Bener Agtarap


So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ,” says in Galatians 3:26, NIV

We belong to Jesus by grace alone. Our belongingness to Jesus and the fellowship of Christ’s followers is a gift from God. Receiving this gift of grace by faith in Christ Jesus ushers us into the beloved community of God. Our membership in the Christian faith community is not nor was ever because of what we know or don’t know nor what we have or don’t have. Frankly, it does not matter either how good or bad we are. We enter and belong to the fellowship of the disciples of Jesus because of God’s grace and grace alone.

Our Christian baptism teaches us this truth. Apostle Paul declares, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29, NIV). It is a good reminder to remember always our baptism as a symbol of belongingness to Christ and the “body of Christ.” What would it look like if you religiously remembered your baptism each day, all throughout the day?

Early in my childhood, my family and I belonged to the Roman Catholic church. I remember going to the Mass (worship service) and always sitting at the back pews in the church. Without fully understanding some of the practices or rituals in the church, I followed what my mother and others did every time we entered the church. We dipped our fingers in the baptismal fonts standing at the back of the sanctuary or near the entrance door to the church. We touched the water with our fingers and made the sign of the cross. Honestly, I had no idea what that was all about then. Later, I learned that dipping your fingers in the baptismal fonts is a recollection of your identity as a child of God. It is a reminder that your entry into the house of God and your act of worship are acts of affirmation that you are loved, saved, and sanctified by God’s grace through the life and works of Jesus.

Tish Harrison Warren writes, “We are marked from our first waking moment by an identity that is given to us by grace: an identity that is deeper and more real than any other identity we will don that day” (Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, Inter Varsity Press, 2016). We are marked as Jesus’ disciples. Remembering our baptism leads us to action. We commit our life as a witness to the grace of God. As witnesses, we point ourselves and others to the good news that God so loved the world and gave Jesus to all creation to give life and bless it with abundant life.

Prayer Song:

Who am I by Casting Crowns

Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name, would care to feel my hurt?
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way for my ever wandering heart?

Not because of who I am, but because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who You are

Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love and watch me rise again?
Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain and calm the storm in me?

I am Yours, I am Yours, oh

Whom shall I fear? Whom shall I fear?
‘Cause I am Yours, I am Yours. Amen.


“Above all, love each other deeply,” says in I Peter 4:8a, NIV

How can we love each other deeply amid disagreement? What does it take to put love for God and others above all?

Our love for God is best demonstrated whenever we extend hospitality to others. To welcome everyone with open arms is a good sign of hospitality. Extending a helping hand to someone in despair who needs help without expecting anything in return manifests our obedience to God’s will to be hospitable.    

Ordinarily, our practice of hospitality often involves offering meals to the hungry or giving help to strangers. Usually, when we do these acts of goodwill, we feel good about ourselves and think we did what is required of us.  I suggest that that is true only to some extent. For me, genuine hospitality is about more than providing food and service. Although sharing meals and assisting others are excellent hospitality practices, a Christian expression of hospitality is far greater than these two great examples. There is more to feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, visiting the sick, and clothing the naked.

This week I watched Bishop Merrill’s Episcopal Address during the Holy Communion service of the Arkansas Annual Conference. She says, “I have felt God’s hospitality through you. This hospitality lies at the very core of my faith. The divine invitation that I have found in Christ and his people is the reason that I stand here for you today.” Bishop Merrill and many other stories like her lead us to believe that God’s hospitality is a life-changing, life-affirming, and setting-free kind of hospitality. And God is inviting us to live out this kind of hospitality in how we relate with others.

How can we practice God’s hospitality, kindness, and generosity toward others?

A true expression of our desire to live a Christ-like life can only be done through our life of hospitality. Hospitality, therefore, is a genuine way to show love to God and love for others, even for your own sake. As Christ’s disciples, we believe in God’s hospitality in our life through Christ Jesus. Let our beliefs shape our practice of hospitality, and let our acts of hospitality show what we believe. As you go around this week, how can you be hospitable to God, your neighbors, and yourself?

