I just did a little tinkering with my pen today. I’m so excited with this year’s commemoration of the 500th year of the Reformation.

Dabbing Luther
Dabbing Luther

Resilience: Rooted in God


Last year, I was able to make a trip to Legazpi City, Albay, Bicol—southwest part of Luzon. A strong typhoon just passed by the area so when I set my feet, I was welcomed by the darkness due to the citywide power outage. During my entire stay, I hoped for a chance to see the Mayon Volcano’s full beauty. But she remained elusive as she hid herself behind the clouds. However, I was able to stroll around the place to visit some of the region’s famous landmarks. A Bicol trip won’t be complete without visiting the Cagsawa Ruins. The place still holds the remnants of what supposed to be a Franciscan church buried under the ground after Mayon’s violent eruption in 1814. The event claimed many lives and the cold church belfry testifies to that grim catastrophe.

However, the Bicolanos now look to the tower as a symbol of the local people’s resilience. Aside from living under the shadow of the fatal beauty, the region also suffers from frequent storm visits. The rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of the recent storm serve as a testimony to the folks’ attitude towards calamity.

How do we define ‘resilience’? It is the ability to recover quickly after something bad has happened. Given this definition, the world put too much confidence on the human soul. Some settle for the Stoic resolve, and sing, “que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be.” Others tap sentimentality to provoke a sense of comfort. But all boils down to this—man should muster the strength that is in him to be able to ride along the tides of life. Just believe in yourself. But, such confidence is hanging on a thin thread. What if I start to doubt my ability? Where should I go? When circumstances corner me like a pack of wolves, to whom should I call for refuge? Such foundation is built upon sinking sand.

Conversely, those who are in Christ are standing on solid ground. The Christian’s resilience has its foundation in God. But this does not mean that the Christian will not be assailed by worries. After all, we are pilgrims who are still on the way. There will be moments when we will complain to God like the prophet Habakkuk: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2). Far be it from us to shake our fists at God and blame Him for all the bad things that are happening to us! At this point, we should repent of our doubts and cry out to God, “I believe, help my unbelief!” There will also be times when sin will knock us down. Just look at the Lord’s disciples. Even while they enjoyed a close communion with our Lord, they fled and left our Lord at the night of his arrest (Mark 14:50). These are the very same disciples who said, “even if we die, we will never disown you” (Matthew 26:35).

They got knocked down. But, they got up again (pardon the Chumbawamba reference). At the face of an impending crisis, Habakkuk spoke of his joy in our God of salvation. After our Lord’s resurrection, the disciples became bold witnesses who proclaimed the gospel. It pleased the Lord to have these weaknesses of His servants be written and preserved for posterity so we could see His glorious work in these weak vessels. It’s like as if He’s telling us, “If I restored them into life in spite of their failings, what makes you different?” And yet, this makes us different from the world on how it sees resilience. Instead of just keep on pushing and believing in ourselves, we are reminded to lose confidence in ourselves. Instead, we find ourselves being redeemed by the Lord. The will to go on is not harnessed by reaching down inside our selves but by reaching toward our Father in heaven. We are fortified not by our sheer prowess but by the strength of our Almighty God.

Well, as for example, we could look at the life of the apostle Paul who said that he is “able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). This is the Paul who received forty lashes less one from the Jews five times. Thrice he was beaten with rods. Once he was stoned. He was shipwrecked three times and remained afloat for one whole day (and I complain about the daily traffic). There’s danger whenever he went. He experienced “toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). Yet, this is the very same Paul who said that he is “troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (4:8-9). Why? It is because he knew the grace of the Lord. Much more, the Lord knew him. (5:11). And thus he also knew “this light momentary affliction is preparing us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (4:17).

This is the heavenward perspective that the apostle Paul would like to instill in us. “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). In Romans 8, Paul listed the things we already possess and the things we will later receive fully. And because God is true and faithful, we can truly hope in Him. Hope in God fuels our resilience knowing that “in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

One thing is certain in this side of the cross—troubles and problems will always be on our way. The apostle Peter forewarns us: “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Even our Lord has said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). But, after he gave a warning, he assured us “But take courage; I have overcome the world.” He conquered sin and death. He endured all His sufferings for the joy that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). And that is why Peter continued in his letter, “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13). Why should we rejoice? “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made live in the spirit” (3:18). What is there to rejoice about? “After we have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called us to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us” (5:10).

We look past our troubles and know that in the midst of them God is working in us for our good and His glory. Our resilience lies in our assurance that God will deliver all of His promises. Our resilience is rooted in God’s faithfulness. And this resilience is not from us, it is not found in and of ourselves, but from the One who endured the cross. So, we press on and “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

We can look at Christ and say to ourselves, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10). Just as we share in His sufferings, we will also share in His comfort. And because we are of one Body, we share with the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in faith. And to the extent of our resources and abilities, we are encouraged to build each other up and to comfort others as the Lord comforts us (2 Corinthians 1:4-7).

