Live Graciously

I admit I am still new to living graciously intentionally. It came on the heels of the Lord’s whisper some weeks ago when, as usual, I had to process my emotions and thoughts to figure out how to react to a hurtful comment or abrasive attitude. Sometimes, our default might be to feel resentful or to contend. Or keep silent and try to search for a Christian reaction or a Biblical one. As we simmer in silent anger or hurt, as the case maybe, we are also aware that the Lord knows the state of our hearts and minds. And although we may try to convince ourselves to choose the way of patience and forbearance, such frequent vexations could pile up and grow into something that could harden our hearts.

GRACE

One day not too long ago, I found myself in such a situation. I was thinking, “It can’t always be like this, me, curbing my temper just to maintain peace.” I thought that there shouldn’t be an internal struggle every time, that the mere act of forbearing should not also trigger feelings of resentment or disappointment. The act of forgiveness that we want to happen in our hearts should truly bring peace in there.

Then it came. Written across the space where I was trying to weigh in whether to fully forgive or harbor hurt or entertain a little of both were the words: Live graciously. Then the soft whisper: You have learned to live in My grace, now, learn to live graciously. 

Live graciously.

That’s it! That’s the answer to our dillydallying hearts, when, even in our act of forgiving, we still want to harbor hurts or resentment. Live graciously intentionally. To choose grace every single time. And when we remember grace, and know that we’re doing grace because the Lord Jesus did if first, it all becomes easy. Graciousness doesn’t carry with it a single molecule of unforgiveness or ill will. That is the Lord Jesus’ graciousness and it never gets tarnished.

So, with the whisper, “Live graciously,” my heart exhaled all the impure air and settled in grace. Grace received, grace given away. The practice of giving grace away abundantly just as we continually receive it much the same way settles the disquiet in our hearts. It is a form of worship. When we let that sink in our minds, we know that we are doing a most excellent thing and won’t be resentful about it.

We cannot give away what we have not received ourselves. But we do receive it every single day, in measures beyond what we truly deserve. 

I have somewhat a pretty, good idea what gracious means. And before this writing, I had collected them in my mind as my heart understood it. But I’d like to share the list of synonyms I had gathered from my online search.

Gracious is merciful, compassionate, kind, forgiving, clement, forbearing, tenderhearted, sympathetic, benevolent, generous.

Wow. Don’t you want to be all of those and more? I know I do.

So, we push away all traces of selfishness and choose to be gracious. It’s a beautiful thing. 

It’s grace that changes us. Grace flows from the cross of Christ. The same flows from our surrendered lives, arms wide open in surrender to receive. And to give away. It is only in this posture does grace flow. 

Grace is another facet of love. In most cases, it is the gateway to love. And vice versa. For it is for love that grace flowed in Calvary without measure.

…But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more. (Rom. 5:20)

Living graciously, though at times it’s hard to do, is living beautifully. It’s the only good and beautiful way to live. For we cannot love without giving grace.

Living graciously is to not harbor ill feelings or speak ill of our neighbor even if they do towards us. And who is our neighbor? The other person. Our natural tendency is to contend when hurt or when we want to be proven right. But the Bible says to maintain lowliness of mind (humility):

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. (Phil. 2:3)

Meek and lowly. That is Christlikeness.

When we choose to act on our emotions (oftentimes pride) instead of listening to the Holy Spirit, we walk after the flesh and not after the Spirit. But we are in Christ Jesus.

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Rom. 8:1)

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Trappings

I am fascinated to look at our Church’s mimers’ costumes and observe how they have evolved through the years. It seems to me that every year, they are becoming more and more “interesting”. That is to say, the accoutrements have become more complicated, intricate. There are different mimer groups from outreaches around the country and when they come to the Central Church on special occasions, one would see the diverse colors and designs of their garb. The cut is becoming more meticulous: sleeves flaring out from the elbows like a 360-degree fan, vests covered with sequins, sleeves fanning out from the shoulders down the length of the dress so that when the mimer spreads out her arms, they look like diaphanous wings. Other embellishments include glittering fabrics, floral appliqués, sheer, bright fabric attached somewhere in the body which flies with the wind when the mimer moves. The colors are mostly combination of whites, blues, and bright pinks.

