When Will You Learn To Surrender?

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“My son, give me your heart,

And let your eyes observe my ways.”

-Proverbs 23:26 (English Standard Version)

A week ago, it was probably almost midnight. I had tons of energy because I decided to take an afternoon nap, so I decided to clean my room a bit to tire me out. I started with a paper bag on my desk that was full of scratch papers, some old documents that I had been reading, and some old receipts and bus tickets that I either forgot to throw away or to keep as “memorabilia” (yes, I am a bit of a sentimentalist when it comes to the little things). Then as I was throwing and keeping some files, I came across an old crumpled memo that I wrote maybe a few months or a year ago.

“When will you learn to surrender?” was written in all caps.

Those words resonated in an instant. I just turned 22 a week ago and it dawned upon me that most of my days in 2018 were battles – and most of these battles I fought all on my own. Despite someone who goes to church every Sunday, I realized that I was holding on to my own plans and my own decisions; to lean on my own understanding because I had that thought in my head that if I wanted things done right, then I better do it all myself. And so I did.

Throughout, whilst preparing for my application an ASEAN-based program, I had nearly planned my weeks as to what to do, what to rehearse, what to bring, what to remember, and the like. It was all me. It would sound normal to an average guy for someone to do tasks and decisions all alone, but ever since I graduated college, I learned to completely rely and surrender everything to God. All my decisions, plans, and thoughts are with Him. He is in control and I am not. But after getting stressed out by certain events in life within the past year, I unknowingly took hold of the steering wheel where the car is my life and let God just sit at the back, not knowing that I am slowly running towards deeper, harder paths.

But God is just. He is just to help me see my faults through the effects of my decision-making and planning. I procrastinated in writing my policy paper, which was one of the requirements in the program; I was overconfident in the qualifying exam that I didn’t review that much, which led me to getting an unpleasing, but passing, score; I didn’t rehearse well with my song choice, which led me to forget some of the lyrics during the actual performance, and I was anxious and miserable throughout. I badly wanted to get accepted that I realized how miserable I was with all the things that I was doing. Poor decisions caused me to be anxious and overthink.

God is also compassionate. Because I saw as to how messy my life was without His guidance, I saw how wretched my heart was. I asked God that if I would prioritize other things over Him, then may He not let me get into the program. Lo and behold, I was rejected. It was the happiest thing that I experienced. Yes, the happiest. Why, you may ask? It’s because I didn’t want to go on with this marvelous program alone. I know that the phrase: “I will get things right with God, if chosen” will not be the ultimate answer to continue on with my quality time with Jesus. I genuinely praise God for letting me fail because this wouldn’t have been a testimony as to how God helped me succeed but it would’ve been a testimony as to how I only needed to believe in myself and not rely on anyone else to get what I wanted. This was not what I had wanted at all. What I had wanted was to please God through the program. My initial goal ever since I learned of this program was for God to use me in sharing His Word to people who I may meet, if chosen.

'When Will You Learn To Surrender' Note

I found this little piece of gem while cleaning a portion of my room. Who knew that this little note would help me remember God’s mercy and love in my life? © Jedd Francis De Luna

 

I found Proverbs 23:26 a year and a half ago when I was facing a dilemma in major life decisions. God revealed to me what I needed to do through that verse and he is slowly letting me understand how vile my heart was, how lost I was, and what it truly meant to surrender everything to Him.

I can honestly say that I am still quite unstable with my walk with God. I have been idle and dry in my bible reading and daily devotions, but through different people (e.g. my small group, my ministry), I am learning to see how wonderful it is to get to know and experience God every single day. I have also been teaching myself to slowly pause and stop posting unnecessary stuff (e.g. opinions on current Philippine political issues, ridiculing those in power for their political decisions, and the like) on social media to decrease the negativity that I may or may not have been bringing through opinions and posts.

Indeed, I am a work in progress, as always, but one thing is certain: He is, has always been, and will always be with me throughout the journey. May I learn the art of total surrender and may He fully take over the driver’s seat of my life.

Please continue to pray for spiritual revival and strength as I continue to lean on Jesus!

