What Makes Life Beautiful?

Because of social media, people can now show off their lives for all the world to see and admire. But a life that is seen through the screen is just a small facet of the whole. The life lived behind it, hidden from the world’s hungry eyes, is what essentially matters. If we live our moments just so we can brag them to the world is not really living. The thing that I’m learning now is to live for my sake and the ones I love, and not for the sake of the world. That is not selfish at all if you will allow me to elucidate. Because of the pull of social media, we have learned to make little decisions that are based not on our own needs and their importance in our lives, but because we think that they will impress the world. 

beautiful life

We can easily see that when, instead of letting the hungry husband dive into the sumptuous dinner before us, for example, he’ll still have to wait because we are going to take pictures first (for IG perhaps!) before the nice arrangement is messed up. Instead of sitting quietly down to dinner, thank the Lord for the good food and ask Him to bless it, then share it with the ones we love gathered around, our thoughts and actions are centered on sharing it first to the world. We make these little decisions for the sake of the world and not for us.

Now, if we fail to show our moments to the world before they come to pass, we feel like there’s something lacking in our lives. But, this shouldn’t be the case. Our lives should be lived to satisfy us and not the world through its “likes and comments”.

Is life beautiful because a photo shared is scooping up “likes” by the hundreds or even thousands? Is that the gauge?

I’m learning, dear readers, I’m learning!

What makes life beautiful? Is it what people see on the outside? Or is it essentially the life on the inside, the one that cannot be seen? The one that is sturdily connected to its Creator and Sustainer and Savior? The one that is whole and full and complete enough in its God it doesn’t need glorying in “likes”? The one that doesn’t need to show off because it is happy and contented in itself?

I am learning hard, yes, on how to live this one life in contentment in God and not in the world. Sometimes, we think that striving to make our lives beautiful for others to admire and emulate is the way to happiness, but I believe that we need to create first a place in our inmost being that is authentically contented, happy, and grateful before it can even be called beautiful. Our lives should deeply satisfy us first before it can attempt to satisfy others. They should be loved, cherished, and made happy first before they can even be useful to others.

I used to think that adorning and surrounding my life with beautiful things – scented candles, pretty English teacups, flowers arranged in a crystal vase, lovely and comfortable bedroom with walls and covers in perfect harmony (you get the picture) – will somehow cover the want in other areas, such as the lack of health and the absence of travel because of it. These things could temporarily bring comfort and joy and even peace, but in no way can they reach that place in the heart and soul where true and enduring happiness and contentment reside, if in the very first place they aren’t there. The true state of the heart, mind, and soul will determine whether the life that they support is beautiful or wanting.

I have to ask this because it is my life right now: Is there beauty at all in suffering? All kinds of suffering for that matter? I believe there is if it brings us to a closer, more intimate walk with our Savior. If it drives us to pursue holiness that is not superficial. Suffering, if seen in the right perspective, is sanctifying. If our suffering ends in our sanctification, then suffering has served its purpose. Now, don’t go gawking at that word: holiness. The truth is, we are called to it. We are called to be saints (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2). We are called to pursue holiness.

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14)

A holy life is one that worships God in spirit and in truth, both in the most private place of our lives and in the congregation with other believers.

Shouldn’t a life be established in peace and joy and confidence first in the Lord Jesus Christ before it could even be called beautiful? Shouldn’t a beautiful life begin with a happy and satisfied heart in God first and a spirit that praises and thanks God with its all before it can even be seen and admired by others?

For what is a life if it wallows in its inability to be happy and content in its God who makes all things possible for it? What is a life if it endlessly whines for the lack and cannot see the blessings all around it and rejoice in them and thank God for every single one? What is a life if it cannot see the good?

First, a life must see God, both in the tangible and intangible. Both in the fruit (that we see) and in faith. In the gifts and rewards and in hopes and dreams. A life that sees God in suffering and in victory. In woe and in awe. In fear and in peace. In joy and sadness. A beautiful life is able to balance these and still flourish. And rejoices in the Lord.

A life is beautiful from the inside out when it is drenched in love on both sides: the Lord Jesus’ unfailing, faithful love and our steadfast, growing one. I believe the secret is being truly loving from the depths of our souls. Such love should be reflected in our relationships.

What makes a life beautiful even with all its trials and struggles and suffering? It is that radiance that’s a reflection of God’s glory. It is never easy, I know. For often our lives reflect the suffering or the want. But we need to ask this: Is it about us? Isn’t it about Him working in and through us for His joy, renown, honor and glory? For His kingdom? And yet, it’s also about us as far as He is concerned: the ones He’s known and loved and chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (see Eph. 1:4), the blessed recipients of His mercy and grace. For didn’t He give His life to give us ours?