My watercolor painting of white lilies on 9" x 12" 100% cotton wc paper.

My watercolor painting of white lilies on 9″ x 12″ 100% cotton wc paper.

One time I commented to family about this. Then someone asked me that if I were to design the mimers’ costume, what would it be like? When it came to adorning myself, I always knew what I want: simple but elegant. The elegance is emphasized in the sheer simplicity of the garb.

So I told the family that if I were to design the mimers’ costume, it would be made of pure white, flowy fabric, cinched at the waist, then flows down to the ankles in full biased, the sleeves fanning out like wings, and the only color is the wide gold girdle around the waist. (Maybe what was playing on in my mind was the description of the Lord Jesus’ clothing when the apostle John saw Him).

I tend to lean toward simplicity and bring out the real beauty out of that. Especially now that I am a Christ lover.

But recently when I was combing through the books of Moses in the Old Testament, I observed that God has a penchant for a wide array of precious jewels and embroideries of golden threads adorning the tabernacle and the priests’ vestments. He was very meticulous in laying out every single detail to Moses. In my imagination, they were regal to a fault. Fit for a king. So, the mimers’ desire to adorn themselves with such elaborate trappings is just being true to the Old Testament picture. And I smiled.

But I can’t help focusing on the New Testament where the center is the Lord Jesus Christ: the embodiment of simplicity. I close my eyes and imagine myself walking where the Saviour and His disciples walked, even the life of the early Christians after the Lord’s ascension, and I get the overall theme of the time, which was stark simplicity. From the birth of Christ to His death, His life spoke of simplicity. No trappings. Just the pure Saviour of the world, Word became flesh Healer that was manifested for all to behold.

Has God changed then? No. We know that God changes not (see Mal. 3:6). But the physical tabernacle that was described in the OT where God promised to dwell in has become the Body of Christ, comprised of believers where the Spirit of the Lord dwells.

For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.” (2 Cor. 6:16)

We need not adorn ourselves with costly jewels and clothing for the Holy Spirit to come dwell in us. He will abide in the heart of him or her who has wholly received the Lord Jesus Christ and who now walks after Him and not after the flesh.

I believe that the adornments of a Christ follower are now those of godliness: humility, modesty, a worshipful and grateful heart. The truth of God, the grace of the Gospel, the power of the Holy Spirit.

that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. (1 Tim. 2: 9-10)

But, oh. Here’s the sad part: We put on trappings not necessarily made of jewels, fabric, or any other superfluous materials. We put on pride, the inner desire to be admired, liked, or loved, false confidence, even spurious love and service to Christ.

That is why there are some of us who make extra effort to make our photos “like-able”, to make our lives appear perfect (if only on social media). Oh, I know. I am guilty of it on occasions, too. And unless I present myself to my Father in heaven, bare and vulnerable, I would continue doing it, even though only subconsciously. But He speaks, and by His grace, I listen.

It dawned on me recently that these trappings that we put on can be the reasons why fear takes a grip on us sometimes and we feel weak. Last week, when I saw my daisy meadow painting used as the backdrop for the testimony pulpit during a very special occasion in church, I felt so excited my heartbeat became so fast and erratic I began to hypervent and almost fainted. My illness doesn’t allow me to get overly excited or depressed because it affects my breathing. Before that, I was having a hard time recovering from a full lunch (that usually happens). It was aggravated when I saw my enlarged painting.

I uttered in my mind over and over, “All glory belongs to You, Lord”, while doing my best to downplay my emotions. After a while of this and silent prayers, the Holy Spirit spoke in my heart:

You are experiencing this because your first reaction was to be happy and proud of yourself. It is hard for you to sever your emotions from the pure and the sullied and I understand that. But if you focus your heart and mind on Me, only Me, not on yourself or your surroundings, peace will descend and settle in your heart and you will be calm.