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Hold On To Jesus: The CCF Black Gospel Sunday 2018

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CCF Exalt Team for Black Gospel Sunday 2018

With the Black Gospel Sunday 2018 Exalt Team! © Joyce Amonoy

It’s been nearly two months since I last trained with the CCF (Christ’s Commission Fellowship) Adult Choir because of personal commitments, and I was unsure as to what was going on with the practices because I can’t seem to find any updates. I’m still new, have only rehearsed with them a handful of times, and only know a handful of people – most were only acquaintances. Then I saw a post about the upcoming Choir Training in relation to the upcoming Black Gospel Sunday celebration. The Black Gospel Sunday celebration was no stranger to me. Even back when the congregation was in St. Francis Square, CCF already had a yearly Black Gospel celebration. I always see the stage packed and full of singers, and of course Ray Sidney, who would always lead the worship during that grand celebration. It was always fun to see a different way as to how we can worship Jesus in the church. I was curious and was interested in singing with the choir for that joyous celebration.

For the choir, our training would be led by Ken Taylor. I didn’t actually know who he was before the workshop started but he looked familiar. I didn’t do any background check on him (which I usually do when it comes to various speakers, regardless if it’s a conference or a training) and went on my way to the workshop, which started at one in the afternoon. Then Ken (now I call him Tito Ken) came in. I didn’t really expect much because I don’t know him that well – or at all, rather.

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Hindi po talaga kami nag-practice kasi may pa-Zumba po si Mayor HAHAHA! (We didn’t really practice at all, we just did Zumba instead HAHAHA!) © Michelle Moscosa Tan

He started our session by giving us a short background of who he is and what he is doing. Never did I imagine that Tito Ken was living in Japan for over how many decades already. He lived with his family in Japan since and has been coming back to the Philippines, yearly, to help out in the Black Gospel celebration in CCF. I never noticed him because in my mind, whenever the CCF Choir would come out and sing in any occasion, it would always be conducted by [Kuya] Jomar Ferreria, the CCF Choir’s conductor who was already conducting the adult choir since I was still a part of the kids’ choir. Tito Ken and his wife were musicians even before they got to know Jesus personally. He was a jazz pianist and his wife, Bola, was a singer. The Lord called them to Japan to evangelize and minister to the Japanese, so that’s what they did. In the early ‘90s, “Sister Act”, which starred Whoopi Goldberg hit the charts and Black Gospel was on its peak. Japanese people were interested in Black Gospel and thus started the idea of using Black Gospel to share Jesus with the Japanese. Ever since then, the Taylors have been ministering to the Japanese through Black Gospel and has slowly but surely been an instrument in making a mark to the latter.

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During the Choir Workshop, Ken Taylor teaches the different harmonies per voice. © Jedd Francis De Luna

He then refreshed us after a five-minute break with the song “Praise the Lord with Me” (which is often one of the song choices during Black Gospel celebration in CCF) and taught us a new song called “Grateful” by Kurt Carr. I learned the steps that they often use in “Praise the Lord with Me” (which was a blast, by the way) and moved on to “Grateful” where Tito Ken emphasized why he wanted us to try the song out. He explained that the song, despite its tune being distinctly familiar with the Blues genre (which would depict a range of emotions – usually expressed with anguish, sadness, or despair), the lyrics on the other hand would emphasize the opposite – to be filled with gratitude because of what Jesus did, is doing, and will do in our lives.

Ken Taylor Talking During Workshop

Ken Taylor giving his introduction during the Choir Workshop last July 14. © Michelle Moscosa Tan

He elaborated later on that “Grateful” was personal. “Can I be grateful for that? It’s a hard picture for me to look at.” he uttered, showing a photo of his wife’s resting place in a Japanese cemetery. Bola (or Tita Bola as I would’ve called her) passed away three years ago after battling with advanced ovarian cancer. Tito Ken said that instead of using cancer as an excuse, Tita Bola would continue to let her family and other people fix their eyes on Jesus. “She taught me how not to do it my way, but to go to the Source. She taught me the life lessons of not to be fearful, but to live by faith. Not to panic, but to have the peace of God, and not to worry, but learn how to worship,” Tito Ken explained to us.

