Wednesday, December 30, 2020
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
Text: John 1:14
Theme: Salvation Comes to the World
Preached virtually on the 24th of December 2020 in the last Morning Watch of Tuguegarao UMC
Good morning and Merry Christmas. I am PasDoc Neki Soriano and I bring you greetings in behalf of my family. I am thankful for the opportunity to share with you the good news this Morning Watch. In this time of pandemic, I usually bring the bad news to people telling them that they are sick, but I am happy that for a change, I can share with you the good news of the birth our savior Jesus Christ.
We celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus. But that birth is not just a simple birth. It is very complicated that we may never truly comprehend. It has many implications to the world and in our lives.
But for many non-believers, Christmas is non-sense. They even think Christianity is a belief on something very simple, ordinary and foolish just like believing in Jesus who was born on Christmas day. The birth of Jesus may not have meaning to us especially at this time of pandemic. We do not see how God can save us through Christmas, some may not even see God at all because of the situation we experience and this weakens our faith.
But the birth of Jesus is a very complicated matter that might need more than our ordinary minds to be stretched. The birth of Jesus is something that is not as simple as we often think and we might never understand fully. That is okay because our ways are not God’s way and our mind may not fully grasp the mystery of God. Yet, we must be able to appreciate the importance of Christmas when we recognize the complicated meaning of the Gospel verse we have read today. Only if we recognize the complicated birth of Jesus can we make sense how salvation comes to the world.
Our text comes from the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John usually focuses on the common theme about the relationship between humans to God through the person of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel of John is a unique Gospel that focuses on the message that Jesus is divine. The word was in Jesus and this Word became flesh and blood in Jesus.
I read in one article by Rev. Kevin De Young, he believes that the verse should look closely on the meaning of the words “only” and “dwells” to emphasize the message of the writers of John.
Why was this the message during that time?
There are rumors during that time that Jesus is just human. As the early followers of Jesus, they also have confusion on what is the person of Jesus.
False teachings make people confuse and weakens our faith in God. A misunderstanding of Christian belief can lead to unfaithfulness and other harmful actions. So the Gospel writers have to describe the origins of Jesus. In John 1:1 he says, “in the Beginning was the word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…. Then in verse 14 it says, “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Even among early Christians, just several years after the death of Jesus, there are rumors that God did not yet send the messiah. And that God did not come to the people in the flesh through Jesus. In verse 14, Jesus is described as having the glory of the one and only son. In the original Greek, the word “one and only” is a translation from the Greek word “monogenes.” This word was used 5 times all in the Gospel of John. The most popular verse where the Greek word “monogenes” was also used was in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave his “monogenes” son.” What does the word mean?
Even among early Christians, they try to understand what the birth of Jesus means. The Arian controversy is one of the significant concerns on false teachings about Jesus being born as the Son of God. The Arian controversy discusses the relationship God the Father to God the Son. Questions are asked:
o What kind of relationship do they have?
o Is Jesus just a common human being or is he divine like God?
o Are they similar or are they the same in substance?
o Was Jesus made out of nowhere or does he exist forever?
o Was Jesus just an adopted son of God or a real begotten son?
The Arian controversy lead us to the Nicene Creed. Most of written in the Nicene comes from the Gospel of John. That is in the Nicene Creed we emphasize the Trinity of God. We, United Methodists and other mainline Christians articulate our belief as written in the Nicene Creed. It is found in your United Methodist hymnal. We profess and declare that:
- We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
o There is no other Son of God. False teachers will claim that they are the Son of God.
- eternally begotten of the Father,
o They have a relationship of Father and Son. Jesus is called the Son because of his relationship with the Father.
- God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
o Jesus is true God. Jesus is divine. Not like the other group who does not believe in the divinity of Jesus.
- begotten, not made,
o Begotten, not made. The origin of Jesus is therefore not temporal. There was not a time that there was no Jesus. Jesus is eternally begotten from the Father.
