Sunday, May 30, 2010

Look Inside Your Backpack Now

“I am the Almighty God. Obey me and always do what is right.”

-- Genesis 17:1

One of the best concepts ever conceived by man is the Pareto Principle. One simple way of stating the Pareto Principle is, “80% of your result comes from only 20% of your activities.” In short, you do not have to do it all.

When I was in first year high school, I realized that I wanted to change the direction of my academic life. I had this revelation right in the middle of an English class, if I remember the subject correctly, that totally change my life as a student (Click here to read the previous article about this transformation). One of the tools I employed to help me reach my new goal back then was prioritizing and scheduling (P&S). I realized that if I want to become an ‘A’ student, I need to do only the essential things.

P&S became even more handy as I reached my college years. Back then I followed one very simple rule: Put a vacant hour after every difficult subject that had a big bearing on my future engineering practice. I used this time to review my teacher’s discussion while it was still very fresh in my mind. Very simple, yet very effective technique. By doing this, I did not know it then, but I was already practicing the Pareto principle.

Now that I am a professional, the challenges have changed dramatically. Before I only worried about a few things like getting good grades, landing a good job, having a few good times, and finding a girlfriend. Now that I am married with three adorable kids, I have to think about a zillion things. At home, I have to think about my relationship with my wife, my children, and my neighbors not to mention the never ending BILLS to cope with. At work, I have to think about my relationship with all the people around me, and to squeeze tasks A, B, C, D, E, etc. into the fix 9.6 hours from Mon. to Fri. Whew! And around my close friends, I also have to think about my relationship with them; I learned years ago that it does not pay to think of myself alone even when around my closest friends. With a mountain of tasks strap on my back, it seems that no amount of principles can help me now. My head is bowed.

However, when I look all around me, I also see lots and lots of people carrying their own mountains. Some are almost crawling under the very heavy weight. Some are in anguish. But curiously there are those a keep a smile on their face.

Then it occurred to me. Those who smile have learned to apply the Pareto Principle in their life. Not everything in my life is worth my limited share of time. I only need to drop inside my limited backpack 3 essential things: My relationship with my God, My relationship with myself, and My relationship with my love ones, friends, and neighbors. The rest are either just means to a greater end or plain distraction.

You don’t have to do it all. I don’t have to do it all. We only need to do the most essential things, the 20% that will matter long after we depart this world. So look inside your backpack now, and check what is inside. Will it bring a smile in your face?

PS: Sprinkle all over your day brief 'vacant' times, and use these to build the essentials of your life. Don't be bog down with your earthly pursuits, and your problems in life. Not everything is essential. Spend more of your limited time on the essentials.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

How to Have Your Prayers Answered?

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

-- Matthew 15:21~28

Do you have an urgent need, a pressing problem that needs to be addressed ASAP, or a crisis that is out of hand? And in the face of your trials in life you feel that you can’t do it alone, and that you need the hands of God to work in your life to bring you out of your situation now, but you are not sure how?

The story of the Canaanite woman in today’s Bible passage reveals at least two keys to help us receive a positive answer from God for our prayers to Him.

A Stretched Heart

Jesus taught us to do two very basic things – To love God, and To love our neighbors as much as ourselves. The drawing below illustrates this point visually.

If this is who you are now (The red box represents your heart now.),
you are called to be stretched.
God wants us to stretch our heart to the left, and to the right. God desires that we connect to Him and to our fellow men. God mandates us to worship Him, and to serve others. In the process, we become a bridge of God's blessings to our brothers in Christ who needs help.

So to have our prayers answered by God, we have to become a person with a stretched heart. The Canaanite woman cared for her daughter, and humbly asked for Jesus help; she had the right cause and the she approached the right person in Jesus.

What about little me? Can I ask God to grant my own personal dreams in life?

