Curse Not Your Cross

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Friends Magazine Hong Kong
By Bro. Eddie C. Villanueva
May 2012 Edition

A story is told about a man who felt like he was at the end of his rope.  He couldn’t understand why life could still be hard on him when he had decided to fully obey God. He had picked up his cross and followed Him. Yet he wasn’t spared still from life’s difficulties.

Feeling utterly hopeless and miserable, he called unto God in prayer.  And as if in a dream, he saw himself suddenly standing before God in heaven. Emboldened by the opportunity to talk to God face to face, he bared his heart to Him and told Him exactly how hard he felt life was for him.

“Lord, I am presenting to You this cross that I took up as I followed You. It’s just too much for me to bear.  I don’t think I can carry it anymore,” he cried out to God.
God looked at him tenderly, knowingly, compassionately. Then the man heard His invitation for him to enter into a special room that was full of crosses.

“Leave here the cross you’re carrying now and search the entire room for the cross which you feel would be easiest for you to carry,” God told him lovingly.
The man scanned the room. He methodically searched for that easy-to-carry-cross. Now that he had the freedom to choose his cross, he’d make sure he’d get the lightest one.

Cross after cross, he searched. The sheer number and various kinds of crosses that he saw amazed him. Some crosses were too big and daunting, their top couldn’t be seen from where he was standing.

Finally, he saw a small and thin cross that was leaning on a wall. His eyes glistened. At last, after the long search, he found the cross that, for him, was undoubtedly the easiest one to bear.  So he went back to God to point to Him the cross that he felt best suited him.

“Are you sure this is the cross you want?” he heard God ask him. Comparing to the other huge and massive crosses, he knew he couldn’t go wrong with his choice. So he nodded his head in agreement.

Then God told him, “This is the very same cross you were carrying earlier.  This is the very same cross you were trying to trade for another.”

The Word of the LORD tells us that, “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; He’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; He’ll always be there to help you come through it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, The Message).

This beautiful Bible verse presents to us four powerful promises from the LORD that are sufficient to sustain us through life’s changing seasons.

First promise: No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. Life’s difficulties are not unique to us. We are mistaken when we think that we singlehandedly carry the weight of the world upon our shoulders. Even the Apostle Paul had his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7).  Yet, according to the grace of God that is at work in us, we are enabled to endure and overcome.

Second promise: God will never let you down. We will never get disappointed when we put our trust in God, because He is ever true to us.

Third promise: He’ll never let you be pushed past your limit. Our Maker knows precisely our limitations. And only up to such brink will He allow trials to test us. Forget not Job, the man whom God allowed to be tested and tempted by Satan. Job lost everything he had, except his life. Yet with what was left of him, God made him doubly blessed.

Fourth promise: He’ll always be there to help you come through it. The single best word of assurance here is always. When He promised that He’d be with us always, He meant it.  Hence, come hell or high waters, we’ll never be alone in this life of obedience to God (Psalm 91:15, Hebrews 13:5). We maybe at a point when we are about to lose our minds and lives, but we must never lose heart. Recall how even a rotting Lazarus, from his tomb, was brought back to life by Christ (John 11:42-44).

Let us not curse our crosses, but carry them in complete obedience to Christ. Once upon a time, He also carried a cross, got crucified on it, and bore its curse for our redemption. He knows the pain too much, He won’t allow us to go through anything beyond what we can bear. This is our greatest assurance.

Experiencing God’s Miracles

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Friends Magazine Hong Kong
By Bro. Eddie C. Villanueva
June 2012 Edition

In October 2011, the world was shocked by the death of the genius inventor and charismatic pioneer behind personal computer revolution. Considered as one of the world’s most influential leaders and wealthiest businessmen, the “early” death of Apple Inc.’s chairman and chief executive officer came as a chilling surprise. People questioned why medical science failed to save him, considering that he had at his disposal all the money needed for his treatment.

Then illumination hit the hearts of men: money, genius, fame, and power are no match to life’s impossibilities. Ultimately, God alone decides the fate of men. “For the life of every living thing is in His hand, and the breath of every human being” (Job 12:10, NLT).

The fact that life is fleeting can be the reason why theoretical physicist Albert Einstein opined, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

What is miracle? An online search defined miracle as an event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God. How does one experience it? Let me share the following thoughts for us to ponder.