Prayer Song:

By Andrew Pratt

There are no strangers to God’s love

Yet we privatised God’s grace

Bound by nationhood and lies

In fear we shrouded love’s own face

Acknowledging our sin and greed

We come confessing common need

When people seeking sanctuary

Come to our shores and need our aid

Then in Christ’s name let’s offer care

Through this our debt of love is paid

God’s grace is free this grace receive

Let actions show what we believe. Amen


“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony,” says in Colossians 3:14, NRSV

Is it true that holy conferencing, the way of United Methodists, builds up Christian disciples? Does our holy conferencing yields mature disciples of Jesus Christ?

By this time, most, if not all, Annual Conference sessions of 2023 within the United Methodist Church connection in the United States and all across the globe are over. They completed the agenda and business of the conference and now heading back to their respective ministry setting to continue the Gospel work. The United Methodists seem to be moving forward with a deep sense of God’s leading them in such a time as this.

As people called United Methodists, we are called to participate in the mission of God. We find ourselves expressing gratitude to God, who loves all of God’s people and the whole creation. We do it not in isolation from each other but together as one body of Christ.

We support each other to accomplish God’s mission. In the Wesleyan tradition, we continually express support to one another by coming together as a Christian community. We gather in search and study of the Scriptures, prayer, Communion, worship, and service. As United Methodists, we observe these spiritual practices individually and corporately to help the whole Christian community experience God’s grace. John Wesley calls our coming together in holy conferencing and the observance of spiritual practices a “means of grace.”

In many instances, holy conferencing is used as a methodology to assist people in discussing complex and controversial issues where the group is not on the same mind or who are going to disagree but wants to handle it with respect and care towards each other. Holy Conferencing allows people to treat each other with love and equal opportunity to speak, listen, reflect, and act together in one accord despite differing viewpoints or apparent differences within the body. More importantly, this process recognizes God’s presence in our midst and affirms that we all are God’s children, equally loved by God.

Is holy conferencing all about a method of assisting people in having positive conversations on controversial topics? Is sharing love and respect amid differences and conflicts the ultimate goal of holy conferencing? Do our courageous conversations in holy conferencing lead to bold action for mission and ministry in the world? How can we make our holy conferencing a way to confirm our hope, build up our faith, and perfect our love for God, each other, and the world?

As we participate in God’s mission, let us be strengthened by the Scriptures that say, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14, NRSV).

Prayer Song:

UMH#579 – “Lord God, Your Love Has Called Us Here”

Lord God, your love has called us here,

As we, by love, for love were made;

Your living likeness still we bear,

Though marred, dishonored, disobeyed;

We come, with all our heart and mind,

You call to hear, your love to find.

Lord God, in Christ you set us free

Your life to live, your joy to share;

Give us your Spirit’s liberty

To turn from guilt and dull despair,

And offer all that faith can do,

While love is making all things new. Amen.


“the greatest of these is love,” says in I Corinthians 13:13, NIV

Do you love only those who care about you? Or, someone you know can love you back? Isn’t real love ought to be offered to everyone?

Many personalities in human history showed us how to love – not just some but everyone. Let’s name a few of them and invite you to celebrate their “sweet love” story with me. Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu, reverently known as Mother Teresa, is at the top of my list. She founded Missionaries of Charity. Accordingly, it “grew to have over 4,500 nuns across 133 countries. It “manages homes for people who are dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy, and tuberculosis” and also “runs soup kitchens, dispensaries, mobile clinics, children’s and family counseling, orphanages and schools.” She did all these great things with great sweet love. In her words, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” The next person is one who “led marches for the right to vote, desegregation, labor rights, and other civil rights for people of color in the United States through nonviolence and civil disobedience.” He was assassinated and died many years back. However, his legacy is still alive. We live in a world where “there is just too little of” love in the hearts and minds of many people around us. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. challenges us to keep moving forward and use the greatest force in the world – love. He said, “Love is the greatest force in the universe. It is the heartbeat of the moral cosmos. He who loves is a participant in the being of God.” The world needs more people like them, who believe in the power of love, and such selfless love can change the world upside down.

