Showing posts with label Evangelism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Evangelism. Show all posts

Remembering the other crucified men


Source: https://wonderwhat.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/three-crosses.jpg

On a Friday, more than 2,000 years ago, three people were crucified in Jerusalem. The one in the middle was Jesus Christ, and the two others were unnamed “robbers”[i] or “criminals.”[ii] Jesus’ crucifixion is undoubtedly the most famous in the world, but little is known of the two men who hung with Him, one on his right, the other on his left.[iii]

Did they know Jesus? Chances are, they have heard about His teachings, miraculous works and claims. This is the reason why they joined the religious leaders, Jews and soldiers in mocking and ridiculing Him on the cross.[iv] Their taunts follow the same line, “If this man is truly the Savior, the Son of God, the Christ, a powerful miracle worker, Israel’s King, then, why can’t He save Himself from the cross? If He is able to free Himself, we will believe!”

It is surprising to read that even at the point of death, these two robbers found the time to revile the Christ. Luke’s account preserves the mockery of one of the men, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself—and us!”[v] Truly, the depravity of the human heart runs deep. Paul was right when he wrote, “…There is no one righteous, not even one…Their throat is an opened grave; they deceive with their tongues; the venom of asps is under their lips, whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness…The fear of God is not before their eyes.”[vi]

But the story doesn’t end here. One of the robbers who previously joined the chorus of mockeries had a change of heart. After hearing his companion’s words, he “answered and rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, because you are undergoing the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for what we have done. But this man has done nothing wrong!’”[vii]

Why the sudden 180-degree turn? Why this unexpected defense for Jesus? It is only by God’s grace that this man’s eyes were finally opened. The Lord removed the veil so that he could finally see Jesus for who He really was.[viii] He recognized His uniqueness when he saw the great crowd of people following Him, and of weeping women on the road to Calvary. Why were they weeping?[ix] They were weeping for Jesus! He must have thought, “Why are these women wailing for a criminal? What kind of man is this that a great crowd is hurt to see Him die?”

Then he heard Jesus address the women. He spoke tender words for a man condemned to die.[x] And on the cross, he heard Him pray for His persecutors, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[xi] He may have asked, “Where does His peace come from? How can He ask for their forgiveness after the injustices He experienced?”

And he saw his silence and meekness amid the mockery and insults, pain and suffering. This man is totally in control. He can face death without fear.

And suddenly it hits him! Everything falls into place. He realizes Jesus’ innocence. People followed and mourned for Him because He was not a criminal. He did nothing wrong. He was gentle and kind, forgiving and composed because His conscience was clear. [xii]

And faced with the righteousness of Jesus, the robber saw his own wretchedness. His heart was gripped with the fear of God. He saw his wrong and acknowledged that he deserved the penalty of death.

And finally, he believed that Jesus is the Christ, Savior and King. The man understood that his body is doomed, but he sought salvation for his soul from Christ. He pleaded with the King to remember him when He’s back in His Kingdom in heaven. He sought the unimaginable but divinely possible by grace—a sinful criminal accepted as God’s righteous child.

And Jesus, full of mercy, responded, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”[xiii] How is this possible? Peter has an answer, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, in order that he could bring you to God…”[xiv] Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for God’s people. He took the death penalty of the unrighteous and freely gave His very righteousness to all who believe so that they can become blameless, holy and acceptable before God.

The repentant man on the cross teaches us a great deal about salvation. Firstly, we are never saved by the good things that we do, by our religiosity or charity. He is the perfect example. If God had a scale and weighed his righteous acts against his sins, he does not deserve to enter paradise.

But Jesus gave Him access to heaven! Paul explains, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.”[xv]

Salvation is by grace alone. It is a gift. It is not dependent on works. It is not dependent on the things we do. For if it were so, we can boast about our righteousness. We can say, “I was allowed to be in God’s presence because I did a lot of good things, I helped the poor, I prayed a lot, went to church often, did all my religious obligations.”

To this attitude, Paul adds, “I do not declare invalid the grace of God, for if righteousness is through the law (human works), then Christ died to no purpose.”[xvi] That is, if we can gain our salvation by being good here on earth, what’s the use of Jesus’ death on the cross? Why don’t we just spend all our energy doing good to reach God?

Secondly, we receive this salvation by grace through faith. Faith is the channel by which God declares us righteous, sinless, acceptable. Faith in what? Faith in Jesus. This faith begins with an understanding of who Jesus is—that He is holy, God’s Son, Lord, King, Savior, Christ. And it extends to an acknowledgment of who we are—sinful, wretched, filthy creatures deserving of death.

It is a faith that clings to and trusts in Jesus alone for one’s salvation. It turns away from man-made ways and institutions to reach God, admitting that there is nothing one can do to enter His presence. And finally, this faith submits to Jesus’ Lordship. It says, “I bow down before You, Lord.
You are now King over my life. I turn from my sinful ways. I give up the self and let you rule over every aspect of my being. Not my will but Yours be done.”

And thirdly, Salvation is ultimately the work of God, not man. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”[xvii] God chooses us, draws us to Jesus, by grace gives us faith, declares us righteous, slowly transforms us into Christlikness and promises glorious perfection at His return. There is really nothing we can boast about. It was even said that humanity’s only contribution to the story of redemption is sin.

