2015: The Year in Review

2015hourglassThere are only about 12 hours left in 2015 and I’ve decided to write a few reflections. It feels like the past year has flown by, but this isn’t really easy for me to explain. This year hasn’t been especially eventful for us. It has been more like stopping by a tiny town at midnight to gas up your car as you head to another destination. Regardless, I like to keep a record of what God has done in our lives. Here are a few things that come to mind when I think about 2015:

New Orleans:

I think the highlight of this year was our vacation to New Orleans, a place I had not seen in 14 years (I lived there in 2000-2001). Mare Cris and I enjoyed visiting this historic city together. It brought back many memories from my time as a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. And we had the opportunity to build new memories in a place that’s near and dear to my heart.

New Friendships:

Mare Cris and I have met quite a few new Filipino-American couples over the past year. This actually started not long after we arrived here, but the number and depth of these friendships grew significantly in 2015. The interesting thing is this has all happened “coincidentally”–we’ve just met people who know other people. It’s always a blessing to make new friends and to stay in touch with the Filipino community.

Ministry:

God has continued to give me opportunities to preach at different churches here in the Birmingham area. Needless to say, we are hoping and praying for a permanent place of ministry in 2016. Until then we are doing our best to be faithful with every chance He gives us to minister.

Grateful and Hopeful:

Mare Cris and I would like to thank all our friends, family and prayer partners for the many ways you have blessed us in 2015.  More importantly, we are thankful to God and look forward to seeing what He has in store for us in 2016.  Hopefully I will have some exciting updates to share with you soon.

The First Hello: Four Years Later

One important tip I’ve learned for strengthening a marriage is to celebrate your story. It makes sense to remind each other of how you met and the infant stages of the relationship. That wasn’t too long ago for Mare Cris and me, but we enjoy talking about it nonetheless. It brings back really great memories and emotions that we want to preserve.

Meeting your spouse on Facebook has one distinct advantage: you can go back and look at some of your first “conversations.” I decided to do this a couple of weeks ago. It took a while to scroll up through thousands of messages, but I eventually reached those first few paragraphs that marked the beginning of our relationship. I copied and pasted them to a word document so we’d have easy access to them.

That very first message from Mare Cris came four years ago today.

I had just moved to Angeles City the evening of All Saint’s Day. I chose to move during this holiday because I knew there would be minimal traffic to interfere with my exodus from Manila (virtually all schools/businesses are closed on November 1st). Everything went smoothly: I had somehow managed to downsize just enough to allow all my possessions to fit in the moving truck. The trip to Angeles City took a little over an hour, and unloading everything took about the same amount of time.

The apartment (things still in disarray).
The first floor of my apartment on November 2nd (still in disarray).

My new apartment was half the cost of my place in Manila. It was located in a really nice subdivision near every imaginable amenity (grocery stores, coffee shops, etc.). Erwin, a dear friend and ministry partner, lived just a short walk away. Everything just came together beautifully.

My life could not have been better . . . or so I thought.

The very next day would bring a blessing in my life that I had not planned or even hoped for: a message from the beautiful woman I would marry just a few months later.

Life has never been exactly the same since that first “hello.” For this I’m extremely grateful.

Macau (December 2011)
Macau (December 2011)

When Heaven and Earth Collide (Book Review)

WhenHeavenandEarthCollideAlanCrossA while back I began reading When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus, by Alan Cross.  I ordered this book for several reasons:

*Alan’s wife has been a friend of mine since my college years (the early 90’s).  We were both involved with Baptist Campus Ministries at the University of Alabama.

*I started reading Alan’s blog years ago when some interesting things were happening in the Southern Baptist Convention (long story).  I don’t follow it as much as I used to, but I like his style of writing.

*Alan and I have similar backgrounds.  We are about the same age and were raised in the Deep South during the 70’s/80’s.

*The racial tension I’ve seen since moving back to the States is striking.  Things are certainly better than they were in the era of Jim Crow laws, but black people and white people are still deeply divided on some issues.

Summary/Review

Alan Cross is a Southern Baptist pastor in Montgomery (AL), a city where some of the most significant (and violent) events of the Civil Rights Movement occurred during the 50’s and 60’s.  Here’s one example: First Baptist Montgomery was once surrounded by an angry mob of 3,000 white people who objected to the members’ involvement in civil rights protests.  They threatened to burn the church down, and may have done just that if the Governor had not (reluctantly) stepped in to protect the parishioners (this happened on the evening of May 21st, 1961).

Cross began to investigate the City of Montgomery’s history and the Civil Rights Movement as a whole.  He was haunted by questions like this:

How did we (the majority of white southern evangelical Christians) get it so wrong? Why didn’t we stand with our black brothers and sisters?  How could those who profess Christ be a part of the systematic racial injustices that were so deeply ingrained in the South?  What can we learn from our mistakes?  What would it (or does it) look like when we live out the Gospel and allow it to break down racial barriers?

I’ve asked myself some of the same questions and I really appreciated Alan’s insights.

One of his main observations is that Christianity was subverted by the culture: believers adopted the values of the society at large, even when those values directly contradicted the clear teachings of Scripture.  Unfortunately this isn’t the first time such has happened, and Alan points out other historical examples of similar tragedies (the German church during Hitler’s reign, for example).

The heart of the matter, Cross argues, is our tendency to look out for our own self-interests instead of laying our lives down for others and for the sake of the Gospel.  This still has implications for the American church, and Cross wonders if kingdom values are still being subverted.  One example he mentions is “white flight”–the tendency of white families (Christians included) to move out of neighborhoods once black families start moving in.  I’ve seen this phenomenon first-hand here in the Birmingham area.

I really appreciated the way Alan processed some difficult and uncomfortable questions in light of the Gospel.  I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who is ready to wrestle with the issue of race from a biblical perspective.

When God Makes Diamonds

diamond

I preached from this passage in the Book of James a couple of weeks ago:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
-James 1:2-4

I’m not sure why I felt drawn to the first chapter of James, but I suspect I my listeners needed to hear this encouragement.  I know I did–I felt like I was preaching to myself more than anyone in the congregation.

James presents an uncomfortable truth in this text:  there are some qualities God can only develop in us through trials.  Enduring these tests will give us perseverance (“steadfastness”), which will eventually result in maturity (“perfect and complete”).

I wish this wasn’t true–I wish there was some shortcut to being more Christlike and more dependent on the Lord.  But the experience of millions of believers (including yours truly) confirms what the Word of God teaches in this passage.

As I meditated on this text I started thinking about diamonds, which are some of the most precious stones in the world.  My mind wandered back to my whirlwind romance and my quest for the perfect engagement ring for Mare Cris.  I did a little research to get an idea of how these beautiful gemstones are made.  Geologists universally agree that diamonds are formed under crushing pressure and intense heat.

Think about that for a second: crushing pressure and intense heat.  God uses the most hostile conditions imaginable to create the world’s most exquisite and valuable objects.

He also uses trials and suffering to produce something of eternal value: a saint.  Please remember this if you are in the midst of a painful test.