Lifting my head up high

Psalm 3:3 (NLT)

But you, O Lord, are a shield around me;
    you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.

When my wife graduated from high school, their graduation song has been met with some criticism from school heads because their setup did not include a minus one. There was a guitar player, and someone was striking a beatbox to maintain a rhythm. Their batch chose the song High by The Speaks featuring Barbie Almalbis, which was pretty famous during that time.

I have not attended her graduation since we were not in a relationship during that time, but I attended some of their practice sessions before their ceremony. They were really into the song. Aside from being an ear candy one-hit-wonder with easy notes and chords to follow, the message of the song was simple and precise: holding each other’s head up high, that is, to help others overcome their sadness, their challenges, and their problems.

Our teachers said that one of the principals then was furious as it seemed to have been a rock concert in the formal venue at school. For other batches, it was said that the school heads started to check the lyrics and the genre of the songs that graduates would choose.

For me, the song struck a familiar chord as I would often hear the words “lift my head high” in church. Unfortunately, I often mistake this as similar to the phrase “lifting my hands,” as if the action of lifting one’s head is an act of worship or piety before God.

I would only understand the real meaning of this metaphor in later life, especially in the third Psalm, which was written by David when he was being hunted by his son Absalom to kill him. Prior to the text cited above, David writes, “Lord, I have so many enemies; so many are against me.” So many are saying, ‘God will never rescue him!’ (Psalm 3:1-2, NLT)”

Yet he got his resolve as he acknowledged that God was a shield around him, and in his deepest moments, God is able to lift up his head. Oftentimes, when we are crying in desperation, we tend to bow and sometimes even bury our faces in our hands. We cry and sob, our heads lowered, and at times when fatigue subdues us, we sleep to forget the sadness.

While crying or being in despair is not a sin, God is there to hold our heads up when it is necessary. But sometimes, we expect a giant hand to be the one to lift our heads up. During these moments, we often question if God really does care and when His help will come.

But we do not need to wait for the supernatural hand of God to come down from heaven and save us. As he felt helpless awaiting death from his son’s hands, David was led to sing to God. In verse 4, we see how he declares that God hears him before the interlude. And afterward, in verses 5 and 6, David emphasizes that he woke up in safety.

What was God’s way of lifting his head up? It might have been his soldiers. It might have been nature that halted the way of his killer. It might even be something supernatural. Yet the clear thing is that God is there to lift his head high, rescue him from his sadness, and preserve his life.

One of the modern contemporary songs that I enjoyed these past years is the short chorus of Surrounded (Fight My Battles). It is a simple song emphasizing two things: worshipping God is how we should fight our battles, and even though it may seem that our enemies surround us, we are abundantly surrounded by God’s presence.

Perhaps in my high school, there will be no other graduation song similar to that of High in the years to come, by the message of the song remains. We can be the ones to surround our friends to help them in their need, as a sign of God’s surrounding power, lifting their heads up high.

Appreciating others as made in God’s image whether we share the faith or not

Matthew 5:16 (NLT)

In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

I recently read a post from a friend on Facebook bearing the argument that it is not appropriate for Roman Catholics to fellowship with evangelicals as they differ greatly in faith and doctrine, going as far as saying that Bible studies with Protestants should be avoided. I was astonished about the post because of two things: the proceedings of the Vatican II, which also included the Novus Ordo, intensified interest for ecumenical relationships between churches, and that the current Pope has been nothing less of appreciative of this brotherhood among Christians albeit having clear boundaries about eschatology and hermeneutics.

During the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, the Lutheran church, together with some Protestant groups and the Roman Catholic Church, presented points of unity to acknowledge the common justification of all Christians regardless of denomination or background.

Coming from a conservative Christian background, the latter has not been met appreciatively, especially of my brothers and sisters in my local church. Therefore, I do understand the hostility of my friend on Facebook towards evangelicals. Aside from the clear communication gap, for too long evangelical churches have referred to Roman Catholics as unbelievers and mainly consider them as those to whom believers should not be yoked with as mentioned in 2 Corinthians 6:14, which reads, “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? (NLT).”

I do think, in my heart of hearts and of my understanding of Paul’s reminder to the Corinthians, is not to sin like those who do not believe in Christ. Unfortunately, the mismatch would have been the setting here in the Philippines where Roman Catholics enjoy being the majority and Protestants and evangelicals seem to compete for relevance.

Due to the pandemic, I have settled on attending online church since last year, and for the past two months, I have been yearning for the faith background that I had. I searched for a church that would give me just that and have been attending live services from Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I felt at home with the same faith tradition in which I was raised and the right mix of hymns and contemporary music. But I was struck by the sermon last Sunday.

On his continuing series on the Book of Genesis, the pastor touched on the genealogy of Adam and Eve’s children, namely, Cain and Seth. While Seth’s bloodline is hailed to have borne Enoch, who walked with God without dying, Methuselah, the oldest person recorded in the Bible, and Noah, who is well-known for his deeds, Cain’s family has been shown to have a slight resemblance to his arrogance and committing murder.

Yet the pastor pointed out verses 20 to 22 of chapter 4 of Genesis, which reads, “Adah gave birth to Jabal, who was the first of those who raise livestock and live in tents. His brother’s name was Jubal, the first of all who play the harp and flute.  Lamech’s other wife, Zillah, gave birth to a son named Tubal-Cain. He became an expert in forging tools of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain had a sister named Naamah.”

