One of the things we are required to memorize growing up was the Panatang Makabayan or the Filipino’s Pledge of Allegiance. Personally, I love how it is crafted–how it shows love and loyalty to our nation.
We are loyal to many things. We are loyal to our region, province, or city– we like to tell others how beautiful our beaches are, how fun our festivals are, or how good our cuisine is.
We are loyal to our campus– we like to tell others how high the standard of education is in our university or how high the caliber of our sports teams.
We are loyal to our barkada or organization– we like to tell potential recruits why they should join us and not a similar club by boasting about our club accomplishments.
We are loyal to our family– we like to display diplomas, medals or trophies of family members to show how accomplished our family is.
There is nothing wrong with our loyalties, but sometimes, we become too regionalistic, we vote for politicians just because they originated from our province or city—or sometimes, just because we are from the same clan or family. Sometimes, campus rivalry ends up in a fight between friends or family members from rival schools just because of a game. Sometimes, fraternities or gangs end up having feuds because the members feel one of their own was hurt by the other gang.
But if we are followers of Jesus Christ, we need to remember that our main allegiance is to Him and to His kingdom. This means that loyalty to Jesus Christ takes precedence over any other loyalties that we have. What does this entail?
One of the saddest stories I’ve heard is about how Mahatma Gandhi once sought to know Jesus more because he read the Bible and was touched by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where He was talking about the kingdom of God being an upside down kingdom, defending the poor and the oppressed. Gandhi was even more encouraged because Jesus lived what He preached, being a “friend of sinners” and choosing to be associated even with the provincial and the uneducated.
Gandhi wanted to be a follower of Christ and one Sunday, he visited a Christian church in Calcutta, only to be stopped by ushers at the door, who said the church was for high caste Indians and whites only. This was an experience that greatly influenced Gandhi’s resistance of Christianity, although he still upheld Jesus as “the greatest teacher who ever lived.”
Whenever someone has an encounter with us, no matter how short, are we leading them closer to Christ or are we misrepresenting Christ to them?
As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’”
This does not mean Christians will never make a mistake or that others should expect perfection from us, but it does mean that we take a position of humility in any encounter. Are we quick to serve? Are we in the frontlines to fight for the poor and the oppressed? Are we good stewards of creation? Are we ready to forgive? Are we willing to ask for forgiveness?
I’m always amazed at how Paul, despite his imprisonment (likely in a filthy Roman jail), can speak with so much joy and passion about advancing the kingdom of God. In Philippians 1:20-24, he said, “20 For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23 I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24 But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.”
Paul understood that the primary purpose of him to continue living is to do the kingdom work God had called him to do.
Paul, Peter, and the rest of the apostles, did kingdom work to their last breath. They suffered persecution and went through countless transitions. They were booted out of their own country and stripped of their reputation. They bled and died for the gospel. What loyalty! What allegiance to Jesus Christ!
The fallen emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was recorded to say near the end of his life, “I know men, and I tell you Jesus Christ was not a man (sic).
Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist.
Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne and myself founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon sheer force. Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men will die for Him.”
No earthly king would willingly die for his followers, nor would he have the power to overcome sin, death, and the devil. Jesus Christ both sacrificed His life and won the victory for us. No wonder Paul can say (and we can echo) in Galatians 2:20, “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 I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
“Too often Christian maturity is perceived to mean stoicism or emotional neutrality. There seems to be a misunderstanding in some evangelical circles that Christians should ‘have it all together.’ Unfortunately, when struggles come and inner turmoil is experienced, people may feel compelled to hide their confusion and pain to not be labelled as unspiritual.”
—Gingrich & Gingrich, Skills for Effective Counseling: A Faith-Based Integration
I have to admit that my basis for maturity as a young Christian was someone’s ability to give a quick answer to my questions about faith, to provide a solution to any of my problems, and to be emotionally neutral.
Getting angry, sad, or depressed was seen as a sign of a lack of faith, and it is not that the person is made to feel unwelcome because they are deemed “immature.” But because there is a lack of conversation about the role of grief and suffering in our faith, experiencing negative emotions or having no answers to someone’s problems seems taboo, especially when you’re a leader.
