I’ve been here in this small town in Ilocos Region for almost five months. Sadly, I still have this little shyness towards the congregation I’ve been joining, but thanks to their heart-warming welcome, I’m enjoying my stay in this place although it is only for temporary. It’s a great church where doctrinal-expository type of preaching is not neglected and the importance of Christ-centered praise and worship is greatly encouraged. Although the church is not like those churches built on cities where it is joined by hundreds of people, I know the people from that church is growing and the God they are worshiping is alive. They are those type of people who care less for quantity and focus more on the quality, and I really appreciate it because during my stay on cities, such kind of approach is really rare.
It’s the first Sunday after the 7.2 Magnitude earthquake shook Visayas, and I think, our Pastor felt the need to give a sermon regarding this. Although we’re in Luzon and miles away from the place that was severely damaged, but since we are on the same country, it’s hard not to care and just let that calamity pass by. Since June, Philippines has been into so much problems; from several storms that wrecked many towns, to Pork Barrel Scam and Zamboanga Siege, and now just fresh from all those problems, our beloved country is facing again a new one. It’s hard not to care when some of us are suffering. We need to be aware, and I thank the LORD God for convicting our Pastor for that very heart-warming but at the same time conscience-convicting sermon. It was indeed one of the sermons I will never forget.
If there could have been a place that really knows how it feels to be on the verge of great earthquakes and frightening aftershocks, it is this town. Twenty-two years ago, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake also shook this place. Praise God that it did not take a long time for them to recover because during those days, only few big buildings were built. But considering that some of the church members were already alive during that year, they know how it feels and they couldn’t help not to sympathize with the Cebuanos and Boholanos who were greatly affected.
But what I really wanted to share now is what distracted me from that sermon. It’s not that it is more important than the sermon, but there’s a story behind it that will awaken the depravity and the sinful state of mankind which is an application of what the sermon was partly about.
There’s this two women that I’ve been seeing inside the church for months. It seems like they are not newbies in the church since they sang so loud during the praise and worship. They are those kind of people that will really get your attention because of their not so nice actions. Just imagine my first Sunday on that Church where I saw both of them wearing mini-skirts. If I wasn’t mature enough, I could have judged the church by what those women were wearing. One Sunday also, I saw one of them looking at her mirror while the sermon was going on, and the other was combing her hair. How disrespectful. I wasn’t use on seeing such kind of people doing such things inside the church, but every time I see them do those things, I cannot help not to remind myself of Luke 18:9-14; the Story of A Pharisee and a Tax Collector:
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
During such kind of times, I usually whisper prayers asking God not to make me sound like the Pharisee because I know God loves to forgive sinners and only Him knows who are sheep and goats, who are His and not. That’s why every time they do such disrespectful actions inside the church, I find the need to pray for them. Instead of throwing stones at strangers, I choose to whisper a little prayer for them that someday they will be convicted of their sinfulness and turn to back God.
But just hours earlier (By the way, It’s Sunday night here in the Philippines), I was sitting on the 5th row, on the side next to the center aisle. The row was empty when I arrived. I don’t have any clue who will sit beside me during that service. Then out of nowhere, while we are on the middle of our praise and worship, I felt people were rushing to stand beside me. Their perfume’s fragrance gave me the hint that they are females. When I glimpsed towards them, I saw that the people standing beside me were the people that I’ve been talking about earlier, and this time they are joined by someone who’s not familiar with me.
I tried to smile at them, but they acted as if I’m invisible. So, I just let that moment pass. Few minutes later, the praise and worship part ended. It’s time to read the main verses for that sermon. I reached out for my Bible, and when I saw only one of them brought a Bible, I tried to reach out to them and gave this normal brethren gesture where you are giving someone a hint that you are willing to share your Bible with them, but then again, they ignored me. I don’t usually get that response from other church members. Most of them are warm and always smiling.
So there, I know it seems I’m invisible to them, but at least on my part, they are not. I don’t want any brethren to feel such thing from me. Few minutes later, our Pastor approached the pulpit and started praying for the sermon, and just few minutes after the prayer ended, the girl who sat beside me immediately grabbed her phone out of her pouch and started texting. This time, I keep on convincing myself maybe they are still lost, so it’s a good move to just be patient on them. Besides, I cannot judge them completely just because of that. Later on, while the whole congregation was silent, the two other girls who were sitting next to the one who was texting, were chatting. Anyone who was on my position can never really concentrate, but praise God because even though such things were happening beside me, God never let me miss that very great sermon.
