The Freedom and Beauty of Worship Through Self-Control

A notification went off on my phone telling me I slept only 66% of my sleep goal of 6 hours a day. The same alarm pings my Apple Watch, iPad, and MacBook. (Am I really this dense that I need so many reminders?) None of these notifications are needed to inform me that I am tired. Exhausted is probably a better word. I would like nothing more than to be snoring loudly on this warm Sunday morning.

But I am awake and typing this. Why? Am I really some sort of blogging addict? Nope. It’s because I scheduled to post an article today, meaning, I committed to myself that I would sit down, process my thoughts, and share them with others, hoping that they may encourage and empower others. The ability to do things not because it feels good, or feels right, or is popular, fun, or respectable, and despite being opposite all those things,but following through simply because you made an invisible commitment to yourself, is what is known as self-control. Self-Control, the ability to respond to life, not merely react like little babies do, is a key indicator of maturity. What about ourselves should we control? This often-shared quote encapsulates things nicely:

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;

watch your words, they become actions;

watch your actions, they become habits;

watch your habits, they become character;

watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Self-Control means controlling our thoughts, words, actions, habits, character, and ultimately our destiny (our destination, where our lives go).

When we don’t control our thoughts, when we let circumstances, the opinions of others, our worries and fears, our lusts, our anger, our impatience, our unprocessed thoughts, and unrefined ideas dictate what we think, we exhibit a lack of self-control. We are reacting to things outside of us, instead of doing what the Bible says:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things

– Philippians 4:8

This is not so easy during a stressful situation, like trying to make your finances work while calming a wailing baby at 3am. But it is possible and very beneficial. For this specific example, a true example from my own life, I CHOOSE to go beyond the surface suffering and look at the profound privilege of the activity. I am not merely struggling to pay the bills and calm my son. I am participating in the amazing process of raising a godly man. If being up at this time is part of it, it’s worth it. If having to tighten our belts and move funds around is part of it, it’s worth it. If feeling very tired is part of it, it’s worth it. And it’s extra worth it because I know that not only am I part of such a meaningful activity, but that if I set my eyes on Jesus, if I trust Him and obey Him in all circumstances, not only will things work out, but I’ll be transformed to be more like Him. Sometimes, I forget that God’s main goal is not to give me the life I want or a life with no struggles, but to make me more like Christ, which means, that my thoughts words, actions, habits, and character reflect those of Christs because the spiritual virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and, here it comes again, self-control, are so evident in my life. I have born fruit. The pleasure of having a son, and the privilege to be able to become more like my Jesus, makes everything worth it. Of course I find it worth it because I have activated the self-control required to reject society’s values of success and the good life but determined for myself that I want to please God and love my family. My success is based on how well I do the latter two. I think most people simply live by recommendation and convention, not by conviction, so actually live others-controlled and wonder why they don’t feel free. Is it not logical to understand that to be others-controlled means you’re not truly choosing for yourself?

Cultivate self-control. Be free.

Last Friday morning, my son, Elijah, was circumcised. While I won’t go through the reasoning of why we chose to have him circumcised, I want to share a simple story from it. Inside the operating room, after preparing Elijah for the procedure, the doctor warned me that the babies usually cry when they’re injected but that after that they’d be fine. Right before they injected him, the doctor said, “Ok, here we go. 1-2-3…” And proceeded to inject him, only to marvel, “Oh. He didn’t cry.” Elijah had only made a slight grunt and went back to sleep. Throughout the whole procedure, he did not cry at all. He’d whine a bit, but then relax again. The anaesthesia must have taken over at some point. I was so proud to watch how my 3-week old son handled what is a painful situation. He took it, winced, and let it go. “That’s my son.” I thought to myself. The nurses told me that he was very brave. I don’t know how much of that is true or them being nice, but I’ll take it. Haha!

