The Message of the Manger

We received a pastry gift and a lovely brochure from Marriott Hotel given by a neighbor who works there as a chef. The brochure, both the paper and photos, speaks of classy elegance and opulence. It offers different packages for a stress-free as well as sumptuous Christmas Eve spread (noche buena). One package includes a 3-kg roast US prime beef and a selection of sides that makes my mouth water as I write about it. (By the way, the package I mentioned costs P10,000 ~ roughly $200+). The brochure also offers special accommodations for families during the holidays, especially on New Year’s Eve. They have prepared a place where guests join in the countdown for the coming year. It is an invitation to those who love the posh life.

manger

The posh life. Is it for those who love and follow Christ?

I know that if I were physically able to travel this Christmas season, I wouldn’t choose to celebrate Jesus’ birth in Marriott Hotel. It’s not that I don’t like plush hotels. (If our family were given a gift certificate to stay a night in one for free, we would receive it with gratitude and would probably avail of it). But it’s that, it’s not a priority and my eyes are on my humble Savior who chose to be born in a stable. There was no room for them at the inn, remember? Or at Marriott Hotel for that matter. Or Solaire. Or Shangri-la.

Why would Jesus’ birth story include the turning away of Joseph and the very pregnant Mary by the inn? Why was it so important to mention it? The story must be that the main characters would end up in the lowliest accommodation available. And that is where the King of kings and Lord of lords, the God-Incarnate, would be born. Was it another illustration of John 1: 10-11?

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Does this turning Him away still play on the stage of our lives Christmas after Christmas? Do we still fail to know Him and receive Him as other things occupy our hearts and minds?

The angel who came down from heaven to announce the Savior’s birth appeared not before the highest authorities (VIPs) in the land, but to unknown shepherds doing the night shift.

Is this the message of the manger: that God is not inviting us to a worldly-wealthy life but to kingdom life where His righteousness reigns? That He wants to divert our focus from the world, where materialism and covetousness are gods, to Him – His life, His ways, and His promise of a kingdom that never ends?

We read in 2 Cor. 8:9:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.

Did He become poor in order to lavish us worldly wealth so that we would live in luxury, superfluity, and vanity? He Himself said:

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (Mark 8:36)

In The Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12: 13-21), the Lord tells the fate of a rich man “who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” He warns us: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”

For God, material and financial wealth alone are not the true riches.

Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. (Rev. 3:17-18)

He calls the worldly rich wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.

So, why did He choose to become poor so that through His poverty, we might become rich? What kind of rich?

He said in John 10:10:

… I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

Life and life abundantly. Abundant in righteousness, love, joy, peace, faith, hope, and all other enduring riches that flow from His everlasting kingdom. It’s the tri-fold blessing mentioned in 3 John 1:2:

Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.

Material, physical, and spiritual prosperity. But material prosperity and the great desire for it (it then becomes covetousness) should not consume us. It should not reign supreme in our lives. It should not serve as a stumbling block on our path as we walk towards God’s kingdom. Apostle Paul commands the rich not to trust in their wealth but in the living God (1 Tim. 6:17). And the Lord reminds us to not let “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, [so that] it becomes unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19).

As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, may His powerful love draw us nearer to Him, gathering us as His cherished children around the Christmas table with songs of praise and thanksgiving, of joy and peace, and of awe and adoration to Him. May we talk about His wonders, goodness, and faithfulness and all the other things we anticipate He will still do in our lives.

May He bring home the prodigals, humbly bending their knees before Him. May He cover those who are homeless, those who wander in the streets and parks and beneath bridges, with His love and protection and bring them comfort, deliverance, and salvation.

May He heal all that are sick and raise them up from their sick beds and that they will come to know Him and His salvation and live life abundantly.

May He fill our hearts and homes with His light and peace and joy and love overflowing this Christmas and beyond! May He answer all our fervent prayers and make our future so bright!

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Journey with Jesus,

Stay with Jesus

What makes you sad? I know there can be many things that make us sad (laughs), but that kind of sad like when we were kids and we got sick we needed to stay home for days, unable to play with our friends. We might have looked out the window of our room and watched them play exuberantly. Then we turned away from it, sighing deeply, sadness mirrored in our eyes. It is one thing to be sick, and an entirely different thing to be unable to do the things we’d love to do and go to places we’d love to see.

Stay_wth_Jesus

For many years now, I have been unable to travel, near or far. Before I became ill in 2003, I loved to travel, here and abroad. On holidays, I always had a travel plan set in place. I loved vacationing with family, road tripping, and staying in hotels and resorts. Around the third quarter of 2003, I planned a Christmas holiday in Australia with Hannah and Felix. Around this time, I had been planning to reconcile with my husband after more than 2 years of separation. I thought that going away and spending time together with our daughter would make the reconciliation more meaningful and memorable and last a lifetime. But in October of that year, I fell seriously ill.