What struck me the most (and almost made me tear up as well) is when he shared to us what he would think he would do after Tita Bola’s passing. “[Y]ou know, I wasn’t sure if I should stay in Japan. My kids all have gone, and then God took home my wife, and I was saying ‘There’s really no more reason for me to be in Japan’. Really…except for God. One month after Bola passed away, this is what God revealed to me – everyone would’ve understood if I went back to the US and left.”

He then continued to show us a picture of a thousand people in a choir-like formation with him looking at them. He then continued, “[t]his was 1,300 Japanese Gospel singers and we have been planning for it. One month after Bola passed away, I had to be so far back by myself, standing, and there were three rafters up there. It was a lonely place for me and I felt very, very alone, except that God said: ‘Look at all these Japanese’. And it became very clear to me that my life, my calling is to be faithful to God.” When Tito Ken said those words, it made me think about my mission for Jesus and if I have been faithful to God after trials and struggles of my own. ‘Have I been faithful in the places that he has been putting me, or was I only complaining because it wasn’t within my comfort zone,’ I thought to myself. I saw in Tito Ken’s eyes that he loved his wife and I also saw his love for Jesus and his commitment to God’s calling in his life.

The Choir With Ken Taylor After Workshop

Ken Taylor and Ray Sidney along with the CCF Choir after the workshop © CCF Exalt

After that workshop, we (the choir) met with Tito Ken two more times within the week for the actual rehearsals for the Black Gospel celebration and would study the songs. From vocalizations, harmonies, blockings, and technical rehearsals, we would do our best for the Lord. Then Saturday came. It was hours away before the Black Gospel celebration. It was during those days that I was able to get to know more people within the choir. Slowly but surely, I have met, talked, and laughed with a number of people. I was able to get to know them better and even share common interests and countless stories. I felt at home – finally. I was out of my shell and was confidently engaging with them.

Prompters and Choir with Ken Taylor and Ray Sidney

The CCF Choir and Prompters with Ray Sidney and Ken Taylor last July 19 © CCF Exalt

It was Sunday. I had woken up eerily as I get ready for over 13 hours of dancing and singing with the entire congregation for four worship services. We were all dressed up in our dark denims, our plain white tees, and our black Exalt jackets as we arrived at the CCF Center for soundcheck. We also joined the Saints Dance Ministry in their warm-up and stretching exercises (out of curiosity). We lifted and surrendered all our preparations to God and sung our hearts out.

Warm-Up of Saints and Choir

Warm-up po talaga ito ng Saints Dance Ministry pero naaliw kami kaya sumali na rin kami! (This was actually the warm-up of the Saints Dance Ministry but we were so amused that we decided to join in as well!) © Jedd Francis De Luna

We were invited by Dr. Peter Tan-chi, the Senior Pastor, to attend the first worship service after singing. In his message, he talked about being a ‘peacemaker’ and how to have peace with God. The answer? With Jesus. How? By faith – we need to start trusting God instead of ourselves. He said that a peacemaker takes initiative (Matthew 5:23-24); a peacemaker speaks the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15); a peacemaker asks for forgiveness and forgives others (Colossians 3:13); and a peacemaker reconciles people to God and one another (2 Corinthians 5:18, Matthew 5:9). What struck me the most is when Pastor Peter gave the question: “When people look at us, do they see God?” Sometimes, we would often fail to see that even the minutest of our actions would affect other people’s perception of Jesus, since we should be ambassadors of Christ after all.

Throughout the day, four services of intense passion, power, (perspiration because the lights on stage were so hot despite the Main Hall being so cold) and perseverance kept us from straining our voice. I had so much fun throughout the day that I would gladly continue on for at least four more services before my body would ache all night long.

Men of CCF Choir with Ken Taylor

Some of the men of the CCF Choir with Ken Taylor © Jedd Francis De Luna

During in-betweens, the choir would often do three things: we would either (1) eat, because the food given throughout the day was so sumptuous; (2) chat with each other and would get to know each other more; see how are they with work, family, and would ask if the harmony that they know is correct; and the crowd favorite is (3) TAKING LOADS OF SELFIES! Believe me when I say we would take selfies while sprinting our way to the backstage. We even have one along the hallway near the backstage doors because we thought that it looked like we were in an airport (#ChoirGoesToDubai HAHAHA). We would take numerous selfies with each other, with Tito Ken, and with Ray. It also warmed my heart when they brought out cakes for the birthday celebrants from May to July. They sang “Happy Birthday” to us and of course, we all took a slice of those wonderful cakes. It made me see how strong the choir is as a family. I was, indeed, filled with joy.