And the life that He gave – it is beautiful.

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White and Fragrant

I painted a series of magnolia flowers a while back and I was just in awe of their beauty. The petals are pure white inside, and outside, it could be hot pink or magenta. All the time that I was painting each delicate petal, I was thinking of Philippians 4:5:

Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.

My original gardenia painting in watercolor on 12" x 16" Hahnemuhle 100% cotton, 140lb, 300gsm, acid-free paper. I love these gardenia flowers. It was exhausting and punishing on my back painting it, maybe that's why when someone from Toronto, Canada expressed her desire to buy it but when I quoted to her the shipping fee (about $20), I never heard from her again - I was hurt. This original painting is still available at my Rina's Art Gallery on Facebook (link at the sidebar, below "SSubscription". Price is P2000 ($40) plus shipping.

My original gardenia painting in watercolor on 12″ x 16″ Hahnemuhle 100% cotton, 140lb, 300gsm, acid-free paper. I love these gardenia flowers. It was exhausting and punishing on my back painting it. Maybe that’s why when a friend in Toronto, Canada expressed her desire to buy it but after that, I never heard from her again – I was hurt. This original painting is still available at my gallery on Facebook (link at the end of this post). Price is P2,200 ($44) plus shipping.

The magnolia is a very fragrant flower and it is this fragrance that made me think again and again about gentleness. We are counselled by Apostle Paul to make our gentleness known to all. It is like the magnolia flower giving off its fragrance for all to enjoy. It wafts into the air and whoever passes by or draws near will be rewarded with an stimulating sweet scent. I imagine our gentleness wafting to the people around us like fragrance.

When we are around people, what do they breathe in from us? Is it grace? Gentle words that minister to them? Do we leave off a pleasant fragrance in our wake? Or are people offended with our rough edges, maybe with our words that are actually thinly-veiled bragging or condescension or sarcasm?

Are we, like the Lord Jesus Christ, “an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma”? (See Ephesians 5:2). That would be a good gauge on the degree of our Christlikeness or un-Christlikeness.

So, I had been studying magnolias and gardenias for watercolor painting, and I just couldn’t help thinking that what is pure and white also carries a lovely scent. In their whiteness and stark simplicity, they are both beautiful and very fragrant. What an exquisite combination! I believe God created them that way to drive home the truth that the modest and holy are the ones who give off a fragrance that is a delight and blessing to others.

The gardenia is no less than the rosal in our local Filipino dialect. When I was a young girl, there was a rosal tree at the corner of my grandmother’s house’s front yard. Every morning, the flowers bloomed and — oh, their fragrance! Like the gardenia, the sampaguita, which is the Philippine’s national flower, is also white and very fragrant. Sampaguita is one of the main varieties of jasmine. The jasmine fragrance oil is the most expensive perfume in the world! In the Philippines, the sampaguita flowers are made into small garlands and are sold in the streets by young boys and girls to be hung inside cars or Catholic altars.

White symbolizes purity, modesty, and simplicity. God wants us to be pure, modest, and simple. Ecclesiastes 9:8 says, “Let your garments always be white…” It is not primarily literal, but it’s more of washing and making the garments (or robes) white in the blood of the Lamb (see Rev. 7:14). The wearing of white robes is a metaphor of being holy. It does not solely lean on our own strivings, but that we were made holy by the blood of the Lamb. But we have a part to fulfil.

And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Rev. 19:8)

It’s the Lord Jesus who sanctifies us and our holiness must be manifested outwardly, in the way we speak, act, and adorn ourselves.

Shall we wear blatant vanity and pride and the latest fashion statement? Sporting the famous brands from head to toe and the purse hanging on our arm, ostentatiously displayed and flaunted? But what does Apostle Peter has to say?

Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.  (1 Pet. 3:3-4)

Be clothed with humility. (From 1 Pet. 5:5)

The beauty of a gentle, quiet, and humble spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. I’d like to be all of those, for there was a time in my life, before I knew Jesus and His Word, that I was one of those who wore signature brands and flaunted them, too. When pride was my glory and vanity was my friend.

I knew it even then (and now that I am a born-again Christian, I’m ashamed even of the memory of it) that pride and vainglory don’t really bring “pure goodness” (in the truest sense of the phrase) into one’s heart, but a silent and deep wickedness. They don’t bring true joy, but in reality, they stir up guilty feelings somewhere deep down, somehow.