Hallelujah! We have a Savior who knows our frailties. Aren’t we glad of that? I am deeply grateful that I am known perfectly of God.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15)

Fear reigns in our hearts when we are not pure in heart. When we put on the trappings of this world and not Christ. The worldly mindset is for us to put on the things of this world to be approved and admired by it. But the Bible tells us to put on Christ.

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. (Rom. 13:14)

And we are not talking only of the issues of the heart, but the material trappings that we love to adorn ourselves with. Just because. We make extra effort to put on goodly apparel, even sacrificing simplicity and modesty which we have learned in Christ. He tells us to consider the lilies of the valley…

The Lord wants us to look at the lilies of the valley. Simple and not superfluous.

When people look at us, what do they see? Do they see the imprint of the world or of the Lord Jesus Christ? Do they glorify God because of what they see in us or is the Body of Christ criticized?

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:17)

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Christlikeness or Worldliness?

I swiped the tears that leaked out of my eyes like a child would, sorrow punctuating my every word as I confided with my husband about something that had deeply bothered me. The moment I saw it on Facebook, I was overwhelmed with dismay and at once, my sprit sank to the ground. How fast can a Facebook post make one so depressed! Her peace is shaken and there is even a threat of stumbling in her faith walk. How sad it is when one unthinkingly (or even unintentionally) puts a stumbling block on one’s brother’s or sister’s path!

stumbling block

On the afternoon that I saw it, I curled up on my side and tried to process how I would fight the threat of losing zeal in serving God. I knew that my love for the Lord Jesus Christ would never wane or change no matter the circumstances, but the quality of my service may be affected nonetheless. That is, if I didn’t address it seriously as I should. For the things that may cause one to stumble in her faith walk are matters of grave importance and should not be shoved aside or tolerated or ignored.

Like a very disappointed child who has not received the birthday gift he or she has ardently prayed for and wished for upon a star on many a starry night, I felt that my unceasing prayers for “that particular thing” which touches my faith life and confidence in the place where the Lord has sown me, had come to nought, clearly and completely. And I was devastated. I didn’t know where to run to. Who would listen? Who would understand how you struggle against weariness of spirit and feelings of discouragement and utter disappointment because of the things you see which you have diligently prayed for not to ever see?

What if they are all looking at the very same thing differently? Or maybe that they will rather choose to look the other way?

But my spirit within me wouldn’t quiet down. I think that it is not a bad thing to be so deeply affected of the things that matter most to our spiritual walk. For if your spirit is so stirred up within you in such a way that you break down in tears, you need to listen to it and address it accordingly. You will not stuff it all somewhere without processing it for it might grow into a hard lump of resentment and bitterness that could be deadly, like cancer.

When your spirit is stirred up within you because you believe the Word has not been lived well, I think that is a good thing. It is the Holy Spirit’s conviction. You are deeply affected by such spiritual things because they matter most to you. How we react or respond is what we need to ponder on and pray for.

And that’s exactly what I did. There was nowhere or no one to run to but to the Lord Jesus Himself. I confessed the turmoil swirling in my heart and mind, the heaviness upon my soul. I poured out to Him every detail. I so needed His help.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Pet. 5:6-7)

A considerable amount of peace descended upon me (but not yet complete for I knew that there would be more wrestlings in spirit and prayer regarding that matter following that afternoon). But I was comforted with the Holy Spirit’s gentle whisper to my heart that I must focus my attention on my own faith walk and do my best to be acceptable and pleasing in God’s eyes, that I should not start making changes in my life just because other Christians are doing it. My decision in living a simple and modest life, as much as possible, free of any frivolity and superfluity, must not be affected by any of the things that I see around me.

A Christ follower must not be “keeping up with the Joneses”.

What the Word vehemently teaches and the Holy Spirt’s guidance on living a life that is Christ-lke – that I must fastidiously follow and the Lord will be most delighted. Still, I know I need to pray more that worldliness should not define the lives of God’s children. These thoughts that ran their course in my heart that afternoon pacified my troubled mind.

