Is Comfort equal to Peace?

I wrote this in June 2010, exactly a year before I started to work in church full-time. It’s great to be reminded that God allows us to hear Him clearly and when we obey, even when things are not too clear yet, our hindsight often gives us understanding, then we can say, “His ways are ALWAYS higher.
And as I read through this, I can’t help but say, “Ria, you had no idea that that step of obedience will bring you where you are right now, and trust that as you keep in step with the Spirit, you will keep finding your purpose in Him.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, BECAUSE IF IT PROSPERS, YOU TOO WILL PROSPER.” — Jeremiah 29:4-7

For some months now, I have been asking and asking from God which direction He is taking me, for He promised that “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jer 29:13)” and “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (Luke 11:9)”.

I admit, my three weeks in Singapore has sorely tempted me to leave everything behind in the Philippines and to just stay in the comfort and luxury that Singapore has to offer– clean air, a great transportation system, a perfect training ground for triathlon, marvelous buildings, amazing amenities like swimming pool and sauna, a government that has been listed as the third least corrupt, and of course, relatively cheaper gadgets and travel fares to other Asian nations =).

But does being comfortable equate to having peace? I am not talking about the kind of rational peace you get from having security in a high salary or having security in the justice system and the police. The goal of Christians is to have “peace that transcends all understanding.” This is the kind of peace that only being in the center of God’s will can bring, it is beyond logic and beyond reason. It is when you are in tune with God and you know that you know that you know that you are aligned to His will and His desires.

The exiles of Israel to Babylon must not have felt comfortable. After all, they were strangers in another country, and worse, they came from being first class citizens favored by God to being outcasts in a strange land. There is nothing more embarrassing for them than getting “downgraded” in their social status. And yet, God has commanded them to BUILD and be PROSPEROUS in the place where He has called them to be.

It does not matter where your Babylon is right now.

For some of us, it’s being stuck in the Philippines, where there are traffic jams and air pollution and high crime rates and we yearn for the comfort, security and luxury of life in a developed country.

For some of us, it’s being in a developed country, and we yearn for the comforts of home and familiar faces and places.

For some of us, it’s being in the mission field, struggling with communicating with the locals and with adjusting to unique gastronomic challenges and we yearn to speak our native language and to eat familiar food.

I know right now that God has called me to BUILD and to PROSPER where He is calling me, and I just have to trust Him. As he said further down Jeremiah 29, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”


When Your Faith is Questioned

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Sometimes when a person casts doubt on what we believe in, our initial reaction is to be offended. I’m not sure about you, but for me it might be because my pride makes me think the person is questioning my intelligence in believing something seemingly illogical or improbable.

My attitude radically changed when God reminded me that I used to be one of those people who questioned His existence when I was a student. When you are from a university that likes to pride itself in students who are critical thinkers, you can hardly avoid such queries. And personally, I LOVE THAT! We wouldn’t want people to simply conform just because Christianity is popular or because the people are nice. Real transformation begins when we fully believe in God’s power, sovereignty and love. And sometimes that entails someone throwing you off balance with a hard question. Here’s the thing though, I find that in seeking an answer to the question (from the right sources, of course), my faith is strengthened in the end.

And when my faith is tested and strengthened, I’m more likely to want to share it to others. You can’t help but talk to others about something you really believe in. Why would we be hesitant to share the Gospel to others if we are convinced that it’s the solution to our greatest problem (SIN) and it’s the answer to our greatest need (SALVATION), not just in this life but for eternity?

…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,… (1Peter 3:15, ESV)

Marriage is Great, But…


Weekly dates. Flowers. Candlelit dinners. Holding hands while walking. Holding hands while biking. Holding hands while reading. That tingly feeling that no English word can accurately describe when your loved one is near.

Who doesn’t want that? I mean, why else would we cry and sigh over fast food commercials that tug our hearts?

Enter your married friends. Or just the statistics on marriage. They tell you how married life is challenging. And how you wake up after honeymoon period is over and realize just how idealistic you were when you were single. And how surreal that you just used to appreciate the cinematography on films showing expectations versus reality… and now you’re living in it.

You hear about couples fighting over small things like leaving the lights on at night when you go to sleep, leaving the toilet seat up, squeezing the toothpaste tube in different parts, etc. That’s not even the worst of it. How can you submit to your husband when you think he’s making the wrong decision? How can you deal with the aftermath of a wrong decision? And personally, that makes me hesitant about tying the knot.

Because the reality is that, yes… Marriage is GREAT and all, but let’s face it…


I get to decide on anything without consulting anyone. I’m free to squeeze my toothpaste tube anywhere. I can sleep in the dark in peace. I can decide on my weekly menu at a snap of the finger. I don’t have to work my schedule around anyone.

So, why in the world should I want to get married?