But it’s not only with obvious worldliness that the call to holiness becomes louder. It is also a gentle whisper, a voice calling in the wilderness of our own errant emotions, that tugs on a Christ follower’s heart. Just very recently, I had a firsthand experience of this white and fragrant theme.

I had been nursing a sad and hurting heart because of my watercolor paintings and the gallery I have set up on Facebook. I was feeling very discouraged I trudged through my days with a heavy heart. But during those days, the picture of jasmine flowers went in and out of my mind like a flashing light. So one day, I sat down at my desk and painted them.

Doing so was like a healing balm to my sorrowing heart. The study of the white jasmine flowers was actually a call for me to draw closer to purity, to holiness, to my Savior Himself. Going through that trial was sanctifying as the Lord reminded me to lay my cares at His feet, to give my burdens to Him, not only the feeling of discouragement I was going through, but also the cause of it, which was my art.

To offer back to Him whatever gift I have received from Him. This epiphany would come a few days later.

Even so, immersing my heart and mind to the painting of the jasmine flowers, and knowing deeply the reason behind it, was a cleansing process: The Lord wants us to purify our hearts and minds from whatever feelings or emotions we are harboring deep inside that affect our judgments, responses, decisions, and even our worship of and service to God.

Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 7:1)

The purity of the jasmine flowers reminded me to lean in closer to God and listen to what He was saying regarding my art. And He did speak and the relief and happiness that washed over me made me want to rise up and dance!

Whatever we think, say, or do, may it be done in holiness and may it leave a sweet-smelling scent, a lovely fragrance that reaches the throne of grace.

My jasmine painting on 9" x 12" Fabriano Artistico 100% cotton, 140lb, 300gsm, acid-free paper. Price is P1,200 ($24) plus shipping.

My jasmine painting on 9″ x 12″ Fabriano Artistico 100% cotton, 140lb, 300gsm, acid-free paper. Price is P1,200 ($24) plus shipping.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Phil. 4:8)

To see more of my watercolor paintings, I invite you to visit Rina’s Art Gallery on Facebook. Thank you!

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Journey with Jesus,

A Heart and Mind on Things Above

I feel the nearness of God not only when blessings abound, when prayers are answered, and peace and joy are to be had, but more so when He speaks during difficult times. When He gently (or strongly!) reminds and reproves and puts us back on track when we sway. It is truly a sad thing when we so need His light and guidance and He is quiet. When we plunge headlong into our erroneous ways and we become distressed by them, who will lead us in the paths of righteousness but the Shepherd Himself?

things above

The power of God is as prominent in His correction of us (and so, we repent and change our course) as when He performs a miracle. In my life, I dance (in my spirit) in happiness when He speaks clearly, and I listen and obey, and so, peace floods my being, especially in hard situations when my emotions are dumb as a mule.

I had one of these experiences just recently when I sorted out my bags with the help of the kids. I haven’t used a bag in years since I only inhabit our bedroom and patio, but I wanted to haul out all my old bags and see if I could pull out one to be given away. Through the years since I stopped working, my bag collection has dwindled. I have been taking them out to give away and those few remaining are the ones I really want to keep. Really expensive ones.

But I had the shock of my life when I found out that some of those bags that I was referring to were no longer in my closet. Nowhere to be found in the whole house. Months before this, we also found out that my favorite-ever Coach sandals, a gift from my sister-in-law, and other imported leather sandals and Hannah’s boots were all gone. But even before we found this out, my Canon DSLR camera and Hannah’s cellphone had also been stolen. This time, we found out belatedly that my bags were stolen, too! There was a time when we emptied our en suite closet and put them all in the guest room closet while our bedroom was being renovated. That must be the time the stealings occurred.

My Coach, Lancel, and Longchamp bags were all gone. These bags were slightly used and as good as new. Imagine my devastation when I found out about this third batch of stolen properties!

When my Coach sandals (which I only used when I had my picture taken – for blog and FB purposes – since I can’t walk yet) was stolen, I cried. Finding the bags also gone, I could no longer help my anger. I was angry and dismayed at the same time. I couldn’t rein in my emotions and my peace was slowly flying away.

Then God’s still, small voice spoke:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mat. 6:19-21)

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. (Col. 3:1-2)

Immediately, I made a U-turn from the road of unprofitable emotions and obeyed God’s voice. What relief! What freedom! The Lord Jesus said that if we continue in His Word, we are indeed His disciples, “And [we] shall know the truth, and the truth shall make [us] free” (John 8:31-32).