But the repentant robber’s story is a reminder that even the most vile among us is never too far away from God’s grace. All it takes is a heart of faith that is willing to acknowledge one’s need of Christ and willing to submit to His Lordship in one’s life.

If you have not yet done this, I invite you to seek Christ, trust in His salvation and submit to Him as King! God bless you!



[i] Mat 27:38
[ii] Luke 23:32
[iii] Luke 23:33; Mat 27:38; Mark 15:27; Mark 19:18
[iv] Mark 15:32; Matthew 27:44
[v] Luke 23:39
[vi] Romans 3:10-18
[vii] Luke 23:40-41
[viii] 2 Corinthians 3:16
[ix] Luke 23:27
[x] Luke 23:28-29
[xi] Luke 23:34
[xii] Luke 23:41
[xiii] Luke 23:43
[xiv] 1 Peter 3:18
[xv] Ephesians 2:8-9
[xvi] Galatians 2:21
[xvii] Luke 19:10

Sharing Jesus with Strangers



Is sharing the Gospel to strangers Biblical? YES! In fact, a simple reading of the book of Acts shows us that the followers of Jesus usually shared with strangers. Paul preached to crowds in synagogues (Acts 17:1-5). They also spoke to groups of people who just happened to be gathered in a place (Acts 16:13-14). Philip shared to an official he only met along the road (Acts 8:26-40). Even amid persecution, the early believers preached the Good News everywhere they went (Acts 5:41-42; 8:4).

There are undoubtedly many methods of sharing the Gospel. Some may espouse friendship evangelism, open-air preaching, tract or literature evangelism, apologetics and many more. We thank God for the many approaches we can use to fulfill the Great Commission of Making Disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).

At the end of the day, I pray that we can all agree that regardless of the approach, what remains central is that “the Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16). That is, clear, complete and Biblical presentation of the Good News of Jesus is our God-given tool in leading people to the cross.

Whatever the method, it remains true that only by God’s grace through faith can a person be saved (Ephesians 2:8-9). So, the method that best glorifies God is not really the one that yields the most results, but the one that fully conforms to His standards as revealed in Scripture. After all, the God who predestined is also the God who justified and will glorify (Romans 8:30).

Lastly, there are truths and promises we often miss when dealing with evangelism. We can find them in Jesus’ very words to Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch (Luke 5:4).” This simple command is teeming with evangelistic truths.

First, the sender for every evangelistic activity is Jesus Himself. He left us with the Great Commission and sends us to fulfill it. This would have meant nothing except that Jesus is the God of the universe who holds every authority in heaven and on earth. With this kind of Sender, what is there to fear, especially that He promised to be with us until the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).

Second, there is a promise that when we “put out to deep water, and let down the nets,” there will be a catch. This is consistent with 1 Cor. 15:58 that tells us, “our labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

What is this catch? We must be careful, however, to equate catch only with decisions for Jesus. Many times in the book of Acts, we see people coming to Christ and people rejecting Him whenever the Gospel is preached. This catch may be in the form of people believing in Jesus, but it can also be as simple as sowing seeds of truth that will later bloom to faith.

Remember that our duty as Christians is to clearly and faithfully explain the Gospel and the right response to it. God is the only one who can make people believe in Jesus and repent of their sins. We sow the seeds and water them, but God makes things grow (1 Cor 3:6-7).

If there is anything God will measure, it is the faithfulness and obedience of His children. Because He is the God who chose people before creation to be holy, every person who believes does so because of His grace alone, not by our works or performance (Ephesians 1:4-5). He saves people in spite of our utter powerlessness and unfaithfulness.

Third, and corollary to the second, is the question, “Are we trusting Jesus enough to go into the deep and cast our nets for a catch?” Could it be that we’re not really letting down our nets that’s why we don’t have a catch? Fish are attracted to light, that’s why fishermen prefer to fish during new moon. Now, Jesus is a greater Light (John 8:12) than the moon or even the sun, and His very person attracts many. Yet, even if the fish swim around the boat because they’re attracted to the light, the fisherman still has to let down his net for a catch. This is the same for us, fishers of men (Matthew 4:19).

-------
 Image taken from http://strangerdanger101.weebly.com/uploads/1/7/7/5/17752719/4586944_orig.png 
 

I tell people to repent and believe




I follow Puritan evangelism. What the term fully means is a discussion for another time. But essentially, when I say this, I mean that I evangelize differently from those who follow the modern evangelistic methods. How so? For one, I do not end my sharing by asking people to pray a prayer. Rather, I try my best to explain how my audience should respond to the Good News of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and challenge them to do so.

This response, in Bible language, is a response of faith (believing) and repentance or faith-repentance (Mark 1:15). Both terms are two sides of the same coin.

Many of my friends find this odd. I do not blame them because I also grew up learning that after the Gospel message comes the prayer response. This prayer is now known as the Sinner’s Prayer.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not about to start a campaign to stop all people from using this modern method of evangelism. I will joyfully share Jesus with anyone, whether they ask people to pray the sinner’s prayer or not, provided that the Gospel is clearly presented and the response of faith-repentance adequately explained. I will also happily evangelize with anyone who asks people to pray the sinner’s prayer so long as he never uses that as basis for salvation.

