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!

SALVATION IN CHRIST ALONE

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By Bro. Eddie C. Villanueva
Friends Magazine Hong Kong
April 2011 edition
Even before the appointed time for God to realize His grand plan of salvation for mankind came, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16,17, NLT), Jesus already knew that the road to Calvary would not be easy.
“Jesus was in great pain and prayed so sincerely that his sweat fell to the ground like drops of blood” (Luke 22:44, CEV).

 
Christ who knew no sin became the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God (2 Corinthians 5:21).  “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5).

He silently went through the mockery of a trial in mere human court, and though was found innocent (Luke 23:15), the very same people for whom He did miracle after miracle demanded His death … even death on the Cross.  The mocking continued until …

“One of the criminals hanging there also insulted Jesus by saying, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and save us!” (Luke 23:39, CEV).

“But the other one made him shut up: “Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him—he did nothing to deserve this” (Luke 23:40-41, MSG).

“Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43, NCV).

In the hour of men’s worst wretchedness, God’s greatest grace was displayed.  Discover the beauty of these four truths:

I tell you the truth. The promise given by Jesus to the repentant criminal was not an empty consolation to a dying man, but the truth as surely as He who promised is the Truth (John 14:6).  And the same promise is available to us now. “We believe with our hearts, and so we are made right with God. And we declare with our mouths that we believe, and so we are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disappointed.” That Scripture says “anyone” because there is no difference between those who are Jews and those who are not. The same Lord is the Lord of all and gives many blessings to all who trust in him, as the Scripture says, “Anyone who calls on the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:10-13, NCV).

 
Today. Salvation is available today to anyone who will confess with their mouth and believe in their heart that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior.  Jesus Himself guaranteed this to a condemned man who was “criminal” by all worldly standards; He asked of him no requirements, no laws, and no good works before He promised him the joy of being with Him in paradise.  Because salvation is God’s grace at work in us, it is something we can never work on.

 
“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NLT).

 
“For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6, NLT).

 
“Jesus is the only One who can save people. No one else in the world is able to save us” (Acts 4:12, NCV).


You will be with Me.
God offers us a relationship that is intimate and personal. Imagine how, amid the frenzied shouting and cheering of a crowd that was celebrating His slow death, He turned His ear to the soft pleading of one repentant man. And while this man merely asked to be remembered, Jesus promised him companionship.

Since the fall of man, God hasn’t changed in His desire to fellowship with men. This is the very reason why He sent Jesus to reconcile us with Him, through Christ (John 3:16).

Jesus promised His disciples, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you” (John 14:2, CEV).  The same promise is true to everyone who believes in Him.

In paradise. These two words tell us that life doesn’t end in death.  Paradise is waiting for everyone who has put his faith in Christ.

“I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life. And I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it’s here now, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live. The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son. And he has given him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man.  Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment” (John 5:24-29, NLT).

Because of God’s amazing grace, salvation is available to all because Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, even the chief of them (1 Timothy 1:15).

Let us not render powerless the work of Christ on the Cross.  He’s our only way to salvation (Acts 4:12).

Start Anew

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Friends Magazine Hong Kong
By Bro. Eddie C. Villanueva
January 2013 Edition

 

When the clock strikes twelve on the midnight of a brand new year, to some of us, there seems to be an invisible lock inside of us that automatically snaps then sets into motion an internal “rebooting” of our senses.  Wittingly or unwittingly, we begin to open ourselves to the promise of every first day of January – the promise to start anew.

There is a world of difference, however, between the prospect of starting anew – and practically starting anew.  Because stuffed in between where we are and where we hope to be are old fears and past failures that keep us from taking the first step toward our desired destination.  In some cases, we are also delimited by the uncertainty of the future.

This 2013, how do we begin again then?

* * * * *

Life likened to a race, the Apostle Paul compared himself to a runner and gave his life as an example for the people in Philippi to imitate.  His words of old still ring true today.

“It’s not that I’ve already reached the goal or have already completed the course. But I run to win that which Jesus Christ has already won for me. Brothers and sisters, I can’t consider myself a winner yet. This is what I do: I don’t look back, I lengthen my stride, and I run straight toward the goal to win the prize that God’s heavenly call offers in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14, God’s Word Translation, emphasis mine).

* * * * *

Certainly, beginningis hard enough for someone with a clean slate. Imagine how difficult beginning againcan get for battle-scarred, old-time “runners” in this race we call life.