Those small destructive gestures were still going on, and honestly it sometimes gets my attention. The girl who is sitting nearest to me finally stretched her legs, and guess what she did next? She raised her one leg to the next row which is empty, and then leaned on her friend as if she was just watching a movie at her house. God’s Word rushed in my mind;‘The LORD judges the heart (1 Samuel 16:7)’, ‘Don’t judge lest ye be judged (Matthew 7:1)’ and many more. I cannot help not to whisper a prayer again. ‘Oh please, God, should I move to the next row?’. . .’But I don’t want to leave them that impression that I despise them’. . .’God, help me fix my eyes on You. Let my whole being listen to Your Word today.’
But few minutes later (again), the girl nearest to me grabbed…guess what? A comb and started combing her hair! Unbelievable! I started to get irritated. How could she still do those things when the sermon tackled about people’s sinfulness and God’s punishment for those who do not fear Him (although that was just a part, and the other part was already encouragements for the saints)? Is she deaf? Is she really a goat who just entered the church to get entertained? I pity her for missing that very essential sermon that could have opened her eyes regarding mankind’s depravity. She still never learned her lesson because few minutes later, she reached out for a foundation, and started putting some of it on her face. Maybe I was not just the one who noticed them because some church members were already giving their clearing-the-throat gestures to alarm them, but it never really worked. I tried to get her attention, because maybe she’ll be alarmed if someone was looking at her, but I guess I’m really invisible for them. So there, I was left to just lift up my concerns to God through praying.
Although I got irritated because they’ve become the enemy’s instrument for us to become distracted, but that event reminded me to always hate the sin but not the sinner. Although I am so sorry that I never did confront them because they are older than me, but I thank the LORD that the prayers I whispered to Him during those moments where answered right away. I still got the whole message of the sermon, and at the same time, I learned from them.
I learned that, I should cultivate a heart that doesn’t judge people right away. Although we are salt and light in this world, but sometimes we should weigh things if its worth the argument or not. I could have talked to them and confront them even though I’m a stranger, but I chose not to and let God change them. You cannot get good response from such approach. You’ll just give them a reason not to go to church anymore. And besides, I’m not from this place. If there is someone who should confront them it should be someone who’s been a part of that church for years, but it doesn’t mean that I care less. I do care, but I’d rather keep silent for the meantime.
I find the need to talk about this rather than the sermon because the example of what the sermon was partly about was there beside me. What I experienced earlier was the application of Mankind’s sinfulness. Many are like them who know God but don’t even care to seek Him and obey Him. Sad to say some of them are church goers. It’s heartbreaking that I have to learn the application right at the same moment the sermon was told. It left me with so much humility to check my heart and begged God not just to change the women sitting beside me but also me. All of us sinned and fall short (Rom 3:23), and it was only by God’s grace that I was able to reach out Him and become aware of my sinfulness.
I know I am not alone with such incidents because many church goers around the world are also acting that way. But when times confront you to talk to them, tell it with love but if your confidence are still low, just simply include them in your everyday prayers for only God can really change them. We cannot turn our backs on such kind of people. We are all sinners. The only difference we have with such kind of people is that, we are confronted of our sinfulness, and we know that only God’s grace can save us. That’s why we surrender everything to Him and depend on the sanctification He is doing in us. Let us not despise them and act as if we are higher than them. Always remember what Jesus said (Matthew 9:12):
But when [Jesus] heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a Physician, but those who are sick.”
Jesus Christ came down from heaven to save sinners. Although not all of us will be saved since some are sheep and some are goats; some are wheat and some are tares; some are planted in a good soil and some are planted in a bad soil; some built their houses on a solid rock and some on the sand; some run the race and brought reserved oil with them and some did not; but still, let us not hide the Good News to the people who are lost. Take heart what God commanded (Matthew 28:18-20):
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Despite of what those kind of people are doing, let them still hear the Good News because ‘Faith comes from hearing (Romans 10:17)’.
Trust that God will convict them and change them. Hope that He will do it just like how He was able to do it to us.
May this simple experience I had also taught my readers a lesson.
God bless you all! 🙂