But what does it really mean to be spiritually mature?
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Spiritual maturity is reflected in our ability to love God, love ourselves, and love others. Pete Scazzero in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality talks about the importance of weaving together “contemplative spirituality and emotional health” in order to grow in the ability to love well.
Emotional health is concerned about self-awareness. That is, we become more emotionally healthy as we learn to acknowledge and manage our feelings. We become aware of how our past affects our present. We recognize both our strengths and our limitations. We see self-destructive patterns that affect our well-being and relationships with others, and break free from them. We learn to set boundaries, express ourselves well, and manage conflict better.
Contemplative spirituality is concerned about spiritual disciplines that increase our understanding of God, His love, and His perfect will. It is taking time to commune with Him and position ourselves to hear from Him and be aware of His presence in our life throughout the day. It is developing a healthy rhythm of life that allows us to love others out of experiencing God’s love for us.
Contemplation allows us to fix our eyes on God instead of on ourselves or on our situation. Emotional health allows us to love ourselves and to love others better. If we fail to weave emotional health into our contemplation, we may remain unaware of thought patterns and self-destructive behavior that negatively impact our relationships and our personal well-being. If we fail to weave contemplation into our pursuit of emotional health, we may forget that ultimately, real transformation is only possible through the Holy Spirit by the grace of Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith.
How do we know that we are growing in maturity?
When I first fell in love with Jesus Christ, I treasured my time with Him. I would eagerly read the Bible and learn at His feet. I just loved being with Him, being a child of God. But when I started leading others and actively got involved in ministry, doing things for God started to take up more of my time. I ended up being burned out and I had to take a break from leading, because I felt that I was hurting the people I led rather than helping them.
I didn’t understand it at first. I still read my Bible. I still had my prayer list. How did I get to the point of breaking down? Later on, I realized that even my quiet time had become a time of doing things for God instead of a time of enjoying being with Him. I took my eyes off the Source of life, thinking that my life depended on being able to cross off items from my “Christian tasklist.”
We have effectively slowed down when we become aware throughout our days of God’s presence in everything we do, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us in our interactions with others and in fulfilling our tasks.
Delving into our past, our negative emotions, and our toxic thought patterns can lead us to despair. How can we love ourselves when we are faced with our sinfulness and deep insecurities? If we can’t love ourselves, how can others love us? And how can we love others deeply when we are so afraid of rejection and failure?
This is the beauty of the gospel. In these lowest points in our journey towards emotional health, contemplating on how wide and long and high and deep Christ’s love is will be able to anchor us in the stormy seas of despair. Our past may be ugly. Our hearts may be dark. Our thoughts may be toxic. And yet Christ still chose to love you and I. He proved it by dying on the cross. And He still loves us today! That’s our ultimate confidence.
Jesus Christ not only proved His love by dying on the cross. He rose to life again, overcoming the power of sin and death. That means everyone who follows Him has that hope for true freedom over any baggage from the past or any bondage from sinful patterns.
What an amazing gift! We are not only anchored in His love through the storms of life; we are also guaranteed freedom from attaching our value and our purpose to anything temporal, whether on good things (pleasures, relationships, or accomplishments) or on bad things (suffering, traumatic past, failures).
The path towards maturity entails hard work. We will often find the process messy. We will need to exercise humility before God and before others a lot of times. But learning to love well is worth it. Let us not miss out on the blessing of love this journey of faith brings.
When a person experiences pain, we urge them to consult a doctor.
When a person is prescribed medicine to get better, we take it as part of the process to regain physical health.
When a friend gets diagnosed with a critical illness, we empathize and offer whatever help we can give so they can fight back.
We fully support a physically ill person’s road to recovery. And yet, mental illness remains a stigma or a mystery for many of us.
In the past few years, mental health awareness has been on the rise. Nowadays, it’s no longer surprising when a friend comes up to us and says, “I think I might be depressed.” Because clinical depression or any mental illness is as serious a matter as any physical ailment, we need to respond to it in the same way.