The threads of our lives must be woven into this: the simplicity of Christ. Why, as the King of kings, would He choose to be born in a hay-laden manger in a dark and dank stable rather than in a gilded palace, if He didn’t want to make a very grave statement of living a godly life and not a worldly one?

Apostle Paul wrote:

And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. ((1 Tim. 6:8)

And yet, God is so generous He showers us with even more. We do not only have food and clothing, we also have beautiful homes, sleek cars, gadgets, appliances, etc. But must we live in lavishness just because we can? Should we not live within the limits which a life of simplicity and modesty dictates? Should we rather share our abundance with the less fortunate brethren who, to begin with, may not even have proper food and clothing, than to fill ourselves more than necessary?

Should material blessings be taken to the extreme? More houses, more cars, more expensive gadgets, more, more, more! Isn’t that already crossing the line between Christlikeness and worldliness? Should sky be the limit?

I have a story about this that involves my husband. In 2008, I found out that he was planning to buy a secondhand BMW X5. For those not in the know, that is an SUV, and although secondhand, I didn’t even want to think about the price. I confronted him about it with tears and implored him not to push through with his plan. Our days of worldliness were past and he knew that. And, why was it that while I was desperately focusing on my healing, he was eyeing a BMW SUV?!  I quoted Bible verses such as 1 John 2:16:

For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.

To no avail. That BMW X5 was one of many which the great flood of 2009 was able to destroy. It stayed in the machine shop for many years and needed countless repairs and hard-to-find, expensive spare parts before he could even use it again.

Now, my husband is not really a frivolous man, but he said that he wanted to taste driving such a fine vehicle. The desire and temptation were too great for him that, unfortunately, he gave in to it.

When others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, see our propensity to embrace luxury and superfluity, how would that affect them? For those who do not have, they may harbor envy, covetous thoughts, or self-pity. Or simply that they may feel depressed. For those who have, this may encourage them to have more and live more lavishly. Either way, we are causing them to stumble.

Apostle Paul wrote:

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. (Rom. 14: 13, emphasis added)

We are not to judge, yes. But most important of all, we are not to put a stumbling block on our brother’s or sister’s way. We do not live alone. We live responsibly and conscientiously, as shining lights to others and not as stumbling blocks.

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Journey with Jesus,

Spiritual Soil (Things to Ponder)

Everyday, I wonder and worry if the “soil” of our family and home is cultivated and watered enough for every member to grow and bear fruit. I often find myself asking, “Are my husband and I doing the best we can to nourish the soil of our family? Are we being shining lights to each other and to our children and are we setting good example for them to follow?” I believe that if we say we follow Jesus, it should be manifested in our words and actions, in our relationships and the very lives we live.

spiritual soil

During those moments of deep pondering and self-examination, I know that we’re not intentional and punctilious enough in nurturing our soil and this brings sighing and heaviness to my heart. Such problems usually come up when the spouses have varying magnitudes of faith and differing principles, attitudes, and practices. But then again, many times in the Bible, we are admonished to be of one mind.

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.  (Phil. 2:1-2, emphasis mine)

Fruitfulness in the Spirit is what the Lord desires for all of His followers.

“Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

So, we go to church every Sunday (for most of our Church, it’s even three times a week), the children sing in the choir, the family doesn’t watch trashy TV shows or movies or listen to secular music. But how about the moments and hours that make up the day? What does our family and home life look like?

There were times that I have broken down in tears because of the children’s gross misbehaviors and my failure to tackle them as the Bible’s teachings would have me do. We have this great desire to be nurturing parents, endeavoring to train our children in the love and admonition of the Lord, but when we see them disrespectful, disobedient, ungrateful, and lazy in all things except to waste hours on gadgets, we feel the weight of failure on our shoulders and it’s heartbreaking. We ask ourselves, “What more should be done?”

We bathe our family with prayers so that in one accord, we will all be obedient and pleasing in God’s sight, fervently following Him and His will, so that we will be living out Apostle Peter’s teaching:

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous.” (1 Pet. 3:8)

But sometimes, even our prayers seem not enough and we can’t seem to see much fruit.