- of one Being with the Father;
o Jesus has the same being as the Father. As the Father is God and Holy, so is Jesus. The Logos is the same Logos in Jesus.
- through him all things were made.
o The Logos when spoken created the world. When God spoke, it was created through Christ. When God said, let there be light and there was light. It was created through Christ.
- For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.
o If Jesus is not divine, then Jesus cannot save us from our sins. Our salvation will not happen.
o If Jesus is not divine, he is no longer with us is that God is distant and far from us.
We appreciate better the message of Christmas when we have a better recognition on the meaning of Jesus as the Word becoming flesh. Jesus became human to connect us to God. We hear this often every Christmas. But I wonder if we really appreciate the importance of this verse especially at this time of pandemic.
In the text, we read that “he dwells among us.” Now, “dwelling’ in the original Greek, “skene” means pitch a tent or tabernacle. God is pitching a tent among humans. Pitching a tent in this sense is not temporary, it means staying for a long time. Israel, when they pitched the tent, their intention was to be with the presence of God everytime. So when they were wandering, they pitched tent so they could house God and be with God everytime. Then it became a temple. So pitching tent means staying forever. Pitching a tent also means closeness with one another especially with daily activities. Also, pitching a tent is becoming one of them. He is not a stranger to us. He is one of us. God dwelling among us is a very important message at this time of pandemic.
What is the most common problem and dilemma asked today?
This pandemic makes us think that God has abandoned us. Just like the early Christians whose faith was weakened by false teachings, the pandemic can weaken our faith. Our circumstances make us doubt our faith.
Or you could be like me. When I became sick with Covid, and I was in the hospital bed with the oxygen and having difficulty breathing, I was having a spiritual crisis. I was not doubting the presence of God, in fact, I was actually leaving God out at this time of pandemic. I relied on science. I relied on medicines and the health workers. People were telling me na “magpalakas ka.” “Kaya mo yan.” And so I thought that I can do it “on my own.” I do not have to be connected with God.
This pandemic has made us disconnected with God in either way. Either we think that he abandoned us or we think that we do not need God. Either way, we do not recognize that God is with us. God is someone distant. God do not understand us. God is somebody different from us. We do not recognize God among us.
But the Good News my dear brothers and sisters: is that God became incarnate and became human born as a baby on Christmas day so that God can dwell among us humans. God wants to be in our ordinary lives, in our daily activities, in our everyday struggle, in the midst of all our busy lives, God is with us.
That is reason enough for all of us to be thankful even at this time of pandemic, suffering and chaos. That is enough reason for us to be grateful to God.
If we recognize the significance of the Word becoming flesh, of how a God that is divine will choose to become human in Jesus so that we can restore our broken relationship with God the Father as his children, we are able to appreciate and be thankful to God.
Is there something we can be thankful about at this time of pandemic? God became flesh and stayed home with us. That is something we should be grateful because we are not alone. God has lived and dwelled among the unholy and broken world.
Salvation came into this world on Christmas day when the Word became flesh. That is reason for us to celebrate, worship God and invite everyone to "come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant! O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem; Come and behold him, Born the King of Angels: O come, let us adore Him, (3×). Christ the Lord."
Thursday, November 5, 2020
There is always Joy to the world. This month, I was invited by an old friend and fellow previous NUMYFP leader, Joy Bohol, to share my thougths and experiences about Covid-19 for the World Council of Churches. Joy Bohol has been a missionary for the GBGM in various countries and now serves as missionary assigned to the WCC youth sector. You can support missionaries like Joy and others thru their Advance GBGM account. I was honored to be able to share with the global church God's goodness even at this time of pandemic.
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
There are many United Methodists who became infected with Covid-19. When I heard their story, they inspired me as they shared how God used their lives to bless others. One of them was Kuya Arnel de Pano who was one of the those who encouraged me and lifted my spirit during the time I was sick in the hospital. My prayer is that, just as other people's story blessed me, may God make me a blessing to others as well.