Miracle is conceived in the womb of impossibility. Until we have reached that point when nothing but God can help us, we haven’t reached our point of miracle yet. Most assuredly, anything that can be explained by nature, answered by human wisdom, and cured by science is not ripe for miracle. Why? Because the working of miracle is a divine opportunity that is reserved exclusively for God, that He may display His sovereignty over all. It is the one realm that man cannot usurp God’s power.

This miracle-working power of God brings to mind the parting of the Red Sea during Moses’ time, the giving of birth of Sarah to Isaac when her body was as good as dead, the crushing down of the walls of Jericho by the mere shouts of the Israelites, the feeding of five thousand men with five loaves of bread and two fish by Jesus, and His raising back to life of His dead friend, Lazarus.

All these great miracles have a common denominator: an impossible situation.  It is during these times when God’s word rings the truest: “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27, NIV).

And those who have experienced God’s mighty acts are right in declaring, “O Sovereign LORD! You made the heavens and earth by Your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for You!” (Jeremiah 32:17, NLT). “I know that You can do anything, and no one can stop You” (job 42:2, NLT).

An impossible situation is not a dead end. Rather, it is the highway to experience the LORD’s miraculous work, if only man can believe that all things are indeed possible with God. This brings me to my next point.

Miracle is birthed by faith. Miracles only happen when a person believes in miracles. Jesus Himself declares, “As far as possibilities go, everything is possible for the person who believes” (Mark 9:23, GOD’s WORD Translation).

Matthew 9:27-30 records the story of two blind men who followed after Jesus and cried out to Him for their healing:

Jesus went into a house, and the blind men followed him. He said to them, “Do you believe that I can do this?”

Yes, Lord,” they answered.

He touched their eyes and said, “What you have believed will be done for you!” Then they could see.”

Like these once blind men, the only way for us to see the miraculous is to look at the impossibilities of our lives through the eyes of faith. Because “Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see” (Hebrews 11:1, Common English Bible Translation).

Dear reader, if you are in an impossible situation right now, draw near to God in prayer (James 4:8). Seek Him through His Word (Jeremiah 29:13). Believe that He can make all things work together for you (Romans 8:28). Trust Him and He will direct your path (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Remember, with your right response to life’s impossibilities, you are rightly positioned to experience your greatest miracle!

Face the future victoriously

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Bro. Eddie C. Villanueva
January 2011

With the dawning of a new year comes the promise of a fresh start.  This is probably one of the reasons why, at this particular time of the year, there is a generally renewed sense of optimism for people who wish to leave behind their past failures and march toward future opportunities.

While embarking into an unknown future can be interesting, it can be intimidating too.  Thus to get anywhere, it is important that we turn to the Creator of Time (Genesis 1:14) for instruction and direction.

The Message Bible’s translation of Lamentations 3:19-33, when prayerfully studied and considered, is a well of information for us. It teaches us three truths that can help us confidently put our unknown future to the Eternal God as well us empower us to face the future victoriously.


First, let us put our vision in correct perspective. Lamentations 3:19-24 tells us, “I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all —oh, how well I remember— the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great is your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.”

When Jeremiah wrote these words, his hopes were hanging by a thread. He was in utter pain and misery as he lived a seemingly beaten life of futile intercession for his corrupt people before the Holy God. He acknowledged his past troubles, his hitting the bottom. Yet he never forgot to remember the steadfast source of his hope: God, His loyal love, His merciful love, and His great faithfulness.  Therefore he was able to make a definite decision to stick with God, no matter what.

We do not have to delude ourselves into believing that 2011 automatically wipes out the troubles of 2010.  Our unresolved problems remain matters to be dealt with, yet they do not have to wear us down. If we hope in God, in His loyalty, mercy, and faithfulness to us, we can also make a firm choice to stick with God regardless of what the future may hold for us.  We can also say that He’s all we’ve got left, and He is more than enough.

Second, let us put our expectation in the right and Righteous Object of hope.
Lamentations 3:25-27 tells us, “God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times.”