In the Apostle Paul’s own words, the number one key to start anew is to don’t look back. In the words of French Philosopher Voltaire, “Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them.  The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.

The past has its power over our future only if we allow it to control our present. Hence an old proverb counsels, “Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.”

One biblical account tells the story of Jesus who called out a man to come and follow after Him.  The fellow, however, excused himself and requested that he first bury his father. “But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62, NASB).

According to Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, “To put one’s hand to a plow is a proverbial expression to signify undertaking any business. In order that a plowman may accomplish his work, it is necessary to look onward – to be intent on his employment – not to be looking back with regret that he undertook it.”

This 2013, let us be purposeful in our intent to forget all things that are behind us and to press onward regardless of what’s ahead of us.

* * * * *

Again, in the words of Apostle Paul, the second key to start anew is to lengthen our stride.  In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Take the first step in faith.”  Such a very simple yet spot-on counsel for all of us, for there is indeed no other way for us to get anywhere in life but to do exactly that.

What does it mean to walk by faith?  Second Corinthians 5:7 says, “… we walk by faith, not by sight.”

“Faith isn’t the ability to believe long and far into the misty future. It’s simply taking God at His Word and taking the next step” (Joni Erickson Tada). “Faith is the daring of the soul to go farther than it can see” (William Newton Clarke).

How does one develop faith? “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, NASB). Or as Smith Wigglesworth put it: “I can’t understand God by feelings. I can’t understand the Lord Jesus Christ by feelings. I can only understand God the Father and Jesus Christ by what the Word says about them. God is everything the Word says He is. We need to get acquainted with Him through the Word.”

In other words, “The hearing of faith is the sound of the Word of God coming alive in your heart” (Rex Rouis).  So, “If you wish to know God, you must know His Word. If you wish to perceive His power, you must see how He works by His Word. If you wish to know His purpose before it comes to pass, you can only discover it by His Word” (C.H. Spurgeon).

* * * * *

Finally, to start anew is to run straight toward the goal to win the prize.  Geared up with God’s purpose and guided by unwavering faith in Christ, all we have to do is run straight toward our goal.  Like horses with eye-blinders on, we have to keep our focus fixed on Jesus and on His Word.  As long as we keep the eyes of our faith looking unto Him alone, we keep our feet from aimlessly running around in circles.

This 2013, let us intentionally choose to take God at His Word.  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End – and the Sovereign God at work in-between!  He promised, “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, NIV).

If you want to have a growing relationship with Jesus or you have questions or prayer requests, email us at [email protected].

Blessings of peace, joy, abundance, and breakthroughs in Christ Jesus our Lord this 2013 and always! Shalom! Shalom!

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The Giver. The Gift. The Grace.

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

 

It’s Christmas time!  And by now, the items on your long shopping list are probably all crossed out as your gifts find their way under your fancy Christmas tree.  But while everything is perhaps just about ready for the most celebrated annual occasion, how well have you made preparations for a personal encounter with the Star of the season?

Whenever Christmas time comes, there are three key words that we must never forget: the Giver, the gift, and the grace that goes with it.

The very essence of Christmas is revealed by God unto us in John 3:16, “God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life” (GW).

The Giver: God loved the world. As we join the entire Christendom in celebrating Christmas, let us remember the loving God and the love of God that made the first Christmas possible.  Let us not forget that Christmas is not what we make it.  No. It’s not about us; it’s not about the fun, or the flare, or the flavor that we attach to the occasion.  It’s all about God and His love for us.

“God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9, NLT).

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10, NIV).

“Jesus has always been as God is. But He did not hold to His rights as God. He put aside everything that belonged to Him and made Himself the same as a servant who is owned by someone. He became human by being born as a man. After He became a man, He gave up His important place and obeyed by dying on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8, NLV).

“God the Father was pleased to have everything made perfect by Christ, His Son. Everything in heaven and on earth can come to God because of Christ’s death on the cross. Christ’s blood has made peace. At one time you were strangers to God and your minds were at war with Him. Your thoughts and actions were wrong. But Christ has brought you back to God by His death on the cross. In this way, Christ can bring you to God, holy and pure and without blame (Colossians 1:19-22, NLV).

The Gift: He gave His Only Son. I have four children and I am not ashamed to admit that I am not willing to give any one of them as a ransom for another, never as a substitute for an enemy.  Yet God, out of His pure love for us, gave His one and only Son, “… God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8, HCSB) And “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

“This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us…” (1 John 3:16, HCSB)

Salvation in the CHRIST of Christmas – this is the gift that is available to all of us, Christmas time or not!