When I got back to the hospital on the first Monday morning of September, I was informed that I got exposed to a doctor who may be positive. The next day, I was monitoring myself. On Wednesday, I was not feeling well so I went home early because I thought it was just a migraine. The next day, I quarantined myself when I learned that some of the other doctors already tested positive for Covid19. I went back in the afternoon to the hospital to have my swab test. I monitored my body temperature and it was persistently going high up to 37. 5. Later that night, my body temperature was already at 38 degrees so I immediately went to the hospital. I was admitted on Thursday night.
I was anxious of what would happen in the next few days. I was feeling Ok the first few days with only the fever as my persistent symptom. I was worried for myself because some of the affected doctors had pneumonia. I was exercising, eating well and doing everything in my capacity to make sure my body can cope. I was telling myself I have to get over the first 10 days without any respiratory symptoms. The worst Covid19 symptoms usually appear during the first 10 days. However, on the 8th day the fever was persistent and I was catching my breath with my short walk to the rest room. My chest X-ray and CT scan showed severe pneumonia. I was given oxygen but I refused thinking that I can train my lungs to naturally manage the situation. But the next day, my oxygen saturation was going below the acceptable level of 90. I was having short shallow breaths but putting the oxygen did help me breath better. Different thoughts started to fill my mind at that point. I was still within the 10-day period where most of the morbid cases of Covid-19 usually takes place. In those moments, I just stared at the window. In an instant, the doctor is now the patient.
I was emotionally, mentally and spiritually stressed as a patient. I was in a situation where I was not just a patient trying to recover physically but was also struggling emotionally and mentally. I was thinking how health workers affected with Covid-19 may have felt knowing they were at a critical condition and could die. I did not fear death but there was sadness in me. I was lamenting. I was also thinking how my Uncle, the elder brother of my father, may have felt during his own hospitalization. He knew he had Covid19 and he knew he was in critical condition. No one was with him while he was in the hospital. What were his thoughts then? My uncle died the next day after he was confined. Not one family member was with him when he died and when he was buried. It was emotionally stressful for me. Our family could not even grieve properly for his death. I was also thinking of the patient in the next room. I can hear the beep of his ventilator. For several days I wake up at night to the sound of that beep. But one afternoon, the nurse called code on him. My next room neighbor did not make it. He was another death case from Covid19. I can imagine the grief of the family. It seemed an eternity of mental and emotional stress for me. Even if I am a clergy, I was in a spiritual crisis. If I do not make it, I would have many unaccomplished goals. I would be leaving my wife and kids with nothing. I would not fulfill my promise to my family. I would let my friends and colleagues down. I felt the gift of life is wasted. I turned to God.
My lamentations turned into questions. How could I overcome my situation? When I turned to God, I realized what was wrong. I asked myself, how long have I been trying to protect myself from Covid19? How hard am I trying to heal myself from Covid19? How many people have messaged and told me with good intentions to keep myself healthy? But where was God in all of those efforts? Have I not trusted too much on my own strength? Have I forgotten to put everything on God alone? Is not God the God of everything? Then why am I trying to make things happen? For the longest time, I was trying to fight the virus by myself. This concept was fed by messages of “kaya mo yan” (you can do it), “palakas ka”(just be strong), “ganito gawin mo, ganyan” (do this and that). These messages feed in me the thought that I can fight the virus with my own effort, I just need to do some things for my body to resist it. But I realized that God was left out in the equation. In my own effort, God was not part of the healing. It should not be that way. God is the one who should heal me, not me. God will desire to happen what God wants to happen, not me. God will use the cells in my body, even the medicine and technology if God so desires, not me. I should surrender all to God and let God. No effort from me to heal me but my only effort is to surrender to God. It will be God at work, all the time.