Being sick is never a good experience. You feel helpless and unproductive. You have to deal with not just the pain, but even the frustration when it seems you’re not getting better. But what makes it bearable is a caring person’s presence and unconditional love.
When we have colds, what relief a bowl of soup lovingly cooked for us brings. What comfort loving care is in the midst of our grumpiness and complaints. What solace soft words, loving touch, and prayer bring when we are drowning in pain.
What’s not helpful when we are sick? Getting nagged for not being careful enough with our health that eventually led to illness. When we get accused of feigning sickness just to get out of responsibilities. When we are trying to nurse ourselves back to health because no one is around to help us, even if we could barely move.
What then is our role in a person’s healing and recovery from mental illness? It’s no different from our role when someone is physically sick. Most of the time, our presence, a listening ear, an understanding heart, and unconditional love are all that is needed for the pain and suffering to be bearable. Let’s spare them from judgment, accusation, and abandonment.
Because mental illness usually involves a chemical imbalance, there may be a need to take medication in order for hormones to reach a healthy level again.
Medication is as important as emotional healing and spiritual renewal. Counseling is important. Praying for healing is necessary. Helping them understand God’s truth that leads to a renewal of mind is great.
The point is, God’s healing is holistic. He desires shalom for us–a wholeness of body and mind. We can’t say that any approach is more important or effective than the other. Rather, we determine what needs to be addressed and the right steps for it.
When a friend comes to us and says, “I think I might have cancer,” we can’t just simply agree based on their self-assessment, unless we’re a trained professional.
At the end of the day, we listen and pray, but most importantly, we don’t give a diagnosis. Rather, we encourage them to seek professional help. It is a loving thing to make sure they get a reliable diagnosis.
Speaking of a reliable diagnosis, it’s always good to consider seeking two or more professional opinions, just like with any illness. A professional may have more expertise than most of us, but their knowledge can also be limited. Encourage your friend to find a professional they are most comfortable with.
Jesus Christ came so that healing can be possible for everyone who is sick—the lame, the blind, the leper, the paralyzed, and the mentally disturbed.
If you are suffering from mental illness, your healing is not beyond God’s power. If your friend or family member is going through mental illness, we can believe with them for full recovery and journey with them through it.
“I don’t think I can do it. I’ll just give up while I haven’t messed up yet.”
“What will my parents say if I don’t make it?”
“Other contenders seem to be so much better. I shouldn’t even try to compete.”
“My friends will tell me ‘I told you so.’ I don’t want to deal with that.”
We’ve probably had these conversations at least once in our lives with someone who is trying to do something new or something big. This is not surprising. We like the comfort of the familiar. We want to make sure something is tried and tested. We need the certainty of a good outcome.
These needs and desires are valid. As human beings, we long for security and validation. However, we can never have a complete guarantee of success or good outcome in any venture. There will always be a possibility of failure—of things going completely the opposite of what we hope for or expect. But does this mean we should stop making a change or aiming for something bigger?
God calls us to a life of adventure with Him—a life where we can take risks and leaps of faith because of our confidence in His faithfulness, power, and love. But what is keeping us from taking bolder chances or pursuing greater things that God calls us to? Is it really just the possibility of an unexpected outcome? Or is there something bigger at stake?
A well-known Christian neuroscientist, Dr. Caroline Leaf, asked this question, “Are you really scared of failure, or are you actually scared of looking foolish and feeling humiliated? Both are valid, but knowing the WHY can better help manage the fear.” Asking the right questions is crucial in helping someone who is afraid to fail.
Here are three prevalent fears that keep us from making a change or believing God for something big.
Knowing the root helps us battle it with God’s love and truth. God’s word assures us that perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18) and that we were not given the spirit of fear, but of love, of power, and of sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).
Here are three steps we can take to cast out fear and receive the spirit of love, power, and sound mind that God is graciously offering us.
God has so much in store for our lives. He has called us to a blessed life that overflows to be a blessing to the community and the people He has placed in our lives.
Our prayer and our hope for you and the people you lead is that you won’t let your fears paralyze you, so that you don’t miss out on God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.
