Redeeming the Time

In Ephesians 5:15-17, the apostle Paul tells us to redeem the time:

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 

My watercolor painting of Fall Foliage (reference photo from Instagram). I hope you like it.

My watercolor painting of Fall Foliage (reference photo from Instagram). I hope you like it.

We were given the reason why we must redeem the time – the days are evil – and how we go about it: walk circumspectly and wisely and understanding the will of God. When we think of “redeeming the time”, we usually think of the bigger picture: our service to God. Well, for me anyway. That is, until something happened at home that brought me to this.

What exactly is “redeem”? I like what Google gave when I searched for its definition.

redeem: compensate for the faults or bad aspects of (something); do something that compensates for poor past performance or behavior.

As I’ve mentioned above, up to this time, I saw “redeeming the time” as more of the task of a Christ laborer, especially those who preach the Gospel and win souls everywhere. To not waste time in spreading the Gospel of salvation as it is the only way to fight these evil days, pushing back the darkness and its works. But when we see it only this way, we tend to think that we, as housewives and stay-at-home moms or full-time career or business people, are not really called to this.

But I received an epiphany today that practicing “redeeming the time” in our marriages, families, and homes is a beautiful moment-by-moment, day-to-day undertaking. It is living a life that is full of grace.

I, with my ailing self, derive strength from the love, peace, and joy that our home and family bring, but most of all, of course, from my faith in God. Each day, however hard it is for me physically, I am renewed, strengthened, and inspired to pursue and live life to the Christ-fullest. That desire alone keeps me awake at night pondering and keeps me on my toes throughout the day. I have that deep desire to truly live out the Lord Jesus’ words and not only a lip service or going through the motions. It is my way of loving Him wholly and honoring Him in my life. A continuous, daily worship.

At the bottom of all this is my belief that being pleasing and right with God is what gives me life and continuance.

…the joy of the Lord is [my] strength. ( Part of Neh. 8:10)

But my heart’s desires and my attempts at living them are affected by my circumstances and the people I do life with. Mistakes, blunders, failures are bound to happen. The aim to walk the higher ground and foster a better relationship with someone for instance, could shatter in a moment’s weakness. Disagreements arise, even a word war or silent war or cold war! In a moment’s time, we could say the wrong word, words that stir up anger or hurt. But this is the good part: we need not stay there! After the words are spoken, the tears are shed, or maybe the door has been shut, or the back has been turned – it is not really the end. It must not be the end.

That is the beauty of grace. We can partake of it as often and as much as we want to. That is the inconsumable grace of Lamentations 3: 22-23:

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

We are given new mercies every morning. Every morning we are renewed, reinstated, and reaffirmed. And if our gracious and merciful Father does it to us every morning, can’t we do the same to each other? Can’t we renew, reinstate, and reaffirm one another in each other’s love, joy, and peace?

Can’t we redeem what we have foolishly squandered?

Are we better at squandering or redeeming?

Do we squander the new day and the new mercies given to us because we are hard-hearted like that? Do we squander them by giving in to our unprofitable emotions: anger, resentment, bitterness, coldness?

No. We redeem each and every moment and every day with new mercies as the Lord supplies us! We redeem the ugliness, the mistakes, the failures with fresh grace.

… Freely [we] have received, freely give. (Part of Mat. 10:8)

We redeem the squandered moments with fresh dose of forgiveness and love and we gather again peace and joy unto our bosom and rejoice together in the Lord. A life of grace is where we thrive, like fish to water, plants to rich soil.

To redeem is to gather again and not to scatter.

Because we walk after the Holy Spirit and live by its fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – tarrying in that place outside of its borders will not be good for us and our health. It’s like fish out of water.

I have a fragile health and I can’t afford to squander my days. I don’t have the luxury of endless days. On earth, at least. That is true for all of us. A stanza of the song You Are My World is a great reminder:

And all my days are gifts from You
I pray I’d use them as You want me to
Use them for You.

Our beloved pastor advises to live each day as if it were the day the Lord Jesus comes. Watching. Praying. Loving. Giving grace and mercy. Rejoicing. Living in peace and joy. Wasting nothing.

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Remembering the Wormwood

Remember the wormwood. Like a soft whisper to my soul, these words had snaked in and out of my mind some weeks ago, a reminder that is both welcome and necessary. For it is easy to become lax and complacent amid all the triumphs and joys, as if the fiery and bitter tests had not actually taken place but are only a part of a distant past. But I have learned, as I know others have also, that forgetting them and the great mercies of God that delivered us through them, is not the way of the Lord.

My original painting of white magnolia on 9" x 12" 100% cotton wc paper. Leterings were done using metallic ruby.

My original painting of white magnolia on 9″ x 12″ 100% cotton wc paper. Letterings were done using metallic ruby.