I was more hopeful as days went by. On the 10th day, I told myself to take it one day at a time. I will be improving only by God’s work. I am not yet out of the woods but there is hope. I will get pass the critical period. The pulmonologist visited me and told me that my laboratories were improving but I needed to shift to new antibiotics. That was great news for me. It made my spirits high. It boosted my morale. Only by God’s miraculous work can this happen. I never lost hope in God. Even when I was thinking the worst that could happen to me, that is when my hope in God was greater. I understood that hope is when everything is impossible, you still believe something good can happen. Hope is the only thing left. Hope is the only thing that keeps a person alive in the worst situation.
Every morning, my hope gets high when I see the break of dawn. I would open my phone and listen to hymns in YouTube. - “When you don’t understand, when you don’t see His plan, when you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.” - These songs remind me to hope in God. I would read prayers of healing from family, friends and church communities. People who overcame this illness inspired me and strengthened my hope. It is difficult to get by everyday with all the worries and anxieties and the negative “what ifs” without having hope. I told myself to never lose hope or you will never survive. When I was having difficulty of breathing, I prayed to God who is my hope. I cannot do it. But I have hope in God that God can do it for me. I have hope that in God’s perfect time I will be healed. I held on to that hope. When I can just easily give up, hope is the only thing left to keep you focused on recovering and getting better. I have high hopes because I have a great God. I never doubted so my faith in him never wavered. My hope of recovery was never lost because I know God can do it. I was able to sustain and fight because God is my hope.
Saturday, September 26, 2020
I cannot breath and I long for the breath of life from you.
My lungs are weak and failing, may you give me some strength too.
My body is sick and aching, come heal me with your hand.
My mind is confused. I'm worried, help me to understand.
I am not afraid because you have promised you will always be with me.
I am not alone because I know I will feel your presence with me through the healthcare workers who sacrifice themselves to be instruments of healing.
My X-rays, CT scans, the lab results and the vital signs are not looking good. But my hope in you remains. There is nothing else that I can hold on to. For the facts do not count when the Great Physician is at work.
My spirit is in crisis. But my faith is in you Lord. Thank you for the moon that reminds me that the dawn is coming. Thank you for the morning light that shines so bright. My soul praises you for I was able to experience You again intensely. Thank you for the opportunity to refocus myself back to You. I can now look beyond myself.
God of grace. Let my experience be mine alone. Keep my loved ones and everyone else safe. Spare the weak. Protect the vulnerable.
God of love. Thank you for showing your unconditional love to us. Thank you for your Son who showed obedience to Your will.Thank you for His life and His victory over death. We are not afraid because of His triumph. We will overcome this illness. We will overcome this pandemic. We will overcome.
I am not alone because of family and friends who keeps me company. Thank you for technology that allows videocalls, SMS and chats. We have felt your presence, Oh God, through each others messages.
I am not afraid because you are the God in times of calmness and in times of storm. You are the same God before Covid19, in this time of Covid19 and even after Covid19 is gone.
My mind has received the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.
My body is now rested with the Balm of Gilead we have been healed.
My lungs are now stronger with the power and might bestowed upon us all.
I can breath now for the breath of the Almighty gives us life that is full.
Saturday, August 29, 2020
Thursday, July 30, 2020
This month is the birth month of my wife and my first daughter. It will be another quarantine birthday for them. Yet, celebrating the birthdays of these women in my life is precious. Women play a special role in each person's life. Even in the life of the church. The women were responsible for the lay movement of the early methodists. In fact, women missionaries were the one who helped spread the Methodist brand of Christianity during the American period here in the Philippines. I am thankful for my wife for being a great mother to our kids. I always remember the impact of Susana Wesley in the life of John. Mothers mold the minds and the heart of the children. I experienced that with my mom, I see that in my wife and our kids. My daughter is greatly influenced by her mother. She loves dancing, music and creative arts. She is very thoughtful and persistent even in times of challenges. Even the challenge of Covid-19 will not deter her and this family to celebrate.
