Friday, January 1, 2010


It's been a busy week but in the middle of all the happpenings, one always finds time to reflect and look back at the year that was, and say, "God's been good."

A week ago, we celebrated Christ's birth. Last Sunday, the Gospel reading was about the middle school-aged Jesus in which his parents lost him in the crowd and busyness of the festival season they were in.

Ten minutes into the New Year, while people my family stood across the fountain looking at the partying crowd at Eastwood, Daniel, my "grandkid" (my niece's son) who is turning two in a few days, took me by the hand and tugged it. Motioning that he wanted to go where the crowd was, I gave in and took him there. As soon as we reached the area he let loose of himself from my grip and started playing with the confetti on the ground! My family can tell even at his young age that Daniel loves the outdoors. Whenever he hears the words, "Let's go!" his eyes brighten. he'd hold the hand of the one who said the phrase and tug it! Once he's outdoors, he always wants to be let loose and run around. Our greatest fear was losing him in a crowd as big as last night's! So it took my sister, my niece and me to look after an active one-year-old boy!

Picture 009

Picture 047

I think very few things in life compare to the horror of a missing child. If you have ever looked around for just a moment to discover your child out of sight with no idea where he or she is you know the horror it invokes. Keep in mind, that while Jesus was the Christ, Mary and Joseph were mere humans - a mother and father who loved their child dearly; had clothed and fed him; taught and nurtured and watched him grow. This was a very human moment and I can only imagine the range of emotions that must have set in: panic, fear, anger, guilt - all come to mind. Then prayerful relief, overwhelming joy, and celebration followed by panic, fear, anger, and guilt all over again considering the possibilities of what might have been.

I remember getting lost one Christmas season in Rustan's Department Store in Cubao when I was five! My mom and dad brought all five children- ages ranging from mid-twenties to four out Christmas- shopping at Rustan's. A pile of toys caught my attention and ran from my family. Confident that my siblings would look after me, my parents went about shopping. Three minutes laters I stood surrounded by gigantic adults milling around! I knew at that point my family lost me. Having been schooled in Sesame Street, from which I learned that when one gets lost, one should go to a person in your neighborhood, a policeman! I couldn't tell a policeman from a security guard! I saw a man in uniform, walked to him and tugged his pants. I remember telling the man with a lump in my throat a truth I had fully accepted at that point, "Sir, I'm lost." In my five year old head, I was already thinking of nuns raising me in an orphanage!

Three days pass and Mary and Joseph find their son in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening and asking questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and answers. But Mary and Joseph were also astonished and as you might imagine they were also perplexed. "Child, why have you treated us so; your father and I have been searching for you with great anxiety." And Jesus seems surprised at their frustration, "why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house - about my Father's business - Father with a capital "f".The guard brought me to a booth and was endorsed to a group of women. One of them lifted me and sat me on her counter. She asked who I was and who my dad was. In a short while she and I were having a conversation about my favorite food, toys, and Superman!

I heard my name sounding from the public address system. Five minutes later I saw my entire family running towards the booth. By the time they reached me I was standing on the counter top with arms wide open! They never got mad mainly because they knew I did the right thing! My dad wanted to write to the producers of Sesame Street for having taught me well! I'd never been lost since.

And so we find the young boy Jesus in the Temple about his Father's business. He claims a new identity for himself - no longer a baby but a youth coming into his own. The baby Jesus is growing up. He has a different sense of meaning and purpose about his life. To Him, He wasn't lost, He'd been with His Father all along. "Whose child are you Jesus?" perhaps someone asked.


As children of God who have been lost we know what it's like to have been found. Last Sunday, while Ken Cataylo sang "Were It Not for Grace" during offertory, I was thinking the whole time of having been found, and how we will never want to be lost again. And even if we find ourselves amidst an unfamiliar crowd, because we know whose children we are and know our Father's business of calling people unto Himself, we will never want to wander away.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Let me begin by saying: Pray for your pastors.

With great joy in our hearts, my family came home on February 21 from the hospital having seen my niece Hannah born just the day before for the very first time. I was about 10 when I sat with my dad and mom in our old living room to watch the news, and to our great surprise we saw the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart making his internationally televised tearful confession. His confession was generic, "I have sinned against you my, Lord." I turned to my dad and asked, "Who hasn't?" Then with a rather annoyed "Shhh!" (hush) from my dad, the news continued with a report linking him to an admitted prostitute. He stood, turned the TV off without the intent of ending the news program. Dad was heartbroken. He had a collection of Swaggart's preaching and music tapes. He said, "Tan, go to bed." With their heads low and eyes filled with tears, my parents walked into their bedroom and shut the door.