As Christ’s disciples, are we not sent out into the world to love others like Jesus did? How about your participation in spreading love? Can you think of a moment when you selflessly shared love with others? Did it make a difference? How? Let us not forget that God requires us to love – not just for some but everyone!

Prayer Song:

Songwriter: Burt F. Bacharach/Hal David

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

No not just for some, but for everyone.

Lord, we don’t need another meadow

There are cornfields and wheatfields enough to grow

There are sunbeams and moonbeams enough to shine

Oh listen, Lord, if you want to know

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

No not just for some, but for everyone. Amen.


“Commit your way to the Lord,” says in Psalm 37:5a, NIV

The word alignment means “a position of agreement or alliance.” Its significance encompasses all aspects of our being and doing. This is more so true in the realm of spiritual alignment. Our alignment with God is critical in our daily walk of life.

Can you recall a moment when you felt wholly aligned with God?

Unfortunately, we often see God’s people struggling to align with God consistently. Here are some examples: When our words mismatch our actions, are we not out of alignment? As far as Jesus is concerned, if you say you love him but don’t take care of his people, there is a misalignment. Are we kidding when we say we honor God yet disrespect our neighbors? In Micah 6, our acts of worship of God in the sanctuary and acts of justice in the public square are to align with each other, with no difference at all. As Christ’s disciples, do we take seriously this matter of alignment? If we are causing people to experience hurt and pain, we are clearly out of alignment with God. Do our values compatible or incompatible with Christ’s healing, forgiving, and reconciling love? Are we differentiating our ways of life from how Jesus lived on earth? What aspects of life do you pray to God to align with Jesus? How complex are those challenges you face each day that make it hard to succeed? What are the gifts you possess to be in alignment with God?

In any scenario, a decision will be made if you have determined to stay aligned with God in various life experiences. The Scriptures says, “Commit your way to the Lord.” Committing to God is a huge step towards positioning our life in agreement or alliance with God. Better news: God will act if we engage or align our way to the Lord!

We do everything in unison with God. God will act, and when God acts, everything is possible.

How can you align your way of life to the way of the Lord, our God, today? What is a small act of faith you could do to stay aligned with God? Let’s commit our way to the Lord and rejoice, for God will act and lead us to live in full alignment with God Almighty!

Prayer Song:

By Charles W. Barnes (Words) and Harriet P. Grove (Music)

Commit thy way, and day by day,
The Lord shall lead.
And He shall trace, with tender grace,
Thy path—’tis all we need.
For love shall crown,
Shall crown our life indeed.

Commit thy way; our hearts obey,
And God doth lead;
And at the last shall bring to pass
All that the heart shall plead.
For love has crowned,
Has crowned our life indeed. Amen.


have the understanding to know me that I am the Lord,” says in Jeremiah 29:24a, NIV

There are so many things we know about God. We learn them from the Bible and life experiences. It’s good to name some of them and ask ourselves: We know God has a plan to prosper all creatures. Are you aware of what it might be for you? We know God is doing a new thing. Do you perceive it? We know God loves a cheerful giver. Is generosity an integral part of your life? We know God can make all things possible. When was the last time you witnessed God’s miracle? We know God created and cares for the whole creation. What do you do to protect the environment? We know God made you in God’s image. Are you mirroring God’s image in your daily living?

These are some of the things that we know about God. And there are more. Am I right? Here is the deal: The things that we know about God are limited. This is not so the case because God is hiding and not revealing his presence among us fully—precisely the opposite. God reveals himself all the time. If we are, to be honest about this, we are missing a lot because we tend to pick attributes of God of those that fit our standards. Isn’t it the case? It will help us become better Christians by being aware of who God is and what God does and allowing such knowledge of God to transform us. Knowing God is a critical step toward becoming what God has stored for you. Are we consciously taking this step? Is knowing God leading you to become who God wants you to be? Your growing knowledge of God in your life will help you become a better person – a better child of God. Are you growing your desire to know God better each day?