Anyway, the next day, I was still so proud of how tough my son was when I had a thought: Maybe this is how God the Father feels when He sees me win over my anger, surrender my pride, defeat lust, or choose kindness and godliness under pressure. Maybe this is how He felt watching Job take hit after hit yet remain faithful. Maybe this is how He felt when the disciples worshipped until death. Maybe this is how He felt when His Son chose the Father’s will. More than enjoying freedom as we become self-determining when we are self-controlled, the beauty of self-control is that we are able to worship God in our own special way, responding to our own individual circumstances in our own unique acts of worship. For me and Yasmin, one of the songs we sing to God looks more like ass-wiping with a smile at 2am. For me, the melody I send to Heaven, is the sincere gratefulness in my heart at working in Bridge on such an awesome mission, even though I haven’t slept. The chorus I repeat is my recurring repentance of my many sins and constant trusting in His goodness, even as I face consequences.

This, I believe, is true worship as Romans 12:1 explains it:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.“

Just as there is good singing and bad singing, there is beautiful and pointless worship. Pointless worship is lip service. Beautiful worship comes from our self-controlled choosing to please God in all that we do, knowing that He is pleased when we walk in faith, obey His word, and love others as ourselves.

#db

Brothers Bonifacio – It Is Well

Dedicated to three people:
My superwoman, Yasmin. Thank you for our son.
My Papa Joey and Mama Marie. Thank you for all that you have done for me. I cannot thank you enough.

 

The Morning of the Delivery

I didn’t realize it until one of the nurses asked me to stand to cut the umbilical cord, that I was already passing out. Sitting in that operating room, watching them operate a cesarean on my wife, had hijacked my system. I felt like fainting, throwing up, and taking a crap all at the same time. As I grabbed the scissor-like instrument, I was so worried I would lose control and drop it into my wife’s open belly. Somehow I was able to muster what little control I had left to cut our child’s cord, complete with a photo of me looking like I didn’t know where to look – and that’s because I didn’t know where the camera was. As soon as I cut it, I excused myself from the room, and sat on a stretcher outside. A nurse who saw me very concernedly told me to take deep breaths and gave me a cup of water. It was around then that I realized I was soaking with sweat, as if I had run half a kilometer. It was not my most Instagrammable moment.

But it was one of the best moments of my life, probably the single best moment of my life.

“I’m a father.” I thought to myself. Followed by a “I want to see my son.” and “I’m sure glad I’m not a woman.” in that order.

I walked-back in, held our son, and went to my wife, “You did well, Yasmin. Look at Elijah.” “He’s perfect.” she said. Of course he’s not “perfect”, no one really is, but he is to us.

After 15 months of having given up my much beloved bachelorhood, I have learned three priceless lessons:

1. Marriage taught me the beauty of true love, that the more I chose the satisfaction of another, the more that other satisfied me.

2. Having a son taught me there exists a pure love that has nothing to do with my son’s achievements and everything to do with him being mine.

3. And we (the community of Christ’s followers) are both Christ’s bride and God the Father’s children, and we have access to the satisfaction of choosing to satisfy Christ and the pure love of knowing we are loved, not because of our accomplishments, of which we have nothing to be proud of, but simply because we are His.

In this social-media soaked society, where so much effort is placed on projecting a “likable” life, we must remain sensitive to the important lessons from the simple and mundane, difficult and painful, and unposed and embarrassing.

In my very close fainting-vommiting-crapping-combo moment, I fell in love with my wife in a special way, appreciated my parents in a greater way, and worshipped my God in a deeper way. In my emotional and physical, weakness, when my normally very calm and clear mind just wanted to shut down, His power to communicate His love to me was perfect. There was nothing to capture, no lights, no takes, no slow-motion, no OOTD, no brand to hashtag. Just a very sweaty, anxious, light-headed man needing a puke bag and a diaper, overjoyed at having a son and being a son.

Then my mind drifted for a moment, “Are there nine people operating? Am I paying for all of them?? How am I paying for all of them???” How quickly the cares of the world steal our joy.

Then I heard my wife’s voice ask worriedly about the sutures, and our baby’s soft cry as they observed him, and out went the worry, replaced with just simple unadulterated care. How quickly loving others brings our joy back.

It Is What It Is and It Is Well.