While we celebrate, we do not see Covid-19 ending anytime soon. We are preparing the hospital for a long term response. Thus, we transferred the Covid 19 response back to the Administration and incorporated it back to the regular hospital operations. We welcomed the new CMPS this month too and with the new leadership, we are excited with how our response against Covid-19 will be.
Friday, June 12, 2020
One of the church workers active in the work of the church is Rev. Edgar de Jesus. He is the current President of the NAFAUM. I had a quick chat with Pastor Edgar today. He was inviting me to the upcoming Zoom Webinar on June 22 entitled "Leading the Church in the time of Pandemic." This has been a series of ongoing discussions which is a very timely topic as the world goes through a major change in its daily activities including the church. The way how church activities like mission work, outreach, conferences and the regular worship service is being affected such as the church sacraments of baptism, Holy Communion and even the rituals of wedding and burial have to be drastically change. It has create confusion, chaos, debates and unanswered questions. People can no longer have the Lord's Supper because of the quarantine. People can not gather in worship so will they be allowed to celebrate the Lord's Supper online? If gatherings are not allowed, then how can public declarations of the couple's love be done during their dream wedding. Will it be done online? Even the annual conferences, which is the major and crucial activity in the church have to be postponed. How can deliberations on church concerns be done including the reading of appointments? And this has domino effect on the length of stay of the administrative pastors and the District Superintendents and even the episcopacy. But the crucial concern is how can the church perform now its mission in the society? The forum will focus on how the pandemic affected the programs of the church in promoting social justice. Have we all just paused our work as Christians because of the health concern? Will Jesus have stopped ministering to the poor and oppressed because there was a curfew and quarantine? I am excited about this online event. This webinar will be able to provide insight and guidance to how the church will move forward in its life even as we anticipate major changes in the United Methodist Church. Pastor Edgar will moderate this event.
I met Pastor Edgar when I was in seminary. He was assigned to me as my mentor when I was an intern in Hurdle Mills United Methodist Church in North Carolina. It was one of my best time as a young Pastor. He took time to guide me on the ministry of the Pastor not only as a preacher but as a community leader. He made sure that I understood that the church is not confined in the four corners of the building and thus the work of the Pastor does not end in the worship service but includes community service. He took me to home visits as well as to community events and activities. Although I was more interested with the different Southern food recipes in every event we attended, I was slowly learning that collaborating with other faith groups and participating in the daily life of the community is part of the mission work of the church. Resisting the social ills in the community also means showing love to all people, especially those who are often neglected. Visiting the sick and bringing food to the shut-ins is not less significant to providing work opportunity to the unemployed and assisting migrants get documented. As Christians, we are called to be leaders... leading the church towards freedom.
Join the forum. Register in advance for the NAFAUM Leadership Webinar:
Monday, May 25, 2020
The whole month of May, up until the birthday of my daughter, I was confined to meeting people only in the hospital and those I meet in the online meetings and communications. One of them was our first online meeting with the PKs last May 12. 'Cher Lhyne, Amen, Soc, Joyce, 'Te Gladz and Bhin were there for this historic event. I was so blessed to be with these wonderful children of God.
A PK has unique experiences that only fellow PK can understand. This PK (Pastor's Kids) group was my core support group when I was in Quezon City almost 10 years ago. Our PK group had been a blessing not only to me but to many other people as well because they understand that more than being a PK, they are God's children. Recognizing that you are God's child means a lot. This group has been able to reach out to other younger PKs providing support, guidance and friendship. We were able to help poor PKs go to school. We raised funds together to send help to victims of calamities and disaster. We have prayed, had fellowship with other PKs and led worship services too. We also played and had fun. We also love to travel together and visit places. We have shared many special occasions - birthdays, graduations, weddings, baptism - and many other celebrations together over the years. We have fostered a relationship for a lifetime that we hope others will experience as well. I hope my daughter, also a PK, will grow up and find a PK tribe that will be her friends and celebrate with her special occasions and her birthdays in the future.