While I spent months in bed, sick and uncertain of my future, being unable to travel was farthest from my mind. I only wanted to make things right with God, receive my healing, and go back to my work.

But healing and recovery haven’t come fully until now. And my career was gone 12 years ago. For years, I had to struggle to make peace with that fact. But one thing is certain: I found my life in the Lord Jesus Christ. I identified with the apostle Paul’s words:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:8-11 ESV, italics mine).

I found myself in Jesus, and through the years, I have come to know Him and walk with Him intimately. I have learned a whole mountain of lessons that will last me for eternity. I learned to be content and at peace in Him. For many years as I waited for healing, my life revolved around my Savior (praise and worship, prayers, the Word, witnessing to loved ones, Church, crusades) and my home and family. Though I was sick and weak, the Lord supplied me with enduring peace and joy. I was grateful for even the smallest blessings.

Then, social media entered my life. Through it, the world opened up to me again and I saw what other people in the planet did and I was reminded of my old life (the trips and holidays part). My peace was shaken and the wall of contentment which I built around me cracked as I began to desire things outside of my little world. Deep desires that were hard to overcome found a place in my heart and since then, I had to struggle against comparison and envy. Longing for things other than God – a European tour, a US tour, trip to Disneyland for the kids, holidays at the beach – began to grow within me. And while I gave time and space for these thoughts and dreams to play in my mind, the deeper the claws of longing dug. By God’s immense blessings, we have the financial means, but my frail health hinders any plans of family travel (except for my husband’s business trips every now and then).

It was as if I was that child down with the flu once again and looking out the window, feeling sad that I couldn’t play outside with my friends.

So I looked for ways to banish the desires and dreams (for the more I dwelt in them, the more I became sad and dissatisfied). I only mention them in my prayers as attached to my supplication for healing. But I know that they are not hidden from God no matter how I try to suppress them. My heart and soul are ever open to Him.

I often think that if we lived on top of a mountain where there were no Joneses, cell sites, and wifi, I would be happy and contended with what I have and with what I can do no matter how meager they are. That’s the funny thing (or maybe a painful reality!).

When we have someone to compare with, life is altered. Something shifts within us (and it’s not always for the better).

And now that Christmas season is here once again, I know that neighbors, friends (on social media who are the only ones I see), Church brethren, families of our kids’ classmates, will be moving from one place to another as they spend the holidays somewhere else. Like birds migrating, this “ritual” of people with means and health can’t be stopped. For myself, I can curb the craving and absorb the sadness of not being able to leave home, by God’s grace. But the kids. I would love for them to have a meaningful Christmas and memorable holidays.

That’s why I’m focusing my eyes on the Lord Jesus steadfastly: The King of kings who chose to enter the world through the womb of a simple virgin, in a manger inside a cold and damp barn in a little town, and be wrapped in swaddling cloth. His very first visitors were poor, unknown shepherds, but nevertheless, they were invited by an angel and guided by a bright, shining star.

Except for a brief story when He was 12 years old, nothing more is recorded of Jesus’ growing up years. But we learn that He became a carpenter, a humble occupation. There are no recorded family vacations, whether grand or modest. And when He at last showed Himself to the world at age 30, He “went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Mat. 9:35). He went about His Father’s business, doing only what mattered eternally.

As this post was forming in my heart, I was drawn to Matthew 11:29, this time, seeing it in a different light:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Mat. 11:29)

The Lord wants us to learn of Him (that has been the silent message of His humble birth!). He’s been trying to drive home to this materialistic, selfish world that He is meek and lowly in heart – no foolish pride, arrogance, or superfluity. It is only when we have learned of Him – to be meek and lowly in heart ourselves – that we can find rest for our souls!

This Christmas season, whether we are able or unable to go places, may we remember to behold Jesus’ life and example of simplicity, of doing the Father’s will, and living for the Kingdom. This will extinguish all comparison trap, envy, and discontent.

Like a horse wearing blinders so that it will only follow the path where its master leads, may we look unto Jesus and not to the world. 

May we experience to the full what the shepherds experienced that night, listening to the angel’s good tidings of great joy and following the star to our Savior.

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Journey with Jesus,

Nearer, My God, to Thee

Many Filipino homes, even the humble ones, start decorating for Christmas as early as September. Like the heavily-decorated Christmas tree, the house, both inside and outside, will soon be smothered with decor in all shapes, sizes, and colors, too. Prettily-wrapped gifts will start accumulating under the Christmas tree. I’ve seen photos of mountains of Christmas gifts taking up most of the living room. Most Filipino families, whether they can afford it or not, like to lavish their children with gifts on Christmas. It is during this season that purses seem to have no bottom, “shop ’til you drop” becomes the byword, and malls run over with droves of shoppers.