When we passionately wait on God and diligently seek God, He proves Himself good to us; He does not disappoint us. Because He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Any pursuit and desire that is not God and of God will surely leave us lost, frustrated, and disillusioned. James 4:4 reminds us that friendship with the world means enmity against God and anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

It is God’s will for us to have abundant life (John 10:10) and to prosper and be in good health, both physically and emotionally (3 John 2). But it is not His will for us to be enslaved by love of money, lure of power, and lust of the flesh.  “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16).

Third, let us keep a disciplined life of prayer and faith. In order to rightly deal with the heavy and hard burdens of life, whether real or imagined, Lamentations 3:28-30 exhorts us to enter into a period of meditation and prayer: “When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face. The “worst” is never the worst.”

The succeeding verses explain why the troubles we often dodge and fear as the worst that can happen to us, in fact, are not.  Lamentations 3:31-33 assures us that “… the Master won’t ever walk out and fail to return. If he works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of loyal love are immense. He takes no pleasure in making life hard, in throwing roadblocks in the way.” In effect, Prophet Jeremiah was reminding us that God’s loyal love could not be faulted.  It is against His very nature to just whimsically make life hard for us.  It is not His kind to senselessly throw obstacles along our path.  Rather, He makes all things work together, including the bad, for our good.

With the uncertainties that come with 2011, let us make sure that our perspective is correct, the Object of our hope is right, and our lives are lived in prayer and faith.  If we do this, we can be assured of God’s fresh hope each and every new morning, and guaranteed that everything that comes along our way are within the bounds of God’s loyal love for us.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). ###

God stands against the proud

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Friends Magazine Hong Kong
By Bro. Eddie C. Villanueva
July 2012 Edition

 

“Pride comes before a disaster, but humility comes before respect.” (Proverbs 18:12, CEB).

One Bible commentary posits that all the sins in the world may be classified under these three: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life.

“Everything that is in the world—the craving for whatever the body feels, the craving for whatever the eyes see and the arrogant pride in one’s possessions—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16, CEB).

And in this triad of sin, it is said that pride is the chief. It is so sinister that it made a “father of lies”(John 8:44) out of an “anointed cherub” (Ezekiel 28:14). It is so insidious that it mainly delights in the preoccupation with self, which makes it a dangerous enemy of God.

In the same way that pride separated Lucifer from God, it also continues to sever relationships – that of man against God, and man against man. It is this deadly sin that leads man to build walls and burn bridges, all the while trapping himself in the seething anger of his soul. Because pride insists on its rights and, at the same time, keeps its records of wrongs.

The Word of the LORD brings into light this evil sin of pride:

1 What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives?2 You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask.3 You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.

 

4 You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God?5 Or do you suppose that scripture is meaningless? Doesn’t God long for our faithfulness inthe life He has given to us?6 But He gives us more grace. This is why it says, God stands against the proud, but favors the humble. 7 Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you.8 Come near to God, and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded.9 Cry out in sorrow, mourn, and weep! Let your laughter become mourning and your joy become sadness.10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4, CEB).

God stands against the proud, but favors the humble. The LORD’s message can’t get clearer than that.  And it comes bundled with the most fitting instruction: Humble yourselves before the LORD, and He will lift you up.

Philippians 2:3-4, Good News Translation counsels us:Don’t do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves. And look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own.”

Evangelist F.B. Meyer, a famous crusader against immorality and contemporary of D.L. Moody, beautifully illustrated a paradox in a Christian’s life.  He shared, “I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above the other; and that the taller we grew in Christian character the easier we could reach them. I now find that God’s gifts are on shelves one beneath the other; and that it is not a question of growing taller but of stooping lower; and that we have to go down, always down, to get His best gifts.”

Beloved of the LORD, never lose sight of the fact that everything we have and everything we are is all because of Jesus.  Everything came into existence through Him. Not one thing that exists was made without Him (John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-20). And so we have this treasure in clay jars to show that its extraordinary power comes from God and not from us (2 Corinthians 4:7).

The “I” sits enthroned in the middle of pride.  The very word proves it.  And the only antidote to pride is to take the “I” out of the picture and intentionally humble and submit our selves unto the LORD.  This can only be done when we daily die to self (1 Corinthians 15:31) by living according to the principle of Galatians 2:20:

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

12 You are the people of God; He loved you and chose you for His own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.13Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you.14 And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Shalom! Shalom!