Lamentations 3, though full of anguish and sorrow, has always been beautiful to me as it was a powerful source of hope. Like the Book of Job, a story of trial of all trials, which had been my companion in my own bitter trials, Lamentations 3 was like a lamp in the dark forest, a hope in the soul that, though small and flickering, cannot be quenched.

Maybe the Lord doesn’t want me to be so engrossed with His gifts that delight my soul enormously. Like watercolor painting, for one. That I might forget how I arrived into this place of joy and unending inspiration. That the gifts would become more important and capture more of me than what I give to the Lord – my love, my joy, my time, my energy. For God is a jealous God.

Maybe that and the news about my aunt who is now suffering a similar sickness like one of the many that I had suffered: gastro-esophageal reflux disease or GERD. Twice in the past 13 years of illness, I had not been able to eat solid food for months, even more than half of the year. I lived by water, clear soups, and runny porridge. It was as if my stomach had lost recognition of food.

But I lived through it. And now I’m eating well again. Every now and then, like when I bite into a luscious fruit, I remember this.

Remembering the mercies of God stirs up praise and worship from the depths of our soul. Not only that. It also makes us remember to fear God and keep a humble posture before Him and reignites our desire to walk uprightly.

And so, amid the swirls and splashes of watercolors, the lights and shadows that are created by the stroke of a red sable brush on a rag paper, in between the image that is slowly emerging out of it and the exultant heart, is the whisper: Remember the wormwood.

“Yes, Father, I do remember,” my soul whispers back.

The author of the Book of Lamentations (he sounds like the Prophet Jeremiah to me and he might very well be the one who penned it) recalls the heart-rending, soul-wrenching times that he had seen, lived, and suffered through. The scope of the first half of chapter 3 is a very familiar terrain to me, like the well-worn path that leads to home. You know the position of every stone and tree and the shadows that dance against the sunlight peeking through. So familiar you could almost assign a scent to it, redolent of the hard days when God’s hand was heavy upon one’s soul. These words, they are that to me.

am the [woman] who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath.
He has led me and made me walk
In darkness and not in light.
Surely He has turned His hand against me
Time and time again throughout the day.

He has besieged me
And surrounded me with bitterness and woe.

He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out;
He has made my chain heavy.
Even when I cry and shout,
He shuts out my prayer.

He has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drink wormwood.

Remember my affliction and roaming,
The wormwood and the gall.
My soul still remembers
And sinks within me.
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.

(Selections from Lamentations 3)

Wormwood is a plant that has a bitter taste, the main ingredient in making absinthe. Today, it is considered as a natural therapeutic herb and used as an alternative medicine, especially in cleansing harmful microorganisms in humans and animals. “Wormwood is known to help the body produce an environment that is toxic to harmful organisms.”*

God concocts a drink made up of wormwood and makes us drink of it, the whole cup of it. His tests are bitter and grievous and brings us a lot of anguish and sorrow. But not without purpose. God, being the Creator of every plant that grows in the earth, knows each of their nature. He used wormwood in the Old Testament to symbolize the bitter trials and also the cleansing process – refining and sanctification – His people must go through which is His main purpose.

These trials and chastisements – they all emanate from His heart of love and mercy. 

As our Father, He knows there are things we need to learn. The process, like the words of Lamentations, is excruciating, but the end of it is a pure product.

when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)

These I remember. Oh yes, Father, these I remember and have not forgotten! They come to mind when I sing praises and worship, like fragmented scenes in a good movie. Remembering them colors my praises with more vibrant, deeper hues and makes my worship a soulfelt experience. They are the tangible proofs of the Savior’s love for me.

Only last night at dinner, I recalled again how I lived through the valley of the shadow of death in early-2015 (that place where the shadow of death literally covers you and wraps you all around). When all day long everyday, I fought to be able to breathe and live. How I would wait for Tim to arrive home from school, when he would nap beside me in the bed straightaway, and I would snuggle close to him and try to pick up the easy rhythm of his healthy breathing. As I held him, I breathed with him, hoping to ease up my own, calm my body, and live with him, too. For days and months, Tim unknowingly comforted me. While he was sleeping. (Choking back tears now).

I whispered to my husband as Tim left the dining table, “That boy is so precious to me.”

Remembering the wormwood is not to taste again the bitterness, but to affirm the truth that God is just and merciful. That even in that place of affliction, wormwood and gall – there is hope!

To remember the wormwood is to position and reposition ourselves again on the higher ground, not giving in to temptations as the good, blessed days roll by.

To remember the wormwood is to let ourselves be cleansed and sanctified by Christ again and again. To become like the white and fragrant flowers (the white Magnolia is a good example), whose sweet-smelling scent wafts to all the people around us wherever we go and which reaches the throne of God in heaven.

Let your gentleness [and holiness] be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. (Phil. 4:5, annotation mine)

*Global Healing Center

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Fruits or Briers?

