A Taste of Hell

I have confirmed lately that the olfactory sense is connected somewhat to the tastebuds. So what I smell, I can also taste.

I live in a beautiful compound here in Guisad, Baguio City. We’re covered with pine trees. Just last summer, my wife improved our frontyard, converting the almost-jungle piece of land into a beautiful garden. Our porch is facing southeast and it is very gorgeous to watch the sunrise coming up at an angle. The air is very crisp at 15 degrees centigrade. The morning fog mixes with the herbs in our garden that would bring a rush of excitement to one’s nerves. A cup coffee at hand would complete those beautiful praise-filled mornings in our porch. But as they said, some good things never last.

Every morning at 6am, our neighbor across the street would take out some trash and burn them. This my friend is a taste of hell.

It all began when Baguio had its (in)famous garbage problem. People were then forced to find alternative ways to dispose their garbage; burning included. This really irritates me: emotionally and physically. I have weak lungs. I suffer hard bouts of coughing when exposed to irritants (dust, molds, smoke). My neighbor (whom I am supposed to love) is not helpful at all.

So instead of perching on my porch, I just decided to move inside. But the smell of burning trash do not respect boundaries. It has invaded my living room! I even asked the Lord if it is okay to pronounce a curse on all trash burners. Of course He did not like the idea. Instead, he taught me a lesson. He reminded me of hell.

During the time of Jesus, people were already burning their garbages. In Jerusalem, that would be in the valley of Hinnom. When Jesus needed an image to describe the future state of those who rebelled against God and rejected the Son of Man, he found the valley of Hinnom a useful illustration. I can now imagine the shock of the disciples (and the brewing anger of the Pharisees) as they turn their heads toward that cursed valley. Fire. Smoke. Decay. Death. Scary. The smell that hounds me every morning is nothing compared to the Hinnom Valley. And the one in Hinnom Valley is no match to the situation in Hell.

As the evil smoke from the trash being burned across the street rises and poisons Baguio’s air, it now serves to me as a reminder of Hell. So I decided to offer a smoke, a fragrant one, to counter that. The prayer of the saints are like incense rising to the very throne room of God. And if you’ll excuse me, I have much praying to do for my beloved city.


The Vanity of Seminary Training

The Vanity of Seminary Training

An Intertextual Sermon from Ecclesiastes
Preached during PBTS Chapel Service on August 19, 2008


Meaningless! Meaningless! Seminary is Meaningless!
What would a student gain from three years of training in the seminary?
A student comes and a student goes, and yet the churches are still the same. The more students we have, the more churches that needed them. The need is just endless!

Every year we have commencement exercises, and every year we also have enrollments. We enroll. We graduate. We finish. We start all over again. It’s just an unending academic exercise. A futile chasing of the wind.

All these seminary study is wearisome. And all the courses are still the same. The subject matters do not change. What has been discussed will be discussed again. What has been asked will again resurface. And to what end? Students forget the lessons once outside the classroom. They only study for the quiz, and then nothing more. Who cares about Hatshepsut in our churches? Does it matter who the Pharoah of Exodus is? Or if my pronunciation of the Shema is perfect? Does anyone care whether I use my left or my right side of the brain in preaching? Will I be asked whatever happened in AD325 at the Council of Nicea? Will my rough breathing mark be noticed in my counseling sessions? (Probably if I forget to brush my teeth). Does it matter if my quarter note is terminated a little bit too early? Or if I “accidentally” sung a quarter rest in measure 35 of an old old hymn? I wonder if my congregation would require that my sermon should follow strictly the Turabian format. All these studies are meaningless. A chasing after the wind, or in Baguio’s case, a chasing after the fog.

When I was a still an M.Div. student, I was wrestling with this concept. What a waste of time! Souls are waiting to be saved. Churches are yearning for strong leadership. Congregations are wanting for strong biblical sermons. And yet there I was. In the seminary. Working as a Xerox Operator. Highly underpaid. Memorizing conjugations in my spare moments inside the bathroom. Answering ditty questions aboard a Victory Liner Bus on my way to my Field Education assignment. Squeezing all my time to cover even just the basics. However, I told myself: “Patience, Mhac. This will surely pay off.”

So I decided that meaning in the seminary life must be to become THE valedictorian. Suddenly,  I felt a strong urge to be at the top of my batch. I don’t want to just be a normal seminarian so I focused myself to study. Study. Study. Study. Then I observed. I’m missing a lot of things! The more I learn, the less I understood. The more I knew, the more I become ignorant. “For with much wisdom, is much sorrow; as knowledge increases, grief increases.” My classmates who are not studying seems happier than me! That, too, is meaningless!