Honest Work

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By Bro. Eddie C. Villanueva
Friends Magazine Hong Kong
March 2011 edition

 

 

How many times have we read Genesis 1 and simply dismissed it as an inevitable introduction to the universe’s elaborate plan of grand creation? Before we continue to mindlessly thumb through the Bible’s pages, it is important that we pause and ponder on God’s revelations so that we may not miss the lessons He has for us.

 

Albeit oblique and implied, one of the powerful lessons Genesis 1:1 has for us is the value God places on work: “In the beginning, God created …”

 

It is astounding how God introduced Himself to mankind foremost as Creator before He presented Himself to us another way. Clearly, the dynamic picture that these words want us to see is the God at work.

 

Moreover, God, shortly after creating the world and making man out of the dust, “the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Nowhere was in God’s original design of Eden did He intend for Paradise to become a place of passive inaction and constant pleasure that’s bereft of responsibilities.

 

If God delights in good work and honest labor, how should we go about our daily business?

 

First, we must do our best at whatever work we do. Ecclesiastes 9:10 counsels us, “Whatever work you do, do your best, because you are going to the grave, where there is no working, no planning, no knowledge, and no wisdom.” The Message Bible, in Ecclesiastes 11:6 illuminates, “Go to work in the morning and stick to it until evening without watching the clock. You never know from moment to moment how your work will turn out in the end.

 

Ultimately, Colossians 3:12-15 tell us the real reason for giving our best in all that we do: “Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work.”

 

We serve the God who honors honest work. We must remember that in doing our work diligently, we ultimately honor Him in the process.

 

Second, we must wisely balance our life. While God takes delight in honest and good work, He is primarily mindful of the worker; He is not a slave-master who drives workers to their early death.

 

We must keep our priorities right and straight: we work to live, not live to work. When we begin substituting office for home, work for relationships, and promotion for health, we are caught in the proverbial “rat race” where no one ever finishes victoriously.

 

Amidst our busyness at work, we must intentionally schedule times of rest. Even God rested a full day after six days of creating the world. And the apostles, after completing their tasks and reporting to Jesus on the results, would hear the tender words of Jesus prompting them to “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31).

 

We can be productive even in our scheduled times of rest. We can take on a new hobby, begin reading a new book, visit old friends, dine out with the family, or simply finish those pencil sketches that we have been putting off for a while.

 

Third, we must value our worth. There is a silent tragedy that is going on in the work place today, and that is the tragedy of insignificance. It is sad how we sometimes equate our personal worth according to our kind of work, because this is wrong. An engineer cannot look at a grand building and claim all the credit for its construction by saying he built it. In the same manner, an architect cannot look at it and claim all the credit for its grandeur by saying he designed it. Without the laborers and builders whose bare hands actually toiled to erect it, building and design plans are only good on paper.

The world is moved not only by the mighty shoves of the heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker, said Helen Keller. This is the same mindset that we must have as we go on with our daily activities – at work, in school, at home, or church – fully understanding who we are as individuals and workers.

At the end of each work day, when we know we have done and given our best in everything that we had to do, no reward comes close to a night of quiet and peaceful rest – and a guarantee that we will have another opportunity to do good, even better, the moment we wake up to a brand new day.

HONOR YOUR MOTHER

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By Bro. Eddie C. Villanueva
Friends Magazine Hong Kong
May 2011 edition

 

One day, a teacher gave her pupils a lesson about magnets. The next day, she gave them a written test that included the question, “My name has six letters, beginning with the letter M, and I pick up things. What am I?” When the test papers were handed back to her, the teacher was surprised to find that half of her class answered the question with the word MOTHER.

While mothers pick up our litters, soiled clothes, empty plates, and even broken hearts, they do more than that. They are also our teachers, doctors, and guardians. And with the changing times, most mothers also have become full-time providers for their families. Cliché, but true: There’s nothing in the world that a mother wouldn’t do if it were for her family.

Hence a mother’s love cannot be underrated or overstated. In fact, one of the best names that we can give to love is Mom. Even the sages agree.

The New Century Version Bible honors a godly mother in Proverbs 31:26-31: “She speaks wise words and teaches others to be kind. She watches over her family and never wastes her time. Her children speak well of her. Her husband also praises her, saying, “There are many fine women, but you are better than all of them.” Charm can fool you, and beauty can trick you, but a woman who respects the Lord should be praised. Give her the reward she has earned; she should be praised in public for what she has done.”