The next day, I walked to the billing center of the hospital. St. Luke’s has been an incredible hospital. The facilities are amazing, the nurses were very helpful, and we’re extremely grateful for our OB Gynecologist Dr. Sapaula and Pediatrician Dr. Saulog, as well as our anesthesiologists Dr. Gary and Dr. Inciong, who was very reassuring towards Yasmin during the operation. Seeing what my wife went through made me appreciate my mother so much. Seeing the bill made me appreciate my father! ”Woah!” I thought. “And it’s only Day 2!!! Another 18 years of this! Another…” my negative thoughts were arrested. “Another collection of moments with my son.” For a second I felt I could afford anything. The idea only lasted for exactly one second. But it is what it is.

As parents know, pregnanacy and having children can be expensive. It is a range of more expensive and less expensive, depending on one’s means, but always expensive. When my wife was pregnant, she purchased just one pair of maternity jeans (which she washed every day!) partly because she couldn’t find ones that fit her height, and mostly because I had given her a very tight budget. But our budget is what it is. The available choices are what they are, and there’s nothing wrong with that. She was happy, we were happy, and 38 weeks later, we have a healthy son. With  faith in God and grateful hearts, it is well.

We were asked if we wanted to store the umbilical cord for future stem cells, and we said it’s out of our budget, it’s not something I prepared for, and not a priority. We have some friends who did it, we have some friends who did not, and there are also those who know nothing of stem cells, and there’s no right or wrong here. What one can afford at the moment is what one can afford. What one knows is what one knows. It is what it is. With faith in God and grateful hearts, it is well.

After just about 3 days, my wife has started to see some success with her breastfeeding. It wasn’t easy. We tried many times, had so many nurses help us, and amazedly watched YouTube videos of babies finding boobs on their own. Some mothers take days, some take weeks, some are instant milk farms, and some are never able to produce. I’ve learned that there’s a whole range of nipples, and not all lend well to breastfeeding. Some have access to breastmilk banks, some can afford nipple shields, some can’t afford these supplements, and some don’t need them. Whatever the case, it is what it is. With faith in God and grateful hearts, it is well.

While my wife was recuperating, we read an article of kids being kidnapped in refugee areas and being found killed, and were told of some serious medical conditions that have happened to other babies. The next day, my wife told me, “I cannot stop thinking of those babies. Why does God allow that?” I answered her simply, “The truth is, I don’t know. Some of life is because we or others use our freedom in ways that lead to bad consequences. But there’s also so much we don’t know. There’s so much I don’t know about what is already known, of what has already been discovered, and there’s still so much more to discover. Who can say they fully understand life?” I thought about this more through the evening, and I never found any answers. I did remember that God asks us, the living, to be grateful in all circumstances, to love by serving others (especially those who have less than us), and to have faith in God’s goodness. And while this may seem like the simple-minded belief of those too weak to handle life’s painful truth, I’ve come to realize that whether one believes this is truth or superstition in this situation is irrelevant. Being grateful in all circumstances will bullet-proof your soul and make you more able to face life. From an evolutionary perspective, developing gratefulness is good for you. Continuing to love despite our own personal doubts, personal suffering, and personal loss is good for the world in general. It flicks the finger at the cycle of violence and hurt caused, when people use their own hurt, their own doubt, their own suffering, and their own loss to justify unkind or even inhumane actions. From a social perspective, it’s beneficial to be like a human desalinization plant, taking our salty doubts, suffering, and loss, and releasing a purified love. Finally, believing that there is divine goodness, makes people hope, and hope is a balm for the soul. With faith in God and grateful hearts, we face what is as it is, and know that it is well.

