they had. The patient had beliefs that his cardio thoracic surgeon did not necessarily agree with. The patient had a heterotopic heart transplant 6 years ago, meaning another heart was put to help his own heart to work. Now he wants the "piggy-backed" heart removed because he claims that the ghost of the person who owns the heart is haunting him and he wants the heart back so they can get rid of it ritually. Here's the deal, the cardio-thoracic surgeon does not agree with his belief but rather insists on adhering to the medical protocol of throwing the heart into medical waste.

What we see here is an interplay of two belief systems, science and religion. I love what the Navajo patient replied to his doctor when they told him that she doesn't have beliefs but only adhere to rules. The Navajo patient reminded him that adhering to rules, thinking logically and scientifically is a belief in Science. He, the Navajo patient, believes in more than that - more than what Science can explain and demand.
The patient is telling us that people may have different beliefs and we adhere to that. This phrases are familiar - "If you believe that, fine. This is what I believe. This is what I do. I make my mind on what I believe."

For us Christians, we always talk about what we believe in. We also talk about how our belief in God defines our faith. Our belief equals our faith. We think that our belief, our faith, is our own action. We forget that faith is a gift from God. We do not make our own faith, thus whatever we believe in is something that was given to us and not out of our own doing or thinking. It is not even by our own choice. Our Christian beliefs are informed by the faith that was given to us by God. So what do you believe in?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


The last episode focused on Dr. Hunt who just came from a tour in Iraq. He comes back to the "real" world and struggles to integrate himself back. Seattle Grace Hospital is a little community that has their own rules and social norms that medical practitioners adhere to. Because Dr Hunt served for several years in the desert - in the wild, he is an outsider to the Seattle Grace community. He is the only person left from his unit and ever since he have lost the ability to relate and interact with people. So he tries hard to be part of the society again by becoming an ER doc at Seattle Grace. But the renowned and world famous surgeons of the hospital despise the outsider because he is radical, different and wild.

The plot of this story reminds me of the leper whom Jesus healed (Matt 8:2; Mark 1:40). Lepers are viewed as unclean and thus shunned by the society so they become marginalized. In order for them to be accepted by the society again, the priest must declare them clean and fit to be part of the society. So when Jesus heals the leper and tells him to show himself to the priest, Jesus does not only want to cure his physical illness but also to integrate him back to the society. Jesus always emphasizes the human need for relationship and community. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors... even our enemies - those despised. Christians are called to have reconcile our division with the marginalized and the unwanted. Remember, Jesus dined and related with the despised taxpayers, the sinners, the prostitutes, the poor, the sick and all who have been pushed to the edges by the society. Christian communities are called to be an alternative reality where everybody can be embraced, reconciled and integrated. Sometimes, we might be Dr. Hunt - the leper that Jesus have healed.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

"I have a dream..."

"I have a dream... that the ER will be full..." uttered Dr. Bailey. And Dr. Cristina seconded. This was part of the opening scene in the season 5 premier of Grey's Anatomy.

Of course, the doctors were alluding to Martin Luther King's famous visionary speech in Washinton. King's dream was about social unity, equality, reconciliation - in essence a vision towards a better community. On the otherhand, Dr. Bailey's vision involves an emergency room filled with trauma patients - probably from road accidents, assault, and any other traumatic incidents that one can imagine. Why this dream? Doctors like Bailey and Cristina, at least those who wants to further their careers, dream of being able to practice their craft of healing and one can only practice it if there are patients to attend to. I have to say, most "normal" doctors do think this way - to have more patients to attend to. For whatever reasons these doctors can think of - more patients, more income; or more patients, more oppurtunity to improve skill; more patients, more able to help people, they all hope that they will have more patients. Is there something good about this? Or is it all bad? Is a doctor wanting more patients for herself equal to wanting more sick people? Now, the idealist intern might probably will think otherwise, because more patients just mean more work to do. Either the intern is lazy or very hopeful that no more bad things will happen to other people, their thought is far from the reality of the "normal" doctors. What am I trying to say here? The sad reality that most doctors today look at the patients as no more than objects of their crafts and less as humans. Worst, doctors may just see the trauma, the illness, separate from the person. Even worst, patients may just be mere charts. But for a Christian physician, its all different.

Christianity teaches us that humans are the image of God and therefore we should treat all humans - ALL, as sacredly as we can. Not because humans have life but because of the fact that they are humans (and not animals) and made them "just a little lower than angels (Psalms 8:5)."

Now, is it proper for doctors then to dream of people to get sick? Or does the doctor not necessarily hopes that more people will meet accidents but rather hopes that whoever meets an accident may come into her care? This is why a Christian docotr can resonate King's words. Because she knows she is a Christian and she knows that God will use her to be God's vessel of healing. And so she hopes that these trauma patients and their families who are hurting and broken may encounter God's reconciling love through her. And so the Christian doctor prays, "I have a dream..."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Suffering: A Case Study

I am doing an integrated study of theology and medicine. Below is a working draft of my efforts.
- author