“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12, KJB).

“No one else can save us. Indeed, we can be saved only by the power of the one named Jesus and not by any other person” (Acts 4:12, GW).

“For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity — the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5, NLT).

“This is true because Christ suffered for our sins once. He was an innocent person, but he suffered for guilty people so that he could bring you to God. His body was put to death, but he was brought to life through his spirit” (1 Peter 3:18, GW).

“Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence” (Ephesians 3:12, NLT).

The Grace: Everyone who believes in Him. This is the grace of God at work:  His salvation is available to everyone who believes in Him.  The word everyone guarantees ALL of us a place at the foot of the Cross of Christ.  There are neither exemptions nor exclusions.  And the only cited requirement is also accessible to everyone – faith in Christ.  As surely as faith has no price tag attached to it, nobody can point an accusing finger on God when the day of reckoning comes and accuse Him that He has been unfair or unjust.

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are” (Romans 3:22, NLT, emphasis mine).

* * * * *

Dearly beloved, do not pass up the chance to receive today the greatest gift you could ever have in your lifetime, which is life eternal with God!

Believe that God loves you so much that He gave His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to become a ransom, a substitute for you. Believe in Jesus Christ, receive Him as your Lord and Savior, and He will give you the right to become a child of God. He promised, “… as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12, NASB). “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life,and this life is in his Son.Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12, TNIV).

If you want to have a growing relationship with Jesus or you have questions or prayer requests, email us at [email protected].

Shalom! Shalom!

Tradeoffs of Grace

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

When someone messes up, we all know the drill. We tell them things are going to be fine because God can turn around their messes into miracles. And this is not unfounded.  Joseph, the second most powerful man in Egypt next only to Pharoah, after he was reunited with his brothers who had sold him to slavery in Egypt, testified: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20).

God, in His divine wisdom and sovereignty, causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose for them (Romans 8:28).

Does this mean, therefore, that it is okay to live lousy lives since God can still turn our losses into gains?

Let us probe deeper.

We are totally amiss when we take the LORD’s acts of grace, compassion, and forgiveness lightly. We cannot go on sinning, compromising shamelessly and living our lives carelessly, just because we can always ask God for forgiveness. Galatians 6:7 warns, “Don’t be misled–you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant.”

While God may forgive us, sin has its own power to set in motion a chain of consequences that we have to face inevitably.  The previous passage underscores, “You will always harvest what you plant.” This is exactly what happened to David.
When David hurt the heart of God by committing adultery and murder, God meted out His judgment: David’s child out of an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba would die.  Second Samuel 12 records this account: “He has forgiven you, and you won’t die. But your newborn son will.”

This should be enough warning to us: David, the very man called by the LORD as the man after His own heart (Acts 13:22), was not spared by the LORD from His corrective dealing.  Forgiven, yes. Off the hook, no.  What we sow, we will reap.

In the same manner, we are mistaken when we think that we can shortchange God and get away with it. We cannot go on promising Him our total surrender and absolute obedience, only to bail out from our commitments to Him just because we know He’d understand. God’s all-sufficient grace isn’t a license for us to lead double-standard lives. On the contrary, His grace compels us to remain solidly committed to the Lord, to remain true to the Lord with all our hearts (Acts 11:23).

In the simplest of terms, we cannot go on continuously messing up just because, somehow, we find the grace of God readily available to cushion our guilty conscience. God has never intended His grace to work this way. On the contrary, His grace is meant to lead us to repentance. Romans 2:4 asks us, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”
There’s no truly repentant man who isn’t broken by his own transgressions.  This is the very reason why he needs the grace of God – to make him whole once more. And a man who grasps the work of God’s grace understands that there are tradeoffs between heaven and earth when God chooses to forgive.

Pastor John Piper put it simply, “Everything bad that God turns for the good was purchased by the sufferings of Christ.”

Alas!  May we never forget this beautiful work of grace!

Let us always meditate on the LORD’s amazing love for us that is manifested in His sacrifice on the Cross.  Let us remember that everything is made easy for us by the hardships that Christ, our Advocate, has endured.  To quote the familiar lines of an old hymn:  “He paid the debt He did not owe.  I owe the debt I could not pay. I needed Someone to wash my sins away.  And now I sing a brand new song, amazing grace! Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.”

Let us live intentional lives for God.  We may fumble and stumble and mess up once in a while, but we must continue to aspire to do His will. His grace is more than sufficient to keep us going.