I am saddened everytime I hear of Christians proudly declaring this or that number of people becoming believers after praying the prayer. I believe the Bible’s words that all who call to Jesus will be saved. But the dilemma here is on the proclamation of a person's spiritual condition. The fact is, only God can see people’s hearts, so He alone can declare who is saved.

A person may have parroted back the prayer without sincerity. He or she may have just been polite as most Filipinos are. We have no capacity as humans to know this, because we have no eyes that can see a heart of stone turning into flesh. We also do not have the ability to see faith as Jesus exhibited when He healed the paralytic brought by four friends (Mark 2:1-12).

Herein comes another distinction of Puritan Evangelism—the call to examine one's faith if it truly brought transformation. Generally, we cannot see faith instantly. But in time, the one with genuine trust in Jesus will show transformed life. This is the evidence of salvation which we can measure. This is the evidence John referred to when he said, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8).”

Thus, after sharing the Gospel and instructing my audience how to respond, I patiently explain that genuine salvation brings transformation. They know that their faith is true when they see change in their life.

I say something like, “Only God can see if your faith-repentance is true. But His Word says, ‘A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit (Matthew 7:18).’  If you have truly trusted in Jesus, you will see change in your life. You will see that a new love for God emerges in your heart. This love draws you to read His Word, pray, fellowship and even share Jesus to others. To some, the transformation is more evident, but to others, it is more subtle. But the important thing is, you MUST see consistent change in your life. You begin to love God more and hate sin more and more.”

This transformation is seen over and over again in the Bible. One of the examples is the Apostle Paul. He was once a murderer and a great persecutor of Christians. But when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, God worked in his life and saved him. There is no account of him praying a sinner's prayer or responding to an altar call, but we know that Paul placed his faith in Jesus because a great change happened in his life. The once great persecutor became one of the most faithful evangelists to non-Jews, proclaiming Jesus to people high and low at the cost of his very life (Acts 26).

I also experienced this transformation and continue to experience it in my life. When I first heard the Gospel, the one who shared to me also invited me to pray the sinner’s prayer. I prayed it and he said I was already a Christian after I prayed.

On hindsight, however, I believe his declaration to be premature. Why? Because even after hearing the Gospel and praying, there was no conviction of sin in me, no new love for God, not even a desire to read His Word.

But praise God because He called me to faith more than a year later. It was in a training camp. The interesting thing is, the messages were for believers. It was not an evangelistic camp, but God's message in my heart was clear, "I am a hypocrite."

Up to that point, my Christianity was only lip service. There was nothing to prove my faith-- no transformation. In fact, I was unable to let go of a secret sinful relationship at that time. But the Holy Spirit convicted me of my hypocrisy.

Early on the second day of the camp, I went out and truly cried out to God. My simple prayer went something like this, "Lord if you want me to follow you, please help me to do so because I could not do it on my own..." I know that He answered because from then on, I saw how God slowly changed my life. He has taught me to love Him truly.

I am not discouraging people from sharing the Gospel. But I am discouraging fellow believers from taking God’s role by prematurely declaring salvation to a person on the basis of a single act. That is not our work. Even the Bible says, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16).”

Genuine faith is shown outwardly by transformed lives, and inwardly by a testimony of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart.

I am on the side of caution on the issue of evangelism because it is painful to see so many people being given false assurance. Instead of helping unbelievers, we deceive them and further bury the wonderful message of grace, faith and salvation.

Response is crucial in the Gospel. This may come in the form of a prayer uttered verbally or in the secret depths of one’s heart. This may come in tears or silent conviction. It may come in sudden joy or great remorse. But all these—the responding in faith-repentance—are but the products of God’s grace.

We may not know exactly how God works and operates in our hearts. Grace is the God-side of the salvation equation (if there is such a thing because God is sovereign over all). There is nothing in our capacity to coerce or even bribe Him to grant us grace. But the side of the equation that we can understand (I am tempted to call it the human side) is God’s call to repent and believe for our forgiveness and salvation.

The believing and repenting is something an individual will do. It is, in a sense, a decision we have to make. Yet, in the grand mystery of God’s design, the Bible declares that God is behind them all. Amazing! We decide to believe and repent, yet, not on our own power but by God’s grace! I’m glad this is God’s design because I have no capacity to believe and repent using my own sinful heart.

As I end, I just want to share that I wrote this article more as a personal affirmation of what I believe is  an accurate representation of God’s working in our salvation. This was also prompted by a question raised by a student during one of our Bible studies.

Her question was, “If grace is all up to God, what can we do so that He will give us that grace so that we can repent and believe?”

My answer is this: Nothing. Grace is His domain. YET, we know for a fact that when we believe and repent, then God’s grace has been granted to us. The reality is, the fruit of grace that we see is repentant-faith, that’s why I can confidently affirm that at the moment of our faith and repentance, grace exists. I don’t claim to understand this fully. But I rest on what God’s Word has revealed so far.

Having said all these, I end with the same exhortation for all, whether they use the sinner’s prayer or not. God’s Son is the only answer to our sin problem. He came here on earth to bear the death penalty of everyone who believes. He died but rose again to give eternal life to those who will put their trust in Him.

I exhort everyone, then, “Believe in the Lord Jesus! Repent of your sins and turn back to God!” In doing so, you receive salvation! But before we become proud of our own faith and repentance, remember that we are able to do these only because God graciously enabled us!    