Suffering has been in the human condition since one can remember. People complain about suffering and seek comfort and healing for it. The physician is always in the picture when healing for suffering is the agenda. I am writing this paper for the Christian physician. This is to help the Christian physician minister to the patient. The Christian physician is not just treating the disease when he/she allows himself/herself to be a vessel of Gods healing in this world. The Christian physician brings healing just as Jesus Christ came to heal those who were sick. My goal for this essay is to give a Christian perspective in the ministry of healing that Christian physicians might find themselves. This is a descriptive essay of three different perspectives on the origin of suffering. I will draw the first perspective from the work of Jeane Claude–Larchet, Theology of Illness, where he subscribes to the classic Christian understanding that suffering is a consequence of Original Sin. Next, I will highlight the argument of Eric Cassell in The Nature of Suffering and The Goals of Medicine, where he says that suffering comes from all the components of a person which includes the physical, spiritual and even the social. The third perspective I will draw is from Douglas John Hall’s book, God and Human Suffering, where he argues that suffering is inherent to our created nature.
The physician starts healing the patient by investigating about the chief complaint of the patient. In this case, the chief complaint of the patient is suffering. The investigation begins by probing into the history of the present illness. This is the classical medical approach and I would like to use this method so that the Christian physician still approaches the patient like he/she used to. This approach may seem illogical if I am trying to argue about a renewal in how we do medicine but I believe it to be a practical approach. One cannot change an institution like medicine overnight and so I will look at this approach as a first step toward a change in medical care by offering a new perspective to the physician’s classical approach.

History of the Present Illness
The patient started to experience suffering when humanity disobeyed God and was expelled from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3). This is the classical Christian interpretation on the origin of suffering. The patristic have written that suffering came after the original fall of humanity. Jeane Claude-Larchet, writing about the theology of illness in his book of the same title turns to the patristic writings in describing the origin of suffering. Larchet quotes St. Maximus the Confessor when he said ‘“The misuse of his freedom of choice introduced into Adam susceptibility to punishment, corruptibility and mortality’(p26, Larchet).” In the same breath, St. Theophilus of Antioch notes “in his disobedience, man acquired fatigue, suffering and distress, and finally he fell into the power of death (p27, Larchet).” It is clear from the Patristic writings that early Christians understand suffering as caused by sin. This understanding of the origin of suffering has shifted over time. This will be apparent from the discussions I will offer below.

.... to be continued...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Grey's Anatomy

A new season and new posts...

Wait till we get underway... Watch out for the upcoming posts....