Of course you can. God is like a good and loving father who is willing to grant his children’s requests as long as it’s good for them. In God’s vocabulary, good means a closer relationship with Him, and a closer relationship with others. A closer relationship with Him means good health, inner peace, joy, courage, wisdom, and eternal salvation. A closer relationship with other people means harmony, prosperity, and personal success. Interesting? God wants you to succeed. However, you should not succeed only for yourself, you should succeed for others too. You see, selfishness and self-centeredness has no place in God's kingdom.

Greed will be your downfall.  

A Single-minded Belief in the Awesome Power, and Bottomless Mercy of God

When you pray you should firmly believe that God will answer your prayer because He loves you as one of His creations, His children. The Canaanite woman did, and for that her prayer for her daughter was instantly answered. The "enemy" wants you to doubt God's love and mercy for you, and to question your own importance to God. Don't believe his lies.

God is awesomely powerful.

God is wonderfully merciful.

And God answers your prayers.

Finally, God's way is to use other people to bless your prayers. In return, God will ask you to share your blessings to others, and to become the answer to their prayers. In short, we should all become a large network of bridges to channel His blessings to the less fortunate ones. In doing so, we will also be tremendously blessed, and we will have a glimpse of what it's like in Heaven.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Let Us All Give Thanks to All Mothers Out There

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
-- John 2:3-5

What are your deepest memories of your mother when you were still a little child?

I’m sure you have more than one. Happy, fun-filled, loving memories. And perhaps occasional tense-filled moment when your mother tried to cut down those horns that grew up in your heart and mind.

On my part, I remember my mother singing me to sleep as a little child. She would lightly pat repeatedly my little behind as she hummed her favorite tunes while dirty clothes bundled in a basin near the old well, waiting for her attention. How I loved the soothing and relaxing voice of my mother.

Another image that I remember of my mother was the time she cried while praying the rosary during a baranggay (community prayer) held in our house in Mabolo. The leader of the baranggay who happened to be a teacher asked her afterwards why she cried, as if what my mother did was something alien. “I just feel like crying,” was all she said. At that time, I felt that my mother was too corny. Now I know better…

My mother was the first person who tried to connect me to God. I remember how she would wake us up at 4 o’clock in the morning just to pray the rosary. She would sometimes loss her temper when my brother and I refused to rise from our bed. It would have been easier on her part to just pray alone, but because she loved us, she went through the pain of waking us up to bring us closer to God. She was the tireless force that moved our entire family to go to church every Sunday. Even my father who is now in heaven with our Creator, willingly obliged her. My relationship with my God right now has it’s beginning under the roof that I shared with my mother. And for that, I am eternally grateful to her.

Finally, I also remember the supreme authority written all over my mother’s face, and the many small guava limbs that I’ve tasted during my childhood. You see, my mother was a strict disciplinarian. She would draw a line before me and brother, and would hardly budge in to our many attempts to cross that line. Early on, I realized that it did not pay to awaken the roaring lion behind my mother’s loving face.

Strange as it is, as an adult and a mature version of that little boy whom my mother used to hum to sleep years ago, I don’t harbor even a single trace of anger at my mother for the physical pains she’d put me through. Now, all I have are praises for her courage, and strength to remain steadfast amidst the turbulent storms that my brother and I had brought upon her once peaceful life. I am truly grateful for her consistency because this molded me to be the person that I am now. Now that I am a parent myself, I now have a glimpse of the difficulties she'd been through all those years. It was tough. For that I love her even more, not because I turned out to be perfect – I’m far from that – but because I know that she did the best she could under her circumstances.

As a son, and as a child years ago, I have these reassuring words to all mothers out there including my own mother, Carmencita, and my wife, Ruvey, whose personal sacrifices I witnessed up close and personal over the years, who faithfully answer their divine calling called Motherhood…