God bless us all!

Evangelism: An Overview

©CreationSwap/Rich Aguilar
Pastor Bel Magalit tackles evangelism during a council retreat of the Diliman Campus Bible Church. Here he shows us an overview of how the first-century believers understood Jesus' Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. I highly recommend this podcast for everyone engaged in ministry. May you be blessed!



Your Lord and King (Luke 18:18-23)

Writer's Note: I gave this talk to the graduating class of the UP College of Education during their graduation ecumenical service.

Image source: http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_kuj0v0RcGN1qzlw80.jpg

I have discovered from the preaching of one influential Christian Apologist and Philosopher, Dr. Ravi Zacharias, that there is a very effective way of identifying Easterners (from a Eurocentric perspective this includes Asians, Middle Eastern People among others) from Westerners (Americans, Englishmen) if one is speaking to a multi-cultural group.

And I will illustrate this by means of his experience. One time, Dr. Zacharias was asked to speak in the United Nations before hundreds of representatives from countries all over the world. As he began his talk, he opened by saying, “I will tell you a story…”

From his vantage point he saw that representatives from the Middle East, East Asia, South East Asia, the Eastern half of the globe were suddenly leaning forward, concentrating  and looking more intently at him. This was as opposed to the almost unchanged expression and countenance of the Western representatives.

The key element there is the word “STORY.” We love stories as a people. And living in the context of the Middle East, it is not surprising that Jesus Himself used stories when He taught. We are all Easterners here, and so I choose to leave with you a story as you leave the walls of this university.  

But this story is not a product of my imagination. It is a historic narrative in the life of Jesus as recorded by Dr. Luke, the evangelist. For those of you who would want to read it after, it is found in Luke 18:18-23, in the Bible.

The Rich Young Ruler

Let me tell you the story… One time, a young ruler of the Jewish Sanhedrin, this is like a council or a court of justice during the New Testament Times, who was very rich went to Jesus and talked to Him. The Gospel of Mark notes that he ran up to Jesus and even fell on his knees as he spoke to Him, saying “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus, standing there, looked at him and saw beyond the fa├žade. He answered back, challenging the rich young ruler’s words, “Good Master…,” because He knew that the young ruler had neither the faith nor the understanding of Jesus’ identity to back the confession, “Good Master…”

And so He answered, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” That was Jesus’ way of saying, “You call me Good Master, but do you know who I am? Do you know that I am the Son of God (Matthew 16:16), the exact representation of God’s being (Hebrews 1:3), that the fullness of the Deity dwells in me in bodily form (Colossians 2:9)? 

But before the rich ruler had the time to answer, Jesus turns to his main question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And He quotes a very familiar set of commands as reply. “You know the commandments,” Jesus said, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.”

These are five of the 10 Commandments recorded in Exodus 20—Commandments number five through nine or the man-ward commandments. These deal with how one should treat his or her fellow human being in the sight of God.

Upon hearing this, the rich young ruler blurted out, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” His claim was that he never committed adultery, he never murdered anyone, he never stole anything, never gave false testimonies against anyone and he always honored his father and mother.

Interestingly, Jesus never disputed the young man’s claims. But the key to their conversation was what He left out from the 10 Commandments—the First, the Second, the Third, the Fourth and the Tenth. From Exodus 20, “(1) I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me. (2) You shall not make for yourself an image… bow down to them or worship them. (3) You shall not misuse the name of the Lord Your God. (4) Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. And (10) You shall not covet.”

Upon these, Jesus makes His reply and says to the rich young ruler, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

The connection between the five commandments that were left out and Jesus’ recommendation for the rich young ruler to sell everything he owned and give to the poor is a HEART ISSUE. Jesus was not concerned with what the man can do so that he will inherit eternal life. Instead, He was concerned with what his heart was running after for. Jesus was concerned with what or who was sitting on the throne of the man’s heart as Lord, and as King.

We get a glimpse of the rich young ruler’s heart when, upon hearing Jesus’ response to "sell all his possessions and give to the poor,” he became not only sad, but VERY sad. Why? Because he was “a man of great wealth.”

Lessons We Learn
What do we learn from the narrative?

First what or who occupies the throne of our hearts? You see the young ruler. What was in his heart? What was he running after for? What was King and Lord, sitting on his life’s throne? The answer is great wealth. 

Commandments one through four are God-ward commandments summed up by Jesus as, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).” That is, God should not just be number one, He should be the ONLY ONE occupying the throne of your life—not wealth or power, popularity or status, name, fame or beauty, politics, religion. No! God should be the only one.

Commandment number 10 has something to do with covetousness. And the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes to the Colossian Church that covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Incidentally, any form of disobedience to the God-ward commandments is basically idolatry.

Second, do we know the Jesus of the Scriptures? You remember that Jesus opened with a challenge that is summed up in the question, “You call me Good Master, but do you know me?”

If the young man knew Jesus, he would have gladly given up his earthly possessions because if he did, he would have given the throne of his heart to the King of kings, the Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 19:16), the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6), the Alpha and Omega, Beginning and the End (Revelations 1:8, 22:13), the True God (1 John 5:20), the Bread of Life (John 6:35; 6:48), the Savior or Messiah (Luke 2:11), the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25), the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6), the Light of the World (John 8:12), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), the Lamb of God (John 1:29).