When one of my Ates in church shared with me about water baptism, she told me that we needed to go through it as soon as we were done. She was sharing stories from the Bible where people would get water baptized as soon as they got saved.
I was scared to death because the only body of water near us was a pond in the middle of Carabao Park in U.P. Los Baños—and she wasn’t only going to sprinkle me with water the way I imagined it. She was going to dunk me in filthy water. I made up excuses about why I couldn’t go through it and noticed too late that my normally stoic friend was laughing silently.
Looking back to it now, I realized that the reason I panicked so easily was because I didn’t really understand what water baptism was about and why it’s so important in following Jesus Christ. It probably wasn’t my friend’s fault. Maybe I was too distracted by my grades or my crush or my next hangout at that time.
So, what does it mean for someone who has decided to follow Jesus Christ to be water baptized? Here are two things about water baptism that we can emphasize as we share about it:
Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
Romans 6:1–4 (NLT)
Water baptism symbolizes our personal decision to turn to God and repent of our old ways. It represents our acknowledgement of our own sinfulness, our inability to save ourselves from it, and our need for a Savior. It signifies our willingness to put our faith on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross instead of on our own efforts to be good and righteous.
Alongside the decision to receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior is also a decision to die to our sinful ways, so we can be raised again to a new life. This means we surrender our independence so that we can be united with Him. This means we yield our worldview to the truth of God’s word. We rely on the Holy Spirit and ask for grace to live in obedience to God. We are no longer our own but God’s, so we live to honor Him. We are no longer alone; God is with us, so we can rest in the truth that He carries us through trials and challenges. We no longer strive to take control and be self-made; God is our Father, and we can trust in His good, pleasing, and perfect will for our lives.
Just as accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is a call for the individual, so is the decision to go through water baptism. However, becoming a follower of Jesus Christ and being united with Him also means that one has become part of His body, the Church. When Jesus Christ called us to Himself, it was also a call to community.
We are designed to walk this faith journey with others. In Acts 2:41, those who received the gospel that was preached through Peter were baptized and were added to the community of believers. Solidarity with church community does not mean we have to agree about everything or that we are always together. You can read this article to understand what it means to be part of a church community!
Water baptism highlights the truth that when Jesus Christ called us to follow Him, it was primarily a call to a relationship with Him that overflows in to our relationship with others. The sacrament of baptism reminds us that we are no longer our own but His, and that is such good news! We are no longer orphans, we are never alone, and we need not rely on our own selves to “make our way in the world.”
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.
Galatians 3:26–27 (NLT)
Our Back to Basics series:
Whenever one of the girls I’m leading tells me they want to preach the gospel to their friends and help them follow Jesus Christ as well, it’s music to my ears. The reality is, a lot of people suffer in brokenness and hopelessness. But what is also true is that there is good news of hope, healing, and eternal life available for us. These two truths awaken the desire in our hearts to tell the good news to as many people as possible.
However, some people find it hard to start. How do you get to the point where you can preach the gospel and share your personal testimony? Others find it hard to move forward from preaching the gospel to helping others walk with Christ daily. How can we make disciples effectively?
A large part of teaching someone how to disciple others is to exemplify it in how we help them in their own faith journey. Here are three areas that you can check as you model how to make disciples to those you lead.
It’s good to be prepared to share our personal testimony and to know how to preach the gospel to others. However, we need to remember that in order for us to be heard, we need to be ready to listen. Our goal is not to simply share what we want to share. We want the soil for the seed of the gospel to be prepared for the sowing. We need to pray for soft hearts to receive the good news. And this can only be achieved when we know how to listen—first, to God and second, to the stories of the people we are reaching.
We are able to listen to God when we know His voice. We become sharper in knowing His voice over the noise, when we intentionally spend time with Him and meditate on His word. There are no shortcuts. When we know Him, we learn to recognize His promptings when we are talking to someone. We know when the Holy Spirit is urging us to share the gospel and our testimony.