A perfect mom, if ever she exists, is a nice-to-have mother, but really all we need is a mother that will “consistently” love us, and will” consistently” do her best for us. Don’t worry if we cry every time you spank us for our wrong doings, if in your wisdom you know that you have to do it for our own benefit, do it anyway even if our innocent-looking faces pleaded with you. However, please do it out of love. Be consistent with your rules so as not to confuse us. And oh, please don’t forget to forgive us, to hug us and to reassure us that you still love us unconditionally, afterwards. In the end, it’s not the pain that we will remember, but the love and how much that love molded us to become the person we are right now. Don’t give up on us now. Please do not despair now if we are selfish, and could not yet comprehend the many personal pains you’ve been through because of us. Just give us time to mature and mellow, and then you can proudly see one of these days the beautiful picture that you labored to paint in our life with your sweat, blood and countless personal sacrifices. And no matter what will happen, you will always be our most favorite mother in the world…

Today’s special day, also reminds me of another mother, Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Like our own mother, Mary underwent a lot of personal sacrifices, dangers, and pain being the loving mother of Christ. She risked being stone to death by accepting the invitation of God through the Angel Gabriel to become a mother even though she was not married to any man yet. Today being a single mother is becoming regrettably a norm, but during the time of Mary that was outrageous, and was punishable by death.

In the passage above, Jesus, Mary and perhaps some of their relatives went to Cana to attend a wedding. Unfortunately, the wine ran out. During the time of Jesus, this was tantamount to a major, major social embarrassment. Mary, always the merciful woman she was, intervene by asking her son whom she knew to be God, to help. Now here are the interesting points I noticed in this passage.

• The amazing previlege of a loving mother
Jesus is the only Son of the Father, and He is God Himself being part of the Holy Trinity. But Jesus did not forget that He was also a son, and He did what every good son does -- He humbled Himself and granted the request of His loving mother even though it was 'NOT' yet His time to do miracles. Isn’t the previlege of being a mother truly, truly and truly amazing?

• Mary did not make the request for herself, she made it for others
This is the reason why Catholics, like me, have deep love, respect and admiration for Mary being a loving and merciful Mother Christ, and for being a very effective Intercessor for us to our Lord Jesus Christ. (The key word here is Intercessor.)

• Mary showed us how to ask something from God – ask with high expectation, act in obedience.
Jesus already made it clear to Mary that it was not yet His time to do miracles, but instead of scolding her son and reminding him who she was, Mary just looked at Jesus the way only a loving mother can, and without a word went over to the servants, and with high expectation instructed them, "Do whatever he tells you."

Mary is not God, but through her womb Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, became man thus allowing God's promise of salvation to come true. Mary was just an ordinary woman, but through her faith and obedience to God she became extraordinary -- not all women are chosen to be the mother of Christ, right? But it should not be a surprise to us at all. After all, God fashioned every human being long before He breathe life to them. So Mary’s role in the story of the salvation of man from death of sin through Jesus Christ was already eternally written in the Books of Heaven long before Christ became man.

For all these, Mary was truly blessed. And for this, she deserves our admiration, our appreciation, our respect and our love as the Mother of the Saving God. In the same way, our own mothers deserve our admiration, our appreciation, our respect, and our love for without them we won't be reading this message.

As little children years ago, we literally looked up to our mothers. To us they were the symbol of strength, of grace, of order and of love. They were the ones who carried us most of the time; bought us snacks; brought warm food to the table; bathed us; changed our clothes; wiped our behind; sucked that yellowish, sticky thing out of our nose when we couldn't breath; told us stories; sang us to sleep; put on us that newly ironed clothing, spanked that mischievous spirit out of us, and much, much more.

Now most of our mothers are getting older; some could not even walk on their own or see clearly. The role of dependency between mother and child has reversed. Now our mothers are looking up to us for support, for understanding, and for love. In the hustle-bustle of life, we should not forget and ignore them. We should not forget that not so long ago, their strong hands fed us and guided us.

On this very special day dedicated just for them, let us all express our love, respect, appreciation, and admiration for them. Call, visit, and talk to your mother. If there were misunderstanding, reconcile with her. After all, we would not be here had it not for our mothers, in the same way that Jesus would not have become a man to fulfill the promise of God had it not for Mary. So wherever you are right now let us pause for a moment to give thanks to these wonderful women whose lives had made a lasting impact to our lives. Let's tip off our hats to them. After all, they are not called Mothers for nothing.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers out there…Thank you for your love and sacrifices. Thank you for not giving up on us while we were still kids...