Lately, I’ve been plagued by a desire to undo the ugliness of the past by wishing it had been different. It came to a point where I talked to my husband about it in all seriousness and sincerity. He said solemnly that, if he had been a true Christian then, the choices would have been different. He, too, would have wanted a pure relationship. If only he had known the Lord Jesus Christ then. But I need to start from where it all began.

When I entered college many years ago, I was like a breath of fresh air, idealistic and innocent. Just like the pure, fresh scent of the evergreens surrounding the ladies dorm and university, my life blossomed. I honestly believed it would stay that way through career, courting, and marriage. But during the career and courting stage where I was exposed to the world and its temptations, everything changed. My pure plans were ruined and my ideals came crashing down with them. Me and my ideals were a lot weaker against the works of the enemy.

I don’t know why, but lately as I have been reading stories about Christian courtships and marriages, how beautiful and wonderful they are in their pureness in Christ – I have been desiring to redo my past and make the memories beautiful and something to be proud of. But how can you undo the past? It’s over and done with and that’s that. So, I wrestled. I wanted to remake the memories so I could look back with fondness. But that can never happen.

We all have different pasts. Some regret, but still others reminisce with fondness. The choices we made in the past were the ones which created those memories. We cannot redo them; we can only begin making beautiful ones today. We can again uphold those ideals we embraced growing up because we follow the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. And I believe that by living a new life in Him and nurturing our relationships in the beauty of His love and teachings – whether in courtship, marriage, or family – the ugly memories of the past will be covered by the beauty of the present moments. That can happen because — the truth has been written ages ago:

He has made everything beautiful in its time… (Ecc. 3:11)

There was a time in our lives (our past) that we were lost and didn’t know how to live righteously, in holiness, and in all the Lord’s beauty. But now is the call to make our lives beautiful and bright – all for His glory! There is a whole new possibility for that because He Himself gives us the power and resources to be able to do so.

For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; 8 but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. (Heb. 6:7-8)

God rains down on us so we could drink and grow and flourish. He rains down on us in whatever way – blessings or trials – so we could bear abundant fruits by them. Every single morning He ushers in with His new mercies, He is giving us a chance to grow and bear fruit and live in beauty, a beautiful life in Christ Jesus. But how have we been soaking up God’s rain? Have we been bearing fruits or briers?

I love that at any point in life, we can stop living in ugliness and darkness and start living in beauty just because there is a faithful and powerful Savior who can turn our lives around. So, let’s welcome each morning with the renewed enthusiasm to create beautiful memories that will last forever!

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
12 To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever. (Ps. 30:11-12)

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Awaken Your Spirit!

Meditating on Psalm 108.

For Your mercy is great above the heavens,
And Your truth reaches to the clouds.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens,
And Your glory above all the earth. (vv. 4, 5))

I hate it when (I’m sorry to say that, forgive my choice of word) I find myself drifting away from the sweet holy presence of the Lord. There are long seasons when I just hunger for Him, when I thirst to feel His presence enveloping me and I cry both in delight and longing. In those times my heart is at peace and my soul seems to be full always. But I’m afraid that there are times that I feel far from His presence and I know that it’s my own doing.

Sometimes I find myself entangled in the busyness of everyday, delighting in my plans, chores, and even a little entertainment. I praise and worship in the mornings and evenings but my heart and mind are —- distracted. This brings me sorrow and disquiet.

I don’t want to worship with my lips alone while my spirit remains detached. I want that my whole being is engaged with the living God. And it pains me when I just can’t do it. Does this happen to you? Or am I hard on myself like that? But you see, I think we have these stirrings because we are to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and might. And don’t we find ourselves feeling guilty when temporary things, things of this world, occupy our hearts and minds, from our waking moments to the time we rest for the night?

Psalm 108 reminds us to awake to the fullness of the presence of God. Not only to rise up and dutifully sing praises but that our whole being is alive with the awareness of the living, breathing, loving God! I want that, though I may find myself busy doing chores or playing and having fun with the kids or spending sweet moments with my husband, my mind is aware of Him, that my heart beats for Him! That in the midst of my joys and happiness and busyness,  I gently whisper, “Thank you, Lord Jesus. I love You. Thank You for loving me like this.”

O God, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and give praise, even with my glory.

I will awaken the dawn. (vv. 1, 2)

For His love for us is unchanging. We receive His mercies – they are new every morning! Faithfully, He answers our prayers, yes, despite our blunders, failings, and shortcomings (and occasional foolishness!). Patiently, He leads us in the way we should go and does not come short in giving us inspiration and delight to pursue the things of God – spiritual things. No, He does not leave us high and dry in our arid places. He lovingly draws us back and waters our souls. Wonderfully, He enables us to accomplish His purposes and plans, giving us courage and wisdom to minister to others. He makes us worthy. He makes us to triumph.

Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies. (v. 13)

May the meditations of our hearts and minds and our words and deeds give glory to Him who never gives up on us.

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Journey with Jesus,