So I decided I’ll try achievements. I thought that this might bring meaning to my seminary life. I built websites. I fixed computers. I created the Student Academic Records database. Yes, I have the power to erase all your 98s in a click of a mouse. Oh well, make it two. I setup the Local Networking here in campus. I got extra bucks from friends who are willing to pay; and a box for those who could not.

However, I realized this too is meaningless. A chasing after the fog. Yes, I was the popular handy computer technician on campus but it is wearisome. People knock at your door during unholy hours just because their monitor is all black. And it is more frustrating that it’s all black because they did not plug it on the wall power outlet! Computer repair is meaningless! What is new now will be old in 6 months’ time. What a waste!  I also noticed that it’s the same virus I remove every week! A chasing after the fog.

Skirts and Pants
Then I turned my focus on finding a partner. Maybe that is the real meaning of seminary life. What is wrong in finding a lifetime partner here? Here you can find the godly, the godly, and the godly women of God. So I increased my radar reception to the opposite gender. I started looking for friends. Yes, friends, as in pare, amiga, prayer-partner… I thought, there’s nothing wrong with that. Seminarians long ago provided the precedent. So it is okay to hunt and peck while here in the seminary. So I searched. I searched. I searched. Did I tell I searched? Oh well, this too, I found was meaningless. I sung with the Survivors “the search is over!” I’ve had enough. This too, is a chasing after the wind.

Mystery of Time
What is three years of seminary life? Is it just a passing moment? I say, enjoy your stay here. Enjoy it while it last. There’s a time for everything. A time for quizzes, a time for games; a time for eating, a time for sleeping; a time for essays, a time for identifications; a time to write your research paper, a time to report them; a time for work, a time for play; a time to come, and a time to go (don’t plan on staying longer than necessary); there’s a chapel time, there’s library time; there’s prayer time, and there’s also fasting time. Everything here has its perfect time. Dr. Bong made it sure that you are properly occupied while being here. You all undergo this ordeal. And to what end? I already asked that question. So I say, enjoy while it last. Stand in awe of God. He has placed you here.

However, I also observed another meaningless in the seminary. It is but natural to see that there is wickedness in places like dark alleys and red light districts, drug dens and gang headquarters. But  to my shock, there is also wickedness in the seminary! Students lie and cheat. They plagiarize. They are lazy and gossips. They are lustful and living a double life. I’m shocked! All along I thought that this is a holy place; that evil and wickedness stop at its gate. I thought that once I’m inside, all evil will vanish. How can this be happening? It’s meaningless. I can’t explain it. So I admired the alumni, who have already been long gone from this place, more than I admire the current students. But then, better than either of them is someone who has not yet enrolled; and has not seen the evil activity done under the sun.

I have seen more injustice in the classrooms. My cheating classmates passed without any problem — because they had their cheat sheets. We who are righteous suffered the rigors of preparation and the torment of long nights of study, and all we got were just passing grades. It’s another meaningless activity in the seminary, a chasing after the wind. My cheating classmates hired people from the outside to read and summarize a book. They had the money, so no problem for them. We who are honest and poor, stayed until 12 midnight to read the book and type up a summary. And both kind of students got the same grade. All of these are meaningless, an academic injustice done in the four walls of the seminary.

Enjoy Life
So I say, enjoy your seminary life. It is but three short years of your life. After this, the cruel world is waiting for a naive seminarian like you. “… the righteous and the wise, and their works are in God’s hands.” We do not know what really lies ahead of us. Both cheaters and honest face the same thing. “As it is for the good, so it is for the sinner.” Plan now. Take quizzes now. Fall in love now. Make your essays now. Answer your ditties now. Read the assigned books now. Because tomorrow, there will be no more activities like these in the churches where you are going.

Invest Time and Effort Wisely
So I say be wise. Whatever you do here in the seminary do it with all your heart. Does it rain when there is no rain cloud? Does the ground produce sayote without someone planting it? Does an object gain a potential energy equal to the product of its mass and the square of its acceleration due to gravity without someone picking it up and placing it on an elevated surface? In the same way, you must invest your time and effort wisely. “Just as you don’t know the path of the wind or how bones develop in the womb of a pregnant woman, so you don’t know the work of God who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed,
and at evening do not let your hand rest,
because you don’t know which will succeed,
whether one or the other,
or if both of them will be equally good.”

“Remove sorrow from your heart,
and put away pain from your flesh,
because youth and the prime of life are fleeting.”