Eight years earlier when we moved into town and after about two months since my dad started a church, the neighbors nicknamed my dad, "Swaggart Humbard" after the two most popular televangelists those days. My family was well-respected for our very good neighborly ways. My dad's reputation as the "beacon" of Bible truth and gospel preaching grew famous even among the Catholic majority of the town. He'd been called many times to do exorcisms and public prayers by some of the staunchest of Catholics! And while my family was far from perfect, it was respected.

The Swaggart fall and public admission of guilt however changed the people's attitude towards my family, the church and our members albeit our town stood halfway around the world from Baton Rouge's Family Worship Center where Swaggart was pastor. Add to that the fact we were Baptists, he was Assembly of God. But for the people in our community, we all looked the same and belonged to one flock called, "phonies"!


In our English class, we were always asked to "report" the news of the day at the beginning of each class. And what could be the biggest news that day other than Swaggart. I remember my teacher Mrs. Diaz asked me, "Jonathan, what can you say about Swaggart's confession?" As a young kid, I didn't know what to say other than, "Ma'am, if he meant telling God 'sorry', God would forgive him." And guess what I got from the class? Nothing but a loud "Boo"! Mrs. Diaz was evangelical but she did not stand behind me like I expected which broke my heart. I remember wondering whether or not Mrs. Diaz, Jimmy Swaggart and everyone else who identified himself or herself as evangelical including my dad were all alike, phonies- claiming to believe one thing and does another. It was a time when I nearly "lost" my faith and give up on the church. I was 10!

There is something to the claim that our true character is formed in the face of adversity or heartbreak. My young mind kept wondering about what I answered my teacher: "...if he meant telling God 'sorry', God would forgive him." Was that true, or did I just say that because that was what I had been taught? There was a battle in my head. But in the same head where the battle raged, I have also made decisions which translated into actions that didn't exactly please God. I too have committed and commit mistakes (sin) before God.

The process of comprehension and acceptance often leads to another painful truth. We are who we are both because of what life has thrown our way; and are by the various decisions we made. But more important than those two is, we are who are because of God's grace. That's the potentially positive effect of heartbreak. By the grace of God we can accept heartbreak as a window into our soul, and as the opportunity to expand our life possibilities - the chance to engage different challenges in a different manner than before.

And as I grew older I realized how weak and vulnerable everyone is. There is no SuperChristian and that everyone is susceptible to the schemes and attacks of the enemy. That's where you and I come in for each other-- we come into each other's lives and help try to follow Christ, bear one another's burdens and praying for each other as we fulfill the law of Christ which is love. Now that I am a pastor I have become more aware of the impossible side of living the Christian life. As a pastor, against whom the enemy is working double time, I have no other way but accept my weaknesses so that I may claim Christ's strength as I seek and ask everyone to pray on my behalf as I do on behalf of others.

1Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 2Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. - Galatians 6

Where are you broken? Where are you feeling defeated or faint or weary or afraid? Friends, today an invitation is being extended - an invitation to let Jesus heal you. Today you are invited to let Jesus silence your demons, heal your wounded-ness, and give you back a life that is broken and yet whole. That is the promise, and although it will look different for each one of us, the promise is the same. Will you trust that? Will you be strong and vulnerable enough to open yourself to the possibility of being made whole?

Thursday, December 3, 2009


In my fascination with history as a young boy I began reading about little known things about European royalty in my spare time. One of the most intriguing stories I found was about two princes who lived in the 1400s.

King Edward IV from the great Yorkist Plantagenet clan reigned as sovereign of England after successfully fighting against the other royal clan, the Lancastrian Tudor clan. Edward's health began to fail and he became subject to an increasing number of ailments. Edward fell fatally ill at Easter 1483. He died on 9 April 1483. It is not known what actually caused Edward's sudden death. Pneumonia and typhoid have both been conjectured, but there was also the possibility of him having been poisoned.

Between the few days of falling ill and his eventual death, he was able to change some letters in his will making his brother Richard, Duke of York as Lord Protector of the Heir Apparent, twelve-year-old son, Edward V of England. To ensure accountability, the king made his brother in law Anthony Woodville, the 2nd Earl of Rivers co-protector of crown prince Edward. When the king died, Richard had Anthony arrested and executed for allegedly attempting to assassinate the prince leaving Richard the sole protector of his nephew. In a pride-driven turn of events, Richard had his nephews 12-year old Edward and 10-year old Richard arrested and locked in the Tower of London.