Not only that. I also summoned Conching, our housekeeper, whom I have brought to the Lord months ago, and preached to her these words. (Conching isn’t a suspect in the stealings). The remaining bags sprawled in front of us, I told her of the words of Jesus. I needed to triumph over the devil’s work: my stolen things and the negative emotions the discovery brought. And the best way to do that was to quash him with God’s Word.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.

This commandment reminds us to be sober – moderate – in all things. It guides us not to hoard material things, especially the ones that are very expensive they are a luxury. Or things that are not really needed, superfluous. It teaches us not to live in excess or extravagance, pampering and lavishing ourselves with this world’s goods to the extent that we may grow distant or indifferent to others’ lack. Satisfying all our earthly desires without restraint is not Christlike. It may even numb us from seeing and feeling the deep needs of the world. 

Though we may have the means to satisfy our appetites, we may not act on it, but live within the bounds of simplicity and modesty. I can’t reconcile the thought of a Christ follower filling up her house with very expensive gilded Italian furniture that is fit for a royalty, for example, or with Murano crystals lining up shelves and gracing side tables. Aren’t these just a few examples of lust of the eyes and pride of life?

When I was still a businesswoman and living a worldly life, I was a shopaholic. Every time I traveled abroad, I hauled two rolling suitcases: one filled, one empty. The empty suitcase would be brimming with purchases when I flew back home. I loved to shop the prestigious brands. If it was generic, I didn’t want it. I also loved jewelry, the genuine kind: diamonds, pearls, and gold.

But all that changed when I received the Lord Jesus in my life. With the Holy Spirit now residing in me, sobriety and simplicity also now reign in my life. In our church, Jesus Miracle Crusade International Ministry, wearing of jewelry of any kind is discouraged. So, no one does. And that is a good thing, for the desire for jewelries makes one to covet.

The essence of this teaching is to uphold a life of holiness – modest and simple – and to veer our attention away from worldly things to godly things. To make us set our minds on things above and not on things on the earth. 

If wearing of jewelries is banned because of the above reasons, shall we then satisfy our desires on other things just because they are not specifically banned? A collection of signature bags, shoes, and clothing perhaps? To regularly upgrade to the latest iPhone because we don’t want to be left behind? To buy a sleek BMW or a handsome SUV? To live a posh life?

This doesn’t sit well with the Lord’s reply when a scribe announced that he would follow Him wherever He went.

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Mat. 8:20)

This is the Lord’s caution to all who desire to follow Him: life with Him is not a bed of roses. It is not living in a fantasy world where all our wishes come true, but a life that denies itself daily.

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. (Luke 9:23)

Deny ourselves from earthly desires that do not have an impact on eternity.

(Photo from Pinterest).

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Journey with Jesus,

The Beauty of Obedience

I am in awe of the faithfulness of the Lord through His Spirit that He has given us. He speaks to us through His abiding Spirit, even of the minutest detail of our lives. That is, if we are constantly attuned to His Spirit’s whisperings. If we foster an unbroken fellowship with Him and are continually connected with Him through worship, prayers, His Word, and a keen awareness of His hovering presence, we will see the radiance of His light ever guiding us. And it is beautiful. His whisperings of reminders and teachings to obey Him in all aspects of life will be a source of joy. And our obedience itself will not be a burden but a delight to us. But most of all, to Him.

obedience

Obedience in the Little Things

These are the things that happen in our hearts and minds and are almost indiscernible to other people. These are little decisions that we make deep inside us even before they are manifested outwardly. And although we may think them as simple and small, they mean a lot to our Savior. That’s why the Holy Spirit whispers to our hearts about them. These are decisions we make moment by moment, like:

Not criticizing and judging others in our hearts.

Not comparing ourselves with others and harboring a teeny weeny bit of pride.

Telling the truth as it is without exaggeration or flattery.

Keeping quiet when our silence is needed.

Not talking too much  for In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise (Prov. 10:19).

Being careful in choosing our words that they may minister to the hearers.

Choosing to encourage rather than crush a person’s spirit.

Choosing to be gentle, patient, and kind when provoked.

Not gossiping or talking about other people in a negative way (or if we don’t feel a genuine concern for the other person’s improvement or development).

Being grateful instead of complaining and grumbling.

The list above proves that God is concerned even in our most private thoughts and emotions, what compels us to think, speak, and act as we do. His sole purpose is our total sanctification. Therefore, we cannot ignore the voice of the Spirit that speaks within us.

