Pressed Down, Shaken Together…

It’s more than 20 years ago now when Ron Kenoly came to Manila. The church I was attending at that time was involved in his concert, and the Sunday after, we sang his song based on Luke 6:38. Choreography included.

I woke up this morning with that song in my head, in spite of the nighttime playlist being Grateful (Julianne‘s first album) and Identity (Isabella Gonzalez‘ first album). While my left-brain puzzled why my right brain was playing the Ron Kenoly video on infinite loop, those two phrases suddenly stood out:

PRESSED DOWN, SHAKEN TOGETHER.

And in my heart and spirit, I sensed the words: “Need to make more room!”

More room?

As if on cue, a childhood memory flashed before my eyes.

Before weighing machines became the norm, rice – the grains, uncooked, called bigas in Tagalog – was sold by measure: takal would be the smaller measure, probably a pint; and salop would be the bigger measure, and I think there were two sizes, probably equivalent to one quart and half a gallon. And as in any kind of business, the sellers had ways of, uhmm, maximizing profits.

One was that they, the sellers, would do the scooping of the grains. My mom taught me the trick: the measuring vessel would be placed on a flat surface, and the grains would be gently scooped into it, then leveled off (think of how you measure the flour when baking). The seller would be very careful not to shake the measure and to transfer it into the bag as quickly as possible, so they can hand it off to the customer and end the sale.

They did their best to keep the measure still, because shaking would cause the grains to settle and make room for more. I’m sure you’ve noticed it yourself when transferring a bag of sugar into your sugar container: if you pour it straight in, your half kilo of sugar looks as if it’s too much for your container that claims it can hold up to half a kilo. But gently tap the container on the table once or twice, and the sugar settles down, and you can pour in more.

“Need to make room for more!”

For the past few years, the encouragement we kept hearing from our pastors’ preaching, and most of the podcasts we listen to, was how God wants us to be not simply channels of blessing, but to overflow with blessing. That was one of the first things I remember sharing during our devotional time before rehearsals at Windsong back in 1992: “my cup runs over.”

I’m not supposed to be a funnel, with a hole at my feet that drains out what God puts into me. I am a cup into which He pours His blessings, His goodness — HIMSELF! — until I am full, and then I overflow. Being a blessing does not mean I take from what He has given me and give it away. It means receiving and receiving and receiving more and more and more of Him, but instead of building a bigger container so I can contain all that He gives, I let it spill over and bless people around me.

I remember sharing with Windsong a movie scene of a pyramid of wine glasses, and the host poured into the top glass so that it overflowed and filled up the glasses under it, and they overflowed and filled up the glasses under them, until all the glasses are filled.

“Need to make room for more!”

Since 2012, I’ve been hearing “restoration,” “overflow,” “multiplication,” and in the meantime, I look at my own life and cry out, “how much longer, Father? I don’t think I can stand this pressure for much longer…”

PRESSED DOWN.

Since my mom died in 2004, and I suddenly found myself shouldering the responsibility of settling her estate amidst opposition from my father who chose to interpret the move as an attempt for my brother and me to “get (our) hands on (his) property,” my prayer life has quite honestly become a cycle of “Lord, bills…” Provision. “Lord, groceries…” Provision. “Lord, debts…” Provision. “Lord, medical emergencies…” Provision. “Lord, miscarriage…” Provision. “Lord, bills…” Provision.

Lack and Provision. Lack and Provision. Lack and Provision.

SHAKEN TOGETHER.

If I were still bound by the fiery zeal of youth, I’d probably conclude “RUNNING OVER IS NEXT!! WOOOOHOOOO!!”

But I’m 46, halfway through my 47th year. And the pressing and shaking of the past 12+ years (which includes the loss of two children before birth, and my mother in a fire that razed my childhood home) feels more like a spiritual concussion than a prelude to a dance. All I can think of now is:

“Is it overflow time? Does that mean the pressing and shaking will finally stop? Or at least, take a really long break. Like a remission or something…”

Still, I do cherish the past 12 years of turmoil — not because I’m a masochist, but because…well. All that pressing and shaking did make room for more.

More of Jesus. More opportunities to hang on to Jesus. More instances to clutch at His hand in panic…and more precious moments of being taken up into His arms, held close to His bosom, and hushed to rest. Stormy seas with 30-foot waves, or prolonged droughts in the trackless wilderness…His presence never failed, never left.

I’m honest enough with myself to not say “if the shaking and pressing will give me more of You, Jesus, then bring it on!”

Sorry, but I’m not a martyr either.