As the world celebrates Mothers’ Day this May, let us not forget to thank God for our biological mothers and all the women who have been a mother to us, one way or another. This is an equally true and faithful saying: “While there are mothers who nurture kids in their wombs, there are also those who give birth to sons and daughters in their hearts.”

The following beautiful story was sent to me via email. I thought the timing is perfect to share the same with you.

My mom only had one eye. I hated her… She was such an embarrassment. She cooked for students and teachers to support the family.

There was this one day during elementary school where my mom came to say hello to me. I was so embarrassed.

How could she do this to me? I ignored her, threw her a hateful look and ran out. The next day at school one of my classmates said, ‘EEEE, your mom only has one eye!’

I wanted to bury myself. I also wanted my mom to just disappear. I confronted her that day and said, ‘If you’re only gonna make me a laughing stock, why don’t you just die?’

 

My mom did not respond… I didn’t even stop to think for a second about what I had said, because I was full of anger. I was oblivious to her feelings.

I wanted out of that house, and have nothing to do with her. So I studied real hard, got a chance to go abroad to study.

Then, I got married. I bought a house of my own. I had kids of my own. I was happy with my life, my kids and the comforts. Then one day, my Mother came to visit me. She hadn’t seen me in years and she didn’t even meet her grandchildren.

When she stood by the door, my children laughed at her, and I yelled at her for coming over uninvited. I screamed at her, ‘How dare you come to my house and scare my children!’ GET OUT OF HERE! NOW!!!’

And to this, my mother quietly answered, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry. I may have gotten the wrong address,’ and she disappeared out of sight.

One day, a letter regarding a school reunion came to my house. So I lied to my wife that I was going on a business trip. After the reunion, I went to the old shack just out of curiosity.

My neighbors said that she died. I did not shed a single tear. They handed me a letter that she had wanted me to have.

My dearest son,

I think of you all the time. I’m sorry that I came to your house and scared your children.I was so glad when I heard you were coming for the reunion. But I may not be able to even get out of bed to see you. I’m sorry that I was a constant embarrassment to you when you were growing up.

You see, when you were very little, you got into an accident, and lost your eye. As a mother, I couldn’t stand watching you having to grow up with one eye. So I gave you mine.

I was so proud of my son who was seeing a whole new world for me, in my place, with that eye.

With all my love to you,

Your mother.’

 

Let us not lose sight of the fact that, even at the brink of death on the Cross, our Lord Jesus Christ never neglected His mother in the flesh. At the point of His most excruciating pain, our Lord Jesus lovingly thought of Mary and fully entrusted her – not just to anybody but – to the disciple He most loved.

Today and always, let us do exactly as our Lord Jesus did. Let us be mindful of our mothers and let us do for them the things that will assure them of our love, commitment, and devotion. They are not merely pick-me-up-magnets, but loved ones who also need some pick-me-up-moments with us.

How well do you honor your mother?

It’s Raining Rocks!

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Friends Magazine Hong Kong
By Bro. Eddie C. Villanueva
November 2011 Edition

When it rains, it pours.  Here’s a saying that never grows old to us. Probably, it’s because we have somehow come to terms with the fact that there are just seasons in our lives when one blow seems to naturally come after the other.

Even Israel’s greatest king, David, found himself in a bind. The book of Second Samuel tells the story of David’s fortunes and misfortunes. Though revered as a mighty king, he also reached the lowest of lows. From being hunted by King Saul, he turned taunted by a king’s relative crazed by his anger toward David. A king in flight, David found himself deliberately and unjustly being cursed, assaulted, and thrown rocks at.

David’s own men wanted to retaliate and avenge him, but he simply let things be (2 Samuel 16:9-13).  He reasoned: “My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today” (2 Samuel 16:11,12).

How David conducted himself in such a dire situation teaches us three important lessons.

First, we must behave ourselves wisely at all times. 1 Samuel 18:14 attests how “David behaved himself wisely in all his ways; and the LORD was with him.”

Because David walked in step with the LORD, his chaotic external circumstance didn’t affect his internal condition. Shimei’s cursing was nothing compared to King Saul’s running after him to kill him. Yet, amid Shimei’s assault and Saul’s pursuit, David didn’t avenge himself. He simply kept his peace and walked with God.