He would have given his life to Hims who died for our sins and rose again, overpowering death itself (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

A Challenge

As you leave the university, I challenge you to think about who or what is sitting on the throne of your heart. Because that will be your foundation, the rock upon which you will stand or fall in the face of life’s struggles. Will God see riches, fame, honor, glory, pride? Or will He see Jesus enthroned rightfully where He belongs?

And I challenge you to yearn for that which produces eternal fruit (Matthew 6:19-21). May you strive for a purpose that is beyond the here and now to what is there in eternity. May God through Jesus ever so fill your hearts so that you will find peace. In my own experience, Blaise Pascal was right when he said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”

When I was about to graduate in UP, I had the luxury of good grades, the distinct honor of graduating Magna cum Laude, valedictorian of my batch, best thesis in the College of Mass Communication, and a ready job at the Philippine Daily Inquirer. But between these things and Jesus Christ, only Jesus, having a personal relationship with Him, gave me peace, security, purpose and identity. 

That is why I can say with the Apostle Paul, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:7-8).”

May you come to that point when you will also see the radiance of God in the face of Jesus that you may surrender to Him as Lord and Savior by grace through faith alone in the enabling of the Holy Spirit.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26).”

Amen and Amen.

Enter Paradise: A Reflection


©CreationSwap/Micah Claycamp
I was moved by one of the songs sang during our Easter service at church. It essentially held the Gospel word per word, proclaiming our Savior's sacrifice to bring us peace and life.

Listening to the song today, I could not help but reflect on God's grace and mercy. Some made an acronym of the word grace that goes, "God's riches at Christ's expense." Grace is basically God giving us what we do not deserve. And mercy is the other side of the coin-- God withholding that which we deserve.

I will never forget these definitions. God gave His greatest treasures to us-- forgiveness and personal relationship-- at the cost of His precious Son. We do not deserve these gifts because we are sinners to the core (Isaiah 53:6). And by this I mean we do not meet God's standards of perfection (Romans 3:23).

Who can claim that he or she is righteous enough, holy enough, good enough to enter paradise on his or her own merit? If there were such a person, I tell you that his greatest sin is pride. And for this pride, he falls short of God's definition of righteousness (Matthew 5:3). For this pride, he accumulates for himself the wages of sin which is death, eternal spiritual death (Romans 6:23).

This death is what God withheld by His mercy. Instead of placing it upon us, Jesus received the punishment humbly in our place. Sheer love...unspeakable love (John 3:16).

Just imagine. The King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Maker of everything in the universe chose to be among us, to be one with us. He set aside majesty and glory and took on the humble estate of a man (Philippians 2). Why did He do it? Because only by becoming like us-- apart from our sinfulness (Hebrews 4:15)-- can He be accepted as our substitute.

No other faith system in the world proclaims a God who chooses to die in order to save His creation. You find this only in the Biblical Christian faith. Whereas world religions say, "Reach to your gods. Do your best so that your gods will accept you. Do good. Die a martyr," Christian faith says, "It is finished. Not by your works but by the grace of God can you be saved (Ephesians 2:8-9)."

One tells you to struggle heavenward. The other whispers, "God has come down to be with us." No wonder one of Jesus' names, "Immanuel," means God with us.

And as we hear in the song, mercy and grace's price is costly. It is the life of the Son. Yet, by His "wounds we are healed" from our spiritual sickness. Isaiah sums it up, "But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5)."

No wonder that the only fitting response is faith-- to trust in Jesus, to turn to the Savior, to gaze at our Lord. The work has been done! God is not waiting for us to fill up what has already been finished at the cross. He is waiting for us to embrace His Son, for in so doing, His righteousness becomes ours. We are counted worthy at that very moment, and He begins to work towards our perfection until the Day Jesus comes again.

May this song minister to you. As you listen, I encourage you to reflect on your faith. Do you know facts about Jesus? Or do you truly know and trust Jesus?

May you be blessed!



In Christ,




Volunteering at VOICE's Graduation Treat


It had been a while since I last helped out in our church's VOICE Ministry (Values Orientation in Classroom Education). I used to teach values to grade school students at the Krus na Ligas Elementary School near UP Diliman. That was around a year ago.

I told Kuya Cris that I was stopping for a year because my schedule could not accommodate the weekly teaching load. But I was determined to teach again in the coming year if God permits.

Even if I'm not officially with the ministry, however, I grabbed the opportunity to volunteer in the VOICE Graduation Treat given by the team helping out at the Blara Elementary School, at the Windmill Farm behind UP. The plan was simple. They wanted to share the Gospel to the grade 6 graduating class in a simple evangelistic event filled with games, magic shows, story telling and small group discussions.


There were around 40 from our church who came and we served more or less 130 students. I enjoyed the games, particularly the "Pinoy Henyo" where I volunteered as time keeper. Several students took turns guessing names and terms from the different values lessons they learned throughout the year.

Kuya Jan Barrera's Gospel presentation using magic tricks caught the attention of the students. I find it creative to mix Biblical message with attention-grabbing activities like magic ticks. Though we really have to be very careful so that the illustration will not overpower the message.