In Jeremiah 29:23-24, we read, “This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight, declares the Lord.” May our increasing knowledge of God gives us faith and courage to surrender our life – our all in all – to God. Let kindness, justice, and righteousness become part of our daily lives. In this way, our God may delight in seeing your life becoming what God wants you to be.

Prayer Song:

The Potter’s Hand by Darlene Zscech

Beautiful Lord, wonderful Saviour

I know for sure

All of my days are held in Your hands

And crafted into Your perfect plan.

And take me, and mold me, use me, and fill me

I give my life to the Potter’s hand

You call me, You guide me, You lead me, walk beside me

I give my life to the Potter’s hand, oh, oh, oh

Take it all, I give. Amen.


“you are my disciples, if you love one another,” says John 13:35, NIV.

Is loving an intrinsic element of your life of discipleship? The Bible reminds us that your commitment to love – loving your neighbor as you love yourself and loving God with all of your whole beings is an undeniable witness of your true identity as a disciple of Jesus. No other measurements were given except by loving. Jesus asked one of his disciples, Simon Peter, three times, “Do you love me? Peter’s answer was, “Lord, you know that I love you.” In response, Jesus said, “feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17, NIV).

Do your friends and neighbors know you as Christ’s disciple? What daily practices do you keep to grow your love for God and others? What aspects of daily living do you let go or change, no matter how hard it may be, to love your neighbor as you love yourself? The more love you have for yourself, all God’s children, and the whole creation, and God, the more motivated you will be to live out your true identity as Christ’s disciple. An author once said, “once a person believes in a particular aspect of their identity, they are more likely to act in alignment with that belief.” Can this also be true for you as a Christian? Are you living your life in alignment with what you believe in Christ and who you are as a child of God?

Apostle Paul writes, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6-7, NIV). Let us continue to live our lives in the way Jesus lived his life. In and through him, we can follow the way of Jesus’ love. Be mindful that this way of living takes work, not easy. Yet, such a way of living is the best way to manifest God’s care and presence in the world. Ask ourselves, Is there another way to live our life of discipleship but the way of Jesus’ life? What can help you choose the path of love today? What will it take to begin aligning yourself with this way of living today? How about starting with a heart of gratitude for God’s amazing love?

Prayer Song:

“Love Divine, All Love Excelling”

Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down;
fix in us thy humble dwelling;
all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation;
enter every trembling heart. Amen.


“perfect love drives out fear,” says in I John 4:18, NIV

Jesus demonstrated that “perfect love drives out fear” when he offered himself to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. With this, can we not also approach our own lives with courage, knowing that nothing can separate us from that kind of love? That kind of love – the love that overwhelms our fears to the point where our fears become powerless.

With my daughter Kiyah’s permission, here is a little story surrounding fear from when she was little. 

“When I was around 7 or 8 years old, some school friends of mine invited me to go biking with them around the neighborhood. My friends and I, all on our tiny bikes, feeling invincible, rode around the neighborhood. Surprisingly, someone came up with the idea to race back to my house. “Oh, I can win this. Easily!” I said to myself. We all began picking up speed, my legs moving faster and faster underneath me. Soon, I couldn’t even see my friends beside me anymore – I was in the first place until I found myself flying over my handlebars. Now, all I could feel was the asphalt. 

I ran to my mother with tears and trembling with fear. Her warm embrace and consoling words brought me great comfort at that moment. My mother’s presence, filled with love, reassured me that fear can be overcome.”

Fear can be powerless when confronted with unconditional love. The Bible says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” As Christ’s disciples, we must go out into the world with that kind of love because that kind of love can empower those living in fear through the witness of our love. Jesus’ love within us is unstoppable, so powerful that it can calm all storms. Jesus’ love makes us fearless. We are strong and powerful in His love. 