Even though we live in the shadow of this valley, we can sing “With Christ in my vessel, I could smile at the storm.” And in our battles and struggles, we could sing along with the psalmist, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

P. S. As of this writing, the rehabilitating efforts in Bicol are still ongoing. Let’s continue to pray for the welfare of our fellowmen in the areas that were affected by the calamity. May they also find hope and comfort in our Lord Jesus Christ.

“I Am Not My Own”: The Heart of Reformed Catholicity


“In the end, what is at stake in pursuing biblical, Christ-centered renewal along a catholic-Reformed path of retrieval? Nothing less than a reality at the heart of the Christian faith. In the words of the apostle Paul: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh l live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Gal. 2:10). In the deeply countercultural words of the Heidelberg Catechism, ‘I am not my own, but belong . . . to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.’ We live in a consumerist, tinkering, MTD [that is, moralistic therapeutic deistic] culture that is endlessly preoccupied with the self, its own needs, its own rights, and its own attempts to stand above history and tradition. It is a restless age, and Augustine was right in praying, ‘You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.’ The good news of the gospel is that we are not left to the restless, barren, MTD world in which we are the center. By the Spirit, we are displaced—we enter into a new drama, embrace a new identity—one in which we call God ‘Abba! Father!’ (Rom. 8:31) as we find our life in Christ—Christ who lives in us by faith. Let us not settle for the ‘halfway good news,’ which is correlated with and accommodated to our own cultural captivities. Let us recognize that our true identity is this: we have been crucified with Christ, and we are not our own; our true life is found in him. For our only comfort in life and in death is that we belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”

J. Todd Billings, “Afterword: Rediscovering the Catholic-Reformed Tradition for Today,” in Michael Allen and Scott Swain, “Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation” (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015), pp.160-161

Hope for Restoration

Satan always wanted to lead God’s beloved into destruction. Our Lord Jesus told Peter that “Satan demanded to have [him].” But Christ prayed for him that his faith may not fail (Luke 22:31-32).

Thrice did Peter deny the Lord. But thrice did he also affirm his love to Him (John 18:15-27; 21:15-17).

In the same way, we are like Peter. We will fall at times but we will also rise. Isn’t it comforting to know that Satan has no power over us and that Christ prayed for us (John 17)? Now, we can live according to that comfort.

“Where is the Patis?”


Most of my friends know that I am very fond of our local “tinolang manok.” In essence, it is a spicy dish of chicken and ginger soup. One sip of the rich hot broth could evoke vivid imagery of being at home. Also, the sumptuous meal won’t be complete without a heaping serving of steamed rice and the patis (or, fish sauce) in a saucer as a dip.

It has been said that you could not separate a people from their culture. In the case of tinola and patis, you could not separate the Filipino from his food. I think this is true. I’ve heard stories of Filipino tourists and workers who longed for a taste of Filipino food abroad. Literature bears witness to this merger. Below is one of my favorite essays on the Filipino culture:

Where is the Patis?

By Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil

Travel has become the great Filipino dream. In the same way what an American dreams of becoming a millionaire or an English boy dreams of going to one of the great universities, the Filipino dreams of going abroad. His most constant vision is that of himself as a tourist.

To visit Hong Kong, Tokyo, and other cities of Asia, per chance, to catch a glimpse of Rome, Paris, or London and to go to America (even if only for a week in a fly-specked motel in California) in the sum of all delights.

Yet having left the Manila International Airport in a pink cloud of despedidas and sampaguita garlands and pabilin, the dream turns into nightmare very quickly. But why? Because the first bastion of the Filipino spirit was the palate. And in all the palaces and flesh pots and skycrapers of that magic world called “abroad” there is no patis to be have.

Consider the Pinoy abroad, he has discarded barong tagalog or “polo” for a sleek, dark western suit. He takes to the habiliments from Tlong Kong Brooks Brothers or Savile Row with the greatest of ease. He has also shed the casual informality of manner that is characteristically Filipino. He gives himself the airs of cosmopolite to the credit-card born. He is extravagantly courteous (especially in a borrowed language) and has taken to hand-kissing and too plenty of American “D’you mind?”‘s.

He hardly misses the heat, the native accent of Tagalog or llonggo or the company of his brown-skinned cheerful compatriots. He takes, like a duck to water, to the skyscrapers, the temperate climate, the strange landscape and the fabled refinement of another world. How nice, after all, to be away from old RP for a change!