His explanation of sin using "Betadine" mixed with a glass of water made the concept clearer for the young participants. It graphically illustrated how sin made us "dirty" or "dark" before our holy God. And as adding clean water on the glass could not make the solution as clear as it originally was, trying to cleanse ourselves through our good works wouldn't work as well.


Kuya Jan, then, used a cross as a stirring rod to illustrate his next point--only the blood of Jesus could  cleanse us from our sins. When he stirred the solution, the liquid slowly became clear again. He graciously told me the secret behind this trick, but I'm not about to share it here.

I will share, however, the timeless truth that no amount of good work from ourselves can cleanse us from our sins and restore our broken relationship with God. It was Jesus who made a way when He died on the cross. That is why our proper response must be to admit that we are powerless on our own, and to trust Jesus alone as our Savior from sin and as Lord of our lives.

After the quick magic show, Pastor Tasky took on the role of a teacher and a story-teller. He elaborated on the Good News about Jesus, unveiling the whole salvation story beginning at creation down to the cross. At this point, I found myself praying for the Holy Spirit to touch the hearts of the listeners.


As I looked around, I saw varying reactions from the students and parents. Some were bored but there were really those  who keenly listened. Just by reflecting on the different responses, I affirm what the Bible says that God is the one who gives people the grace to believe in Jesus.

We cannot put people in boxes, expecting similar results given the diversity of backgrounds and experiences.  What I have learned after more than two years in the ministry is that evangelism is less about counting converts and more about helping people inch closer into personally knowing Jesus.

Afterall, crossing over from death to life is not in the hands of the the evangelist. We can only faithfully and clearly proclaim Jesus, leaving the conviction of the heart to the Holy Spirit.

We had small group discussions at the end of the program and I handled six students from Kuya Marlon's class. They were bright students with wonderful ambitions. We only had limited time discussing so I concentrated on explaining to the students what saving faith in Jesus meant.


I told them that it was more than knowing facts about Jesus, though this is certainly part of it. Saving faith involved trust. The things we know or understand about the Christ are useless if we do not make a stand on them-- whether to believe or reject them. Those who genuinely believe are reconciled to God. While those who reject, remain separated from Him.

As a parting illustration, I taught them about the "Roman Hand Shake." I learned this a long time ago as an illustration of God's faithfulness to those who believe. It's a unique kind of handshake where both participants hold each other up until the elbow. The idea is, even if one lets go, as long as the other keeps holding on, the handshake is not broken.

This is how God treats His sons and daughters. He assures us that all those He saves are safe in His arms. Even if at times we let go, Jesus will never let go. He is faithful to see us through.

I don't know if I'll be able to see these students again. But my peace is that God has planted seeds of the Gospel in their hearts. I pray that somewhere along their faith journey, someone else can continue planting, watering and cultivating the truth until the day they come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.


May you be encouraged!

In Christ,




Of Watermelons and Evangelism


Watermelons

For those who don't know, Watermelon is my favorite fruit, so I tried planting several seeds at the start of the year, hoping to harvest even at least a single fruit after three months or so.

I bought a pack of seeds of the "Gold Baby" variety at the nearby Robinson's Supermarket. After researching on the feasibility of growing Watermelons on pots, I decided to give the project a go using makeshift plastic pots from old water containers.

I actually tried growing melons last year, but they all died because I didn't have the time to transplant them. My enthusiasm also faded after losing patience with the entire planting and growing process. This time, however, I placed my heart into the  project. I am now actually more than halfway through and my watermelons now have flowers and buds everywhere.

The photo above was taken after I transplanted the seedlings to a bigger plastic pot. There was actually just one at first, but another seed suddenly sprouted. Thus, the odd positioning of the two. You can just imagine my excitement when I succeeded in transferring my young watermelons, something I failed to do with my melons in the past.

Fast forward to one and a half months after and my watermelons have grown a lot! (Refer to the photo below.) My housemate, Dado, gave me the two plastic pots as birthday gifts on February. I separated the two seedlings, one on each pot, for maximum nutrient absorption.


By the way, I placed my plants on our roof. I'm dreaming of having my own green roof someday! Somewhat similar to the Plants vs Zombies stage where potted plants lined the rooftop.

And if you're wondering, how watermelon flowers look like, refer to the photo below. That's the first ever flower that bloomed from my plant. Watermelons have male and female flowers. The male delivers the pollen while the female, when fertilized, turns into the fruit. You can easily distinguish the "gender" of the flower by looking at its stem. If it looks like an ordinary stem, it's a male flower. But if it has a bulge the shape of a vase, that's a female flower.


No female flower has bloomed to date, but I'm expecting two anytime this week. I'm praying that their blooming will coincide with a male flower so that I can fertilize them and finally have a watermelon fruit!

Evangelism

Up until this point, I had been talking about my watermelon plants. Through this simple experience, however, God made me understand the principle behind 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 more clearly.

Here we read:

5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

When I bought a pack of seeds, I planted five, hoping that even just one would grow. I was anxious the first three days because I did not see any of the seeds germinating. I was faithful in watering them and I made sure that they were planted on good soil. However, whether the seeds would live or not was totally out of my hands.

Similarly in evangelism, as God's workers, we are called to be faithful in planting seeds of the Gospel and watering those earlier planted by other Christians. However, the blooming of the seeds or the coming to faith in Jesus of a person is out of our control.