In the same manner, we should learn to keep in step with God, behave ourselves wisely at all times, and keep a heart that is at peace with the LORD’s dealing.

Second, like David, we must learn to rightly respond rather than merely react to our situation. To rightly respond requires high maturity that is based on a rational appraisal of our situation. Contrariwise, to merely react to a situation is to let our feelings and emotions get the better of us which often lead to more complex troubles.

And lastly, we must also learn to completely trust the sovereignty of God. Like David, Daniel, Abraham, Job, Joseph, and the saints of old, let us learn to see the hand of God at work behind everything that happens in our lives.  By everything, I mean the good lumped with the bad. Joseph himself testified: even that which the enemy has meant for evil, the LORD can turn it around for our good (Genesis 50:20).

Today, when we find ourselves trapped in a valley of curses, with stones and rocks being hurled at us, may God grant us the grace to wisely behave ourselves like David did. After all, when we keep a loving relationship with God, all things will ultimately work out for our good (Romans 8:28).  God is too wise to be mistaken.

LIVE A LIFE THAT PLEASES GOD

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By Bro. Eddie C. Villanueva
Friends Magazine Hong Kong
February edition

 

It is not always easy to live a good and godly life. Daily, we are confronted with various circumstances that try our character, test our integrity, and tempt our morality. The bottom line is, we must not be held hostage by peer pressure or corrupt societal influence.

How do we live a good and godly life in our compromising society? God shows us the way.

First, we must intentionally keep and guard our heart. Proverbs 4:23 exhorts us, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”

Our heart determines the course of our lives. Therefore, we are accountable for our desires, decisions, and actions. In all and every situation, we have the choice to do what is good, true, and right – and there’s no excuse valid enough for us to do otherwise.


The following is a beautiful poem attributed to Mother Theresa of Calcutta, said to be a paraphrased version of Dr. Kent M. Keith’s The Paradoxical Commandments:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

In a society where conformity to the credo of self-love, self-expression, and self-preservation is the name of the game, where it is an even harder act to choose to become the odd-man-out if only to keep our personal testimony in tact, let us choose to keep our hearts pure. Anyway, this is the only thing expected of us to do.

Second, we must purposefully live according to the instructions of the Lord. According to Psalm 119:1-11, “Happy are those who live pure lives, who follow the Lord’s teachings. Happy are those who keep his rules, who try to obey him with their whole heart. They don’t do what is wrong; they follow his ways. Lord, you gave your orders to be obeyed completely. I wish I were more loyal in obeying your demands. Then I would not be ashamed when I study your commands. When I learned that your laws are fair, I praised you with an honest heart. I will obey your demands, so please don’t ever leave me. How can a young person live a pure life? By obeying your word. With all my heart I try to obey you. Don’t let me break your commands. I have taken your words to heart so I would not sin against you.”

First Samuel 15 tells us how Prophet Samuel instructed Saul to annihilate the entire Amalek nation, to spare nothing and no one, as God’s retribution for the Amalekites’ cruelty on the Israelites. But instead of fully obeying Samuel, Saul chose to spare “… the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed” purportedly “to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal” (v.21).

“But Samuel answered, “What pleases the Lord more: burnt offerings and sacrifices or obedience to his voice? It is better to obey than to sacrifice. It is better to listen to God than to offer the fat of sheep” (v.22).

The world we live in will surely impose upon us ideas and systems that are contrary to God’s instruction. Whenever we reach this point, the eyes of our hearts must see through the deceit of worldly wisdom so that we may choose to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

Third, we must behave ourselves wisely at all times. Whether King Saul promoted David or haunted him down out of jealousy, insecurity, and fear, only one thing was said of David: he behaved himself wisely (1 Samuel 18:5,14,30; 1 Samuel 24).

It is how we respond to our situation that defines us, not our situation itself. Thus, in good or bad times, we must consciously choose to please God with our lives. We must refuse to become victims of our circumstances.

To illustrate this point further, here’s an interesting story from the Internet:

“A parable is told of a farmer who owned an old mule. The mule fell into the farmer’s well.