Fear God
So remember God in your seminary days. Before the final bell is rung and you can’t interact anymore; before the final exam is given and all reviewing is at an end; before the deadline for submission and you can’t type the answer anymore; on the day the grade is computed and your requirements are graded. Remember God. Before the evaluation is handed in, before your name is finally included in the graduating list, before your clearance has all been signed. Remember God. Before you don that black toga, before you turn the tassel, before your certificate of graduation is handed to you. Remember God.
So what is seminary life, really? Is it really vanity to spend three long years for seminary training? “The conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this [is for] all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.”

Out of Hibernation

I have been a passive blogger for about a year now.

It’s not that I have anything to write, but I have to divert my energy somewhere else, namely, my dissertation.

I’m happy to announce that I have completed my dissertation. 🙂 At the time of this writing, three Faculty members of our Graduate School (ABGTS) are examining it  thoroughly. Their approval/disapproval will determine whether I graduate or not.

Anyways, since the monkey ( I should say gorilla to be more precise) is off my back, I can now re-enter blogdom as an active participant. Oh how I wish to pour out my ideas and thoughts here. 🙂

As a re-entry post, I would like to recommend the reading of this cross-cultural book on romance by Kuya Kevin.

Basta Love Life: Making Wise Relationship Decisions

Kuya Kevin Promoting His Book

And now something to soothe your heart:

Can you find some similarities? 🙂

Hint: Both are applying general principles across a wide range of media.

Half Hearted

A man of God came unto Samaria

Under strict orders received in Judah,

a judment to be given to the king,

to warn him of his ways, his backsliding.

The LORD’s command was explicit to him,

declare his word then come back running in

no explanation God has to offer,

all he has to do, stand and deliver.

So he went to Jeroboam’s altar,

there he found him, right beside the stone

the incense, he is about to offer

the people ready to worship that morn.

but before the king has done anything

a shrill cry broke the silence that morning,

the man of God pronounced Yahweh’s judgment

O altar, altar, hear thy banishment.

Josiah, David’s heir on Judah’s throne

will tear you down and pour out your ashes,

your priests and servants on it will be burned,

with bones of humans kept long in stashes.

now this oracle will surely come true

because a sign will be given to you

this altar will now be ripped apart, torn

ashes spilt, and will be left quite forlorn.

the king was enraged on hearing the words

he charged the army to take up their swords

protect their king and arrest the nuisance,

for causing this uncalled for disturbance.

but as he raised his arm it shriveled dry

his limb unable to move to nor fro

so the monarch froze shocked, can’t help but cry

o prophet pray for me, i need it so.

the prophet gripped by mercy and pity

prayed to the Lord for the king to be whole,

and at once the shriveled hand broke free

from rigidness to its functional role.

so glad and merry the king invited

the young prophet home to be rewarded

but lo he was definitely refused

for the prophet warned it to be obtuse.

he said, o king, though half-kingdom you grant

I would not stay here another moment

for you see I was sent on this errand

and expected that orders be not bent.

i need to leave and pass another way

i was ordered not to take food nor drink

but go immediately and not delay

and breaking them i dare not even think

And so the prophet left the king stunned

and trod another pathway homeward bound

the people watched as this stranger passed by

sent by the LORD there, but they don’t know why.

Another prophet lived in Ephraim

told by his sons about the morn’s duel

a young prophet, they said, spoke to the king

denounced his ways, the altar at Bethel.

The old prophet asked, to where did he go?

On that road, they said, pointing where he passed

Saddle the donkey, I need to follow

the sons obeyed, though they felt they were rushed.

The old man found the Judean prophet

sitting under an oak tree, their eyes met

Are you the man of God who smote the king?

Yes I am, he said without much thinking.

Then come home with me eat and be refreshed

for you look tired and certainly famished

from this morning’s job you executed

you need food and drink, that is expected.

Oh no, I have to decline such kindness

the Lord sent me to go and not delay

avoid food and drink though sounds like madness

and its for his sake that I must obey

The older man said, like you I am sent

a prophet to deliver God’s intent

an angel told me to bring you back home

serve you bread and water, before you roam.

Without further ado, the prophet stood

followed the old man back to his abode

he never realized he was deceived

God does change after all, his mind believed.

All of a sudden, while eating the food

the old prophet with eyes ablaze he stood

he just received a message from the Lord

and he can’t help but deliver God’s word.

He said, stiff-necked prophet you stand condemned,

you did not follow, orders you did bend

why did you eat and drink, which I forbid

am I insufficient to meet such need?

therefore you shall die and will be buried

not in your clan’s graveyard, and quite hurried

you will die in shame, and in much disgrace

surely this will come true, such is the case.

After they dined the young man bade goodbye

he tucked his clothes in and went on his way

never thought that on that day he would die

doubting the old man to his own dismay.

So on he went along the trodden path

never seen the lion that poured its wrath

when its fierce paw hit and caught him offguard

it cost him his life as he fell downward.