PS1: Mary is truly an Intercessor for man to her Son, Jesus Christ, and anyone can avail of her merciful help and intercession. Just don't forget that Mary is an Intercessor, not God which means that she can plead your case before her son, but ultimately it's Jesus who has the final say.

PS2: And just to sit the record straight, the Catholic church's stands with regards to Mother Mary is that you do not have to be a devotee of Mary to be considered a Catholic. Neither does the church stop anyone from calling upon her to intercede on their behalf. The choice is yours.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Testimony of Marvin Rodriguez

"For I know the plans I have of you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."
-- Jeremiah 29:11

I firmly believe in my heart that God does not want us His children to suffer, and to wallow in poverty all our life. The bible confirms that God wants us to prosper, and to give us a bright future. Many of us plod through life not knowing these hope-igniting promises of God. Now the question is, how do we unlock the door of God's promised blessings?

To answer this question, I got the opportunity to interview Marvin Rodriguez, one of the people I look up to when it comes to walking in faith with Christ. As a brief background, Marvin is a licensed engineer, and one of the respected senior design engineers of Lexmark Research and Development Corp. in Cebu. He is not only a good friend of mine, but also my colleague. Just late last year, Marvin and his wife moved in to a very beautiful house that looks like one of those showcase houses we can see in the magazines (click HERE to see the pics). Not only that, his beautiful house is situated in a very upscale neigborhood where his neighbors are either doctors, businessmen, foreign retirees, and the likes.

How did Marvin and his wife acquire this property considering that he is not an OFW or an heir to a very wealthy family or a full time businessman is a story itself that will help us answer the question, "How to unlock God's promises of prosperity and a bright future for all of us His children."

Raoul: How’s your life right now?
Marvin: It’s amazing. Everyday is a very exciting day for me and for my wife.

Raoul: How is your relationship with God right now?
Marvin: Great! I'm leveling up. My wife and I are serving Him more specially in the Youth ministry.

Raoul: Were you like this before?
Marvin: No, though I was not really a bad guy or something like that. I was not as close to God as I am right now.

Raoul: When did you decide to surrender your life to God, and follow Him? What happened?
Marvin: When I was in pre-school my parents already became Christians so I didn't have the choice that time but I totally surrendered to the Lord about 5years ago after I realized that there is more to life than getting a good job, a nice car, a nice house, wife, kids and a retirement. I just allowed the Lord to direct my path and set my directions according to the purposes He has created me for.

Raoul: Let's talk about your love life, how did you and your wife meet?
Marvin: We were both invited to a Baby dedication in Royal Concourse last 2004 by a common friend but we never saw each other again after 3months when they invited me to join their barkada to Moalboal. It is only during that time that we got to know each other more and started to go out on dates until we decided to commit to each other for good. We were very sure that God's hand was on our relationship even though we only got to be with each other for a total of 4months in our 4years together due to the nature of my work.

Raoul: When did you got married?
Marvin: We got married last December 29, 2007.

Raoul: Before you got married, where did you plan to live right after marriage? Why?
Marvin: We planned to stay in my parent's house after wedding and I was already decided to live there that I renovated the place where we are going to stay already. For me it is also the logical and practical decision to make since we are still newly weds and have not much resources to buy our own house. I also wanted to save by staying at my parents house since we will not be paying any rentals and anyway we only plan to stay for 1 year and hopefully have enough savings to move to our own place after a year.

Raoul: Did you follow your plan? Why?
Marvin: I didn't push through in staying at my parent's house eventhough I have already done some renovations to it. This is after I was pointed to Genesis 2:24 "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave (join) unto his wife and they shall be one flesh" in one of the series of marriage counselling sessions we attended in citichurch. I believed that it is the Lord's will for the husband to be the "Adam" of his "eden" and this will not happen if I stay at my parent's "eden". It was difficult for me financially and emotionally to do this but I just know that unless I do what the Lord says I should do, I will not succeed.