CCF Choir July Celebrants

The cake was a super sweet gesture! Loving this family! © Divine Grace Marquez-Laciste

Selfies of CCF Choir

The CCF Selfie Ministry Choir! HAHA! You can see how every smile illuminates! © Charlislah Amper, Jo Ann Tolentino Castro, Jedd Francis De Luna, Jun Jacob, Divine Grace Marquez-Laciste, and Mardy Razon

Throughout our performances, what hit me close to home was the song “My Tribute”. Why? Because of two things: First is, I remember that whenever Tito Ken and Ray would go to Manila for Black Gospel Sunday celebrations, this song would often be sung by Ray and Tita Bola. Only this time, Tita Ayen Veria-Amargo sang the female lead with Ray. I would look at Tito Ken looking at them and would feel the nostalgia and how he felt. I know that he is secured in God and to see him stand faithfully before God, leading us through the song four times, was an awestruck moment (that almost made me tear up again). Second is, as I reflect on the song and after what my attitude is with God, I realized that God doesn’t deserve the things I gave Him after He has given so much for me. I have been trying to boost self-confidence by boosting myself, but I fear that it would lead me to boosting arrogance instead of Jesus. For weeks, I know that I have not been putting Jesus in the center. Just like the lyrics in the song, if I gain any praise, whether it be through my voice, my actions, my writings, or my decisions, let it go to Jesus.

Jedd and Tito Ken Taylor

So much love and respect for Tito Ken Taylor! One of the most humble persons that I’ve ever met! You can really see Jesus in Tito Ken! ありがとう、テイラー先生! © Jedd Francis De Luna

Jedd with Ray Sidney

The versatility of his voice is extraordinary! So glad to meet you Tito (TITO???) Ray Sidney! You were such a blessing to be with! © Jedd Francis De Luna

After that celebration, it dawned upon me how gracious and glorious God is in my life and how he uses other people to lead me back and closer to Him. He used the choir to help me understand the importance of unity in diversity – different voices for one purpose: Jesus! He also used Tito Ken and Ray in molding and honing our skills as singers for God’s Kingdom and to let us understand that in spite of different callings, we are to serve Jesus and to always continue to be faithful, no matter how hard and difficult circumstances may be. Lord, you are indeed an awesome God! Let us continue to hold on to Jesus! KU JESU BAMBELELA!

 

 

UPDATE [July 24, 2018; 11:34PM]: If you guys missed the celebration, here’s the video of the Praise and Worship last Sunday! Turn the volume up and celebrate Jesus with us!

Jeremiah 29:11: A contextual analysis

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It says in Jeremiah 29:11 (New International Version), “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This is my life verse. My second, actually, after 1 Timothy 4:12, which tackles the youth battling out low expectations from adults and taking the step up to responsibility and challenges. But what is Jeremiah 29:11, the second most used life verse1, really all about?

Jeremiah 29:11 as my life verse

Before we dive into the specifics and technicalities, let me share to you why this verse became close to my heart: you see, there came a time in my life where I learned to doubt God. And these doubts turned to despair, and eventually despair turned into disbelief. I was questioning God and His existence. I had lost hope because of challenges and events that have been occurring in my life in and out of college. But through a simple scroll down Facebook, I saw this bible verse shared by an old high school classmate. That really didn’t hit me in the guts until I started thinking about it more and more. I was in the state of going to agnosticism. I felt abandoned and alone, going into that short state of depression despite continuously smiling and trying to make people laugh (to prove to myself that I don’t deserve to feel melancholy for the rest of my life. But this verse helped me to hang on and to continue to hope; to never fret or overthink about the future – my future – that I can never predict. And up to this write-up, this is still my life verse.