I want to get married because only in marriage can my selfishness come to the surface. And when it does, then I can deal with it by the grace of God. I realize that even the fact that I want to get married to someone who I have a lot of things in common with shows how selfish I can be. It shows my unwillingness to adjust.  Marriage is not comfortable because I have to face the fact that I’m not as mature as I thought I was and that I’m not even close to being like Christ. But I cannot change what I am ignorant of. When I get married, I’m afraid to know how evil I can be and yet I look forward to rooting it out of me. I want to get married not because I want someone to make me happy. I want him to be committed to make me like Christ. I want him to look forward to God telling me in heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant” and know that he has been a big part of that commendation. I love how Tim Keller stated it in The Meaning of Marriage.

The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.

In marriage, you get to experience a reflection of God’s love. The kilig, the romance, the intimacy you get to enjoy, the milestones you accomplish together, the children you get to raise, the blessings you enjoy… those are just bonuses. And that’s really AWESOME.

So yes, I want to get married because marriage is great, but…


The love of God that is shown in Jesus dying on the cross still is the greatest love one can experience.  It is God who first knows the worst of us and yet still chose to die a painful death on the cross for us. It says in the Bible:

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, ESV)

It is only in knowing the depth of God’s love do we desire to be selfless in a relationship. Another quote from The Meaning of Marriage articulates this experience so well.

When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.

So, for the single people, be excited as you wait, but for the right reasons and with less idealistic expectations. Wait on someone who is committed to become more like Christ because then, you are both sure of your desire to choose truth and love in the relationship. For the married ones, my hope is that your spouse is as committed to be selfless in your relationship as you are. But if he/she is not, there is always hope in Christ.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1Corinthians 13:7, ESV)

Versace on the Floor


Perfumes have always been a big deal to women (and maybe to men, I wouldn’t know). The price we pay for our precious perfumes make it difficult for us to let it go to any kind of waste. So I can’t imagine what possessed Mary, the sister of Lazarus, to break an entire alabaster jar of perfume worth a year’s wages on Jesus’ head! Translated to this nation’s annual minimum wage, that would be around Php115,000 (USD2,300).

Let’s backtrack a little bit. This incident is referred to as the “anointing of Jesus Christ” and although it is found in three of the gospels (some argue it is in all of the four), I find the one in John the most enlightening. I love the gospel of John because it shows Jesus’ emotions in a way that is not found in the other gospels and it makes him more vulnerable and more relatable somehow.

Before the perfume-breaking event in chapter 12, we find out that Jesus has a close friendship with Mary and her siblings, Martha and Lazarus. (Although the events of the gospel of John is not necessarily in order, we know the anointing happened after the events in chapter 11 because of the reference to Lazarus’ resurrection in chapter 12). Something strange happened that turned into something awesome.

In the first part of chapter 11, it is established who the siblings were to Jesus and that Lazarus was very sick and so the sisters, knowing the miracles of Jesus, sent a message to him. They weren’t precisely asking him to go and heal Lazarus, but if you are friends with someone, you’ll get the message. And Jesus is far from dense or insensitive. The strange thing is his response.  It’s ironic that verse 5 said, Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” and yet this statement is followed by “So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” I mean, if your friend whom you loved is very ill and it’s within your power to do something about it, wouldn’t you go to him with all haste? And yet Jesus stayed where he was for TWO MORE DAYS.

After two days he goes to Bethany, where the siblings reside, but Lazarus was already dead AND buried. When Jesus arrived, it says in verse 20, “So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.” I just love John’s subtleties. I can just feel the emotional charges, even when they are not explicitly described. Mary felt betrayed and heartbroken, because she thought Jesus cared and it seems he didn’t really care after all. Honestly, I’d feel the same. And how many times in our life do we feel like Jesus does not really care, because he didn’t do things the way we expect him to? Because, come on, if he cared why does he let me experience suffering? You can feel her disappointment with Jesus in verse 32. “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”” “Lord, if you cared enough, you would have…” “Lord if you really loved me, you would have…” And so goes our litany of disappointments.

But God’s ways are higher than our ways. In verse 14-15, “Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”” Yet the beautiful thing about Jesus is that he feels our hurts deeply, even if he has a higher purpose for allowing the pain. In verse 33, it says, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.” He feels for you and I when we are in the depths of pain. And yet he sticks to his purpose because he knows how it will make us even more firm in our faith.

And he does go the extra mile. By raising Lazarus from the dead, he firmly established his power over death, making more people believe in him. And if I were Mary, I’d break my Versace and let it flow to the floor, too, in awe and extravagant worship of this amazing God, who loved me so much he was willing to be a lowly human for thirty years and die an excruciating death on the cross EVEN in the midst of my rebellion. If I were Mary, I would fall on my feet in tears and wipe His feet with my hair, too, saying “Lord, I’m sorry! I’m sorry for thinking you don’t care for me enough. I’m sorry for putting you in a box, thinking you can only heal but not raise the dead to life. I’m sorry I forgot how much of a sinner I was and that I deserved death and eternal punishment, yet you did not just come to give me life but to life it to the full.”