And it is well not simply because we have everything figured out, or can afford everything we want or need, or because everything is wonderful, colorful, and great. It is well not simply because we’re laughing, content, and succeeding in our goals. It is well not simply because pain, doubt, and suffering are absent. Neither is it because we experience something relatively better than what someone else is suffering. (I hate it when people try to comfort you by pointing out how someone has it worse.) Just like I learned that I could love my son not because of any perfection but simply because he is mine, you need to love your own gift of life simply because it is yours. Don’t compare it to someone else’s, as any parent would be a fool to compare their own with someone else’s. But realize that it is special because it is yours. Without getting political or controversial, this is why I am so against any thought process that makes killing a solution. Life, your life, every life, is special in itself, not comparatively or relatively special, but special and amazing, a true miracle. A life that travels the world and one that stays put are equally special. A life celebrated by the world on social media and tbe one no one knew existed are equally special as well. We need to move away from valuing our lives and the lives of others comparatively, based on man-made metrics that are really mostly focused on utility: how useful this person is in satisfying society’s needs and wants. We value good looking people and celebrities because they fill our need for beauty. We value rich people or successful people to fill our aspirations. We value powerful people because we look for security and order. We value the intelligent child because he will discover things and get a good job. We value ourselves and people by how good we are at meeting society’s needs and wants. This is why we think it is smart, advanced, even humane to abort children and kill crooks. Why maintain a life that does not fulfill society’s needs and wants? Why maintain a life that drains society from meeting its needs and wants? The answer is because it is a life. Even if one doesn’t believe in God, each life is owned by a corresponding person. Is it not more sophisticated to be able to go beyond utilitarianism into the metaphysical understanding that this life is the private property of someone, and to snuff it out means breaking that person’s rights, and showing we value utility over honoring individual lives? And if utility is the best score for a person’s right to live, never expect a peaceful world. Expect a highly competitive world, expect a divided world, expect a highly insecure world, and expect a highly unequal world as we all prioritize that which maximizes our own individual utility. This is a world I know I can thrive in given my personality, skills, and relational advantages.

But it is not the world I want to live in nor want to raise our son in.

Instead, we decide to live by the simplicity and elegance of remembering that every life is God’s, and it is only for Him to decide on whether it lives or dies, and our role is to love; to care; to cultivate; to improve, to take our 1, 2, or 5 “talents” and multiply them, not compare them, but expand them; and to hope for the day that we share in our Father’s happiness. Walking with faith in God and gratefulness in our hearts, knowing that no matter what happens, it is well. #db

The Lion and the Bear

London, England

I’ve tried to write this post a few times but it always came out too long. I guess there is much to say on the topics of adversity, courage, and victory. But I want to keep this piece as accessible as possible, as practical as possible, as livable as possible, because no insight left unpracticed and un-lived has ever benefited anyone. In many ways this can fool us into thinking that just because we hold a certain ideal or certain opinion we live according to them.

Many times we don’t.

It’s like asking someone, “Do you believe that God is all powerful?”

“Yes.” He answers

“Do you believe that He loves you and does what is best for you?”

“Yes.” He replies again.

“If He has all the power in the world and does what is best for you, how much time do you spend with Him on a daily basis? Does it not make sense to spend as much time as possible with Him?”

The usual answer that I’ve heard these days is, “Um… I don’t really have a set time, but I pray every now and then throughout the day. I just feel Him throughout the day.”

“And what happens when you don’t feel Him?”

This usually leads to, “You can’t judge me!”

I give this example to point out that we many times hold an idea and think we live it when we really don’t. It is possible that we hold the idea that we are Christian when we really don’t live like Christians. We hold the idea that we love God when we don’t even spend time with Him. He is our random invisible friend, on call when we feel Him. We hold the idea that we are obeying Him when we’re really just doing whatever we feel like doing, and rarely stopping to ask the very simple question of, “What would You have me do?” We hold the idea that we are close to God but are easily discouraged, easily offended, easily insecure, selfish, unkind, and entitled, all descriptions of people who are not close to God.

I am very many times guilty of all of the above. I’m glad I’ve had time on this trip to have slower days to rest and pray, to really go back to the simplicity of “Jesus, You are my Lord. What would You have me do?”

There’s an attack in London, “Jesus, You are my Lord. How would You have me respond? How would You have me feel? My impulse is to fear, give me courage.”

There’s an attack in Manila, “Jesus, You are my Lord. How would You have me respond? Who would You have me comfort? How would You have me pray?”

There’s a work issue, “Jesus, You are my Lord. How would You have me respond? Please give me clarity and a sound mind.”

This posture of, “Jesus, You are my Lord.” simplifies our decision making. What is right isn’t what isn’t convenient but what is God-glorifying, what God-obeying, and what is God and man loving. It helps bring clarity to our thoughts, especially during periods of frustration, of high pressure, high stress, of confusion, of sadness, and of fear. When we put things aside and say, “Jesus, You are my Lord. Speak to me.”