“Need to make room for more!”

Have Your way, Lord. You know best. As long as You don’t let me go. In the end, that’s all I really want: that You’d never let me go.

Your will be done.

And yeah, I love You, too.

Seeker Sensitive

Disclaimer: if you’re looking for a description of seeker-sensitive methods for church growth, or an article criticizing those methods, you’re reading the wrong blog. Ask Google, he’ll direct you to those places (just like he did for me when I got curious and decided to look up this term. The only neutral article on the first page of results was from Wikipedia :P )

I’ve been intrigued by that term since I first heard it, which would be around the time Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life book came out. For some reason, though, it seems to have become associated with division and splits at the same level of Paul and Barnabas over John Mark — although admittedly, those splits did eventually lead to more growing churches reaching out to more people.

I believe the biggest point of argument was while one side wanted to tailor-fit the presentation of the Gospel to the particular target demographic/audience, another side was seeing that as changing the Gospel message to make it more acceptable to more people, and have more of them coming to church…

The term used, I believe, was “numbers game.”

So please indulge me while I think aloud, errmm, write about…uhhmm…brainstorm(!) here. I decided one day to ask God one question about this:

Who exactly is the seeker I’m supposed to be sensitive to?

Replies from the word came rather quickly:

There is no one who seeks God. (Romans 3:11 NIV)

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:8-10 NIV)

The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10 NIV)

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. (John 4:23 NIV) 

Then there was the memory of a pastor’s voice — I think it may have been a Tim Keller podcast, but I’m not 100% sure — saying something like, when we go to church, we’re not really seeking God; we’re seeking answers or solutions to our problems, and we want to see if this Christianity thing will do it for us.

Ouch.

But I have to admit, that was true of me back then, when I first “prayed to receive Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”

I just hope I’ve grown from that mentality somewhat in the past 30 years…

Back to my question.

As I thought about the answers the Holy Spirit called up from my meager memory, the thing that became clear to me was simply that 1) we humans are not seeking God as much we are seeking solutions to problems we want Him to solve for us; and 2) God is the one running after us…

GOD IS THE ONE SEEKING. NOT US.

That was why He came. As Jesus.

HE was the Seeker — no doubt about that. The Bible said so, and Luke quotes Him as saying so about Himself. Majority of the people sought Him out to solve their problems, primarily sickness (theirs, or someone close to them). Some did ask Him about eternal life, but His replies were practically turn-offs:

“One thing you lack: sell everything you have, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow Me.”

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

“Anyone who wants to come after Me who does not hate his father and mother and brother and sister and children – even his own life – is not worthy to be My disciple.”

“Take up your cross and follow Me.”

I mean, does He want us or not?!

But the Holy Spirit wasn’t done with dredging up my memory.

No one can come to Me unless the Father draws them.

No one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

I guess the answer to my question is that GOD, The FATHER, IS THE TRUE SEEKER I MUST BE SENSITIVE TO. Just as Jesus was, when He was on earth. And just as Jesus promised we would become, because He has given us His Holy Spirit.

I have another memory of another voice saying “The Acts of the Apostles” should be re-titled “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” Thinking about that now, I’m suddenly excited about reading that book from that angle. I think the change in perspective will be eye-opening for me. :)

Jesus was sensitive to His Father’s heart towards the people. Like “seeker-sensitive” proponents, He also tailor-fit His “presentation” to His audience: His parables used images that a predominantly agricultural community would understand, He spoke differently with Nicodemus and the other leaders than He did with adulteresses, tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners.

But like the “anti-numbers game” people, He allowed no haggling about the cost of following Him: He challenged a young man to sell all his assets (young man left, sad), and He told a crowd to “eat (His) flesh and drink (His) blood” (crowd left, grumbling). He honored faith when He saw it (a Roman centurion, a bleeding woman, four house-wreckers, a Samaritan leper, a Syro-Phoenician mother) and didn’t withhold rebuke from those who should have known better, after everything they had seen (yes, the Twelve. And yes…me, too. What an amazingly patient God He is!).

In the end, I think the whole point about this issue is proclaiming Jesus, and what He has accomplished for us by His perfectly obedient life, His gruesome sacrificial death, and His glorious resurrection. And now that He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God our Father, His Holy Spirit is with us to continue His work of seeking and saving the lost. We who have responded to His seeking and saving have the awesome privilege of having court-side seats to all the action, and we even get to participate, as we let ourselves be drafted into His plan.