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sailing Stormy Waters

Have any of you ridden on a boat before? We are not talking about a yacht or a typical speedboat. We are talking about wooden, hand paddleboats about the length of one pew, and could seat a dozen people. Now imagine this small wooden boat sailing against the strong winds. If you are sailing against the direction of the wind, you are sure to meet rough waters and smashing waves. Now if you were in that small boat, sailing in the middle of the night, where everything around you is dark, you cannot see from afar and all you could hear is the smash of the waves against your boat, you might be wondering, “what am I doing here?” This boat may not be able to make it and might sink. Now, the disciples could be wishing many things at this time. I am thinking, they would have been wishing that they were on a bigger boat – big enough to comfort them that it will stand against the storm. They might be ready to jump ship if a bigger boat passes by. Or they could be focusing on different ways on how to save themselves from this storm.
Our gospel story is about the experience of the disciples during a storm. But this is not your ordinary storm. This is a story of the experience of the followers of Jesus, the early church, when they were facing storms – difficulties and trials. The Gospel of Matthew is a Gospel that gives importance to the role of the church. In fact, Matthew is the only Gospel that mentions the word “church” (as can be found in chapter 16:18 and 18:17). In our gospel story, Jesus commanded the disciple to ride the boat and go ahead of him. Among the early Christians, the boat is used as a symbol of the church of Christ. The boat full of disciples is the church that Jesus has commanded to go and set forth. The author of the Gospel of Matthew even reminds us what the church is about. In the last verse in the last chapter, Jesus commissioned his followers, which is essentially the early church, to continue his ministry here on earth. Jesus commanded the church to continue his ministry here on earth. Also in the Bible, the water has been used to symbolize trouble, difficulties, challenges and trials. Therefore, in our story today the boat sailing the rough waters reminds us of the church facing difficulties and challenges.
When I was doing mission work in the Philippines, I collaborated with a small church at the foot of the mountain. This small church faced many storms both literally and symbolically. Because the Philippines is an archipelago of 7,100 islands surrounded by a great body of water, it makes the Philippines very vulnerable to typhoons and storms. Actually, the Philippines is hit by an average of 20 typhoons a year. This small church is located in the Visayas, a region in the country that is constantly hit by typhoons. Every after a typhoon comes, they have to clean up the debris and fixed a part of the church. And, of course, there is the symbolic storm that they face challenges and trials in the life of the church. Because it is in the mountain, there are no paved roads. To get to the church, the pastor had to walk half a day for more than 7 kilometers and cross the river 13 times. Walking for 5 kilometers may not sound difficult but if you are doing it at the edge of a mountain cliff then it adds to the difficulty. But crossing the river is the more difficult part. The river has strong currents and it becomes more dangerous whenever there are typhoons. The water rises up within couple of minutes and it may sweep whoever is trying to cross the river.
Despite this difficulty, the pastor still never fails to serve the church every Sunday. What is more inspiring is the life of the church itself. The church is only composed of 15 people. And because all of them are tenants in the farm, they cannot support the church financially. Nevertheless, the church has a ministry of helping their immediate neighborhood. The church sponsors the Community Based Primary Health Care Program. The church organizes the people in the community to be trained in primary health care, the program also provides alternative livelihoods to families to increase their income and once a week, the church helps the children and some adults master their writing, reading and counting skills. One cannot imagine how this small church that cannot even pay their pastor’s salary, a small church with only a dozen or so members, a church with only makeshift benches as their pews and does not even have a pulpit, a church who recycles a used calendar to write their liturgy and hymns, this little church has a big impact to their immediate community. This small church did not worry about the challenges and the difficulties they encountered. They did not allow the problems they had to be a hindrance for their ministry. The church remained focus to Jesus and trusted him that Jesus will be with the church whenever they are facing challenges. They know Jesus is with them.
History tells us that the early church sailed in troubled waters; they faced many challenges and difficulties. They were persecuted for being Christians, they were killed because of their faith and so they had to go underground. Because of these, the church was just small. Yet many people joined and wanted to be Christians because they continued to do the ministry of Christ. They continued to serve other people, the needy, the helpless, the sick and the hungry. Amidst these challenges and problems, they have not lost focus in Jesus Christ.