I think about how I’ve practiced this simple prayer. Despite a checkered past of both victory and struggle against sin, I’ve learned that many times the only decision we need to make is the one right in front of us, which is, “Will I make Jesus Lord over this next decision?”

Deep in millions of debt? Or have a big financial goal? Make Jesus Lord over your next expense. Then do that again. Maybe the millions are currently out of reach but the next decision is well within your control.

In the different areas of life, with the next decision, make Jesus Lord.

I was reminded of this while sitting with Yasmin in the emergency room of St. Luke’s Medical Center. We had to rush to the hospital Friday midnight because Yasmin’s left foot was very swollen. We were worried it could be a blood clot, and extra concerned because we were scheduled to fly out to London Saturday. After a couple of hours and some tests, we were advised to get an ultrasound to be sure. This would mean missing our flight, rebooking, more spending of money we don’t have, and missing time with family. My normal impulse feelings started swirling, I could feel the frustration, impatience, and grumbling bubbling up. But somehow I managed to catch myself and ask, “What’s the most important thing right now?” The most important thing was Yasmin’s and my son’s health. Let’s make the decision that protects that. What’s even more important than that? That God is glorified even in our inconvenient and scary moment. Let’s have the attitude that honors that. Then we just faced every other decision the same way, not muddying the choice with how we felt or our fears about the future, but looking at things very matter of factly, but surrendering every immediate choice to the Lordship of God. Somehow we managed to complete all the tests, rebook our flights for the next day with minimal financial damage (though it still hurt). More importantly, Yasmin and the baby were shown to be well. Most importantly, I believe, we glorified God.

Where did we learn to process life this way? Was it through a sermon from a charismatic preacher? Was it through the popular Christian book of the day? Was it through an emotional moment at a Christian concert? When I praying and thinking about the events of that weekend, I remembered a very special verse to me:

And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you!” – 1 Samuel 17:33-37

We learn how to trust God for big things by trusting in Him for the smaller things. David, while simply serving his father faithfully, and learning that God’s power was helping him succeed in this task and against the threats he was facing, was being taught how to face something much bigger and with bigger implications.

He didn’t learn how to defeat giants through thinking big or faking it to make it. He learned how to defeat giants by being faithful with something smaller, protecting something smaller.

Too many times we’re waiting for that big break, we’re praying to God for that big dream, that wish, that hope, and we’re missing the preparation of today. Praying for that big business break? How is your workmanship today? Are you excellent today? Or are you already faltering? Are you already tired where you are?

Praying for a spouse? How are your current relationships? Are you good at apologizing? Are you good at forgiving? Are you good at serving? Because if you’re not, you’ll lose your spouse. You can expect that. If you’re not beating the lions and bears of selfishness then you’ll be crushed when it’s the giant.

Praying for a spiritual revelation? How are you with your daily devotions? How are you with obeying your parents or authorities? How are you with obeying your spouse?

We learn how to defeat giants by defeating the lions and the bears, because if we can’t trust in God’s power for smaller things, we won’t trust Him for bigger things. We will have no experience to remember, no answered prayer to hold on to, and no proof of God’s work in our own specific lives.

So let me summarize into one sentence: We need to apply God’s power to defeating the lions and bears of life, that we may learn how to apply His power to   life’s giants.

If we really believe what we say we believe, if we have convictions (not just opinions), if Jesus is really Lord, then we must apply His Lordship (His purpose and power) in our decision-making, and if we do, we will succeed, and with each success, we will grow in confidence that we can trust in Him no matter what we face. This is what it means to grow in faith. It’s not some mystical zap that now makes us more believing or more patient or more loving. It is exercising our faith by obeying God’s word with every decision, finding that not only is this the right thing to do but it is also the beneficial thing to do, the pleasing thing to do.

I love this approach. It removes the burden of my many mistakes and focuses me on one thing: glorifying God with my next decision. From my experience, whether it’s a challenge brought about by my own bad decisions or someone else’s, by relying on God’s power for the immediate and succeeding decisions, I find that even the gigantic problems are now beatable, because The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me.