I was able to come home to and join my family after more than 2 months of Covid19 response and quarantine. Nothing will separate us from celebrating special events like this. Just like what James 1:17 said,"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."
Birthdays are gifts from God. Birthdays should be celebrated. We did. It was a quarantine themed-birthday party. Of course, a Princess cake was in order. But we did not have visitors. It was just us in the house and the family living in the compound, and those are the only people that matter. Family and friends who care for you and love you. It is always special to spend momentous occasions with people dear to your heart.
It was a wonderful day full of fun and happiness. It was a also a great day to remember how God loves us as his children.
It is always a blessing to spend time with the children of God.
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Sunday, March 15, 2020
Mam Jen is from San Gabriel. She was raised in a United Methodist family. She started working as a nurse in the LGU hospital then moved to work with the DOH retained hospital.
When the Covid19 outbreak began, I was tasked to activate the Incident Command System of the hospital. Mam Jen is one of the key personnel that helped our hospital organize the necessary teams and units that will implement the Covid19 response of our hospital. Even though most of the people were overtaken by fear, she willingly worked. It was evident that he faith was the driving force for her to do her work. On the first week, we had to scramble and work fast to identify the physical resource we had and the complementing human resource to man the Covid19 areas.
Isolation Covid19 rooms had to be convereted from ordinary ward rooms. We also had to pull out our nurses and healthworkers then assign them to each respective isolations rooms. Mam Jen was very patient in planning and organizing the needed restructuring of our hospital services even if we had to work overtime. Her faith is obviously making her calm and composed in this time of crisis. That week, she would come early everyday and did not take any weekend off to make sure the hospital is Covid19 ready. The hospital was able to effeciently use our resources and open our services to help many PUIs and Covid19 patients.
It is very inspiring to see a fellow healthworker work passionately and becoming the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. Healing miracles still do happen. Mam Jen illustrates to us how one's chosen profession can be our ministry as a faithful child of God.
Friday, February 14, 2020
Judge Turgano is a Pastor's Kid. I was introduced to him by my father and had that connection with him as a fellow PK. Since then, I have several opportunities to work with him in the different ministries of the church. One very important event was when he was the Central Conference lay leader and they were organizing a Quadrennial Plan for the Philippine Central conference back in 2012. I asked Judge Turgano if I can be part of that very important event in the life of the church even as an observer. He made sure I was invited as part of the health sector.
During that important planning event, we were able to outline the key health ministries that needs to be the focus of the church. We identified an interagency task force to implement a Central Conference wide health program. They asked me to spearhead that interagency group. As a young and idealistic health minister, I shared with Judge Turgano my thoughts about what the church can do to have effective and efficient in health ministries. I was inspired and challenged by his words that keeps me going even to this day. I can still hear him say to me, "what's keeping you from pursuing your proposed health ministries of the church?" I told him my worries and he said, "you got the support that you need." Indeed, since then, health ministries are always on agenda in the Central Conference matters. Judge Turgano was very supportive of the plan and he adopted and pushed for the scaling-up of the "Local Church as a Health Ministry Oupost" program.
Several years later, Judge Turgano is still one of the church's most supportive leader in promoting church health programs especially in raising HIV awareness in the community.
Wednesday, January 29, 2020
I first met Dr. Glenn during the 2016 Central Conference in Pampanga. He had that very contagious smile and I easily felt comfortable with him. Dr. Glenn is a PK and I always had that special bond with PK because we have a common experience that only PKs understand.
Dr. Glenn is known in the civil society world as a climate health expert. His experience working with big CSOs like UN and WHO tells you the caliber of work of Dr. Glenn. But more than that, Dr. Glenn is really a health minister. His work as CEO of Mary Johnston Hospital leaves his mark as truly minister of healing.