The experience of the church before is the same reality we are experiencing today. The Church today is facing many challenges and difficulties. In general, terms, one of the challenges the church is facing is dwindling membership. Here in the US, the United Methodist News System reports that “membership has decreased by 20% since 1973.” Because of this, many United Methodist churches across the nation have closed or merged causing a 12.4% decline in the number of UMCes in the US. I am told that the church attendance here have dropped over the years. Indeed, we must address that issue. What are the other challenges and difficulties that our church is facing. The UMC report tells us that most churches have an average age of 57 and above. I can see that this is true here in this church. It is not a problem if your are 57 or above. However, if the 57 and below are not present in our church, then that is discouraging. Another difficulty in the church is when we have lost more people in the church than welcoming new members in. This becomes more depressing when we lost church members through death. For pastors, for me, and for most people this is a sad and depressing reality. In the church, there are different individuals and different personalities. What is more heartbreaking is when these differences create animosity that leads other people to leave the church. Our depression and the problems we are facing have sometimes left us weak and feeble. We lost focus of our purpose as a church. We no longer participate in the church ministry. Sometimes, our ministry is no longer directed to the unchurched, to the needy and the helpless. We lost our focus because sometimes we concern too much about troubleshooting the difficulties and trials. The church has now shifted to a survival mode in trying to address its own need. We have lost focus in Jesus – in continuing the ministry of Jesus in helping other people instead of ourselves. We have become concerned of our need instead of what others need. We should focus our faith in Jesus or we might sink like Peter.
The challenges and the difficulties our church now are facing are true. Yes, we might be dwindling in number, we might be an aging congregation, we might be too weak physically, we might be lagging financially, we might be facing one or two more difficulties, our boat may be facing strong winds and rough waters but the good news my brothers and sisters is that Jesus is walking towards us. Jesus is walking in the water, Jesus is above the water and that assures us that our boat will not sink. Jesus promised to the church in chapter 28:20, that he will be with us. Because Jesus is with us, we need not worry, we will also be above the troubled waters… we will be above these problems and challenges we face. We need not worry about them. We need only to refocus ourselves to Jesus and bring back his ministry to the world; bring back Christ ministry to the children, bring back his ministry to the youth, let us bring back his ministry to those in our immediate community, let us bring back his ministry to the strangers, to the immigrants, to the needy, to the helpless, the sick, those in prison, and those who are homeless.
That small United Methodist Church in the Visayas is a testament that Christ is sailing with us and keeping us afloat despite the problems we encounter. Christ was with the early church before; his promise is that he will be with us also even now. Let us not worry about the strong winds and the battering waves because Christ is with us. Rather, let us continue to sail just as Christ has commanded the church to continue his ministry here on earth. Let us focus ourselves in Christ and witness how he will calm the roaring winds and the smashing waters that we may also declare, “Truly, Jesus is the son of God.”
In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Blessing by Giving

The story of the feeding of the five thousand is always a favorite Sunday School lesson. I remember my Sunday School teacher told us that the story was about sharing your blessings. And the one who showed to everybody there and to all of us now how to share is a little child. A child represents something that is small or insignificant. Sometimes that is how we feel with ourselves. We think that we are just a child who is insiginificant to anything. We feel that we are invaluable to the church. We may be small like a child but we are significant to God. If we share ourselves, our time, our treasure and our talents to God, then God will make us a blessing. The child knew he had five loaves of bread and two fish, but he knew it will not benefit the five thousand people with him. He only became a blessing after he offered what little he had to Jesus. It was Jesus who blessed the little food he had that the miracle of feeding five thousand people happened.
As young people, we think that we are insignificant to the church because we had little to offer. We do not give because we think it is too insignifciant to be of use. It may be true that we cannot share millions or thousands of dollars as our offering, or we may not be able to dedicate a full five days of volunteering in the church, or we may not have the talent to play the church music, but it is not an excuse that we do not share anything at all. God gave all of us blessings that we also must properly give back whatever is due to God. The tithes we offer may not be as big like that of a millionaire but if it is what is due to God and we offer it to God then God will multiply it for us. God will use it to be a blessing to a multitude. The talent of setting up the musical instruments and sound system may not be the same as playing the musical instruments but people will be blessed if we offer these talents to God. We may not have the same amount of time to devote to church like our church worker does, but our dedication to spare some time to always bring the kids for their Saturday activity will be a blessing to someone’s life. The bottom line is that the little things in our lives will always be little until we offer it to God for God’s kingdom building. It is God who graciously multiplies whatever little time, treasure or talent we offer. The five loaves of bread and two fish that we have will be a blessing to five thousand people if we offer and give it to God.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Keeping Healthy