Let me end this by quoting the Wikipedia article on Church Growth, where “seeker-sensitive” is discussed (additional emphases are mine):

Critics from other Christian groups suggest the movement is “only about numbers”, “slick” and “success” oriented.

Apologists respond that most advocates have a real concern for the salvation of the individuals represented by the numbers. Some Church Growth groups distance themselves from the “showbiz” approach of megachurches and believe these may be counterproductive.

Willow Creek Community Church conducted a major survey that shows heavy involvement in “seeker sensitive” programs and activities contributed to church growth but did not necessarily translate into spiritual growth and maturity unless the church had a clear path for believers’ development.

Advocates argue that the most important thing in Christianity is the salvation of souls, which means that a successful church will – by definition – be a growing church.

Others argue that a proper balance between numerical growth and depth of spiritual growth is needed.

And last two quotes, from the Apostle, Paul:

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 NIV

The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Philippians 1:18 NIV

Thank you for bearing with me. Brainstorming done. :)

A Day at a Time

Months after I promised I’d do a series…I come back. I can give my usual true reason of having had our internet connection get cut — to be honest, finances are still a big challenge at this time — but of course, that disconnection only lasted a few days, and not three months.

Truth is, I got addicted to Minesweeper, Dynomite Deluxe, and Facebook.

And I started writing a short story that ended up being around 50 pages in size 10 font (of course, lots of spaces there, plus some dialogues are one-line exchanges that don’t take the width of the page, but I still need to hit Enter after each line, right?) for Part 1. Part 2 requires a bit more research for me.

The miracle is how the concept of the thing isn’t leaving me yet. That’s grace for you.

I’ve also gone back to crocheting and knitting, and am learning loom-knitting.

And then, finally, Irl & I have confirmed that the Lord has cleared us to begin volunteering with our home church, New Life The Fort. The first ministry on my rotation is Production, and it’s really forced me reassess Metro Manila traffic flow, and PUV driver habits (need to remember to add about ONE HOUR for all the waiting time some jeepney and FX drivers use up waiting for passengers at every imaginable stop…).

So yeah, it’s been a busy fourth quarter of 2014 for me. But it’s now 2015.

One of my church leaders suddenly asked me one day if I still write on my blog, and I had to give a guilty grin which made her giggle. And to think, she doesn’t even know I have TWO blogs.

I am so…in trouble. hehehe :D

YES, I KNOW I’M RAMBLING.

I had a vivid dream a few days ago. I no longer take the images for granted after the Lord showed me, over 10 years ago, that dream images DO have meanings that actually show either how your brain is trying to process your particular situation, or may be an actual encouragement from the Lord.

Researching the images I saw in my dream, one common possible interpretation came out: nurturing a forgotten or suppressed skill. One other image has a possible meaning of “an end to stress” and the beginning of easier times.

Just writing those down is making my adrenalin surge and shout  “CHAAAAAAARGE!!” like Yosemite Sam in Bunker Hill Bunny. But maybe because I’m halfway through my 46th year, I’m finally able to sense the light movement on the reins when Jesus’ Spirit is telling me to hold my horses and calm down.

“We’re going to do this a day at a time.”

So I will follow His lead. A day at a time. There are deadlines to be met, of course, but so far, from how He seems to be leading my days lately, it’s really “anything that I can do now is still a step closer to the goal.”

For now, let me leave you with this funny video from my childhood. Happy New Year! ^_^

Bible Nomination Challenge

My friend Ailene tweeted some time ago that all these challenges and lists coming out on FB just shows that Friendster never really died.

Or something to that effect.

At the end of my cycle of the Gratitude Chain, another friend tagged me for the Bible Nomination Challenge. But before I could post my favorite verse, another friend tagged me as well.

And what I noticed was, the verses they posted when they tagged me were perfect for me at that moment. So I decided to take up the challenge, and tagged some friends (which I don’t usually like to do), just to see if there was more “word for me” coming.

I wasn’t disappointed. :)

I decided it would make a great blog series again, but it was only today that I figured out how to go about it. I’m not quite ready to write about why these verses were perfect for me at that point in my life, but I still wanted to share them. The idea that came to me — or should I say, I am being lead to try — was to post as many English versions of these verses that I could find.

I’m in a bit of a rush this morning, so I’ll just post the references for the verses that came out. Feel free to look them up yourself. In the next few days, I’ll simply be posting the actual verses, but featuring one English translation each day.

My unofficial partners for this will be my two favorite sites for bible cross-references (comparing different bible versions): biblegateway.com and bible.com (home of the youversion app).