On June 22, 1483, a statement on behalf of Lord Protector Richard was issued and read all over England declaring that Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was illegitimate and that, in consequence, Richard, not his nephew, was the rightful king.

Determined to take the crown for himself Richard III kept the two princes locked within the grounds of the Tower of London. But as long as they were alive they remained a threat to his power. There were reports of their early presence in the courtyards etc., there are no records of them having been seen after the summer of 1483. Their fate remains unknown, and it is presumed that they either died or were killed there. There is no record of a funeral.

Princes in the tower

Nearly 200 years later in 1674, while an extensive renovation was being done to the White Tower of London, two skeletons of pre-adolescent children clad in velvet cloth buried in a pile of rocks were dug beneath the staircase of the tower. They were immediately believed to be the remains of the two princes who died because one man was too proud and greedy to keep power and the throne to himself.

The bones were taken to the Westminster Abbey to be buried among royals.

Power. Pride.

It's pretty amazing how much that five letter word could corrupt many. Power isn't bad. But when another five letter word takes over, Pride, then it's another story. CS Lewis wrote in his classic Mere Christianity, "...Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken and unchaste people. But pride always means enmity..."

Contrary to our popular notion that pride keeps our heads held high it actually makes us look down. Lewis continues, "A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something or Someone that above you."

PSALM 10:4 In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.

Pride is the root of the election-related Ampatuan Massacre where 57 people died. Pride is the root of Tiger Woods' marital "transgression." It is the reason why there is a war going on somewhere in the world. Pride is the chief cause why Adam and Eve fell trapped in the statement, "you shall be like God." Who wouldn't want to be like God? Who doesn't want supernatural abilities? Who doesn't want power?

CS Lewis continues, In God, you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that, and therefore know yourself as nothing in comparison, then you do not know God at all.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


I had just returned from a two-day summit called the Global Leadership Summit sponsored by the Willow Creek Association. Today's entry are just some of the gleaned and chewed on truths from that summit.

Unsure but Secure. Two nights ago, I was chatting on the internet with a friend who is currently in seminary about "calling." She shared with me that even as she is sure that God has called her to the vocational-ordained ministry she isn't sure where and what concentration. She had been my friend for ten long years now (since 1999 back when I was a freshman in Bible college) and although she hadn't pursued a degree theology just yet then she'd always been sure of having that sense of calling to become minister of some sort. But now that she's nearing her final semesters in the seminary where I also went she feels she is facing one of the greatest uncertainties of her life.

It was a joy for me to find out that evening we chatted to learn that she was going to Willow Creek's Global Leadership Summit. It was an opportunity for me to meet up with her in person and talk further about that call.

In the morning of the summit's first day, I called her on her mobile during the coffee break. Her voice seemed shaky as if she had just finished crying. I learned later that she and girlfriends from seminary were in a vehicular collision on the way to the summit. While none of them were harmed or injured they were all emotionally jittered perhaps at the thought that they could have lost their lives in an instant. While it was a scary ordeal, it was an assurance from the Lord that He still isn't done with them (her) just yet-- thus, an answer to her uncertainty that though she isn't sure what and where, God has a plan for her life and ministry. Additionally, the talks in that summit supplied the encouragement she needed so much.


In his talk, Bill Hybels mentioned of a time when he was ready to cash it all in-- a moment in his life when he was unsure whether he was called to do what he was doing. Discouragements, set backs, frustrations and issues gnawed at his spirit, inch by inch devouring what used to be the passionate Bill who chucked the opportunity of running the businesses his father built in a span of three decades for a calling he felt came from God- to begin a radical Biblical community. He ended up disappointing his dad for choosing to start a church than running his businesses. It was on the second year of Willow Creek's existence when Bill's dad died never seeing in person the kind of church his son was instrumental to starting turned out to be.


God spoke to summit attendees facing the same struggle. In what seemed like a whisper or an impression on my spirit, He said, "You may feel unsure but I want you to feel secure- I'm in total control."

Wayne Cordeiro on Monasticism. Part of my lectures in Church History to my students is on Monasticism. I was never a fan of monasticism for tone major reason: the church is called to be in the world and permeate it with the kingdom of God and gospel of Christ, and seclusion defeats that calling.