“The farmer heard the mule ‘braying’ -or-whatever mules do when they fall into wells. After carefully assessing the situation, the farmer sympathized with the mule, but decided that neither the mule nor the well was worth the trouble of saving. Instead, he called his neighbors together and told them what had happened and enlisted them to help haul dirt to bury the old mule in the well and put him out of his misery.

“Initially, the old mule was hysterical! But as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling and the dirt hit his back, a thought struck him. It suddenly dawned on him that every time a shovel load of dirt landed on his back, he should shake it off and step up! This he did, blow after blow. “Shake it off and step up…shake it off and step up…shake it off and step up!” He repeated to encourage himself. No matter how painful the blows, or how distressing the situation seemed the old mule fought “panic” and just kept right on shaking it off and stepping up!

“It wasn’t long before the old mule, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of that well! What seemed like it would bury him, actually blessed him… all because of the manner in which he handled his adversity.”

The writer of the story ended it with this counsel: “If we face our problems, respond to them positively, and refuse to give in to panic, bitterness, or self-pity, the adversities that come along to bury us usually have within them the potential to benefit and bless us.”

Living a life that pleases God is possible. We only have to intentionally keep and guard our heart, purposefully live according to the instructions of the LORD, and behave ourselves wisely at all times. The power of God is at work within us. “Christ gives me the strength to face anything” (Philippians 4:13, CEV).

Obedience Before Outpouring

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Friends Magazine Hong Kong
By Bro. Eddie C. Villanueva
August 2012 Edition

I know nobody who doesn’t want to be blessed.  In fact, in our moment of direst need, we often turn to God for miracles. This is a good thing because only God can turn an impossible situation around.

There are times, however, when God allows us to go through a process first before He brings us to our desired place of blessing.  There shall first be a great shakening, then great awakening, before the great outpouring.

Great shakening. It is said that anything that happens in the natural has a parallel spiritual significance, and vice versa. Hence the magnitude 9 tsunami that shook Japan in 2011 that shifted the earth on its axis must have been God’s megaphone to get the attention of mankind all over the world.

This brings to mind the LORD’s words in Haggai 2:1-9. In verses 6-7, it is written: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little whileI will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.I will shake all nations, and what is desiredby all nations will come, and I will fill this housewith glory’ says the Lord Almighty.”

Crossed-reference with Hebrews 12:26, it is decreed: “When God says, “Once more,” He means He will take away everything of this world that can be shaken so the things that cannot be shaken will be left.”

It cannot be denied that God also brings us also into a season of shakening “so the things that cannot be shaken will be left.” And like the Japan tsunami, collateral damages are inevitable when the force of God’s power is unleashed. Yes, it is a difficult and painful process, but to him whose mind is fixed on God (Isaiah 26:3), the LORD’s perfect peace is guaranteed.

Great awakening. To him who has ears to hear what the Spirit of the LORD is saying, even His shakening is an act of lavished grace.  Likened to God’s chastening, Hebrews 12:11 promises: “Now no chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them who are trained by it.”

Deuteronomy 8:5 counsels, “You shall also consider in your heart, that, as a man chastens his son, so the LORD your God chastens you.”  And here’s a psalmist’s apt reply: “I used to wander off until You disciplined me; but now I closely follow Your word” (Psalm 119:67).  “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous, And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me” (Psalm 119:75).  Indeed, “… happy is the man whom God corrects. Therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty” (Job 5:17).

Ultimately, it can be said that the faithful will withstand the day of shakening when he responds to the dealings of the LORD in humility and repentance and awakens to the LORD’s call unto holiness.

“Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

Great Outpouring. Given the process by which God is leading us today, it can clearly be seen that the great outpouring of His blessings is but a result of our humble submission to His way, work, and Word as expressed in the first two prerequisites.  We are mistaken if we only seek after God’s great outpouring while we disregard the LORD’s design for the proving of our character.

Remember the Israelites in their 40-year journey in the wilderness.

We all know that the Promised Land was their final destination – the land overflowing (outpouring) with milk and honey.  Yet, they had to first deal with the heat of the day and the cold of the night, the long walks of routes that were ever long and winding, the daily motions of gathering manna, the longings over the memory of Egypt’s spices, the sole leadership of Moses, among many others.

“Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey His commands” (Deuteronomy 8:2).