Most of us are always conscious of our health. We all don’t want to get sick. Whenever we are not feeling well, we have headache, fever, or more serious illnesses, we take medicines that will help us feel better. It is good that we have access to medicines that help us get rid of the harmful elements in our bodies that make us sick. But, what about our Christian well-being? Everyday we encounter temptations in this world that leads us to sin. What medicine can help our bodies get rid of the poisons of sins? Gregory of Nyssa, one of the early Christian teachers, described the Holy Eucharist as a medicine. The Holy Eucharist, or what we commonly call the Communion, is a medicine that counters the poisonous effect of sin, which is death. He said that the Holy Eucharist is an antidote that heals us from the poisonous effect of sin. Everyday, in our work, in our school, in our offices we are tempted to commit sin. Because of these temptations, our thoughts, words and deeds becomes an act of disobedience to God – we sin. Sin poisons our Christian well-being. We need an antidote against this poison. The antidote must be something that has power to overcome sin and death. That antidote is, of course, the body and blood of Christ. This becomes the antidote because the body and blood of Christ overcame death when he resurrected from the dead after three days. That body and blood of Christ is present in the elements of the Holy Eucharist. Remember, Jesus said, “Eat this bread for this is my body… drink from this cup for this is my blood…” Thus, partaking in the Holy Eucharist allows our body to assimilate the “healing effect” of the body and blood of Christ. Through the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we receive the outward sign of the inward grace from God. When we drink from the cup and partake of the bread, we are actually receiving the grace from God and the power that gets rid of the poisons of sin in our bodies. Isn’t that great? We actually have a medicine that keeps our Christian well-being healthy. And wouldn’t our bodies be more healthier when we get rid of the poisons of sins frequently? Wouldn’t we be healthier if we receive God’s grace through the Holy Eucharist more often? After all, Jesus invited us to do it frequently when he told us to drink from the cup of the new covenant, “Do this as often as you drink, in remembrance of me. (1 Corinthians 11:25)”

Friday, June 27, 2008

Radical Hospitality

We were tired after a whole day of conferencing. It was already late at night and we were so exhausted; we feel so weak, our stomach cries out for food and our throats are thirsting for water. So, we decided to drop by at an omelet and coffee shop before heading to our hotel. As we entered the restaurant, the server warmly greeted us with her vibrant smile. Her name is Betty and she made us feel like we are very much welcome in that place. Her energetic smile was full of life it was contagious. I could not help but smile back at her. She immediately offered us water and politely asked if we needed anything else. I thought she was sincerely doing her job. More than that, I could sense her honest hospitality. She even went out of her way to prepare us some ice-cold drinks even if it was not in the menu. She knew we were strangers in the area and she wanted to show the best hospitality she could offer to all the newcomers around. We told her that we were United Methodists having conference at the area. With the snack we ate and with Betty’s hospitality I felt like I was being recharged and my weary body was regaining new energy. Her hospitality was something that reminded me of the hospitality Abraham showed to the three strangers who were walking in the middle of the day. Abraham knew that they were tired, hungry and thirty. He showed unconditional hospitality when he offered them the fattest calf, the finest bread and the best service. They were strangers to him but he treated them like they were his brothers and sisters. This is similar to what Jesus taught about welcoming a stranger. Jesus said in Matthew 10, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me… and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple -- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” Jesus was teaching radical hospitality, the kind of hospitality that Betty showed to strangers like us. She was doing exactly what Jesus Christ was teaching his followers. I could only hope every Christian would show the same kind of hospitality. She did not only welcomed us that night but also invited us to come back. The next night, after another long day of conferencing, when our body was tired and we were all hungry, we knew where to go. When we were approaching the restaurant, outside was a big sign that reads “WELCOME United Methodist.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My Faith Journey