An additional note:

Although it is agreed by many biblical scholars that the woman who anointed Jesus in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, many dispute over the identity of the woman in the book of Luke, mostly because that woman is described to be a sinner (a prostitute, according to some sources). But come to think of it, we know nothing about the past of the three siblings. Who’s to say that Mary couldn’t have been a prostitute just because she is recognized as a close friend of Jesus? (I know, I’m breaking stereotypes here and ripe tomatoes might be thrown at me any minute, but isn’t Jesus the friend of prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners?) Besides, even if she were not a prostitute, I’m sure she’s still a sinner, for haven’t we all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God? Wouldn’t that be an even greater reason to worship him extravagantly?


Does God owe us anything?


Entitlement.001When I started reading the Bible for the first time, there were parts of it that I liked best because they made me feel good. And then there were the excruciatingly boring parts (Leviticus and Numbers, anyone?). And then there were the parts that really struck the heart of the matter and I end up wasak (I could’ve used the term “broken” but it won’t have the same impact).

One of my favorite verses goes like this

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

–Romans 8:32 (NIV)

I’m not sure if it’s just my selfish nature, but the first time I read this, my eyes zeroed in on a particular phrase:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

And I thought, “Awesome! I have a mighty and powerful God willing to pander to my needs.” (As if HIS world revolved around me, but aren’t we thinking or acting that way more times than we’d like to admit?)

At first, it seemed that He was spoiling me indeed. I would pray for something and then I’d get it. I felt entitled, just because I thought I understood God’s love and generosity. But a few months after that, nothing seemed to go my way any longer and I’d question God, “I thought You said You’ll give me all things? Why didn’t You answer my prayer?” That line of thought led me to become ungrateful. It eventually escalated to bitterness when it seemed He no longer cared for me. And then I could no longer trust God fully, so that I could not give freely to others–of my money, of my time, of my love.

But God, in His goodness, did not allow me to wallow in my self-pity and entitlement. Instead, He gently led me back to the verse I was holding on to and redirected my focus. This time I was drawn to a different phrase:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

My selfish nature was exposed. My heart was convicted. My mind was washed with the truth.

And the truth is, HE IS THE EPITOME OF GENEROSITY. Never in our most generous moment would we think of sacrificing our child for anyone… not even for anyone like Mother Teresa. And yet God, in His unfathomable love, sacrificed His ONLY Son for a people who continually reject Him, who spit in His face, who wilfully rebel against Him. And in the light of that kind of love and generosity, who can ask for more? And yet, He does give more–more than I could ask for or imagine. And if I’m honest with myself, I could mostly understand why He would not give me something I asked at a particular time. And when I don’t understand, at least I could trust His love and His perfect knowledge–that He has a reason for His timing and that His will is always good, always pleasing, always perfect.

I may not have everything I want, but He has never left me nor forsaken me.  I have never been in want. And that is so so much more than enough reason to freely give of myself and of what I have.

“Taong Tulay” Tales

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Taong Tulay –  In Filipino culture, a taong tulay (literally, a human bridge) is one who facilitates the courtship of a couple. This used to be very popular among young men and women, especially when the person being courted is not a friend of the one who would like to court. The taong tulay is usually a common friend. Complications arise when the taong tulay tries to usurp the place of the one who courts.

We’ve all heard or watched stories featuring the taong tulay. Most of the time, the taong tulay gets audience sympathy when he or she is hopelessly in unrequited love with one of the parties involved. But, for those who have put the desires of the couple above their own, there is great joy in celebrating the love between them. Take the story of our friend, John.

An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.  You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” -John 3:25-30

John understood that his sole role was to introduce the world to Christ. He never sought to usurp the bridegroom’s place. Certainly he sacrificed a lot in life. He wore camel’s hair (not the smooth, expensive camel hide used in modern coats, but based on Matthew 11:8, it must have been the rough, unprocessed kind). He was a Nazirite, which means he was hairy (and itchy, most probably) and he never drank wine (which was the ultimate hedonistic drink for the Jews, over which the special Hagafen blessing is pronounced by the rabbis). He was also on a special diet of locust and honey (honey-dipped grasshoppers, anyone?).

As someone whose role is likewise to introduce others to Christ, how can we complain? John fully understood both the bad news and the good news of being Christ’s messenger. We should too.

The bad news is, we can’t take credit for the changed lives of those we lead.