But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:15-16)

If we walk in the Spirit, being aware of His constant nearness, day by day, moment by moment, our hearts and minds will be attuned to His still, small voice, ever whispering, ever guiding. We obey with gladness and our spirits are buoyed up. Maintaining the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God (1 Pet. 3:4) then becomes a joy and inspiration to us, a gentle peace settling in our souls, as if God’s river of life courses through our very being.

Obedience in the Big Things

This often requires our commitment and sacrifice. Sometimes they could bring pain. But being determined to be victorious in Christ compels us to obey and trust that God will recompense us for it. These things may be:

Not to worry or be anxious but to trust God completely.

Commit our hearts, minds, souls, time, and energy to worship God. To give of ourselves to Him unreservedly.

For us parents to commit our lives in bringing up [our] children in the training and admonition of the Lord (see Eph. 6:4), being consistent to lead and set a good example for them to follow. To not become lax and complacent in our God-given role.

Still, a few other things under this could be:

Obedience in Prayer

There is an enduring beauty in giving of ourselves to true prayer, not the rushed, half-hearted, half-minded kind. Prayer is talking to the King of kings and Lord of lords, the God Almighty. It should involve the highest and complete reverence, awe, and humility. Praying is talking and asking God in full faith, believing without a doubt that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (see Heb. 11:6). If we pray with this knowledge in mind, we will not be blabbering away with vain words that we ourselves think are ineffective.

We will be praying in faith, every word we utter has its own weight, believing that whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight (1 John 3:22).

Growing faint in prayer may happen every now and then. But the Lord has commanded us that [we] ought always to pray, and not to faint (Luke 18:1) and even supported it with a parable to bring this home, leaving us no reason to dwell in that discouraged situation.

In fact, He encourages us to be consistent and to persevere in prayer, even in the face of difficult circumstances that conspire against us. It is a command we need to obey and in our obedience with faith at the forefront, it just cannot be that nothing good will come out of it.

Obedience in Forgiving

For Christians, we cannot afford to harbor unforgiveness for long. We do not want to provoke God’s displeasure towards us and so, we obey His command to forgive others so our heavenly Father will also forgive us. We pray to be able to forgive not only in words, but from the heart. That is hard, that’s why we need to pray for it until it happens. But it doesn’t end there. He also teaches to love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Mat. 5:44).

Love our enemies! Yes, those who have deeply wronged and hurt us. Forgiving them from the heart is one thing, loving them is entirely another! But it is a command we need to obey. How can we love them then, especially when they are not at all repentant? I have written about my own painful and difficult experience of forgiving and loving despite of. You can read it here.

It is more excellent to just humbly obey and surrender everything to Him: our pride, resentments, and hurts. We give it all to Him for He said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay” (see Heb. 10:30). Our obedience will bring Him pleasure. He will right the wrong.

Obedience in What Delights God

Sunday is the saddest day of the week for me. Sounds ironic, considering that it is a day to worship the Lord. But because I cannot travel to church, only my family goes and I am always left behind. These six years. There were seasons when I was very sick, yet they had to leave for church because “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…” and all those teachings we honor. And our children sing in the choir.

Since December last year, my son Tim has gone up to the Children’s Choir (from Cherubims Choir). He’s happy there. He loves the new songs he’s learning. On February 14, our Church celebrated its 41st anniversary. It was a huge and very special celebration and worship service. Such occasions usually last until around midnight (starting at before noon). Tim’s supposed to stay at home with me, and in fact, he expressed his fears in going and singing in the expanded Children’s Choir (other outreaches joining, filling up the risers up and down, center, left, and right).

“Mom, what if I get lost in the crowd?” He asked me. He also went to his Dad with the same concern. Our main church holds its worship service in a stadium. I, in particular, didn’t want to accept defeat, although it would have been more peaceful in my heart and mind that he stayed home. But we wanted to be victorious in the Lord. So, we came up with a plan that Tim would not be “lost in the crowd” as he (and I also) had feared.

For the first time, Tim sang in the Children’s Choir on our Church’s anniversary and we were all glad for our family’s victory.