Savior's_birth

These Christmas traditions the world knows so well. Our young family is part of this, too. It’s not only the world around our children which has influenced their affections toward a materialistic Christmas. I admit, we as parents have brought about that, too. I sigh now as I see how difficult it will be to change that.

Why do people want to start Christmas early? Is it because they are so hungry for the Messiah they can hardly wait to celebrate His birthday? Or do they want to lengthen the season just to hold onto the magic of merrymaking? For there’s a certain thrill that the Christmas season brings, we can’t deny that. When I was a child, whenever I heard our Ray Conniff Christmas album being played, I would be enveloped with indescribable excitement and happiness. I knew then that it was Christmas. I could feel it. I could inhale it. I could even taste it! Such are the joys Christmas brings to children. And I know, adults would want to capture that, too.

That’s why they want to put up the Christmas tree early.

So, do we pursue the Savior or the magic? If we are honest enough, most of us have set up the pedestal of Christmas tradition higher than the Lord Jesus Himself. For He is there, cradled in a lowly manger. And we miss Him. And His will.

Nowadays, I often wonder: What does the Lord think of our Christmasing? Of the lavish Christmas tree sparkling with expensive ornaments? Of the Christmas table laden with feast fit for a king? Or maybe the rich man’s table where Lazarus waited for crumbs?

I really want to know how the Messiah, who, via an angel, invited poor shepherds to His birth, sees our celebration of it.

I think He just wants us to know and receive His gift – how precious, how all-important it is:

 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:11, 14)

Maybe we should ask ourselves these questions: Does every ornament we hang on the tree, on the door, on the window, on the stairs railing, bring us closer to the manger? Is every gift we wrap a step closer to it? Does our Christmas draw us nearer to the God in the manger, the Immanuel?

Does our Christmas still have Christ in it? The very front and center, meaning, and reason of it? Or have we X-ed Him, not only on the banners we hang but on the banners of our hearts? (No, not because we don’t like Him in it, but because we have lost Him in the thick of the hustle and bustle of a hectic Christmas. What with all the decorating, planning, baking and cooking, parties, shopping expeditions, and travels we do). Is Christ, pure and simple, at the heart of our Christmas? Would we still feel full even if we hadn’t completed the decoration; hadn’t baked all the breads, pies, and cookies we had planned; hadn’t bought and received all the gifts we wanted; hadn’t traveled?

The question really is: Is Jesus ever enough for us? On Christmas and beyond?

The truth is, He is really more than enough.

If we are true Christ-followers, He is always in our hearts no matter the season. In fact, he dwells there. He is not only the reason for the season, he is the reason for life itself! Every plan, every step, every endeavor, every trial must be a step nearer to God. Then, Christmas for us is not only in December (or September, October, November), but every single day of the year!

Friends, may our Christmas find us gathered around the manger where our Savior is. May we behold His glory and never get tired to give thanks for His gift: the gift of salvation. May we always remember the perfectness, the beauty of His gifts: great joy, peace, goodwill [an attitude of kindness or friendliness; benevolence; a good relationship] to us all! That it is only through Him that we could find these exceedingly wonderful blessings and not through the things we possess and fuss about. Jesus is the gift.

So with this in mind, may all our activities bring us ever closer to Him, worshiping Him with all our beings through them.

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)

May the light of the Lord Jesus Christ shine ever brighter in our lives than all the Christmas lights and stars combined.

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Journey with Jesus,

Evergreen

If our family has to set up a Christmas tree, I want it to be a reminder of the Lord Jesus Christ, no more, no less. If we are honest enough, we do get excited in putting it up year after year, a family ritual that we look forward to. But I’ll bet most of us have not stopped to ask, “What is this really for? What does it tell about the Savior who is coming to the world?” We just know that the Christmas tree is an important icon in the celebration of the birth of Christ passed down to us from generation to generation. I won’t go further than that although I know it would stir up debates if we dig deeper as to its origins, whether it speaks purely of Christianity or tainted with pagan practice.

evergreen

The first Christmas tree, which finds its origins in Germany in the 16th century, was a real, evergreen tree. It could be pine, spruce, or fir decorated with flickering candles. According to history.com, it was Martin Luther, a German friar who began the Protestant Reformation, who first added lighted candles wired around the branches of an evergreen tree erected in their family’s living room.

We know that most Christian homes in North America have the advantage of erecting a freshly-cut evergreen Christmas tree. They can find them from near their homes or buy from Christmas tree farms which, I believe, can be found everywhere.