Nezer A. Soriano

I always knew what I wanted to be when I was a kid. I would be a doctor someday to be able to help the poor and the sick. Not because most of the kids my age have the same reasons, because I was taught that as a Christian it is my duty to help our less fortunate brothers and sisters. Growing up in a church, we are taught about our responsibilities as Christians so I only had one thing in my mind. As a Christian, it is my responsibility to take care of God’s creations and that includes all the people in different walks of life. It stuck in my head that when I got into college, it was easy to decide what course I would take. I enrolled myself in a BS Biology course as a preparation for medicine. 
As an active United Methodist youth, I had the chance to travel to the mountains of Surigao del Norte to the Agusan Riverside to Tungao to the mountain ranges of Sultan Kudarat and tribal villages of Tacul. It was an opportunity for me to see how hard life is in the mountains – being deprived of the basic human needs like food, clothing, shelter and even health. It gave me joy to share myself and be able to reach, comfort and share God’s blessing to them. These experiences gave me more inspiration to choose a career that helps the poor and the needy, and I thought that career was to be a doctor.
After I graduated from college, I studied to become a medical doctor to fulfill my childhood dream. I thought being a doctor would give me that opportunity to help the poor and the sick.  But with the busy and demanding life medicine requires, it took a lot of my time that I found myself slowly drifting away from my Christian responsibilities. I could no longer travel to the villages I was helping. I could not even go to church on a Sunday. I reflected why being a doctor and helping the sick and the dying does not make me happy and fulfilled when it should be. I felt that I was missing something but I don’t know what. I felt there was something lacking to satisfy my hearts desire.  
During my internship in the hospital, I had a terminally ill patient assigned to me. When I was doing my rounds to give her medications, she called me and asked me to stay. I told her to just take her medicines because it’s all that she needs. She replied calmly, that she doesn’t need medicine but for me to sit beside her and be with her as she prepares herself to meet her God. I was speechless for a moment. I needed to have a dying patient before I could realize that something more important than the physical body needs healing and comfort. I then realized what was lacking in my heart and what I had to do about it. Before I took the Medical Licensure Exam, I did what was long overdue – answer God’s call.
God has a perfect plan for me. It took me more than ten years before I could figure God’s plan. I realized that there is something more important to be healed than the physical body. I thought the sick just needed to get healthy, the hungry just needed to get fed and the less fortunate to have a little more. When Jesus came to help the poor and cure the sick, he did not only helped and healed them physically but more importantly he gave comfort to the weary souls and the spirit. Sometimes we overlook the more important things when we get so overwhelmed of trivial things. When I got my plans aligned to God’s purpose for me, I felt everything was just falling in the right place. I felt the satisfaction and joy in my heart that I have been longing for. As a medical doctor, treating the physical body is my profession but as Christians helping souls is my lifetime vocation.
Being here in the US, to heed God’s call, is a great sacrifice not only for me but for my family. This has become not only my faith journey but also my family’s faith journey, as we remain faithful to God. Despite the difficulty of being oceans away from my wife and our baby daughter, I have found strength in my wife’s support and faith. She has supported and encouraged me to keep trusting God. I also found joy in serving in my field education placement. Not only because of the congregation who have embraced and welcomed me, but the church have become my family while I'm here in the US.
One of my significant experiences in my field ed. placements is my first stew-cooking experience in a rural church. While I was there stirring my own pot of stew, I just can’t help but be amazed with how every member in the church came out to help and become part of something big. I told myself that if there is anything to describe what makes a church, this is it. I never thought that stew cooking is one way of having fellowship with other churchgoers. An urban church would probably never have a fellowship activity like stew cooking. As I was reflecting of this experience, I realize that each one who was involved in cooking the stew was part of the “stew” – from harvesting the corn and raising the hog. If the stew defines the church, my stirring the pot makes me part of the church too. The church has been my “family” in the absence of my wife and daughter. As I learn more and grow deeper in my faith through my experiences here in the US, I know God will be there to guide and lead me as I continue in my Christian spiritual journey.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Son Rise

Easter Sunrise:
Homily to be given on Easter Sunrise 2008 at RUMC in Durham.

We come today still wrapped in the silence of Good Friday, still wrapped in the silence that the words of Jesus left us, still wrapped in the silence of the night. This is the same darkness that the Easter story of John puts us in. Mary Magdalene came to the tomb of Jesus while it was still dark. The world around Mary is dark. Their expected king and savior is dead. The events that occurred left the followers of Jesus grieving, miserable and hopeless. Their world is in darkness. John’s Easter story fits us today because our world is also in darkness. We are wretched and miserable. We live in a world of grief, sadness and misery. We live in a miserable world of war, killings, hunger and poverty. Even in our community, the shadows of darkness hover above us. We know of horrible stories about a murdered college student in Chapel Hill and a graduate student in Duke. We know of the sad stories of misguided youth committing crimes. or some of you may be at a point in our lives that all we experience is sadness and grief. Dear friends and families are sick, dying or already went ahead of us. We are stressed in work, school and even in our homes. There is pain and suffering all around. Just like Mary Magdalene who was still sorrowful when she came to the tomb in the gloom of the night, our world and our lives are in darkness.

The story of John does not only give us a picture of a dark world. The characters show us that there is no reason to jump for joy in times of grief. When Peter and the “other disciple” heard the tomb was empty, they ran to the tomb to see. But there was no mention of any jump for joy between the two of them. And to emphasize the setting of the story of John, the author tells us that Mary Magdalene stood there weeping. When we are down and troubled, we could not sing Alleluia. We could only weep. In the silence of darkness, all we could hear is crying.We could only weep and cry in our wretched state. But the story of John do not end in darkness. For the gloom of the night is broken by that ray of sunlight. The silence is broken by the good news of Christ’s resurrection.

The story that begins in darkness does not end in darkness. There is a light that shines. As we come to this Easter worship with darkness around us, we will leave with the sun risen and the light scattered throughout. For indeed, the Son of God is risen and he has scattered light throughout the darkness of our lives. That is the good news my brothers and sisters. Jesus Christ is risen and alive and he lives forevermore. Darkness is illumined. The silence is broken. And our weeping is turned into singing alleluia. The risen Jesus Christ is our light. Jesus brings light into our dark world, he brings joy into our sad hearts, he brings hope in our despair and he gives us life after death.

John’s Easter story gives us the proper perspective of Easter. However many times we may encounter darkness in our lives, we do not despair for we know that the sun rises every morning, the Son of God conquered darkness and he will be our light. And because the risen Lord is alive forevermore, Easter do not only need to happen once a year. The risen Christ will always be our light. We no longer fear darkness, we no longer fear silence, we no longer weep because we know that whenever there is darkness in our lives, there will be Easter. We can always sing alleluia for Christ will always be our light. Know that even in darkness, Easter will happen. And the risen Christ will always illumine our world, our homes and our lives. And even in darkness we can sing Alleluia, Alleluia Christ is risen!