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Journey with Jesus,

The Lighted Path

If I could I would be too busy doing life I may not have time to visit Facebook, except maybe to post something encouraging and inspiring to others in their faith journey, and for those who are still seeking, to point them to the Savior. I always tell my husband that if I wasn’t bedbound, he would rarely see me in front of my laptop. There are so many things to do outside of the Internet and social media – the real world – that given the chance, my hands and days would be so full. And my life so fulfilled.

lighted_path

Why would Facebook or other social media open up my day when there is my Lord and King waiting to spend precious hour with me? And yet, though I spend my mornings in prayer, in His Word and other devotionals, I feel it’s not enough. If my diaphragm were strong, I would fall on my knees in praise and worship after I’d seen the kids to school. In the glorious circle of God’s presence, love, joy, peace, power, and answers to prayer are let down from heaven in a huge sheet which one could feast on. Why wouldn’t I want to enter into that?

I dream of preparing hearty breakfast for the family even before the first light of morning peeks through the windows. Maybe freshly-baked buttery and crumbly biscuits with omelet as soft and fluffy as the clouds. Crispy bacon, a glass of fresh milk in front of each school kid, and lunch boxes with maybe  scrumptious chicken salad sandwiches, napkins with my message on them, and all my love, before we click them shut and they kiss me goodbye as they run for the waiting car. And I would smile to myself, heart about to burst in gratitude. I would whisper it, of course, put words to my heart-praise, not wanting to let the moment pass without blowing a kiss of thanks toward heaven who had wrapped its loving arms around me.

No, during those glorious moments, there wouldn’t be thoughts about Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. In that life, I would have learned that it didn’t take any social media to etch every precious memory, every heartfelt praise into pixels, but rather into His Books which couldn’t be erased for eternity.

When tears of adoration and thanksgiving had washed over me and cleansed me that I would feel like a new creation once again, a lamb whose wool is as white as snow in the heart of winter, I would rise from my knees and maybe spend some time in the garden. I’ve always known the joy and contentment derived from working with earth, with vibrant flowers and lush leaves in infinite shades of green covering the place like a colorful quilt.

In the afternoons while the kids are still in school, maybe I would walk around our neighborhood, say “Hi!” to folks who, like me, stay at home, and engage them into a warm conversation and tell them about Jesus. On the succeeding days, I might walk the same path, talking to the same people, for faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17). Then try a new, unbeaten road, where the light of the Gospel had not yet shone.

This and more is how I envision living my life after illness. Hallelujah! Praise God!

But while I wait, I’ll do my best not to spend too much time on FB. Why? Because my FB newsfeed, with the exception of Church posts and testimonies, has become a microcosm of the world. And whatever is wrong with the world? The beloved Apostle John gives us an answer:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 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. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

FB is a good place to connect and reconnect with family, relatives, Church brethren, and friends old and new. It may serve as a free diversion to those who have plenty of time to kill. I miss my friends that I only see now on my newsfeed. Had my circumstances been different, I would have loved to visit with them, at their place or mine or at a cozy cafe. How wonderful it would be if I could invite them over for tea, play catch up, and tell them about the One who forgives, saves, heals, changes lives, and loves faithfully!

But that’s not happening. At least, not yet. In the meantime, my FB newsfeed shows a window to the world which, if I’m not careful, if I let my guard down, will do me more harm than good. Everyday, there’s an overload of photos of grand vacations, travels, celebrations, dinners, shopping expeditions, gifts, acquisitions, material possessions, and yes, a wealth of selfies. An overdose of all that can influence our hearts to embrace the world’s superfluity, the antithesis of the life Jesus exemplified. In His own words, we see the stark simplicity of the life He lived: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Mat. 8:20).

It’s with sadness of heart that I have to say these things, but they speak the truth, for even some Church brethren fall into one or more of the above-mentioned categories and I often wonder, “What will happen to the anointing?” Yes, whatever happened to the admonition to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind, that [we] may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God?

In times past, I had been guilty of the same, but the Holy Spirit has been convicting me for so long, and now, I only desire to be an authentic Christ follower, by God’s grace. Before I post anything on social media, I pause and examine my heart and ask these questions: Why do I want to post this? How will it affect those who see or read it? A motive-check behind my actions is set in place like a brake. Apostle Paul reminds us to make edifying of others be the motive behind our actions. Edifying is defined as “enlightening or uplifting so as to encourage intellectual or moral improvement”. A few verses about edifying:

Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. (1 Cor. 14:12)

…Let all things be done for edification. (1 Cor. 14:26)

…But we do all things, beloved, for your edification. (2 Cor. 12:19)

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. (Eph. 4:29)

Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life. If that is what we see on our FB feeds and they stir up ungodly thoughts and emotions in us that our spiritual growth is hampered, linger not too long that we might leave unwhole. That is not the lighted path the Lord wants us to walk on. Facebook and all other social media and the secular things we see in them should not be the lifestyle of a Christian. Next time we go there, may we not forget that we are supposed to shine as lights in the world. May our posts and comments reflect that truth.