But not so in the tropical Philippines. Two years ago when I first had these questions about the Christmas tree, I determined that if we had to set it up (again!), it must be a real evergreen. But that was impossible. I didn’t know of any Christmas tree farm anywhere in the Philippines (although this year, I resolve to research on it). Last year, since we were scheduled to buy a new tree, I requested my husband to choose specifically a  faux spruce tree. I thought that was the nearest we could get to the original.

So, we had our “spruce” tree, so tall it reached the ceiling (for me, that wasn’t necessary), and some pine cones. I preferred it to stay that way: evergreen with some pine cones here and there, period. And maybe a string of tiny lights in the color of the twinkling stars in the heavens above wired around it to light it up at night. But the kids wouldn’t hear of it. Before I knew it, they had hauled the boxes of balls, beads, and other Christmas ornaments and began to adorn the tree. “Poor tree!” I thought as the green needles disappeared under a decade’s worth of accumulated ornaments. My heart felt burdened like the heavily-decorated tree.

Don’t we do that to ourselves, too? Carrying unnecessary loads that encumber our faith walk? I myself am still learning to not live in superfluity.

We come to the heart of the matter. Two Christmases ago, I saw the meaning of the evergreen tree we set up faithfully year after year. It was a private interpretation for me and a reason to keep the tradition. Like the evergreens which stay the same though seasons change, so does the Lord God Almighty. He stays the same. He never changes.

For I am the Lord, I change not… (Mal. 3:6)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb. 13:8)

Jesus’ love is evergreen. I want to see the Christmas tree as a representation of it. And if only for this reason, I would acquiesce to setting it up when the season to celebrate the Savior’s birth comes around. May all our Christmases be all about the Lord Jesus Christ!

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Journey with Jesus,

Thoughts on the Season

The deciduous narra tree has started shedding its leaves, carpeting the ground with bright yellow foliage. Soon, by Christmas, not a single leaf would be left and the narra would be as bald and forlorn as a dead tree, its limbs stripped naked for all to see. The birds, especially the maya, which make their home under its thick canopy would fly somewhere else, too. But I know, year after year, that the narra tree would go back to its full verdancy when the season is over, its faithful Creator clothing it with a new coat of lush green leaves.

Thoughts on Christmas

Through the years as I watched the narra, I have marvelled at God’s infinite wisdom and creativity. If we observe and listen closely, He is telling a story everywhere. Everything in His creation, there’s a story. In the past years, I would watch the green leaves of the narra turn yellow then relinquish their hold on the branches and fall, undulating, to the ground, graciously yielding to their fate. And yet, this is not the end of the tree.

Everywhere we look, as long as we open our spirit eyes and ears, God is telling a story. A message. A whisper. Everyday and everywhere, we can know the nearness of our God. For He is Immanuel. God with us.

David had known this. He wrote a beautiful psalm about it:

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me. (Ps. 139:7-10)

In early September, my husband went to our Church’s fasting house in Pampanga to offer prayer and fasting that was long overdue. When he came back, he brought home a big Christmas star. Pampanga is known for its Christmas parol: star makers offer a plethora of colorful stars in all shapes, sizes, and designs that could be lit up, the hundreds of tiny lights meticulously arranged beneath the translucent material dancing to a certain tempo and pattern. It’s a delight to behold.

He intended to hang it in front of our house that very same day. A Christmas star in early September! “Please, Dy,” I implored. “It’s too early for that. It’s not…it’s not appropriate. Maybe late-November. Christmas is not really about that,” I said as I thought of the Filipino way of celebrating Christmas. They start as early as September, lavishly adorning their homes with Christmas decor inside and out. Thankfully, he heeded my advice.

I think it was two years ago when I first felt the stirrings in my spirit to analyze (or question inwardly) the essence of Christmas. I don’t know but it was as if I had begun to grow weary of the practices. What I mean is, I’m weary of the routine of setting up a Christmas tree and embellishing it with all kinds of sparkly decor until it can’t almost stand erect. Now that I’m 48 and have gone through many trials and have walked with the Savior closer and deeper than I had ever dreamed possible, I want to ask: Really, where is Jesus in all that? I understand the joy of little children decorating it all round as a family activity. That is because it’s an age-old tradition that families follow so diligently (and pass on to their children). And with much passion, I might add. But, I wanted to dig deeper into the meaning of what we do. (I will talk more about the Christmas tree and other Christmas traditions on next post).

There is no escaping one’s notice the stark simplicity of the life the Lord Jesus Christ lived when He walked on earth. He was marvellous with His teachings and miracles, but He was as simple as you could get in His way of life. Unless we choose not to see.

The King of kings and the Lord of lords, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, chose to be born in a cold, dingy barn that stank of animal refuse. He chose to be laid in a manger with itchy hay for cover, the cows lowing and the sheep bleating in the background. The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness and heaven is His throne. He could have chosen to be born in a gilded palace, on a bed made of the softest down and snuggled in the warmth of a flannel as delicate as an angel’s breath.

