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“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?

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Running Epiphany

runningepiphany.001In honor of my coming back to running after almost a year. 

Five years ago, I lived next to ULTRA and I would usually spend 30 minutes daily to run around the ULTRA track. One day, I was met by the guard, who apologized profusely. The track was closed to give way to a family day being held by a school. Then she proceeded to suggest “How about following the path towards DepEd?”

I thought, “Why not?”

As I ran I almost wanted to bang my head on the nearest tree. For almost three years that I had been living across ULTRA, I never discovered just how beautiful the vicinity of the track was! Trees lined the path and the terrain was definitely better for training. And I could have run on it for free! Imagine the hundreds of pesos I could have saved for the past three years. I never dared to venture out of the track because it was the routine I got used to.

Then I realized, aren’t we like that with our lives sometimes as well? We get so used to our comfort zones that even when we could have something better, we never dare to step out in faith… to step out of the boat. How many times have we forgotten that Jesus did not just die for us on the cross so we could live with Him in heaven forever, but also that we may live our life on earth in holiness, in health, in grace, and in joy? Hence, years pass by before we discover, hey, if I had stepped out earlier, I’d have experienced walking on water sooner! Most of all, it would have saved us a lot of discomfort, anxiety and pain.

If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat — John Ortberg

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. — Jeremiah 33:3

…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. — John 10:10

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Discipleship is Teamwork

Small group circa 2010. Everyone's a small group leader now!A few months ago, I was speaking with a new small group leader. Due to a recent influx of new members in her group, she is worried that she will not be able to effectively disciple these women.  She has a full time job and they did not work near each other, so she was worried she could not effectively guide them in their newfound faith. Then I asked her, “Why do you think you are alone in this?” I shared to her that I found myself in the same position six years ago. I was a new small group leader at Victory Fort and it was the first time for me to handle young professionals.  Before this, I handled students and I knew I was not entirely equipped to lead single professionals, who have an entirely different set of issues to deal with. I had five new girls, all of whom needed to go through personal discipleship.  I admit, I could not do personal discipleship with more than two people in the same period.  I like to focus on one, if possible. And yet, I could not miss the golden opportunity for the rest to grow in their relationship with God.

Joint small group cook-off competition

Joint small group cook-off competition (Lindsey’s coaching and small group, Novie’s small group, Gwen and I as guests)

Honestly, though, we were never taught in campus ministry that we have to do discipleship alone.  One of the biggest discipleship lessons I learned from Victory LB is to connect new believers with as many mature Christians as possible. So that night, I asked God for someone to help me. The next day, I saw one of the girls I volunteer in Kids Church with. She was having lunch alone in the cafeteria, and since I usually hate to see others eating by themselves (unless they give off the “Don’t bother me, please” vibe), I approached her and made small talk.

Joint small group Christmas party three years ago

Joint small group Christmas party three years ago

During the course of our conversation, I learned that she was looking for a victory group, since her leader joined a church plant. So, I invited her to my group. And, boy, was she was such a great addition! She helped me with the other girls who were ready for personal discipleship. Moreover, she was also a volunteer in Kids Church and helped me encourage the other girls to volunteer as well. Volunteering together brought us closer to each other, as well as to other people not in our group. This method of teaming up and connecting new people to others became a culture in our group.  In the past few years, we’ve travelled together for fun and we’ve gone to missions trips together. We’ve gone through different seasons in life. We’ve been bridesmaids to those who got married and godmothers to their children.  We’ve offended each other when we spoke the truth in love and yet resolved those offenses with forgiveness. We’ve prayed through ups and downs and we’ve had one goal in mind: for each of us to honor God and make disciples.

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Missions trip to Indonesia with Lindsey and Gwen

More than just different women placed in the same small group, we have become the greatest of friends despite each one being a leader of a different small group already.  We’ve also done our best to connect the girls in our groups with each other. I look forward to more years of shared life with them.

So, if you find yourself becoming a new leader and floundering, know that you need not be alone.  Seek to connect by asking God and looking for opportunities to team up with someone. And because this is all for His glory, surely He has prepared a teammate for you already.

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Help or Hindrance?

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If you become a necessity to someone else’s life, you are out of God’s will — Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

I remember two girls in my small group when I was in college. Both had financial problems but they came into the small group at different times. With the first girl, when she came to me with her problem, I thought the best way to help her was to sacrifice my own money, even if I ended up asking my parents for my allowance earlier than usual. With the second one, I was broke like her, so I had no choice but to just pray with her and believe in faith that God will provide.

It is sad to note that the first girl, upon encountering another financial hurdle which I could not help her with, disappeared. The second girl, on the other hand, thrived and grew to lead others to God.  Could it be that instead of helping the first girl, I instead hindered her from knowing God’s faithfulness and God’s sovereignty and from experiencing the fullness of a vibrant, personal relationship with God? Painful as the truth is, I did.

I’m grateful that God has given me leaders in LB, at the Fort, in Kids Church and in the small group who have allowed me to grow by letting me make mistakes and take responsibility for them as well as by letting me face adversity and hold on to God alone to overcome it. I need to be the kind of mentor, the kind of kids church teacher, and the kind of friend that spotlights God alone as well =).  As a mentor, we just need to go through the foundations with the persons we’re leading to God and help them love the truth of God’s word. As a kids church teacher, we just need to preach the truth to the kids and model it to them. As a friend, we just need to listen, to give godly counsel, and to pray and believe in faith with troubled friends.

It’s easy to write this down on paper (or more appropriately typing it on FB), but in reality it is hard for anyone who’s used to being on top of it all to shy away from the limelight and let it shine on the real Star or for anyone who’s used to helping others in a sticky situation to allow the Helper to make His move instead or for anyone who’s used to being the hero to let the real Superhero do His own rescue. Sometimes one needs a good kick on the head to remain humble and low profile and just be the friend of the Bridegroom (John 3:29). There were times when because of my desire to “help” (or, more honestly, to be the hero), I have overtaxed myself, and this has been a hard lesson for me to learn.  Now, it’s much simpler. The only thing God has actually asked me to do is to let Him shine in my life so I could point others to Him as the Source of the light. After that, everything else is His job.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” — John 3:30