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The Surrounding Nations

No, I have not all of a sudden shifted gears and am now writing about politics. We are still turning pages of Scriptures and we’ll be doing that all the days of our lives as the Lord gives us grace.

Finally nearing the end of their 40-year journey through the wilderness, as they prepared to enter Canaan, the young-generation Israelites with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, were commanded by God to utterly destroy all the nations surrounding them. Please take time to read the following passage as it will bring us to the heart of our topic today:

surrounding_nations

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them. Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of the Lord will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly. But thus you shall deal with them: you shall destroy their altars, and break down their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images, and burn their carved images with fire.

“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. (Deut. 7:1-6)

The Lord wanted Israel to:

  • Utterly destroy all the surrounding nations, sparing no one and nothing.
  • Not make any covenant with them or intermarry with them.
  • Destroy their altars, break down their sacred pillars, cut down and burn their carved, wooden images with fire.

Why? Because:

  • The pagan nations will turn their hearts from following God.
  • They shall be snares and traps to them, scourges on their sides and thorns in their eyes. (Josh. 23:12-13)

And because:

  • They are a holy people to the Lord their God.
  • They were chosen by God for Himself, His special treasure, above all the peoples on the face of the earth.

The Christians of today are the modern Israelites. As the ancient Israelites were redeemed from bondage in Egypt, so we were redeemed from the bondage of sin. For God so loved us. Apostle Peter describes our status as:

…a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God… (1 Pet. 2:9,10)

We are still in the world although not of the world, but I often wonder: Have the world and the things of the world been a snare and a trap, a scourge on our sides, and a thorn in our eyes? Have they been influencing us in a way that holiness has been compromised and diluted by too much secularism? We have to admit we are bombarded and stimulated daily by secularism through technology: the burgeoning social media and the infinite offerings of the vast cyber-universe that is the Internet. We need not make a single step outside of our homes. The Internet opens up the world for us, every nook and cranny of it.

Social media is not an evil in and of itself, but how we use it or abuse it is how we could be ensnared by it. We abuse it when we let it saturate our lives instead of being drenched by the Word and the Holy Spirit’s fire.

I often wonder if it has become the main influencer of my mindset that clashes with my peace and the harbinger of the emotional roller coaster I often find myself in. For example, what I mostly see on my FB feed are not exactly in line with Jesus’ teachings. They tend to speak loudly about the ways of the world rather than Jesus’ life: His light and simplicity. Maybe some may think of me as over righteous and a wet blanket. But when we, who were predestined to be conformed to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ, let our eyes feast on a panoply of material things and worldly ways, we will find out that these will be the ones occupying our hearts and minds rather than the things of God. What we ingest will what mostly influence our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Even beliefs, like entitlements claim. We get ideas (and I mean that in a selfish way). We become restless (that is because we have been affected by what we saw); our peace and contentment rocked.

Actually, the effect is two-pronged: If something brings us inner turmoil instead of peace and joy, it must be from the side of the enemy and the Holy Spirit has been grieved and is now convicting us. If we have grown sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s movement within us, we will be able to discern it immediately.

The more that we are replete of the things of the world (even just through photos), the more we are farther and farther away from knowing the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Remember the admonition in Romans 12:2.

I admit I had often let social media, especially Facebook, make my life miserable. My FB friends list is an eclectic mix of Christians and worldly and everything in between. Although I’m using it (and quite successfully I must say) to share my blog and to encourage as much as I can, it has also served as the launching pad for feelings of envy, comparison, self-pity, bitterness, and the like (that is because of my hard situation), and also critical and judgmental thoughts as I see worldly possessions (sometimes blatantly) paraded. (And then there are the endless selfies. It’s…wearying, to say the least). I go there to encourage and most of the time, I leave discouraged myself!  How ironic! And that is just by looking! I marvel at how using our eyes the wrong way can bring so much misery. And darkness, too.

They shall be snares and traps to you, scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes. How very true!

But if we focus our eyes on the purity of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will absorb His light. You will love this:

“The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.” (Luke 11:34-36)

The eyes are the gateways through which light enters in. But if what we see makes the light dim within us – negative emotions and thoughts that make us sin – our bodies will be full of darkness! No wonder we fall into diverse afflictions!

We are still in the world but we can choose what our eyes behold.