But He did not. What was He trying to teach us? It must be something of enormous importance. Yet, we tend to miss it year after year as we celebrate and relive His birth. We tend to celebrate Him in the halls of mansions whose marble floors shine like a mirror. But He isn’t there, is he? Unlike the magi, we miss Him. We miss Him because we look in all the wrong places. Maybe in malls as we shop ’til we drop, buying the latest Michael Kors offering?

We miss Him because we bury Him under tons of decor. But in the beginning, there was only the barn, the manger, and the star. And the Savior of the world wrapped in swaddling cloth.

If we would just follow His light just like the three wise men followed the star, it will bring us to Him.

 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:4)

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9 ESV)

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. (John 1:10 KJV)

What do I want to think about Christmas? I want to think of that night in the country, shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. (Luke 2:14)

(For the above passages, see Luke 2).

Good tidings of great joy, on earth peace, goodwill toward men!

That is what I want to hold onto even after the tall Christmas tree and the boxes of decor have been stored away. That is what I want to wrap my hands and heart around not only on Christmas but every. single. day. thereafter. The world’s Christmas, with all its pomp and phosphorescence, will lose its magic as the season changes. That is the tragic part of a flimsy Christmas tradition. But I never want to lose the glory of the good tidings of great joy, the gifts of peace on earth and goodwill toward men – Jesus, the ultimate proof of God’s love to mankind! He came down from heaven to offer the gift of reconciliation, an everlasting covenant of peace, the salvation of souls. He is the greatest joy!

This is what will see us through long after the reverberations of the multitude of angels’ praise have faded and we go back to the daily grind.

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Journey with Jesus,

What Completes Christmas?

I guess the answer to this question is quite obvious to everyone (that is, if one stops to consider), but still, most people of the world dive into the thick of Christmas preparations seemingly oblivious to whom they are doing this for and why.

I say this even as I, too, make myself extra-busy with preparations. I have a desire to make everything perfect owing to my type A personality, but this time, I know something has changed within me. A good change for that matter. We put ornaments on our tree, but even as I give instructions on where to put this ornament or that, or how to drape the red and gold chains around it, my mind is busy  contemplating about the shallowness of it all. What are all these glitters for, Lord Jesus, if I had not fully done Your will? What is the meaning of this beautifully adorned tree if I had failed to teach my children things that are close to Your heart, like embracing simplicity and living gratefully?

I have begun to be weary with all the preparations which are becoming more demanding as the day draws nearer. Though I’m excited for the day, I feel there is this heaviness in my soul, like the more I get my hands and mind busy, the more I’m drawing further away from the Reason of it all. And I’m not liking it at all.

For the first time in my life, I’d like to blame the world and the “traditions of men” why we have willingly embraced all that the world has taught us on how to celebrate Christmas. Haven’t you noticed that every year, shopping malls start to decorate for Christmas earlier than the year before? As early as September, we can see signs of “Christmas” in commercial establishments. I lament that Christmas, to the world, has become that. Commercial.

This is the reason why people have unconsciously set up an unwritten standard: how Christmas must be prepared and celebrated. It is like this: Christmas in a home is not complete without a decorated tree, or hanging lanterns, stars, nativity scene on a table, sparkling lights in the front yard, etc. I know people feel the lack and this makes them unhappy. Or, when there is no ham or queso de bola or any other special delicacy on the table for noche buena, but maybe only a loaf of bread. Christmas would seem to be incomplete without these. Why? Because it is a tradition that has been handed down for generations.

People are unhappy if they cannot shop for things they desire and for gifts they want to give. Christmas seems to be a sad Christmas when there are no new clothes or shoes.

These things are not bad at all but they don’t make Christmas complete. We know the answer to that. The Lord Jesus Christ is what makes Christmas complete. He is the reason why we celebrate at all. For what is Christmas without Christ?

This year, I try to veer away from the “commercialism” of Christmas and do my best to be attached to the Lord even as I go on with the preparations. This year, there were lights and decors that were not hung in our home. It’s okay. Potted poinsettias that should sit on tables are not bought. It’s okay. Though the decorating was not completed, I want that our family is complete in Him, not only during this time of the year but throughout the year.

And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Col. 2:10)

We are complete in Him! And our Christmas is complete because of Him.

During the recent typhoon that devastated the southern part of our country, particularly Compostela Valley, many of our brethren in Christ lost their homes. Even the chapel of our Church’s outreach station was not spared. Brethren from the Central Church in Manila did their best to send relief and financial assistance to them with the hopes that they would be able to rebuild what was lost.

But even if a typhoon took their house of worship, their homes and other material possessions, I know that the brethren there are always Christ-filled, and their loss will not be a reason to make Christmas incomplete. For if we have Christ, we really have everything.