In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spririt. Amen.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Itinerant Ministry

Traveling ministry is the trademark of the Methodists. Yet many pastors grumble about itinerating.

In Southern Philippines, one of the biggest challenge for Methodists is the lack of ordained elders. This is the same problem that the early Methodists encountered - not enough number of priests to minister the word and the sacrament. Well, there is always the local pastor who preaches every Sunday (and may have the special authority to officiate the Lord's Supper) but this does not really solve the problem.

Yet, this is not really a problem. This is an occasion to exercise the Methodist trademark of a travelling ministry. The local pastor can provide the pastoral duties on the local congregation that they may regularly receive grace through the means of reading the scriptures, prayer and fellowship. Just like in the early Methodist movement, they receive the sacraments when the elders come to their church. And just like the travelling preachers, these elders should bring the fire of God's word to revitalize the people.

The elders should be thankful for being set aside to do God's work. When they travel, they evangelize. They offer God's grace to the many congregations that they go to. They reawaken the souls of those slumping to sleep. They feed the hungry and thirsty souls and they help people grow in their faith.

To be a Methodist pastor is to be in a travelling ministry. A ministry geared for evangelism. A ministry that made Methodism grew then. Isn't that a promise we can see if Methodists pastors embrace whole heartedly the traveling ministry?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

What would Jesus do?

A Sermon preached to my fellow seminarians at Duke Divinity School last March 4, 2008
Text: 1 Peter 2: 19-25

For it is to your credit if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, where is the credit in that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
22‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’
23When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

It is the season of Lent, a time for us to journey with Jesus, a time to follow the steps of Christ. This is a time for us to reflect on ourselves, and allow God to transform us, to right our wrongs, to correct our mistakes and to restore our broken relationship with God, that we may be shaped more closely into Christ likeness.
As good and faithful Christians, we want to be like Jesus. We want to think like him, we want to act like him and we want to be like him. And so, in everyday of our lives, when we have decisions to make, when we are caught up in tight situations, when we do not know what to do, we pause for a moment, look at our wrist and ask, “What would Jesus do?”
Today’s passage from the scriptures is a letter to the early Christians telling them what Jesus would do if he were in their situation. The early Christians at that time were being persecuted, maligned and criticized. They were being accused of being disobedient to the civil authorities and disrespectful of the social order. Our letter sender, Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ instructs the early Christians to look up to Jesus as their example and that they may do what Jesus would do.
Our letter sender tells the early Christians to endure their sufferings because Christ also suffered, setting this as an example for Christians to follow. But the letter sender is also careful to remind them that they can endure their suffering because they are doing what is right, they are doing what is good and pleasing in the eyes of God.
Our letter sender tells the early Christians that they are doing what is right if they obey those who are in authority. They commit no sin if they respect their masters. The premise here is that God ordained the structures of order and authority in the world. Although they submit to the authority, they are slaves only of God, for they are subject to earthly masters only in account to God. Christians must therefore conduct themselves in a way that they won’t be criticized as disobeying authority. But our letter sender reminds them that even if they are good and faithful Christians they may still be subjected to hostilities from unrighteous people. And if that happens they must always look to Jesus as their example, and endure the sufferings as Jesus endured them.
For us Christians today, we may not face the same hostilities and persecutions the early Christians did. But that does not mean we are exempt from the difficulties and challenges of life. We still face difficulties and problems. And our letter sender reminds us to look up to Jesus as our example. And so we look at our wrist and ask, “What would Jesus do?”
As Christians of today, we face difficulties and challenges from this world. We are always tempted to the dark ways of the world. We are tempted not to love our neighbors, not to forgive our enemies, to threaten to those who hurt us and to retaliate to those who abuse us. These temptations are the difficulties and challenges that we suffer. As seminary students, we face the challenges of school. No, I’m not talking about the midterm exams on Thursday or the ethics paper deadline. For most of us here, we face the bigger challenge of juggling schoolwork and family, the challenge of meeting our financial needs, and even the vocational challenge of where we are headed after graduation. And so in the face of these challenges we ask, “what would Jesus do?”
What Jesus did was to endure the sufferings that he faced. What Jesus did when he suffered was not to retaliate, not to threaten but to continue trusting in God. Therefore, with Christ as our example, we can also endure the challenges that we face. If Jesus endured cruelties to him, then we can also endure the difficulties that confront us, the problems that we encounter and the trials that come our way. Because we know Jesus endured in his passion the trials, pain and suffering we know through his example that we can also endure our difficulties.
But why do we need to know what Jesus would do? What does the example of Christ mean for us any way? The word “example” in Greek is hupogrammos. It means an underwriting or copy for imitation. The more literal interpretation for this Greek word is a pattern that one can trace. This would be similar to a figure traced by a dotted line in a children’s workbook; the trace forms a figure if connected. Jesus is like the dotted line and we follow his example by connecting the dots together. The example provided by Christ involves an outline of behavior or moral guidelines. Christ’s example includes innocent behavior, suffering without retaliation, and commitment to God’s will in the passion and obedience. The example of Christ is an assurance for us Christians that we are able to do things in the name of Christ Jesus.
The French theologian, Peter Abelard, explains to us the moral example theory of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Abelard explains that Christ’s suffering shows us how much God loves us and therefore inspires us to be more loving and lead better lives. But our letter sender does not only present the suffering of Christ as just an example. He is telling us that Christ is more than just our example and model.
The danger of wanting only to know of what Jesus would do – of just looking at the life and suffering of Jesus as a model, is that it makes Jesus merely a model rather than emphasize what the work of Christ accomplishes for our salvation. This is the reason why our letter sender emphasizes both the example of Christ and the saving work of his suffering. Our letter sender tells us that the suffering of Christ is not just a model but also a work that transforms us.
Models can only influence our behaviors. The media feeds us with different models that influences and shapes our character. As kids growing up, our role models are Superman, Batman, Spiderman or Barbie. When we grew wiser and became teenagers, our role model became Michael Jordan, Dan Marino or Tiger Woods. Thus, we ask ourselves, “What would Batman do? Or what would Barbie do? Or what would Jordan do?” we look up to these people as our models and they influence and shape our character. So we cannot just ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?” and look up to his example because Jesus is not simply a model that influences us. Jesus transforms us.
How does Jesus transform us? Irenaeus describes our transformation as the recapitulation of our sins. Christ undoes the sin of Adam and humanity. For Gregory of Nyssa, our humanity is transformed “because Jesus, who is divine, became human and so humanity was united to God.” Humanity is now “deified.” For Karl Barth, Jesus transforms us by making our utter “no” into a resounding “yes.” This is what our letter sender is telling us, that Christ is not just our example but also our Lord and Savior. That is the good news, that in the suffering of Christ, in his example, he transforms us into better Christians.
Our letter sender wants to remind the Christians of his times and us today, that in the suffering of Christ we are transformed. Once we were straying sheep, but now have returned to our Shepherd. When we experience difficulties and challenges we remember how Jesus transformed us. In our suffering and difficulties, we are given the opportunity to be transformed. We are given the chance to move closer to Christian perfection. In our suffering, pain and misery, do not just think of what Jesus would do but rather be reminded that this is a moment Jesus Christ transforms us into his likeness. That Christ is shaping us into Christian perfection. So, my brothers and sisters, in this time of Lent, let us allow the example of Christ to transform us. For Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might live for righteousness. For by his wounds we have been healed.