Raoul: When did the dream of building a dream house for you and your family take root in your heart? How did it happen?
Marvin: Building a house is I believe everybody's dream and mine started as early as elementary years. I didn't had the chance to stay in what I can call "my own room" when I was still living with my parents. The room I used to have was a basement room who gets flooded everytime it rains which forced me to evacuate to a higher ground and sleep at our living area for years. This situation gave me the dream of having my own house which I myself will build and design.

Raoul: Can you tell me how your dream house look like in your imagination back then?
Marvin: I always wanted to have a house that is always neat and clean or easy to maintain. I've never heard of a modern-minimalist house design but it turned out to be the type of house design I'm looking for, clean, simple and functional but with the modern touch. I also wanted my house to stand-out and would make a statement no matter how small it is.

Raoul: How were you able to find you lot in Kishanta? Did you expected to acquire such a very prime property?
Marvin: I didn't expect that we'll be living now in Kishanta by Aboitizland. I just know that my future house will be on top of a hill or a mountain because I'm already fed up with the flooded room experience :) Buying a lot in a good subdivision is one of the criteria in building our house but I just don't believed at first that this will happen due to several doubts and fears. I believe the lot has been prepared by the Lord for us since this was not our 1st and not even our 2nd choice but some series of events led us to choosing a very interesting location.

Raoul: What were the challenges that you meet in building your dream house? For example, the filing of loan, the choice of architect, contractor, supplier, financing, etc.?
Marvin: There were several challenges that needed a step of FAITH when building our house.
1. My home loan assistance application was turned down due to several reasons sited by our company.
2. We were on our own and had no advisers in all the transactions, plans and purchases.
3. We don't have enough funds and savings to pay for the contractor, architect and workers.
4. We started construction during the economic crisis where salaries are down and prices are high.

Raoul: How did you overcome all these challenges?
Marvin: Despite all the challenges and valid reasons to pull-back from the construction plans, we continued with the original plan and even stepped up by increasing the floor area of the house from the original plan and even chose higher grade materials for the house. For many this was a very stupid move for me and my wife but we held on to Lord's promise that if God's is with you then who can be against you!. We just know we heard from the creator of the heavens and the earth and He will make a way for us even if there seems to be no way... FAITH in the Lord Jesus made it all happen. All glory and honor to Him alone!

Raoul: When was the construction of your dream house finished?
Marvin: The architect and the contractor gave us a finished date of Dec 18, 2009. With all the challenges and difficulties, we were able to transfer into a fully finished house by Dec 19, 2009. Another miracle!

Raoul: Did it meet your expectation or the way you picture it out before?
Marvin: Every thing is way above what I originally planned. Everybody including us were shocked with the outcome. We could not have done this on our own! It took faith and miracles to make it a reality.

Raoul: Do you feel blessed?
Marvin: I feel very blessed but I know everything happened because He knows He will be glorified. This house has been created so others will also be blessed and encouraged that there is still hope in this difficult times. Jesus Christ the hope of glory! (Colossians 1:27)

Raoul: Can you share to me you secret to unlocking God's promises?
Marvin: FAITH in Christ Jesus and believing that His promises are yes and amen to them who believes. But we need to know His promises first by knowing Him by reading His word in the Bible and living a Christ-like life in accordance to his will and purposes.

Raoul: Any message to the readers?
Marvin: Don't lose hope because what happened to me and my wife will also happen to you and your family if you only obey and believe the Lord Jesus Christ.

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - End of Interview - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

God wants us to dream big. If you want to settle for less then God will honor that too. But if want something better for you and your family than what you have right now, then dream on. As long as you are faithful and obedient to God, and if I may add, as long as your dream is not purely selfish and that it aligned to His will then rest assured that he will reward His time. Like Marvin and his wife who is blessed with beautiful house that is beyond his wildest imagination, you and I can be blessed too. We just need to use the right keys -- faith and obedience.

PS1: Click HERE to see Marvin's straight-from-the-magazine house in Kishanta.
PS2: I planned to post here my live interview with Marvin Rodriguez, so stay tuned.