******

My gratitude list ~ thankful to the Lord for:

21. Beloved husband’s blessed birthday celebration with us at Barrio Fiesta. Precious, precious family moments!

22. Angels all around us – protecting, shielding, ministering to us, as was also testified by beloved Minister Luke Smith.

23. Bougainvilleas in profusion in the garden – gold, purple, white, fuchsia.

24. Beautiful home, grateful hearts, inspired minds —> blessed life!

25. Another powerful preaching in Church on Sunday service: faith-fortifying, love-expanding, life-inspiring!

May our Christmas, friends, be Christ-filled, and our New Year bright, reflecting His glorious light!

I’m linking up with these lovely blogs.

Journey with Jesus,

Moments of Healing

After much consideration, I finally decided to share with you our family’s afternoon out two Saturdays ago. But who would be interested to know about our afternoon outing when most families go out on weekends and do more exciting things? But ours, I believe, is quite unique – another testimony of God’s astounding mercy and undying faithfulness. Yes, we went out to eat, the four of us, after almost 4 years or so of not being able to do so. For most, this is just a very ordinary thing to do – it happens everywhere, everyday. But for someone who has been raised up from the sick bed that was just about to turn into a death bed, this thing was a miracle.

Inasmuch as this blog is about healing in all aspects of our being, I will share with you our story.

Two Saturdays ago, I desired to go out with the family and eat in a simple restaurant just near our place. I wanted to step out in faith once again after recovering for years after I gave birth to my son. I wanted to mark the act and celebrate all God’s goodness. (Could there be “bigger” a word than “goodness” that could contain ALL of God’s goodness? For really, these words, they are just not enough to declare how merciful our God is!). So, we went to this restaurant and the kids couldn’t contain their joy. Their mommy was going out with them, finally! For years, they went out without me – attended birthday parties, school events, Church services (I watch our Church’s services via live webcast from home), gone to outings, etc. – but now, their Mom who used to be so sick and weak and dying was with them and joining in the rejoicing.

New Year’s Day of 2010, while I was still recovering from past illness and childbirth, my breathing felt like it was coming from a deep pit inside of me that I had to muster strength just to complete one breath, and still, it wasn’t enough. Thus, began another walk through the shadow of the valley of death. What did it feel like to walk through the valley of the shadow of death? It felt like the next breath may not be yours anymore. It felt dark, scary, uncertain, and steeped with suffering. Suffering that is all over you. It is there in your sleeping and waking.

The valley of the shadow of death is sitting in bed at a late hour and your soul shouts to God to grant the body rest and let the glorious light of heaven envelope you and everything will be alright, but when you see your kids sleeping innocently, your lips utter a different cry, a cry to be shown His great mercy, a cry to be raised up from all the sickness and dying. A cry to be able to nurture these young, innocent children your body had birthed.

I am amazed at the mercy and power of God to heal and raise up a sick person like me. I never doubt His unequalled power to save, to heal, to work wonders and mighty deeds, but to be shown His great mercy? My pleadings be heard and honored? This is what it means to be BLESSED! Blessed beyond measure. For how could one measure His love and mercy? They are deeper than the ocean, higher than the heavens, wider than the Milky Way, bigger than the universe He created.

Are these just ramblings, some song lyrics that I have put together? NOT.AT.ALLl! For I know how it felt like to die, but I have also known how to be raised up by the powerful hands of God!

 Indeed we count them BLESSED who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful(James 5:11, emphasis added)

I am His witness. Yes, He saves! Yes, He heals! Yes, He delivers! Yes, He protects!

For all the promises of God in [Jesus] are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. (2 Cor. 1:20)

Jesus our Lord came to bring salvation, peace, and healing. All of heaven rejoiced at His birth, for it was God’s manifestation of His love. It pleased Him to fulfil His promise. It pleased Him to do us good, bringing us these good tidings of great joy, peace, and goodwill  which were to all people (Luke 2).

Shall we close our eyes and remember that day when God visited His people, when multitudes of angels singing accompanied the greatest and most important birth story. Yes, God loves us. I pray this will not be obliterated by numbness, by overstimulation by worldly things.

A note to my email subscribers: After publishing 2 new posts after the transfer, I found out that my new email subscription service plugin wasn’t live, that’s the reason why you, my precious, faithful subscribers, did not receive them. I already reinstalled my old subscription service. These are the posts you missed: He makes All Things New: Reflections on Change and When God is Silent.

Please check my link-ups list here.

