We tend to hinge our emotions on our present realities and circumstances. The reality is there will always be trouble and hardships that will shake us every now and then. But we don’t have to worry or fret; we can rejoice because we have joy that does not depend on our present reality and we have all we need and more in Christ!
In the next four weeks, we will be studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which he wrote while he was in prison! Despite the trials and difficulties he faced, he was able to endure and come to this conclusion: No amount of difficulty can ever steal the fullness of joy we have in Christ.
Join us as we learn more about these topics for our upcoming series:
Week 1: Joy in Suffering (February 7)
Week 2: Joy in Relationships (February 14)
Week 3: Joy in Pursuing Christ (February 21)
Week 4: Joy in All Circumstances (February 28)
We hope that this series will help us learn to find contentment, hope, and joy in Christ in spite of our circumstances and share this fullness of joy to those around us!
Following health and safety protocols, we have resumed some worship services onsite while continuing to meet online. You may join us by checking schedules hereor your Victory location’s Facebook page.
“Our joy springs from the truth that our Savior was born. We shouldn’t let any outside circumstance or event steal that joy from us.” In this article, Pastor Paolo Punzalan shares how we can make this year’s Christmas celebration more meaningful.
What is one of your family’s favorite Christmas traditions? How has this tradition been affected by our current situation?
We have several Christmas traditions. Putting up the Christmas tree is one of the most important for us as a family not just because it signals the start of the celebration, but because it’s a memorable family event every year. It’s a walk down memory lane. The first thing we put on the tree is the first ornament Jen and I had as a married couple. The kids grew up knowing the story behind that ornament. Then each one that would follow has its own story. It reminds us of God’s faithfulness throughout the years. Another important tradition is reading the Advent story. When the children were young, we used a storybook, but now we use the passage from Luke. Then we take turns sharing our insights. This year, one of the insights shared was God’s very precise timing. If God can make sure that light from a star would travel years in advance so that people during Christ’s birth would see it at that exact moment, we can be sure that God can bring His perfect timing for everything in our lives. It’s so amazing to hear how God speaks to them through the story; it’s different every year. It’s also our tradition to buy toys and goodies and make loot bags. We drive around the city to give them to street children. It’s our way of teaching our children that Christmas is about giving, not just receiving.
How are you making this year’s Christmas celebration exciting and meaningful for your children? How would you want them to remember Christmas 2020?
We aren’t really doing anything different this year. We may not have as many guests at home and have shifted our gatherings to online platforms, but it’s still the same. This year, we did not do the usual loot bags, but we gave to the relief operations for those affected by the recent typhoons. The method may have changed, but what we are doing and why we are doing them remains the same. We also did not do the usual advent where we would invite several people in our home, but we had it online. In fact, we just had one for our village. Circumstances around us may change which may result in changes in the manner we celebrate Christmas, but the spirit behind this celebration will never change.
In one of my Christmas gatherings this year, I asked everyone, “Given the choice, would you have rather had a different 2020?” Personally, my answer to my own question is yes and no. Yes, because we couldn’t have physical gatherings, people lost jobs, and went through so many challenges. This has been a faith-stretching year for everyone. But at the same time, this year brought unprecedented growth. The growth in terms of relationships in families, dependence on God, and faith to believe that even if you no longer know what to do, you are certain that God is right there with you and He will act on your behalf. In spite of everything that we lost this year, there was also a lot we gained. I would not want to lose all that.
With everything that has happened this year, how can we, as Christians, celebrate this season and at the same time make it meaningful to others who may be going through a difficult time?
It’s a fact that 2020 took a lot from us. But what it has given us is clarity. Crisis creates clarity, and what this year made clear to us are the most basic yet the most important things. Yes, Christmas this year has been stripped down to the smallest of gatherings, but it should not take away our joy. This year clarified the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is based on events, on things around us. On the other hand, joy runs deeper. Our joy springs from the truth that our Savior was born. We shouldn’t let any outside circumstance or event steal that joy from us. At the same time, we also acknowledge that all of us went through so many challenges and most of us are having a difficult time. I think celebrating this season with a joy that comes from a grateful heart—reflecting on all the little things we’ve taken for granted in the past years—would make this Christmas season more meaningful to us and to those around us.
Pastor Paolo serves as the senior pastor in Victory Fort and has been married to Jenn for 25 years. Together with their four children and growing family, they continue to serve not just in the church, but also in their community.
Beyond the Series is a set of interviews on topics related to our sermon series.