Here are the verses (and the friends who posted them) in order of appearance on my wall:

Romans 8:39 (from Aia)

John 10:10 (from Leo)

Isaiah 41:9 (mine)

Proverbs 10:22 (from Susan)

Isaiah 30:21 (from Donna)

John 10:2 (John said this is from his wife)

John 3:16 (from Sherry)

John 1:17 (from John)

Three of us specified the versions we preferred (Leo, Susan, and me). I’m looking forward to seeing how the different English translations rendered them.

Until the next blog!

Gratitude Chain Day 7

Late by two days, but here it is, first from my FB status:

My late Day 7 of the Gratitude Chain post:

I thank God for new beginnings.

Yesterday, I “reported” to the beautiful lady under whom I will be training as I go through the Volunteer process of New Life the Fort. And she was willing to give me the orientation on Thursday next week (before the midweek service), instead of this Saturday. I consider that grace and favor.

A friend had a quietly puzzled look on his face when I told him that in New Life The Fort, the “Volunteer Process” takes a total of at least one year: attending the church regularly for at least 6 months, followed by around 6 more months of “training” in all the ministries before finally “graduating” into the ministry of choice — God’s choice for you, which may not be what you had originally planned when you started.

The trend, I believe, in some churches, is: get them in, then get them working. We need people for the ministries ASAP!!

After hearing, from at least 3 churches, the words (or variations thereof): “Oh, you’re a musician? You should join the music ministry!”, in one case being told to LEAD WORSHIP on my third week of joining the ministry (good thing I had a great reason to say no: my mother was going on an out-of-town conference in Palawan \o/, and she required me to be her personal assistant/photographer), it was a welcome relief to NOT be rushed into the ministry.

I think I’m even seeing a Levitical parallel in my own life…

In the bible, active national service for Israelites begin at 20. In 2 Chronicles, there’s a more detailed schedule given to the Levites: enter the temple at 20, start “specialized” training at 25, begin active service at 30, retire at 50.

Okay, smartypants, where’s the parallel? You’re 46! That means you only have 4 years active duty left!

Maybe…but that’s not my concern right now. For now, let’s go by “spiritual” birthday — mine was September 3, 1984. Which makes me 30.

Ten years ago, after Jesus took my mother home to be with Him, and our daughters turned 4, I was finally able to join the music ministry. We had been attending another church at that time, and we’d been there 2 years before family duties progressed to the place where I could now also give “time and talent” to the local church. (2004)

But the activities weren’t just in church. Whenever and wherever we could, we gave what we could.gave what I could: I sang, I trained, I taught, I led bible studies, I wrote, I took pictures, I blogged, I hosted, I stage-managed, I sound-teched, I assisted, I chauffeured, I…

Oh, My. Gosh. Reading what I just typed just dilated my pupils. All these, while being a wife to Irl, a mom to Jodie and Roni, taking over my father’s business, and trying to help out my sister-in-law take care of my brother who had had his third stroke.

So that’s why, I guess, about 5 years ago, I began to feel this tugging in my heart — and these were the words that came with that tug:

Stop giving away what I have not told you to give away. (2009)

For a year, each of the involvements (except family, of course) got stripped away, one by one. The last one was removed literally on the week of my 42nd birthday. I thought it was just going to be a “Sabbath” year. Looking back now, I realize God had moved me into “specialized” training. (2010)

The next year, I just focused on getting my physical strength back, and even finally got myself down to 120 pounds, which was my personal target. A month before my 43rd birthday (2011), I started asking God when and to what I’d be going back — and I was made to realize, quite definitely, that I wouldn’t be going back.

Tim Keller’s sermon, Everyone With A Gift, was a painfully devastating but ultimately liberating confrontation (it’s a free download. I hope you can take the time to listen to it). In it, he shares a story shared by Dr. John Gerstner:

She had an idea of a noble, heroic life, and she was telling God, “that’s the life You’ve got to give me…and here’s how You’ve got to get it for me.” And she was doing everything she could to basically put God in her debt so He’d HAVE TO do it! And she began to realize: “I’ve never taken my hands of my life…I’ve been using God! I wasn’t serving God, I was telling Him what He had to do!” And then she says, “that night, for the first time, I took my hands off my life. I said, “You know where I should go, You know what I should do…You know best.” 

And Dr. Gerstner closes that part of the sermon by looking at all those young people, and saying,  “If that girl, who spent a third of her life being ready for missionary service, saying goodbye to everything – saying goodbye to fun, to safety, to comfort, to EVERYTHING! – and thought she had taken her hands off her life, and that night she realized she never had done it, do you think YOU have, then? I doubt it.”