Yes, we invest our life, our time, our heart, our mind, our finances just to see one person’s life transformed as he or she gets to know Christ. But the reality is, it is simply a privilege for us to be part of this person’s life. It is God who works in their hearts. We simply plant or water, but it is He who makes the seed grow (1Corinthians 3:6). We lay the foundations, we share the Word, we encourage them to read the Bible and seek God, we model a life in Christ. That’s it. We should not usurp the role of the Lover by allowing the people we lead to be dependent on us or take the spotlight away from the Protagonist by claiming that we played a bigger role in the person’s life than we really have.

So yes, despite the hard work and the dedication, the ultimate credit of a changed life does not go to us. It is tempting to let the people recognize our role in a person’s life, especially when they turn out to become an even better leader than we imagined. But because it is God alone who can transform, He alone gets the glory.

On the other hand, have you ever felt the frustration and the stress of seeing someone you lead make foolish mistakes despite your warnings and admonitions?

On the upside, the good news is, we are not responsible for the bad choices of those we lead.

If you have taught the person you lead to seek God and be responsible for the growth in their relationship with Christ, then it is not your burden to soften hard hearts and stubborn heads. Any mess they make out of their own choice is not your fault and it does not reflect back on you as a leader. So, let’s stop lamenting over those who close their ears and turn away. Our role is to point the person on the right path to Christ through our words and our life. We have to trust the Holy Spirit to do His job of transformation.

Our taong tulay role is to facilitate a relationship between the Lover and the pursued. Our joy is in seeing the wedding take place. Let’s just be sure we are not a hindrance to the relationship.

So, how are you as a taong tulay?

Confessions of a Campus Missionary


I know you think that all kids teachers have natural affinity with kids and that all campus missionaries are automatically drawn to teenagers. Let me shatter your expectations.

I have two confessions to make.

1. I didn’t like kids.

Shocking right? I’ve been in Kids Church for a long time and yet I didn’t like kids–at all. I didn’t know how to communicate with them. I didn’t gush over them. I wasn’t looking forward to having a brood of messy tots in my life. I was more cut out to be a cool-as-cucumber executive who would mentor aspiring and ambitious young women professionals like me.

In 2003, we had a minor crisis in Victory Los Baños. For years, we had been a church composed mostly of students, but in the recent years, we were having more and more families join us, and with them came the children. We had no experience with Kids Church. Most of us who became Christians as university students were not even familiar with Sunday school.

My leader, Cathy, gathered some of us and shared the need to start the Kids Ministry. My automatic response was, “Sorry, Cathy. I’m not good with kids. So I’m not even going to pray about it. I know I’m not called to be a Kids Church teacher.” Cathy, being the kind of person who does not easily give up, responded, “But you are so good with my three year old!” I said, “She’s different. I talk to her like an adult.” She replied, “Well then, you could treat the other kids the same.” I was stubbornly silent. And then divine inspiration set in and Cathy shared a verse:

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. – Judges 2:10 (NIV)

She caught my attention with that verse and I realized that I didn’t want to be party to the next generation not knowing about God and His love and faithfulness. I knew it was God speaking to me. It was not about what I’m comfortable with or who I would like to reach out to. It’s about His plans, His purpose, and His timeline. Obeying Him should not necessarily be accompanied with the love or the skills or the comfort needed for His calling.

The next Sunday, I was in Kids Church and almost 13 years later, I’ve never once regretted obeying God. I love kids now (I get to have random conversations with little people in airports and malls) and I know it’s the kind of love that transcends emotions–it’s the kind of love that is the fruit of obedience. My first students are now adults and it is a privilege to see many of them serving God wherever they are. Despite my lack of compassion, God chose me to be a part of their lives and I will be forever grateful that my reluctance did not deter my leaders from strongly encouraging me to try.

2. High school students were the last group of people I preferred to reach out to.

Because I knew just how much angst I had as a high schooler, I was adamant that I would not choose to reach out to this age group. I’d rather stick to teaching the 7-12 year old kids, who are sweet and innocent and to reaching out to the university age ones, who I figured would not be as hormone-driven. Let someone else deal with the confusion of puberty.

However, I saw more and more promising young leaders sinking into depression and giving in to the identity confusion they normally experience when they step into high school life. And I thought, why wait to reach out to an even more broken person in college, when they could learn the truth earlier? I tentatively started to reach out to girls between 13 and 16 years old and am I glad I did! So many mindsets that I had about high school students were broken because it wasn’t feelings or comfort that dictated my decision.

Not only do I now have so much love for these young people–I have a deep respect for them, especially when they choose to stand apart from their peers yet still respond with compassion in the midst of persecution at an age when rejection chafes the most. I look forward to the kind of leader they will become as university students, as professionals and as parents.

How about you? Is God calling you to fill a need, even if your feelings toward the people involved seem to border on apathy or revulsion? Are you willing to obey and be in faith despite your feelings? Or would you rather stick to your comfort zone?