But as he sits down to meal, no matter how sumptuous, his heart sinks. His stomach juices, he discovers, are much less cosmopolitan than the rest of him. They are much less adaptable that his sartorial or social habits. They have remained in that dear barrio in Bulacan or in that little town in llocos andnothing that is set on the table before him can summon them to London or Paris.

There he is in the most expensive restaurant in Europe, surrounded by beautiful women and impeccably dressed men bending over their rich meal. Waiters in black ties and tails stand at his elbow ready to cater to his smallest wish. An array of glass, silver, china, and artistic blooms is set before him. An elegant wagon of hors d’oeuvres approaches: pink salmon from Scotland, golden English herring, sensuous anchovies from France, green salad from a Belgian farm, mounds of Italian pasta, Russian caviar on ice, melon halves, stuffed eggs, shrimp smothered in piquant red sauce.

At that precise moment the Pinoy is overcome with a yearning for a mound of white rice, a bowl of sinigang and a little saucer of patis. What would happen, he asked himself, if I shouted for sinigang na bangus? The thought that perishes as he catches sight of the world-weary hauteur on the face of the waiter. With a sigh, he applies himself to the foreign delicacies. The herring, after a few mouthfuls tastes almost like tinapa. The shrimp would be excellent if he had some white sukang lloko to soak it in but the melon is never half as good as the ones his wife buys from her suki in San Andres.

Now he must make another choice. The waiter, with an air of prime minister approaching a concordat murmurs, something about choosing a soup. The menu is in French and to be safe, our hero asks the waiter to recommend the specialty of the house. A clear consomme! When it comes, the Pinoy discovers that it is merely the kind of soup Filipinos sip when they are convalescing from “tifus” or “trancazo”. Tomato soup is almost an emetic. Onion soup with bits of bread and cheese is too odd for words but palatable. If he is lucky, the waiter brings bouillabaisse with a flourish. A French classic? Nonsense. We Filipinos invented it. It is sinigang, he tells the astonished waiter, only not quite as good as we do it at home. And where, for heaven’s sake is the patis?

The entree or the main course is quite another problem. Poulet is chicken. Fillet de sole is fish, though recognizable neither as apahap nor lapu-lapu. Tournedos is meat done in a barbarian way, thick and barely cooked with red juices still oozing out. The safest choice is steak. If the Pinoy can get it, well done enough and slice thinly enough, it might remind him of tapa.

If the waiter only knew enough about Philippine cuisine, he might suggest venison which is really something like tapang usa, or escargots which the unstylish poor on Philippine beaches know as snails. Or even frogs legs which are a Pampango delight.

But this is the crux of the problem- where is the rice? A silver tray offers varieties of bread: slices of crusty French bread, soft yellow rolls, rye bread, crescents studded with sesame seeds. There are also potatoes in every conceivable manner, fried mashed, boiled, buttered. But no rice.

The Pinoys learn that rice is considered a vegetable in Europe and America. The staff of life a vegetable!

And when it comes- a special order which takes at least half an hour- the grains are large, oval, and foreign-looking and what’s more, yellow with butter. And oh horrors! – One must shove it with pork or piled it with one’s knife on the back of another fork. After a few days of these debacles, the Pinoy, sick with longing, decides to comb the strange city for a Chinese Restaurant, the closest thing to the beloved, gastronomic country. There in the company of other Asian exiles, he will put his nose finally in a bowl of rice and find it mire fragrant than an English rose garden, more exciting than a castle on the Rhine and more delicious than pink champagne.

To go with rice, there is siopao (not so rich as at Salazar) pansit guisado reeking with garlic (but never so good as any that can be had in the sidewalks of Quiapo) fried lumpia with the incorrect sauce, and even mami (but nothing like the downtown wanton). Better than a Chinese restaurant is the kitchen of a kababayan. When in a foreign city, a Pinoy searches every busy sidewalks, theater, restaurant for the well-remembered golden features of a fellow-Pinoy. But make no mistake. It is only because he is in desperate need of Filipino meal and, like a homing pigeon, he follows his nose to a Filipino kitchen that is well stocked with bagoong, patis, garlic, balat ng lumpia, gabi leaves and misua.

When the Pinoy finally finds such a treasure-house, he will have every meal with his kababayan. Forgotten are the bistros and the smart restaurant. The back of his hand to the Four Seasons and the Tour d’ Argent. Ah, the regular orgies of cooking and eating the ensue. He may never have known his host before. In Manila, if he saw him again, they would hardly exchange two words. But here in this odd, barbarian land where people eat inedible things and have never heard of patis, they are brothers forever.

The Filipino may denationalized himself but not his stomach. He may travel over the seven seas and the five continents and the two hemispheres and lose the savor of home and forget his identity and believe himself a citizen of the world. But he remains-the astronomically, at least-always a Filipino. For, if in no other way, the Filipino loves his country with his stomach.