People in our church, especially the choir leaders, praise our children’s quiet behavior in Sunday school and choir practices. I thank God for working on them to behave properly outside our home. They are not rowdy as other children. No, ma’am. They are shy, especially Hannah, to a fault.

But I see in our children things that the world does not see. And what I see breaks my heart. I know that families and homes differ from one another. But even Christian homes have their problems. I can see the huge difference between our life in the old days and our children’s life now. I grew up in a small, slumbrous town in a faraway province where life was as simple as you could get. Frivolity was out, for life, generally, bordered on poverty.

In that uncomplicated way of life, people were industrious. Young girls could help around the house: clean, cook, wash dirty dishes and laundry, and care for baby siblings, or around the farm (for those who lived in the barrios). Young people were respectful, obedient, responsible. They looked up and listened to older people. And they had a deep sense of gratitude.

I lament that this generation of young people displays an entirely different attitude. It’s kind of bratty, selfish, self-indulgent, insolent, indolent, ungrateful, prideful. We see them on TV and the Internet. And when we see traces of these on our children, oh, how it rips our hearts!

I’m not saying that our children, Hannah and Tim, are completely all that. No, they are fairly good kids who generally bring us joy. Hannah, by God’s grace, is now “under observation” for the Youth Choir and she’s assigned church chores like maintaining cleanliness in the toilets during services, etc. As for Tim, he sings in the Children’s Choir, attends Sunday School diligently and I can see that he is developing an awareness of the Bible’s teachings.

But it is evident that they still lack in the more important things: love and kindness toward one another, humility, gratefulness, respect, and also industriousness. It only takes a small act of unkindness or indifference to see what is utterly wrong, like seeing a child pick up her own used glass to bring to the sink and intentionally leave the other beside it just because it’s her brother’s. Or when they are often rude to one another, speaking biting or cold remarks. What does that mean?!

If we’re sensitive parents who see beneath such subtle acts, we would not dismiss and consider them as not worthy of our attention. We would discern at once that there’s an underlying reason to them. The children could be cold and uncaring and those are serious things that need to be addressed.

When I see our children displaying a lack in any of the things mentioned above, I feel really sad and frustrated and this compels me to strive harder: to be a more effective “life coach” to them who leads by example. And I pray the more, pleadingly and unrelentingly.

I always try to examine myself when failures happen. I strive to be better: a better wife, mom, person,  leader, friend. A better role model. More Christlike. That’s the heart of my prayers lately.

I’ve been asking myself, “Do our marriage, family, and home provide rich soil for spiritual growth for each and everyone of us? Does our relationship (my husband’s and mine) set a good example about relationships, honor, respect, love, and kindness? Do we intentionally live a life that exemplifies the Bible’s teachings which our children can observe and learn?”

Do we seek to cultivate the ground, the soil in which their minds, hearts, and souls will develop, grow, flourish, and bear much fruit?

Is each one of us a rich soil in which others could grow well and thrive?

Do we build up others or bring them down? Do we heal or do we inflict wound? Do we speak words that minister grace to others or do we speak to incite contentions, discouragements, strifes, resentments, or bitterness? Do we intentionally bring hope and encouragement for a soul to grow and thrive or do we unmindfully bring out the worst in others? Do we strive to coax out goodness and beauty in others or do we live indifferently, minding only our own welfare and growth?

Well, is there real growth when we think and work only for ourselves? Isn’t growth happens when we live outside of ourselves and reach out to others also? There is no growth when there is no expansion.

But not everyone thinks and desires the same things as we do. Others may not want to be in and if it is a spouse, that would be difficult. If the parents are not of one mind and desire or of varying degree of commitment in leading the family into rich, verdant pastures of spiritual growth, that can be a problem. It will be too taxing to be hauling the burden on your own or on unequal or opposing forces. The ship cannot sail smoothly if the winds are contrary.

(Photo from Pinterest).

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Journey with Jesus,