I remember my knees giving way when the realization hit me…I had been living in exactly the same way. I also remember being able to quip, “Ten years? A third of her life? Try 22 years, and half of her life!” before I finally gave in to the anguish I felt. “Twenty-two years, Lord! WHY DIDN’T YOU STOP ME BEFORE NOW?!?!”

But He is faithful to His word. There was no condemnation. I thought I had been broken before, but this breaking had sapped even my physical strength. It took effort to haul myself up from the bathroom floor and finish my bath so I could go on with the day. In that anguished grieving, I could almost feel an actual embrace, gentle hands wiping my tears, a quiet voice shushing my sobs. Because I’m a writer, one of the verses that has always challenged me was “All the days of my life were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16 NIV, I think)

Every millisecond of those 22 years, somehow, were never beyond His control. He knew before I was born the choices I would make, and He let me make them, anyway, because He knew, as any author knows, how the end will be.

I’m still learning to trust that.

So – specialized training, huh? In what, exactly?

In resting, and trusting, and just following His lead. It took another two years before we made the move to finally settle down in New Life The Fort (2012). But even then, all we did was listen, meet people, listen, make friends, listen…

Sit and receive. Stay, let yourself heal, then go where the Lord leads you.

From December 2013 to August 2014, we simply let ourselves be led. Sure, we made plans, but I began to recognize God’s sovereignty, not just in the things that went smoothly, but more so, in the things that didn’t push through. He seems to have taken a bit of a roundabout way, but basically, the step we started in December 2013 finally got completed in August 2014.

We finally completed the Membership Class. :)

Wow —  that’s seven months of my “spiritual foot” hanging in mid-air before I got to put it down…hehehe ^_^

And now, at the beginning of my 31st year since Jesus took hold of me, I think He’s calling me to begin my active service.

AND it just occurred to me: my first venture into the music ministry was an audition for Windsong in August 1992. In August 2014, I auditioned for the music ministry. Can you believe it? I was asked to audition! I wasn’t just thrown into the ministry on the basis of my credentials, I had to audition!

I still had my eyes closed, but at least, I was able to stand this time. :D

Talk about a do-over! New beginnings are COOL!!!

Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of voluntary submission when He says in John 10, “No one takes My life from Me, I lay it down of My own accord.”…Why did He offer Himself, as not a living sacrifice, but a destroyed sacrifice? Why did He do that?! Why did He take his Hands off His life?!

OUT OF LOVE FOR YOU.

Gratitude Chain Day 6

Thankful for our little “Jafila”, who is my new teaching partner (my Blackberry just doesn’t have a big enough screen for my students to see videos of the songs they’re learning).

It seems to hold their attention better, and they’re tech-savvy enough to know how to repeat the video so they can hear the song again, and we just start singing along. I mostly just need to correct lyrics for now; vocally, they’re all doing good.

Jafila is primarily Jodie’s & Roni’s laptop, where they do a lot of research and reading, then take fun breaks by reading Japanese manga, like the latest chapter of Fairy Tail…

Our smaller ASUS EEE PC Netbook, which we nicknamed Jafila ("Jandy's first love").
Our smaller ASUS EEE PC Netbook, which we nicknamed Jafila (“Jandy’s first love”).

We bought this little trooper from Irl’s former co-worker, Jandy (hence, Jandy’s First Love, Jafila for short). Irl thought it would be a good size for bringing around, which I do now that I’m back to teaching Voice, and am being given rather young kids. It still runs Windows XP (thanks for our computer genius friend), but it definitely gets the job done. I just need to constantly remind myself not to “overwork” it by doing too much multi-tasking.

Last day tomorrow. :)

Gratitude Chain Day 4

This is gonna be just a short entry.

Grateful for what Monday means to me: REST.

That means enjoying what I’ve been given, and whatever gifts God has treated me to the past week, reserved for this rest day to savor and enjoy. 

 

From right to left, that's me, Jodie, Roni, and Irl.
From right to left, that’s me, Jodie, Roni, and Irl.

 

Rest day is anime day. First up is the latest episode of One Piece.
Rest day is anime day. First up is the latest episode of One Piece.
Free Chocolate, of course.  Better than popcorn, in my opinion. :D
Free Chocolate, of course. Better than popcorn, in my opinion. :D
Tea. Custom-ordered by a friend, just for me. <3
Tea. Custom-ordered by a friend, just for me. <3

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