Jeremiah 29:11 in context

Now, what does this verse really mean? Well, the book of Jeremiah, based on my understanding is that Jeremiah had predicted the “Fall of Jerusalem” because of the havoc and chaos that the people have been doing. They have submitted themselves to evil and have forgotten all about God. So what does that have to do with 29:11? Well, let’s go a chapter back. In Jeremiah 28 comes Hananiah son of Azzur, a prophet…or so we thought. He was boldly proclaiming that God was going to free Israel from Babylon in two years (Jeremiah 28:11), but God revealed to Jeremiah that it was a big fat lie. So what happened to Hananiah? Seven months had passed and he died (Jeremiah 28:17). Bummer.

 

So what now? Well, in Jeremiah 29:5-7, God instructed people to build houses, settle down, marry and have sons and daughters and increase in number and He also said to obey the authority of Babylon, which during that time was being ruled by King Nebuchadnezzar II, who was also considered as a brutal, powerful, and ambitious king. But Nebuchadnezzar also served as “God’s instrument of judgment on Judah or its idolatry, unfaithfulness, and disobedience (Jeremiah 25:9)”2. You could possibly think that this couldn’t get any worse, but if you look at Jeremiah 29:10, God is telling them that their people would be able to go back home after seven decades. This means that the current generation of that time won’t make it back home alive, or there’s that super small chance of getting back alive, but you’re now as fragile as a wine glass.

So wait, how does that make any of us feel better? Well, God was basically saying to trust Him. He knows the situation sucks right now but He has our best interest in mind, and that’s what the next verse is talking about: Jeremiah 29:11. God used that verse to let them understand that all hope is not lost. According to Mary DeMuth3, she said that we must “remember that the best growth comes through persevering through trials, not escaping them entirely. And when we learn perseverance, we find surprising joy” meaning that the hope that God is talking about here is that in “the midst of your suffering, cling to Jeremiah 29:11, but cling to it for the right reason: not in the false hope that God will take away your suffering, but in the true, gospel confidence that he will give you hope in the midst of it.4

Final words

Throughout the trials and tribulations of life, we must always remember that God is always with us, whether we experience delights or trials. The trials and tribulations that He let us face are not to let us suffer but for us to realize how we have been astray and how we’re getting lost. God wants us to realize the importance of His “rules” in preventing anarchic events in our personal lives. Accepting Christ does not mean that we get to live a pleasant sin-free, worry-free life. The Christian life is not difficult, it is indeed humanly impossible. But what changes? Our response, our character, and our heart. We become warriors and soldiers, tougher and stronger than ever. But God is with us throughout and God won’t let us go astray. Why? It’s all because of His love for us. And to experience God’s unconditional love is one of the most amazing experiences, for me. So, let’s continue to hope and to hang on. God isn’t finished with us just yet.

 


Author’s Note: This was actually our assignment for our small group and I wanted you guys to understand my insights from my research and opinion. Hope you like it!

SOURCES:

1http://www.coylindsey.com/2013/03/20/whats-the-meaning-of-your-life-verse-jeremiah-2911/

2https://www.gotquestions.org/Nebuchadnezzar.html

3http://www.marydemuth.com/jeremiah-29-11/

4http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/christian-trends/stop-taking-jeremiah-29-11-out-of-context.html

Doing What I Love Most Again

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It’s been a while since I last updated my blog. I really have this habit of not being consistent with many things, but in the very end, I go back to them once again. I had abandoned nearly three personal blogs because I wanted to revamp my site and not let people see how inconsistent I am with my posts. But from what I’ve learned, I shouldn’t be ashamed of my mistakes and shortcomings. Hey, these things are what help me grow more and more, not only as a writer but as a person.

 

Twenty one months of silence will end. Sure, I may not blog that often but just like everyone, I’ve got to start somewhere, right? But I think that one big reason why I lose motivation could be because of lack of priority and discipline, or because I really find writing entries to be time consuming. But nevertheless, writing helps me say what I want to say and helps me ease out the “dramas” of life. It has, is, and will be my passion. I love writing, and so do many people. We just need to find out the right words to say and how to express ourselves. I am still a writer in progress but by God’s grace, I will be able to excel and might even regularly fill up this blog with numerous entries. And since I also don’t believe that you should have long blog posts as a requirement for people to read your work, I’ll just end it here.

 

Happy reading…again!