So, what can you do this week and days ahead to imitate and demonstrate Jesus’ love in your life?

Prayer Song:

Oh, how He loves you and me, Oh how He loves you and me.

He gave his life, what more could he give?
Oh, how He loves you; Oh, how he loves me; Oh, how he loves you and me.

Jesus to Calvary did go, His love for sinners to show.

What He did there brought hope from despair.
Oh, how He loves you; Oh, how he loves me; Oh, how he loves you and me. Amen.


“an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream,” says in Matthew 2:13 (NRSV)

Do you have a dream in life? Are you searching for a life that matters? A kind of life that matters to you, your family, and the world. Do you know what God wants for you? If you do, how much attention are you giving to maintain your focus on it? Have you asked yourself why God wanted it for you? Or, do you know why you want what God wants for you? What steps are you taking to align your heart with God’s dream for you?

Make no mistake. Pursuing your God-given purpose in life can be challenging and will not happen without facing obstacles. Along the way, people or situations may arise to discourage you and make you believe it is not worth pursuing. Often, the challenge comes from yourself. Apostle Paul admitted this when he said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:15, 18b). How do you strengthen your desire to do what is good that is strong enough to make you do it? Can you do it alone? Does help from a friend feel uncomfortable to welcome? What benefits of having a companion on the journey? A friend or someone that shares a common faith, passion, and commitment to pursuing your dream. What else do you need to carry on in this adventure of chasing a life that matters? What will you do today and in the days ahead to make your dreams come true?

Take courage with the Scripture that says, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, NRSV). Go with the knowledge of God’s desire to give you a life that matters. Don’t forget that you matter to God. When your dream seems to be nearing your reach, don’t forget to thank the people that have been the source of encouragement and support to you. Celebrate your wins with them. Of course, go back to God with thanksgiving. Don’t get tired of dreaming God’s dream.

Prayer Song: Come, Let Us Dream by John Middleton

Come, let us dream God’s dream again
Come, one and all, let us ascend.
the mountain top where those of old
saw God’s new day on earth unfold.

The lame shall walk, the blind shall see,
the doors swing wide, all prisoners free,
the lowly raised, the proud brought low.
This is God’s dream: let justice flow. Amen.


“Far more than you could ever imagine,” says Ephesians 3:20 (MSG)

The word unleash means to be free from the leash. In life, a “leash” could be anything that restraints, controls, and chains you from becoming whatever God intends for your life. A leash could be your guilt of past mistakes, fear of the unknown, and self-doubt to name a few.

What does life look like “free from the leash?” It could mean freeing yourself from whatever or whoever is restraining your freedom to reclaim your true self as God’s beloved child. Can you name those areas of life that keep your captivity? How can you begin to take crucial steps toward freedom? How do you transform sterility into creativity, fear into courage, and past into the future? How do you stay motivated to keep growing, creating, and making a difference in your life, family, and the world?

What barriers hinder you from achieving your life purpose and meaning? What if you resist any forces or systems in a society designed to suppress your God-given imaginative, innovative, and creative capacity? What if you activate the power of God within us?

Remember this Scripture that says, “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” (Ephesians 3:20-21, MSG).

If you unleash yourself from any of these things that hold you back or restrain you, what difference would it make for you, your family and friends, and your community?

By allowing God’s Spirit to empower you to live freely, courageously, and faithfully in pursuing the purpose that God is calling you in your life, you are unleashing yourself in achieving your wildest dreams. Yes, it is God’s dream for you. Do you have the faith to claim that God can do anything far more than you could ever imagine? Do you know Jesus? Hear this good news: Jesus can fill your heart with God’s power and give you a reason to sing as you go about your daily life.

Prayer Song: (UMH #380)

Though sometimes he leads through waters deep,

Trials fall across the way

Though sometimes the path seems rough and steep,

See his footprints all the way

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,

Sweetest name I know,

Fills my every longing, keeps me singing as I go.