Journey with Jesus,

When God is Silent

Just because of my desire to use a lovely feminine theme that is not available in wordpress.com, the former home of Our Healing Moments, I was obstinate to transfer my blog to self-hosted wordpress.org. Before I had that idea, I wanted to buy a premade pretty theme that I haven’t seen within the premises of wordpress.com, but I was warned that only self-hosted wordpress.org could avail of it. Whatever “self-hosted wordpress.org” meant (I didn’t have an idea!), I was dismayed to not be able to use the theme.

But in a matter of weeks, as my blog was transformed from a shabby Cinderella tending the cinders into a Cinderella arrayed with complete princess regalia, so was I also transformed from a very technically-challenged (and often ignorant) blogger into a grinning computer geek (well, almost! :)).

But the short time that I travelled that technical path was not without tears and sleepless nights. Sure, a patient, talented designer did help me a lot, so also a brother in Christ who is a web designer, and then there were the “happiness engineers” (they love to call themselves that) of wordpress.com who capably transferred all of my stuff to my new host. But when everything has been transferred and installed and my designer who did the customization could no longer accept additional work on my blog because of a busy schedule, I felt I was left alone in the midst of a site that still looked askew.

One night at a very late hour, I actually cried in frustration why I couldn’t seem to understand the technical aspect of blog design and why didn’t these thumbnails, featured images, sharing buttons, etc. just align themselves into a beautiful setup and I would then be happy? But while I felt all alone doing the design fixes of my blog and wrestling it into submission, I did my best to research, read and learn, and be brave enough to act. Soon, everything that I wanted to do with the remaining design and function of my site fell beautifully into place and I was squealing with delight!

This challenging path that I had recently traveled reminded me of God’s work in my life. Oh yes, there were seasons when God was silent and I didn’t know what to think and how to go on. I remember a particularly difficult situation when I was fighting for my life in a deserted room adjoining the chapel of Pampanga Fasting House. I felt so all alone and helpless. I agonized in prayer to God, pleading Him to just let me know if He was with me in my suffering and fears. Oh, how I needed to know!

In the midst of my dire need, I grappled to hold on to hope. God alone was my hope! I learned to trust in a powerful, invisible God and never let fear veer me away from pursuing Him. I learned to derive strength, peace, and light from His Word. I devoured His Word like the Living Bread that it really is. The Lord Jesus said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51) and “the Word was God” (John 1:1). So I sought Him, cried out to Him, held on the hem of His garment, and wrestled with Him to bless me too just like Jacob had done.

When God was silent in my life, my faith developed bones and muscles and gained a kind of strength that I couldn’t have gained if I were smothered by His attention and love. Not that His love was lesser in the season of His silence, but rather, it could be a manifestation of  the Father’s greater concern for His precious child. And so by His grace, I grew in the knowledge of Him.

During the season of His silence, He wants us to learn, to trust, to exercise our faith, and cast away our fears. He wants us to be strong, overcomers, more than conquerors, good fighters of faith. As Paul had found out, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

When our hearts are right with God, there is no reason to doubt Him in His silence. As the song goes,

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don’t understand
When you can’t see His plan
When you can’t trace His hand
Trust His heart.

 Trust His heart! His heart aches for us, beats for us!

This Christmas, and all the days of the year for that matter, is a good time to remember His great love for us. Remember and take it to heart and let it be etched there; let every heartbeat whisper:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Let this be our meditation as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer.

 *****

My gratitude list – the things I’m thankful to the Lord for:

14. An afternoon out with the family after over 3 years of not being able to do so.

15. My newly-transformed blog (I love it!) and the people who have patiently helped me: Bro. Glenn D. of Designer Philippines, Tiffany of Beautiful Dawn Designs, wordpress.com people, and Susan of Oh, Hello Designs who also happens to be the developer of my blog’s theme Pure Elegance.

16. For His sweet mercies, undying faithfulness, and showers of blessings that tears fall freely in overflowing gratitude!

17. For the Spirit of love, of power and of a sound mind, and daily inspiration to share and distribute His gift.

18. Hannah taking pictures of me inside the car while waiting for her Dad and Tim; us laughing at her quirks.

19. Tim planting a firm, long kiss on my cheek with a very tight hug.

20. For a very powerful, anointed, glorious preaching today during Sunday service. BLESSED beyond measure!

Please check my link-ups list here.

Journey with Jesus,

He Makes All Things New: Reflections on Change

I guess I generally liked change. When I was young, full of vitality and bursting with big dreams, I sought change, pursued it, and embraced it. How easily would a strong young woman leave the old and start anew! It seemed there were endless possibilities and hopes never ran out, bringing with them the much-needed change.

But nothing, I mean nothing, could have prepared me for the big change that came to my life, permanently altering it forever. This change impacted my life so much it shifted its course altogether, touching eternity.

But even before full realization of what this change eventually effected in my life came, I struggled against it. This was the kind of change I never ever dreamed of. I loved where I was at in my career and lifestyle. I revelled in it, but not including the complications of a forbidden relationship and the inner turmoil it wrought.