Listening well to others will not just let other people know we care about them. It allows us to see areas of brokenness in their lives as well. Because the ultimate solution to any brokenness is the gospel, we need to be able to share how it is the answer to their hopelessness and lack. This means we dive deeper into the gospel itself. A good book to read is Evangelism Outside the Box by Rick Richardson and The 3D Gospel by Jayson Georges. Being a student of the gospel is a continuous process. We have our entire lifetimes to study it and share its goodness to others who are willing to listen.
Helping someone follow Christ is not just about finishing a book, a manual, or a class together. It’s not just a once-a-week or twice-a-month meetup. Discipleship is about sharing life together. This means we need to become intentional in spending time with them, sharing our highs and lows, celebrating milestones, and praying earnestly together and for each other. This means we talk about how Christ wants us to build different areas of our lives—our studies or career, our relationships, our finances. This means we can do even mundane things together—doing groceries, changing tires, cooking.
One of my highlights in the midst of this pandemic is witnessing how God works in and through one of the girls I’m leading. Despite getting sick with COVID, it was an opportunity for us to pray together for her family, for front liners, and for the nation. Praying together refreshed her so much and inspired her to invite her entire family to a prayer meeting via Zoom. Her mom got so encouraged with her faith that she asked to be connected to a small group and seek help to follow God. But she’s not the only one sharing her prayer requests with me. I’ve shared to her things I’ve been praying for earnestly so that we can believe in faith together.
Sharing life also means I can speak the truth in love to those I lead. I can be confident in correcting and rebuking someone, knowing that they know the correction comes from a right heart and spoken in humility and love. I can also receive corrections from them too and ask for forgiveness knowing that our relationship is more important than my pride and that we are committed to push each other towards God.
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
John 13:35 (NLT)
Once you get to build a good relationship with someone and you’ve shared lives for quite a while, you get to be authentic and vulnerable with each other, which makes it easier to be accountable to one another. It’s great to know that you have friendships where you can thrive and live purposefully and yet also make a mistake, ask for forgiveness, and receive it.
We need to remember though that an authentic discipleship relationship is not our goal. Together, we’re called to be messengers of the gospel. We’re called to embody, demonstrate, and preach the gospel to those who don’t know the good news yet. We’re called to include the lonely and the outcast in a loving community where they can discover the beautiful design and purpose God has for them. We’re called to inspire others to a life of humility and faith, sacrifice and generosity, that lead to open doors for the gospel to be preached.
How beautiful it is for others to experience a safe place among people secure in their identity and calling in God! This is our mark as disciples of Christ: Love–not just for God, not just for each other, but also for those who have yet to know Christ.
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?”
Matthew 5:44–47 (CSB)
All these underscore the truth that discipleship is relationship. Even though that is straightforward and simple, the reality of building relationships with others is quite challenging. Your character will be tested, yet it will also be refined. You will experience disappointment and frustration, yet it will also grow your humility and dependence on God. Your self-esteem will be challenged, yet it also gives room for your confidence in God to grow. Best of all, nothing else can teach us the unconditional love and long-suffering of God more than witnessing lives being radically transformed with the gospel.
Don’t allow self-promotion to hide in your hearts, but in authentic humility put others first and view others as more important than yourselves. Abandon every display of selfishness. Possess a greater concern for what matters to others instead of your own interests. And consider the example that Jesus, the Anointed One, has set before us. Let His mindset become your motivation. He existed in the form of God, yet He gave no thought to seizing equality with God as His supreme prize. Instead He emptied himself of his outward glory by reducing himself to the form of a lowly servant. He became human!
Philippians 2:3–7 (TPT)
In a week, we will be having our annual, week-long prayer and fasting as a church community. If you’ve been part of the church for a while, this week of fasting is usually marked with the setting of faith goals, which is the phrase we use for things we believe God for this new year.
You may have a prayer partner or even a small group of people to believe and pray with you during the week. But if you think the role of the church community in seeing you through your faith goals stops there, think again! Here are three reasons why the church community has a bigger part to play in your faith goals.
There’s something about witnessing God’s work in each other’s lives that not only strengthens our faith, but expands our vision beyond our own selves. In Hebrews 10:24–25, the author encourages us to “think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” and to “encourage one another constantly.”