Only the Holy Spirit can convict a person of sin and turn him or her to God (John 16:8). Regeneration or the giving of new life in Christ is wholly God's work. As evangelists, the heart of our duty is to faithfully and clearly proclaim Jesus as the only answer to sin and the only way to be reconciled back to God (John 3:16). We are also to urge people to believe this message and to repent from their sins that they may be saved or forgiven by God (Mark 1:15).

A person's response to this Gospel or Good News is entirely dependent on the grace or mercy of God. That is, apart from God's intervention, no single person can say "yes" to Jesus. The gravity of our depravity makes us unable to choose God on our own strength (Romans 3:10-12). The sinful nature makes us captive of the kingdom of darkness and blind to the truth about Jesus (Galatians 3:22; 2 Corinthians 4:4).

But praise God because the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of people. He enables men and women to respond to Jesus. As such, no evangelist can really claim glory for the salvation of people. Paul was right when he said that it was not him or Apollos who saved, but God alone.

This truth should also be an encouragement for us to never stop sharing the Gospel because God can use all our humble acts in drawing people to Himself (Galatians 6:9). Usually, ministers are discouraged because they do not see fruit in their work. However, if we realize that only God can produce fruit or salvation in a person, we should never use this as a measure for our success or failure.

Instead, we must seek God's strength that He may enable us to faithfully and clearly share the Gospel. Afterall, as Bill Bright of the Campus Crusade for Christ emphasized, (with some additions on my part) "Success in witnessing is simply taking the initiative to [faithfully and clearly] share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God."

May this encourage us all to keep on sharing Jesus! God bless you all!


Philippines Beach Missions 2012


Let them give glory to the LORD and proclaim his praise in the islands. (Isaiah 42:12)

Every year, a group of college students and graduates come together to proclaim Jesus in one of the many beaches of the archipelago. For two years now, the Philippines Beach Missions team has been sharing Jesus in the shores of Zambales with the help of a local church partner from the area.

I've joined the BM Trip from year one in 2011 and with the coming of the summer heat, I once more cleared my schedule for the second year of the mission.Two groups make up the BM Team, each spending one week at a time in the chosen mission field. Previously, I was with group two; I chose to join group one this year.

The Beach Missions takes to heart Jesus' words to Peter and Andrew, "I will make you fishers of men." Throughout the trip, we manned the coastline talking to beach-goers and locals alike. We went to where the "fish" were and spoke to them about the gift of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.

Like the first-century apostles, our schedule and program were very fluid and truly Spirit-led. Depending on the number of people, we would do either one-on-one Gospel-sharing, or hold simple beach games for a large group before grabbing the opportunity to talk about Jesus.


Armed with a rope for a game of tug-of-war and a colorful ball for a round of beach basketball, we would gather the people swimming around and build rapport with them. Until now, I thank God for making Filipinos inquisitive and fun-loving. Who would have thought that these simple games would allow us to connect with the people in a very non-threatening way?

The games lasted around 10 to 15 minutes, after which we would call the children and teens to the shore to help us bury several of the team members in the sand. Kuya Dave gets this role often because he's larger than any of us and  burying him gives the precious minutes needed to share the Gospel.

We accomplished this using the soccer ball which was painted by Jeremy with the colors of the Wordless Book -- gold or yellow, black, red, white and green. While the children and teens buried Kuya Dave in the sand, one team member explained the colors, climaxing with the death of Jesus with the color red.

This year, Kuya Raf, one of the InterVarsity staff members, shared Noah's story with the children before presenting the colorful ball.

Often after the large-group presentation, we broke into smaller groups to further explain the message of the Gospel. I noticed that it was good to repeat the meaning of the colors and to engage the listeners by encouraging them to memorize the key words for each color. We then left them with a woven bracelet which also bore the five colors of the ball. This is a reminder of the Gospel and a constant challenge for them to consider the message and to respond to the call of faith in Jesus.



There were times when we were privileged to pray for the people we spoke to. In my case, there was one particular lady who was resistant to the Good News. We tried to explain what the Bible says about salvation in Jesus, but she would not yield to it. Even if she refused to believe, however, we still asked for prayer requests. Praise God because her face lightened with the offer. We prayed for her concerns, but more importantly Queen and I prayed for her salvation when we were already discussing the encounter.

The incident reminded me again that salvation of people is not in our hands. We may be able to share passionately, creatively, charismatically or dramatically but without the power of the Holy Spirit touching people's hearts, transformation will not happen. Our duty is to share faithfully, God gives the increase.

God dealt with one of my biggest fears in evangelism during the trip-- approaching a large group alone. He allowed me to share to at least two large groups even if I was so terrified of doing so. Incidentally, most of those in the groups were students so I felt very comfortable because my ministry is campus-based and I regularly worked with students of all ages.


Even if I wasn't very well during the trip because of flu and a back ache, I really felt God giving me the energy to keep on sharing. I preferred staying dry because of my condition, but even on the shore and the cottages the Lord gave me several opportunities to share His Son.

The people were very receptive. Several even said they remembered us from last year's missions trip. But even so, they still wanted to hear the Gospel. I sometimes wonder how many times should we share the message before they understand it, or more importantly before they put their faith in Christ. This is clearly out of our hands. It is simply a joy for me to be used to scatter seeds of Truth or water seedlings while trusting God's perfect timing.