Change comes in many different forms and ways. It could come as a welcome respite after a stormy season, or it could hit you like a tornado and before you know it, you are down on the ground panting, helpless, fighting for dear life. Fighting for the things that used to surround you – comfort, peace, health, strength, happiness, wisdom, breath.

Such was the kind of change that came to my life in the latter part of 2003. Who would have thought that that quiet Saturday afternoon when I went to the office to meet with my staff after my business trip in Japan would be my last day of work in the office? I never ever thought that my career would end abruptly, in just a flick of God’s finger. I believed in, hoped for, and anticipated the day that I would be going back to work. But days, weeks, months, years passed and I never did (except for the few hours in late-2006 when I tried to make brief visits, hoping against hope that everything would soon return to the way it was).

That change brought me and my family to God’s salvation. That dreaded change eventually and exquisitely worked its way in my life to bring the change God has planned before the foundation of the world. And change that good is often birthed that way – hard, harrowing, like the birth pangs of a woman in travail. So that I was rebirthed, born again, not of the flesh but of the Spirit (John 3).

To bring change (salvation) to the world, God, whose throne is heaven and the earth His footstool (Is. 66:1), had to contain Himself in a young woman’s womb. And when He was born, He was laid down on a spread of prickly hay in a manger. But this was nothing compared to His agonizing walk to Calvary, bearing our sin and shame on His shoulders. His blood was poured out. He did this to redeem the world and make all things new.

 “Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)

Thank You, Lord Jesus!

Just a note: Journey Through the Psalms Friday will resume next week.

Please check my link-ups list here.

Journey with Jesus,

The Gift {giveaway}

We had been waiting for over a month, and as the expected day of arrival drew near, we had become more excited, especially the kids. And when we finally heard a delivery van stop in front of the house, the kids screamed in total excitement. How could one contain the joy of receiving the big box and finally opening it? If I couldn’t, how much more the kids?

Ever since I couldn’t go to the malls and shop for our clothing and things needed in the house, I have begun the practice of shopping online. We shop at online stores, mostly based in the U.S. like Old Navy for our clothes, DaySpring for home and my blog giveaways, Barnes and Noble for children’s books, Christianbook for my Bibles and other Christian books and devotionals, Amazon for electronics and bed products, and many others. (I don’t receive ad fees here! :)). All our orders are delivered to my sister’s address in San Diego, CA, and she, in turn, puts them all in a big box with used clothing, books, shoes, toys, chocolates, etc. thrown in, and sends it to us via door-to-door courier.

I don’t know why but it is inherent in man to be excited to open gifts. As little children, we grew up looking forward to Christmas Eve where after the midnight mass, we were allowed to open our gifts. We felt like we would burst with excitement as we anticipated that much-awaited moment. And naturally, our kids are exactly like that. Almost everyday, they would sit near the Christmas tree and review their gifts.

I remember when I was a kid their age that I would hold my gifts tenderly and gaze at my name written on each of them. It always felt wonderful that someone loved me and cared enough for me that they would remember to wrap me a gift and put my name on it. I felt – special.

If we know how to give gifts to our children to show how much we love and care for them, how much more our loving Father in heaven? He put this love in our hearts, He it is who taught us how to give. He gives to all life (Acts 17:25); He gives us richly all things to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17); and gives to all men liberally (James 1:5).

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

He sent His gift to all mankind wrapped in swaddling cloth. He came to give light to those who live in darkness. He came to bring salvation and the promise of eternal life. God’s gift is the greatest gift we can ever receive in this life. I have received this gift – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friend, if you haven’t, I urge you to receive Him in your life, to surrender your heart, your life, to Him. There is no other gift as great and as precious as the Lord Jesus. Take your gift, your name is engraved on it – it’s the handwriting of God Himself. He has specially prepared it for you. Aren’t you just so excited to unwrap your gift? Receive the gift of salvation today and begin celebrating Christmas – Christ – everyday.

Devotions for a Christ-filled Christmas Series:

Day 1: What’s in Your Sock? {Part 1: UNICEF}
Day 2: What’s in Your Sock? {Part 2: Warm Christmas}
Day 3: The Goodness of the Lord
Day 4: Yes and Amen!
Day 5: The Way to the Manger
Day 6: The Widow and the Fatherless
Day 7: “I Must Decrease”
Day 8: Thankfulness
Day 9: Just a Journey
Day 10: Vessels

GIVEAWAY!

Christian journal from Dayspring (USA); hardcover, with Bible verse in each page.

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Linked to Sharing His Beauty, Titus 2sday, Proverbs14verse1, Women Living Well, Proverbs 31 Thursday, Brag on God Friday