When we share faith goals with the people God calls us to walk with, it spares us from having “tunnel vision” and allows us to see beyond ourselves to what God is doing in other people’s lives. The more we listen to, pray for, and believe with others, the more miracles we get to witness, which, in turn, boosts our own faith. The more we pray and listen to God about others, the less self-absorbed we become.
This is not to say that we should pray less for our own needs and faith goals. But even our own faith, needs, and desires are transformed when we see what other people are going through.
At the end of the day, God is most concerned about what is going on in our hearts and being in community reveals the status of our hearts like nothing else can.
Have you ever experienced a year when none of your faith goals came to pass? The past year was like that for me.
If not for church community—for friends I trust—who listened to me, prayed with me, and processed me through my doubts and disappointments, my faith would have taken a beating.
If not for people who reminded me of God’s faithfulness and love for me and of His sovereignty and eternal purpose, I would have been afraid to believe again this year.
Let us be reminded that when the writer of Hebrews exhorts us in Hebrews 12:1–2 to endure the race and to fix our eyes on Jesus Christ, he wasn’t talking to us as individuals, but as the church, whom he encouraged in chapter 10 to not give up meeting together and encouraging one another.
It’s hard to fix your eyes on Jesus by yourself. Sometimes, someone has to turn your head, look you in the eye, and point you in the right direction so that you can keep your eyes on Christ. There is no shame in needing that kind of help, because we were designed to journey through life together.
The Gospel of Mark tells of a paralyzed man whose four friends went the extra mile of carrying him up to the roof of the house where Jesus was and digging a hole through it so they could bring him before Jesus to be healed, because they could not get to Him through the crowd (Mark 2:1–5). It’s interesting to see that, in verse 5, Jesus responded to the faith of the four friends by forgiving the paralytic and healing him. It was the prayer of the paralytic’s friends that Jesus answered, not the paralytic’s.
There will be countless times in our faith walk when we struggle with doubt, even to the point of hopelessness. At these times, we will need someone to believe for us. Yes, even if you have been a Christian for a while or are already a leader, these moments will come. And there’s nothing like a few trusted friends who will take time to listen, pray, encourage, and believe when we no longer can, to fan the flame of faith in us once again.
As leaders, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of church community in our spiritual growth. When we share our faith goals with our mentors, our peers, and those we lead, and pray for each other at the beginning of the year, it sparks so much hope in us.
But when we see each other’s faith goals through the entire year, we are transformed by each other’s faith so that we grow and expand together to light up a world darkened by hopelessness and despair.
Like most of you who grew up with a Pinoy Christmas, this season always gave me a sense of expectation as a child and as a teenager. But the reasons I look forward to Christmas have changed over the years.
As a child, I looked forward to the gifts, the food, and the fun time with my sisters and neighbors. Our school Christmas party signalled the end of the quarter, and that meant three weeks of break from studies.
As a teenager, I looked forward to the same things and more: going to malls with friends, seeing my crush every day at Simbang Gabi, and completing the nine days of Christmas mass so my wish for the year can come true.
But when I became a follower of Jesus Christ, our pastor invited me and a handful of other students to their home to celebrate the Advent. It had all the elements of the things I enjoyed in a Christmas party—fun, food, and fellowship—except we had time for worship, sharing of the word, and reflection that encouraged us to fix our eyes on Christ, what His coming as a baby meant for the world, and how it fuels joy, peace, and hope in the midst of any circumstance.
That experience profoundly changed the way I viewed Christmas. Instead of it just being a season to enjoy gifts, food, and the company of family and friends, I fixed my eyes on Jesus Christ and why we celebrate Christmas:
We remember God’s faithfulness to fulfill His promise. Christmas is a reminder that no matter how long it takes for God to fulfill His promise, He will do so. During Advent, we remember that our life on earth may be short, but God’s plans fall into place, even when we don’t get to see them come to pass in our lifetime.