Monday, March 10, 2008

"Go, wash in the pool of Siloam!'

“Go, wash in the pool Siloam”
A Sermon Preached at Reconciliation UMC, a multicultural church, last March 2, 2008

This Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Lent. The Lenten season is a way for us to get ready, it is a time for us to reflect on ourselves, to reflect on our sins, our mistakes and shortcomings and allow God to transforms us. But my question for you this morning is, have we allowed God to transform us? Are we open to God’s transforming power? Are we willing to participate in our healing? Have we allowed Jesus to restore our sight?
Today’s reading challenges us to answer these questions. (Read from John 9:1-41).
Let us pray. (Oremos) May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our rock and our redeemer.
We live in a world of darkness. Just like the blind man in the story where everything he sees is dark, everything around us is dark too. The dark world that we live in is full hatred, anger, indifference, discrimination, oppression and injustice. We are blinded by this darkness of the world. In our blindness, we conform our lives to the darkness of this world. Our actions and lifestyles are works that belong to darkness. When we talk about darkness in the world, we think of war, corruption, hunger and poverty. But what about apathy, not sharing with the poor, not forgiving enemies, not caring for the homeless and the sick, not standing up for what is right, not praying for others, not responsive to the sick, ungratefulness for blessings, not giving offerings, not praying devotions, not consistent in attending worship? Aren’t these things belong to darkness?
The good news, my brothers and sisters, it is in this darkness that God’s love is shown. It is in blindness that God’s glory is revealed. It is in our broken lives that God’s power is bared. God offers a new life by sending Jesus Christ. Jesus says in verse 5, “I am the light of the world.” God brings light to a world of darkness and offers to transform and change our ways. The healing of the blind man is Gods transforming grace. Just as Jesus heals the blind man, so can Jesus heal our blindness. Just as Jesus transformed his blindness into sight, so can Jesus transform our wrongdoings and sinful ways. God reveals his glory through Jesus Christ who transform us through the healing that Jesus brings.
Let us look closer at the miraculous healing that happened to the blind man. The healing involves two things: first, Jesus anointing the blind man’s eye with mud and second, the blind man’s obedience to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” If we think about this, the blind man could have refused to go to the pool, he could have refused to open up to this transforming and healing power of God. He could have chosen to remain blind. Isn’t that intriguing?
What does these two components of healing mean? It means we are called to participate. John Wesley always emphasizes that humans must respond to God’s grace. After all, faith and good works always go together. If we read closely, Jesus took the first step in the healing. Jesus spat on the ground, made mud and spread it on the blind man’s eye. It was Jesus who took the first move. Even more interesting, the blind man never asked to be healed. He never called out to Jesus to heal him. He was unlike the other people that Jesus cured and healed, sick people usually came to Jesus, they work their way through large crowds just to get near him, people even cried to Jesus for healing, or they would grab his cloak just like that woman with the issue of blood. No! This blind man was just there sitting outside the synagogue and Jesus took the first step to heal him. Although Jesus did not ask the blind man if he wanted healing, he did ask the blind man to participate.
In my experience as a medical doctor, patients always participate in their healing. The doctor can only do so much anyway. The patients needs to participate willingly starting from the medical exams up to the rehabilitation. The blind man did that. The blind man participated in his healing. Although Jesus took the first step, the healing was never forced to the blind man. After Jesus made mud with his saliva and anointed it to the blind man’s eyes, he said to the man, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” and he obeyed.
Why did Jesus instructed the blind man to go wash his eyes into the river Siloam? The pool Siloam is supplied from mount Zion, so the waters of Siloam are the waters of the sanctuary. The water is holy, Jesus was sending the man to go to a holy place. More than that, Siloam means sent. In other chapters in John, Jesus refers to himself as the sent of God. Jesus is the one Sent by God. So when Jesus was instructing the blind man to go to the pool Siloam, Jesus was instructing him to come to Jesus himself. When the blind man went to wash his eyes, he was going to Jesus for healing. All throughout, it was only Jesus at work in the healing of the blind man. But it is important to note that the blind man opened himself and allowed the healing. The blind man received sight in his obedience to God. The blind man opened himself to God’s transforming power. He accepted God’s offer for healing and transformation.
God calls us to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” and God is waiting for us to respond. It is not an accident that in most part of the narrative, from verses 8 to 35, Jesus is not mentioned in the narrative. This is because the author of John highlights for us the different human responses to God’s healing, restoring and transforming power. The neighbors could not believe the miraculous healing. The blind man’s parents were in fear and did not want to be associated or even be asked about the healing. And the Pharisees, yes, those Pharisees, bless their hearts, remember that they doubted the blind man’s healing. When the Pharisees heard about this healing, they called the blind man to question him. In verse 18, it says that the Pharisees would not believe that he was healed. More than that they were appalled that it was done during Sabbath. Who in their right mind would cure a blind man when everybody knows that no one is allowed to work during Sabbath. Definitely, someone who breaks this law of God is not a man from God, and so the Pharisees judged that Jesus who healed the blind man on a Sabbath is not a man from God. The Pharisees would not acknowledge God’s healing and transforming power. They would not acknowledge and accept that Jesus could heal a blind man and transform blindness into sight. They would not accept the transformation of the blind man, and they would not allow this miraculous event to change their attitude towards Christ. They rejected that Jesus is a man from God. In verse 27 and 28, the Pharisees did not want even to be called disciples of Jesus and instead reviled the blind man for asking them that.
Sometimes we are like the Pharisees. The Pharisees are supposedly the good, the righteous, the educated, the church going, mission oriented, gift giving, and religious people. They are somebody like us. they think like we think. We think that we are already church-going people and so we are already good. We think that we no longer need to be transformed. We are already Christians and so that’s it. We think we no longer need God’s grace to continue to move on to a Christ-like perfection. We think we no longer need to change our ways. We think we no longer need to improve our prayer habits. We think we no longer need to read the Bible daily. We think we do not need to fast at least once a week. We think we no longer need to go to Bible study. We think we no longer need to go to Sunday school. We think we no longer need God’s sanctifying grace. Because we think we are already good and that we don’t need to be transformed by God’s grace. We are like the Pharisees.
Why can’t we be like the blind man? The blind man is just that, blind. He has no pretensions. He is disabled, he needs help, he is not learned like the Pharisees, he is not educated, he do not know anything, he do not know the law and that he do not even know Jesus. But he knows he is blind and he knows he needs help. Unlike the Pharisee, the blind man knows his weakness. And when Jesus came up to him to offer him healing by anointing his eyes with mud and told him to wash his eyes, he readily accepted and went to wash his eyes that he may see. Now notice this, he did not know Christ before but when he experienced the healing power of Christ he recognized that Jesus was a man from God. When Jesus asked him if he believed in the Son of Man he said in verse 38, “Lord, I believe” and he worshipped Jesus.
God is waiting for our response. What is our response? For we are judged by our response, God judges us if we sin or not according to our rejection or acceptance – if we recognize or not the work of God. Jesus came to judge. In verse 39, Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Jesus judges our sin. But sin here for the author of John, is not a moral category about behavior. Sin is not disobedience to the law, as the Pharisees suggest. Jesus even disregards the common Jewish understanding of the relationship between sin and physical illness as implied by the disciples question to him. Jesus judges according to our response, if we are open to receiving God’s grace or not. Sin according to John is committed if one rejects the revelation of God in Christ, sin is committed in refusing to open oneself to God’s grace, sin is committed in rejecting the transformation of our lives, sin is rejecting the restoration of our broken relationship with Christ.
In this season of Lent, Jesus is transforming us and changing us. Are we like the blind man or the Pharisee? Do we recognize our blindness? Do we acknowledge God’s transforming power? Do we accept the restoration of our relationship with Christ? Later, we will be invited to dine in God’s table. There will also be an opportunity for us to restore our brokenness through the anointing of oil. The Good News is God has already taken the first step of transforming us, restoring our sight and healing our blindness. Respond to Christ’s instruction to “Go, wash in the pool Siloam!”

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


The Gospel is found in @ Corinthians 5: 18. The same is the verse that my home church uses as its missional statement. But what does it mean for us to be reconciled? Reconciled with whom? Are we living the scriptural context or a diferent context? Are we living the mission stetment or a different meaning of the statment?

When I was asked to give a talk about the mission statement and the scripture, I was surprised at the difference of what I was taught early on. It was different from what the scripture was saing? Why? Here's why...