It shows that God has gifted even the bloodline of the first murderer, and even though readers of this account may be biased towards their family, the gifts bestowed on Cain’s descendants proved that God creates all human beings in His own image. The pastor went on to insist that the arts and culture of other people must be appreciated as they were also concocted by people whom God Himself created.

I have two points here: First, instead of being dismissive and critical of people of other faiths and no faith, it would not hurt to appreciate them first as created beings of the God we believe in. Second, that we are still called to share the Gospel in the midst of appreciating these people in the midst of the differences as long as the immoral and the sinful things are not tolerated or emulated.

During this pandemic, many people have manifested some things that were not expected both from believers or not, showing that despite humans being made in God’s image, we are still fragile and prone to sin. Yet, the diversity of God’s creation gives hope for better days to come as science and the wisdom He bestowed on His people help in alleviating the problem and the suffering of humankind.

Asking God for the daily bread

1 Timothy 2:1 (NLT)

“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.”

I started this mini-project months ago when I had an inkling to write about my spiritual experiences throughout the pandemic. Unfortunately, my website had some issues, and I have been subjected to various hacking and security-compromising attacks. Until now, I am somewhat livid as to how they happened. Yet I desire composure, and if it had to leave me starting from the bottom, it should the be the way.

I am writing this as our city, Iloilo starts another period of suffering and struggle. After months of somewhat enjoying a more accessible approach with the COVID-19 lockdowns, we were suddenly placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), more heightened than the modified classification we had just a day prior.

It was marked with various reactions online. Most people analyzed the issue due to our Mayor’s rant about how local governments from the provinces are often disregarded in being informed about restrictions compared to those in the capital. At the same time, the failure in communicating the issue well erroneously issued the lockdown on a later date, then redacting the statement and clarifying that the classification will start that day.

The clamor and the issue are understandable. As much as the lockdowns are placed to protect the people, citizens also have economic needs that are not met easily when restrictions are provided. More so, the country has been under the most extended lockdown in the world with no sign of decreasing the cases with a looming spread of another more communicable variant. While vaccination rollouts remain to be underway, targets for herd immunity remain to be desired.

The isolation has brought me to listen to various sources of inspiration, one of which is the daily morning prayer of the Canterbury Cathedral led by the Dean. A part of the service includes the Lord’s prayer, a constant reminder of how a Christian’s attitude towards praying should be.

A great part of the prayer taught by Jesus is petitioning God for our own benefit. Asking for supplication through mentioning our daily bread is beseeching God’s grace for our personal needs.

Yet Paul’s letter to Timothy speaks about interceding for others, praying to God to supply them for their needs. Moreover, the exciting part is that this is the part in which Paul explicitly instructs the young pastor about how worship should be. The first part that he said was to forget oneself instead of placing others’ needs before yours as you approach God in prayer.

Is this contradictory to what Jesus has taught? I see where some believers dismiss Paul as an apostle come from as he is seemingly changing the messages of Christ. But he follows up on the Savior’s instructions, taking it further to expand the message. It would also be wise to understand that Jesus was making an example about how to pray, and His usage of the word “our” would signify a collective idea. Also, the very first part of the prayer does the “forgetting oneself” formula by declaring God’s glory above all else.

In times of turmoil such as this, it is natural for humans to disregard others and magnify personal needs. While this is natural, it sometimes falls into an ‘us-vs-them situation and divides us more. Accountability is essential, and we should desire and call for that. But as an act of worship, I think it would also help to pray for each other, devoting to serve one another, and unite to survive the pandemic as God enables. Amen.

Hating Evil

Proverbs 8:13 (NIV)
“All who fear the Lord will hate evil. Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance, corruption and perverse speech.”

I start this series of scriptural musings with a familiar verse widely shared among platforms in response to the national and international events that would be of great contrast to this verse. To select a verse for this reflection, I utilize an online randomized that returns a query with a single verse. Surprisingly, this verse reflects what I deeply feel as I write these words.

The year 2020 was so unpredictable with numerous events that media could only refer to as ‘unprecedented:’ the COVID-19 crisis, the economic collapse, the rise of hatred and violence, and other human woes. As many struggled to keep their faith and focus on what they have in their bubbles, others have seen their beliefs grow, cultivated by the sheer impatience and helplessness that the physical distancing and quarantine rules force on them.

For any person of faith, this is a happy thought. There is a longstanding culture among the faithful that those who find themselves in need of a higher power to guide them would also seek righteousness. This is in line with that person’s “fear of the LORD,” a concept often misunderstood yet profoundly important for a person to initiate a relationship with God.

This fear is of reverence in contrast with the fear associated with danger or misfortune. To fear God is to see His greatness above everything else and to aspire to fathom the unfathomable power of God.

The proverb tells about how those who fear God would hate evil. I see this as equivalent to the notion that simply hating evil would immediately mean honoring God. We do not indulge in evil things in fear of retribution; we hate evil because God abhors it.

When a person fears God, there is less tendency to glorify themselves above the creator. This diminishes pride and arrogance. This takes away personal credit and promotes personal abandonment. This removes man from the center and places the Creator into perspective.

As man’s pride is decreased, so is the tendency to be corrupted. Man can never be too powerful enough to do all things. They will refrain from expelling perverse speech. There is no need for that since they see others as equal, all under heaven.

Human beings have been scrambling, trying to find ways to honor God, and they make all things: sacrifice, service, offerings, and others. But fearing God is hating evil; hating what God hates makes us aligned in Him. And though the world may not see this as a great effort at all, it must be enough to those who yearn for honoring Him. Hating evil and all of its succedents is placing God at the center of our lives.