We anticipate the fulfillment of His promise to return and make things new. God’s proven faithfulness strengthens our faith and our hope for His second Advent—which means “coming”—when He will make all things new and wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 7:15–17). We look forward to heaven and earth becoming one to worship the King for eternity.
I encourage you, dear Christian leader, to prepare yourself and the people you lead for Christmas differently from the rest of the world. Make Advent a time of remembrance and anticipation of the coming of our Lord and our Savior, the only one worthy of our worship and devotion.
Here are some suggestions on how you can do Advent with people you lead:
1.Daily devotion. Leading up to Christmas, when you are on break from meeting together as a small group, you can go through a devotional together. The YouVersion Bible app has several devotional studies that focus on Advent. They design these studies to be done individually and yet make some of our reflections shareable to a group. Not only does this activity help us focus on the reason for Christmas, it also helps those who are building the habit of spending time with God.
You can also do a daily challenge together that helps you remember all the things you are grateful to God for leading up to Christmas. Victory Fort has a 25-day gratitude challenge that allows you to share and reflect on blessings, big or small, that remind you of God’s faithfulness.
2.Weekly fellowship. Shift your small group meetings to Advent celebrations starting four weeks before Christmas. It can be a time to worship where you can sing and reflect on meaningful Christmas hymns. Some that come to mind are “O Come, O Come Emmanuel!,” “Silent Night,” “O Holy Night!,” “Away in a Manger,” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
You can share about how the birth of Jesus Christ redefined peace, hope, joy, and love. The Bible Project has a good material that covers four weeks. In this way, we have fun and fellowship together as friends, yet we are able to collectively fix our eyes on Jesus Christ and not on each other.
Advent is a beautiful time to reflect on God’s faithfulness two thousand years ago. It reminds us that He continues to be faithful and sovereign today. Let’s not miss this opportunity to open the eyes of those we lead to the importance of this faith-building activity.
I was in my second year in college when I took my walk with Christ seriously, and along with it came the desire to share the gospel to someone else. I still remember clearly the first time I sat down to share about salvation with someone who I just met in the youth service.
I didn’t know how to start. At the back of my mind, I felt uncomfortable. I wouldn’t have been trying to start a friendship with this person if not for leading her to Christ. Was I being inauthentic? Am I just talking to this person so I can share the gospel? Shouldn’t I be at least good friends with someone before I attempt to lead them to Christ? These were questions I struggled with, and maybe they’re the same questions that you have.
Here are some reminders about friendship and discipleship that may answer our questions.
If you think about it, all friendships start out random and awkward. You just happened to be in the same school, or the same sports team, or the same street.
The desire to make friends is part of our wiring. We want friends because we were designed to be in relationships. We all yearn to be part of a community.
This is something we need to keep in mind when we’re starting to lead someone to Christ—that person needs true friends and an authentic community. And there is nowhere better to find that than in the church.
Helping someone in their walk with God is actually the purest motive we can have in starting friendships. What are some of the usual reasons we have? We don’t want to be alone. We want to build connections with the influential. We want to form a club of like-minded people. They’re not bad, but they simply show that our usual reasons are something we can benefit from.
When we lead someone to Christ, it can only be good for them, because they can find the love, acceptance, and security that they are looking for. If we believe that the gospel is the answer to our deepest need, then sharing it to someone is being a good friend.
Being a messenger of the gospel also makes us inclusive.
So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view…And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.2 Corinthians 5:16,18 (NLT)
Usually, I would evaluate potential friends based on their personality and interests. But when I experienced unconditional love and acceptance from God, my perspective changed. I became more open to building friendships with people who were very different from me. I started to want the best for the friends I already had. I can’t count the number of lifelong friendships I would have otherwise missed if I did not become a follower of Christ, committed to reconciling others to Him.
People need the healing and transforming power of the gospel. People need true friends in an authentic community. So, keep being a good friend that leads others to Christ, dear Christian. People need friends like you.
Grief and loss are a part of life. But just because they are a reality does not mean the experience will be any less painful. Inevitably, we will have to minister to someone who has experienced the heartbreaking loss of a loved one, whether through death, separation, or transition. I used to find myself uncertain how to respond to someone else’s grief. I needed to know what my role was in those situations.