Tonight as I slipped into the quietness of my condo I hope to get some much needed sleep after a whole day of intellectual and spiritual engagement at the summit, in addition to a lengthy music rehearsal for tomorrow's services. Even as I type this blog, my head races toward stuff I'm assigned to do at next weekend's discipleship conference our church is hosting.

For almost eleven months, I straggled between serving as our church's worship pastor (a post I've held since 2002, on staff since '01) and as adjunct professor in a local Bible college on my days off. I must admit, I have grown tired. Since the beginning of the semestral break, I had been attempting to rest and engage in the discipline of silence.

Given my personality type- being possessed by the energizer bunny spirit that just goes on and on and on, silence just doesn't seem a discipline for which I am cut out. Besides, with the many demands of ministry, I haven't had a real break. At the summit I was once again reminded of that.

Pastor Wayne Cordeiro, pastor of New Hope Church Oahu, shared his personal story about reaching a point when he felt like a flickering wick.


Someone suggested that he spend seven days in a monastery to get his heart set with the Lord outside the hustle and bustle of city and megachurch life. For the first time, I saw the beauty of and a divine design for monasticism- we need to withdraw from the hustle and bustle of life, and quiet our heart before God- shutting out all other voices except God's. Pastor Cordeiro's decision was life-changing. Amidst a crowd of 2100 people at the summit, I tried shutting out all other noises and decided to listen to His whisper again--"Come away with me."

More from the Summit on my next blog entry...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


DEUTERONOMY 4: 28 There youwillworship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell. 29 But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Tonight's Yahoo!News featured Iceland and the closing down of the only three McDonald's in the country due to the weakening of their currency. But this blog isn't about the world's economy. I just feel fascinated with Iceland as a country and it's identification as a Christian state having a national church. In addition to being a worship pastor, I also teach worship studies and Church history adjunctively in a Bible college. Hence, the fascination.

As early as the 9th century AD, Christianity is believed to have reached the island. Some of them were monks from the British Isles seeking solitude. But a vast majority of the island's settlers coming from Norway were pagans and thus within a generation, Christianity had died-- blame celibacy (monks do not marry, remember?) and extreme solitude!

In 999, Thorvald Konradsson came to Iceland accompanied by a German Bishop (German Shepherd) named Fridrek, of whom little is known. Thorvald and Fridrek began the evangelization of Iceland. Their efforts were fruitless and they had become subject of ridicule-- what kind of a Norseman would believe a God who died on a cross anyway?

It was under King Olaf Tryggvason when the Christianization of Iceland became a serious business of the Norwegian crown. Olaf sent an iceland native Stefnir Thorgilsson to begin the work. But Stefnir had a totally different technique. He violently destroyed every altar and idol he found in Iceland. Stefnir was outlawed by the Icelandic people and was exiled back to Norway. Olaf sent a priest named Thangbrand whose missionary efforts won many to Christianity in the Faeroe Island. He was relatively successful in winning some Icelandic chieftains but he also murdered three in an effort to win everyone. Olaf took weirder measures- he banned Icelandic seafarers from Norway, and taking hostage Icelandics living in Norway, some of whom were relatives of chieftains. Olaf threatened to murder the hostages if Iceland will keep refusing Christianization!

Paganism and Christianity came to a point of rivalry in Iceland and threatened civil war. During an Althing (their primitive version of parliament), Thorgeir Thorkelsson, a pagan priest spoke and convinced the assembly that Iceland embrace Christianity as its official religion. His decision to favor of Christianity was made after a day and a night of silent meditation under a fur blanket. As an agreement, pagans could still practice their religion in private, and be Christians by name in public!

Not long after, Thorgeir took his household gods and threw them into the godafoss (waterfall of the gods). The people followed suit and within the next few weeks, the entire Icelandic population decided to be baptized.

A 10th Century Image of the god Thor

A 10th century image of THOR, the thunder god.

Now Iceland has a national Church of the Lutheran branch of Christianity with which 80+% of the population identify and baptized into.


The Hallmigur Lutherna Church, Reykjavik, Iceland

But according to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2005,[5]

  • 38% of Icelandic citizens responded that "they believe there is a God".
  • 48% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force".
  • 11% answered that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force".
  • 3% responded that they "don't know".

The worship of Christ and conversion to Christianity cannot be forced upon someone or a community. It is a personal decision of obedience to the initial call of the Holy Spirit-- conviction of sin, realizing the need for a Savior, and being gifted with faith, trusting Christ alone for salvation. That's when Christianity begins! That's the genesis of worship.