Notice here now how the great shakening, great awakening, and great outpouring may be lumped into a single test of our obedience to God.  Ultimately, this is the sole test we must pass in order to go through each critical season of the LORD’s leading in our lives.

Beloved, it is my personal prayer now that as you continue to open yourself to the LORD’s dealing and leading, may you find His grace more than sufficient to meet all your needs. In your weakness, may you find His strength perfected. Even at the brink of defeat, just when you’re about to give up, remember that everything that happens in your life is for a purpose (Romans 8:28).  If you fully trust in the LORD and completely obey His commands, nothing in this world can move you.

SHALOM! SHALOM!

Plant the Seed of Truth

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Friends Magazine Hong Kong
By Bro. Eddie C. Villanueva
March 2012 Edition

 

A story was told about an old, wise emperor from the Far East who searched for himself a worthy successor.  Instead of choosing one of his assistants or one of his own children, he decided to do something different.

The wise emperor called out for all the young men in his kingdom. He had them all gathered in the palace.  To each one, he gave a seed. He told them, “It is a very special seed. I want you to go home, plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring to me, and the one I choose will be the next emperor of the kingdom!”

One of the boys who received a seed that day was Ling. So he went home, told his mother about the whole story, and began caring for his one seed. He got a pot, filled it with soil, planted the seed, watered it, and began caring for it like his life depended on it.

Days passed, then weeks, but nothing happened to Ling’s seed. Despite his diligent caring, nothing came out of it. Yet he persisted silently, even when all the other boys started to holler and brag about their plants – and how they grew unbelievably fast!
Weeks turned into months, until the day to return to the palace came! It was judgment day, and he had nothing to present to the emperor but a pot of dirt.

The palace was filled with all kinds of plants and trees and flowers imaginable.  The emperor was deep in thought as he took a stroll, assessing the presents of the young men from his kingdom.  Then he spotted Ling, cowering in fear at the back of the crowd, clinging onto his pot.

When it was time for Ling to present his gift to the emperor, he got to the front with his head bowed low. He knew he miserably failed. Then he heard the emperor ask for his name. “My name is Ling,” he said. All his peers were laughing and making fun of him.

The emperor ordered everyone to quiet down. He looked at Ling, and then announced to the crowd, “Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!” No one could believe it, not even Ling. He couldn’t even grow his seed, how could he be the new king?

Then the emperor said, “Exactly one year ago, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds that would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new emperor!”

By a single test of character that his successor admirably passed, the old yet wise emperor was able to guarantee a secure future for his kingdom.
Among the various lessons that we can glean from this beautiful story, three truths stand out:

First, life is a test. Everything that daily happens to us comes with a purpose (Romans 8:28). Our character is shaped by the choices we make. Presented with an opportunity to succeed, we can either cheat our way to “success” like what the other kids in the story did. Or, like Ling, we can also choose to do what is right, even if it seems pointless, and trust God for the result. Micah 6:8 tells us, “the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Second, truth is invincible. It is the best, and sole, defense of its possessor – and the bitterest enemy of liars. Even a thousand angels cannot make truth out of a lie. Hence when we side with truth, we need not fear even the mightiest and wealthiest that may conspire against us. Truth will preserve us. But when we make “lie and deceit” as our friends, none of our power, influence, and wealth can save us when truth exacts recompense in the end. Yes, truth may be elusive, but it is also eternal. Sooner or later, it will reveal itself. For, ironically, the offenders’ own deceit will find them out (Numbers 32:23).

Third, judgment is certain. There is a time of reckoning.  Like the emperor in the story, there is a Righteous Judge who sits on the throne, knows exactly what He’s doing, looks upon us, and watches us as we daily live out our lives.

Psalm 139 tells how the LORD intimately knows us, and verse 12 is particularly sobering: “You see in the dark because daylight and dark are all the same to you.”Nothing escapes His eyes. He sees it all. This knowledge should be enough to inspire us to live every single day of our lives pleasing Him the best way we could.
Let us make a conscious effort to live in truth, justice, and righteousness. This is not only to please God, but also to preserve our society. As poet Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society.”

Righteousness lifts up a nation, but sin is a disgrace in any society (Proverbs 14:34). Yes, righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before Him (Psalm 89:14).

GOD BLESS THE PHILIPPINES!