As leaders who minister God’s love to others, we want to bear one another’s burden. But just like any other burden, we can only do so much when it comes to helping someone through the grieving process. At the end of the day, we can’t grieve for another person. But we can surely help in tangible ways. In helping someone navigate loss, it never hurts to ASK.
A – Acknowledge the Loss
No matter how small the loss may seem to be, it will be no less painful for the one who grieves. I remember being dismissive once when a small group member lost her pet cat. I wasn’t particularly fond of cats, and I thought losing a pet was easier than losing a family member. But losing someone or something you love is always painful and needs to be acknowledged.
Sometimes, we may also feel uncomfortable or uncertain in mentioning something that surely brings up painful memories. I often find myself unsure of what to say exactly. In those moments, it is enough to send your condolences.
But, if possible, aside from sending condolences, we can also try to honor the one who died. If I didn’t know them personally, I would try to recall a story that my friend had shared about them that was crucial to their personal growth. If I did know them, I would say what I appreciate about them. Also, it would be good to share something that the loved one said about your grieving friend, especially if they were not able to have a farewell conversation.
One of my good friends lost his beloved girlfriend without the chance to say goodbye to one another. He greatly appreciated what her friends shared to him about what she would tell them about him–how he loved and served her so well and how much she loved him. According to him, “All those tiny bits and pieces of information were like golden scraps of paper. They meant a lot to me.”
S – Show them Love
During the first few days of grieving, it would be good to ask outright what you can do to help. There is no limit to the ways that you can help, but those who are grieving especially remember the moments when they are shown love, whether through words, time, comforting touch, acts of service, or thoughtful gifts. If you know the person’s love language, zero in on serving them in that way.
Words of Affirmation. Sending a message that you are praying for them, giving a kind note, or speaking a word of comfort will always be appreciated. Avoid empty platitudes that can make you a “miserable comforter (Job 16:2)” and that can be insensitive or inappropriate. Avoid responding to anything they do or say with “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” If words fail to come, your presence, even in silence, can be enough.
Acts of Service. Do they need someone to do errands for them? Can you buy them coffee? Can you get assignments and photocopy notes for them? Can you speak to their teacher or boss on their behalf? Can you recommend a grief counselor or a grief support group for them? There are many, many opportunities to serve. You can start by asking, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
Quality Time. Sometimes, spending time with the grieving, just listening and accepting all feelings and expressions without judgment, could be a healing experience for them. Allow them to cry and rant. It’s also common for a grieving person to tell stories about the dead over and over again. It is part of how they come to terms with a loss. Let’s be patient and kind during those moments.
Gifts and Touch. Any small amount of money or even snacks for the wake would be of great help to the grieving family. A tight hug or a tender stroke on their back (when appropriate) can do wonders.
K – Keep in Touch
A few weeks or months after the final rites, people around the grieving may not follow up on them as much. But they still need someone to comfort or encourage them from time to time. I remember one of my leaders sharing to me how she would take note of when the loved one was born and when they died. And she would make sure to message the grieving person during those dates.
She would say something along the lines of, “It’s your dad’s birthday today, and I know he would have been proud of the person that you have become. I remember you telling me how he has taught you . . .” She would specifically zero in on something that the grieving person had shared about the loved one’s legacy. In doing so, the memory of the loved one is honored. Or she would simply say, “I know that today, you may be remembering your dad. Here’s a virtual hug for you.” (Sometimes this can be an actual meet-up where you can personally be there for and listen to the person.)
Of course, praying for the grieving as they go through the process is always a powerful and loving act. Pray for their healing as they move through the dark depths of grief and as they transition from pain to acceptance. Our confidence in prayer is that whatever comfort, assurance, or provision that the grieving still need are in the hands of our loving Father who never leaves us or forsakes us in any circumstance.
Then he broke through and transformed all my wailing
into a whirling dance of ecstatic praise!
He has torn the veil and lifted from me
the sad heaviness of mourning.
He wrapped me in the glory garments of gladness.
Psalm 30:11 (TPT)