We do not have to earn God’s love because He has already chosen to love us first. Here is a story of a man who became part of a church to pursue love, only to realize that Love Himself had been pursuing him.
I grew up thinking that I had to earn the love of God. Being the eldest of seven children, I grew up with the pressure that I had to always do the right things and be responsible. Somehow, there’s a fear in my heart that if I fail to do what’s right, God will get angry and reject me. Knowing that I do not always do the right thing and that I’m not as patient and forgiving as I need to be only made me feel frustrated and alienated from God.
In 2007, I met a woman who attended Victory. Having the mindset that love is something I had to earn, I did things that I knew she would appreciate, considering that I had a different religion. I joined the same church and became part of a Victory group even though my heart was not really in it. I went to church only because my mind was set on pursuing someone, not knowing that I was there because God was set on pursuing me.
I started noticing something different from the people I met in church. I saw real joy and peace in their lives. I saw a group of people who were committed to obey God, and it did not seem like a heavy chore for them. They were obeying God not out of obligation or fear of being rejected and punished, but out of love. The testimonies I was hearing and everything I was learning in the Victory group made me curious to know the God they were talking about. When I heard the teaching about loving your enemies, praying for them, and blessing them, I was shocked. It was not only a new concept; it seemed unfair, unacceptable, and even unwise. It was then that I started seeing God’s heart.
I realized that God had already chosen to love me even if I had not done anything to deserve it. He loved me first, and He loves me unconditionally. I can stop trying to earn God’s love because He has freely given it to me. Knowing this truth released me from a very heavy burden. I wanted to know this loving God and experience Him in my life. In spite of the knowledge that my decision would not be taken lightly by my family, I turned away from the religion I had grown up in and surrendered my life to Jesus. I completely trusted Him for the strength to face everything that I knew I would go through.
As expected, it was very difficult, but I saw God’s hand move in my situation. I experienced the joy and peace that do not depend on circumstances but on a relationship with God. I enjoyed the blessings that come from belonging to a church community. The challenges I faced brought me and Luzebel, the woman I had initially pursued in church, closer. We got married six years after I became a Christian. Although I did not see my parents for some time because of my decision to follow Christ, they had a last-minute change of heart and attended our Christian wedding. Now, they welcome my weekly visits, and I am praying that they would also experience God’s great love.
My wife and I have now been serving God together for seven years. In all the challenges we have faced, we carry with us the assurance that the love that drew us near to God will also cause us to triumph. His love will never fail.
. . . and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts . . .
Mazhar is a high school teacher and serves as a volunteer in Victory Zamboanga.
The Lord calls out His children from darkness to light. He can transform a person’s life, no matter how hopeless, empty, and messy it may seem.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9, ESV)
*Joy, a college student who attends our church in Metro Manila, recounts how God brought light into her life.
Molestation and sexual violation are tragic events that I never thought would happen to me. I was molested by my stepfather, the person I thought would be my confidant and protector. When our family went through a difficult season, my stepfather became addicted to drugs and that drug brought us to the darkest times of my life. At that point, I was devastated and angry. I also blamed myself for what happened. I thought, “If I did things differently in the past, I would never have experienced this.” My world turned black and no one ever understood what I went through. I was just waiting for my life to end because it felt like I was left with nothing. Experiencing freedom in this painful battle of my life was hard, but not impossible. One of my friends invited me to a Victory group where I met Jesus. I survived the pain with the knowledge of God’s love toward me. I understood that no amount of tears or effort on my part could change what happened to me, but God can set me free and I can hold onto His promise of a good plan for my future. Through my encounter with Jesus and the counsel of leaders in church, the darkness in my life turned into light. I also felt that a huge weight on me was lifted. From that time on, my perspective changed and I learned to appreciate my life even more. I became happy. For those who also experienced what I went through, be strong and build your life on God’s truth. In Christ, we can do all things and overcome challenges. Don’t let your obstacles and past experiences limit you from experiencing joy. We have to deal with our past. It may be hard, but it’s worth a try. Jesus says in Matthew 5:44, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Prayer and the will to move forward are the keys to start a new path together with Christ our Lord. Jesus is our confidant and protector.
Joy now joyfully serves her family and our church. She decided to extend grace to the offender and forgive him. Before Joy came to know Christ, she was very distant toward her family. Now, she desires to bless them as she works while taking up a business course as a scholar. She dreams of managing a restaurant someday. As she continues to live her new life in God, she actively participates in a Victory group and volunteers in our campus ministry.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the woman in this article. The featured photo is a royalty-free image and does not represent her.