The lion stood guard beside the dead man

bothering the donkey was not the plan

it just made sure that no one disturbs him

lying dead on the road in Ephraim.

some men passed by and saw the dead body

isn’t that the prophet, they asked shockingly

how come he’s here and is dead already?

saw him used by God, what an anom’ly

they spread the word and soon the whole town knows

what befell the prophet in the meadows

killed by the lion, lying on the ground

no one has moved him yet for fears abound

when the older prophet heard what happened

to the younger one, once more he’s burdened

a young life’s lost for disobedience

what happened to him, the Lord’s ordinance.

so he saddled his donkey hurriedly

went to the place of this monstrosity

hoped against all odds to find the body

the lion, he prayed, not to go hungry.

and there behold, he saw the young man slain

beside his donkey and the lion’s mane

both just stood still, both understood their plight

to watch the body and keep it in sight

then the old man picked up the lifeless form

his face unkempt as if strucked by fierce storm

this young man, he thought, should have been alive

only if his will and the Lord’s had jived

So he headed back, taking home the dead

though disobedient to what God has said

for proper burial, and honor to give

he’s still God’s servant and thus, the reprieve.

He told his sons, when I die bury me

beside his bones, this man of infamy

for all he has said will surely come true

God’s wrath is coming, don’t you doubt it, too.

That altar in Bethel as well as Dan

will be torn to pieces, not one will stand

for God has decreed the sure coming wrath

no one can stop it, nor stay in its path.

Meanwhile back in the palace, lies the king

once restored, forgot about everything

he remained in sin, in his evil ways,

which caused the shortening of Israel’s days.

As we look back at this account we’ll see

that disobedience has a price, not free

and that it comes in two forms, and both count

only as one, this truth paramount.

First is that of king Jeroboam’s sin

a direct rebellion, a disregard

of his God, rejecting as only King

he led Ephraim to its slide downward.

He violated the first three commands

given to Moses, in the desert lands

A direct assault against the Lord’s face

he brought him nothing but only disgrace.

Because of his desire to be stable

as king of the North, he has enabled

priests to build two rival worship centers

so that the people’s needs will be catered.

No more need to go down South, he argued

Cause our two bulls here are also as good

to offer sacrifices, incenses

instead of one, we have two good places!

The truth however is that he had fear

his people holding Jerusalem dear

so instead of exposing them down South

he must provide, an alternative route.

And so even though he was forbidden

to build images the Lord detested

His mind was made up, already headed

to disobey and to be forsaken.

He ordered the construction of altars

before its too late, people straying far,

to allow for them an alternative

no matter the cost, even repulsive.

Jeroboam stood condemned a long time,

evil and wicked men reigned in his line;

from generation to generation,

each one rejected Yahweh’s redemption.

That is the price, the cost he has to pay

For deserting God and choosing his way

A kingdom lost, a heritage of sin

He will be remembered, curse to his kin.

There’s another form of disobedience

So subtle, indeed, comes from negligence

of failure to comply, giving up fast

healf-hearted obedience, it doesn’t last.

That’s what befell the infamous prophet

thinking that God’s command can be thwarted

change of plans was readily considered

when discomfort came, convictions wavered.

When confronted by a contradiction

he shouldve sought the Lord’s verification

he was a true prophet, too, was he not?

Because of extreme fatigue he forgot.

Surely in our minds, it doesn’t make much sense

killing the prophet for disobedience

can he not eat some food and take some rest?

Mission is accomplished: he passed the test.

However we look at it, analyze

the fault is his, that’s all we can surmise

had he taken the Lord’s word seriously

he wouldn’t be sitting under that tree.

For stopping would open a lot of way

to be distracted, to be led astray

so the Lord was insistent he hurry

to go back in haste to his own country.

Another bump we see in this story

is the great reversal, an irony

the king, though wicked, was healed, forgiven

while the prophet, the Lord’s servant, was slain.

I leave that paradox to your musings

as to why the Lord used diff’rent dealings

for that describes his righteous character

that we are all entitled to wonder.

Today my hope is that we all have learned

that half obeying is not in the plan

For the Lord desires full pledge allegiance

no space left even for small dissonance.

The message given to you this morning

is provocative and stimulating;

it’s meant to jog your mind and shift your feet

for here comes the prophet, also poet.


PBTS Chapel Service

July 10, 2007


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Happy Father’s Day!

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Happy Father’s Day!

Dissertation Ploughing

I’m an ABD for about 3 years now. My academic clock is about to expire. That’s why this blog has been stagnant for a loooooooooooooooongg time.

As soon as I get my first draft done, I might post again. 🙂