Sadly for this trip I had to leave halfway-through because my flu worsened. I joined Kuya Dave on his way back to Manila. I wanted to finish the trip but my body was telling me to rest. Even if I left earlier, however, I continued ministering to the people of Pundaquit in prayer, supporting my teammates through intercession.

It was another tiring trip but spiritually fulfilling! To God be all the glory!


Jesus is the Savior, but how can we be saved?



We know that Jesus Christ came down to earth to save sinners (1Timothy 1:15)*. However, many of us do not know how we can be saved.

This is what the Apostle Paul said,"You have been saved by grace, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And this not from yourselves not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2: 8-9).


We are not saved because of our good works. If that were so, we could boast. We have nothing to be proud of in front of God because according to the prophet Isaiah, our good works are like dirty rags in the light of God’s holiness. (Isaiah 64:6)*.

We are saved because God is gracious. He is compassionate, loving and forgiving. He saves through grace, which he gives freely. But, to be saved, we have to believe in Christ. What does this mean?

~*~

First, we must know who Christ is. He is the Word which existed from the very beginning, even before the world was made. The Word was with God and the Word was God (John1:1)*. The Word became flesh and he lived with us (John 1:14)*. God who cannot be seen was seen through His Son (John 1:18; Colossians 1:15)*. To believe in Christ is to know who He is. This is the first part of faith


Second, to believe in Christ is to trust Him as the only Savior. We trust no one else to save us, only Jesus, who died on the cross to pay for our sins.  Not religion, not our church, not holy people, not our good works. Only Jesus.

Third, to believe in Jesus is to submit to Him. Jesus the Savior is Jesus the Lord. A big part of this belief is to turn away from sin and submit to Jesus as King or Lord of our lives. The root of sin is to live selfishly, according  to our desires. But to believe in Jesus is to tell Him: Your WILL shall reign in my life!

~*~

Have you responded to Jesus and placed your faith in Him? Right now, you can respond to Jesus and trust Him completely. Pray to Him like this:

“Lord Jesus, thank you for your 
great love for me that you paid for 
my sins at Calvary. I acknowledge 
you as my God who became man 
to save the world.  I believe that 
you are the Savior and Lord of   
my life.  I turn my back on my sin.   
Forgive me and come into my 
heart and life. Amen.” 

It is not the prayer that saves you but your faith in Jesus as personal Lord and Savior. If you are genuinely saved, you will see transformation in your life. As a new creation, you should bear fruit of good works for the glory of God.

But know that at that very moment you respond to Jesus-- putting your trust in Him and turning away from a life of sin-- you are given the assurance of eternal life with God. Nothing can separate you from God. If you are genuinely saved, you remain genuinely saved, a son or daughter of God. 

~*~

* Passages quoted from the Bible

1 Timothy 1:15  "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst."

Isaiah 64:6a "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags..."

John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

John 1:14 "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

John 1:18 "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known."

Colossians 1:15 " He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation"


This article was originally written by Pastor Isabelo Magalit of the Diliman Campus Bible Church with additions by the owner of this blog.






The Gospel is for Everyone

The Gospel is for everyone. This is a lesson I learned and continue to learn the hard way. We do not choose who to share it to; but our attitude should be like that of the apostles Peter and John who said “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20).”

During the Missions Exposure Trip in Catanauan, God taught me to face this reality through the most unexpected people. I was sharing the Gospel to a friendly-looking teen on the shore when an old man who was evidently drunk called my attention.

Totoy,” he barked,“Why don’t you come here and share what you’re teaching about God to us? We also want to listen.”

I turned my head and felt that I would rather not. I figured from my past Missions Trip experiences that drunken men weren’t the best people to share the Gospel to. I paused for what felt like eternity until finally, I wheeled reluctantly to where they were.

I sat and talked with them—around five if I remember right—for two whole hours. There were moments I felt giving up because our conversation was going in circles. But I held on and shared what I could of the Gospel because I sensed that they were really asking genuine questions.

I couldn’t forget the realization of one of the men when I started talking about the sinfulness of humanity. I shared that the Bible teaches that all have sinned and there is no way a person can cleanse himself of sin. Furthermore, unless this sin is removed, no one can enter God’s kingdom.

The man who called was jolted back to his senses and exclaimed, “You mean if I can’t cleanse my sin, when I die, I will go to hell? But there’s no way to cleanse sin!”

At that moment I tried my best to emphasize Jesus’ death on the cross as God’s means of cleansing sin, and faith and repentance as a person’s proper response to this gift. I don’t know if they understood it or if they believed it, but my joy is in the fact that they grasped the concept of sin and its punishment. I know that God will meet them where they are now.

I said my goodbye after praying for them when God gave me another surprise. One of the men approached me and asked, “Could you pray for me? I have a sin which I couldn’t lift up to God.” I was moved with compassion. Explaining that God alone forgives sins and I was only His instrument, I prayed for him, asking that God would help him know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

After the experience, I paused and asked God to forgive me for being choosy in sharing His Gospel. Had the man not called me, there would have been no way for me to share the Gospel to them. Now I know firsthand what it means to share the Gospel to all creation. And my prayer is that God would enable me to do so.
Next