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New Mercies

New mercies. New precious lessons that will last throughout eternity.

I thought that during the long years of my trials through sickness and suffering, I had learned most of life’s lessons, that is, the hard and deep ones, really important ones, that I needed for my faith journey. I thought that I had somehow passed them and was already sailing farther towards the open seas, bluer oceans, and deeper waters. But I was wrong. In this current season of harder and more painful trials through same physical afflictions, I’m realizing that I had barely scratched the surface when it came to a completely surrendered holy life in the Lord.

Not that those years wrought with painstaking learning had been in vain, but that fresh grace and wisdom are showing me that there is more to consecrated, faith-filled life than what I was already living. Apostle Paul called it mastery.

And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. (1 Cor. 9:25)

Faith and Prayer Life

In the past years, I did trust God in everything in my life but I’m realizing now that there had been more fear than faith. That I had let fear operate in my life and let it call the shots. That although I thought I was trusting God completely, there were many occasions where I lacked confidence in Him, where I let trepidation reign in my heart for days, weeks, and months while I waited for God’s answer to my prayer.

I thought I had been praying enough everyday, but now that I am doing relentless, importunate, hounding-God kind of prayers with sturdier confidence that comes from knowing Him more intimately through the Word – I am experiencing more victories and a steady flow of peace.

I am combining the power of the Word, which I continue to read, ponder on, and memorize by heart, and steadfast and deeper faith to lift up prayers that are not punctuated with worry but with peace and confidence. I am learning now more than ever to unclutter my mind with all things that contradict or weaken faith and rest in the truth that God is sovereign.

When the Lord leads us to deeper, bluer waters, He will also grow our faith proportionately. Deeper waters call for deeper spiritual maturity.

Marriage and Other Relationships

One other thing I’m currently learning is to intentionally love, appreciate, and honor my husband despite his own share of faults and failings. To do that I must learn to acquiesce, submit if you will, to his decisions that I know will turn out for our good in the long run without feeling resentful. Most of the time in the past, those frantic responses that resisted my husband’s leadership and decisions had emanated from a place of fear: of unconsciously insisting to take control of things and wanting to stay safe within my comfort zone.

But with spiritual maturity comes also the realization that faith, sturdy faith in God, is active and not passive. Faith is taking courage, stepping out, and trusting God will come through for us.

In the past, my acquiescence to my husband was mostly triggered by my fear of offending God and my illness worsening in the process, not from gladness in relinquishing control and humble submission. Hence, there had been much misery, resentment, and self-pity on my part. I’m learning that it is far more excellent to show humility that flows from a pure, surrendered heart.

Mostly, the important lesson I’m relearning at present is to relinquish control, trust God, and live my days choosing joy. Surrender is a token of trust.

Although there is always that desire to be in control of one’s circumstances, if you’re sick and weak, frustration is what you’ll end up with, because in reality, you feel overwhelmed and unable to cope up with all the happenings around you. But that is exactly what the Lord wants to fix: our being weighed down by our burdens. He wants us to:

Come to Him.

Lay down our burdens.

Learn from Him for He is gentle.

His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

He will give us rest.

It is hard to live with sickness and suffering and physical weakness. But opening my heart, mind, and soul wide to God’s love and provision is freeing and invigorating.

With sickness and suffering, it is easy to dwell on negative things – impatience, grumbling, unkindness and unloving ways which find their roots in bitterness – and be wearied by them. But that is not the path God wants us to take. With our trials, He is actually sanctifying us to live victorious, holy lives. As we find rest in Him.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience [steadfastness]. But let patience [steadfastness] have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4, annotations mine)

Whether we like it or not, it is under the atmosphere of trials that we truly learn.

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Stand in the Holy Place

One night last week, I began to lament to my husband how that my newsfeed is being crowded with news about my FB friends’ travels. Relatives, friends, even brethren in Christ seem to go from one place to another again and again, I told him. Then, when a hint of bitterness slowly crept into my heart, I added, “Why don’t I just close my FB account?” My beloved husband stared at me, his expression inscrutable. “Oh, well. I’d better worship the Lord. That’s the best antidote against the onset of feelings of bitterness, dismay, discontent, and all their kin,” I said with a sigh as I turned away from him and set my heart to worship.

(image source)

So, I played Christy Nockels’ Waiting Here for You worship song over and over while I sang along with it, hands raised, eyes tightly shut. Once again, for probably the 4180th time, I ran to Jesus and laid myself at His feet. I’m sure people of the world have their own ways to escape their overwhelming sorrows. Retail therapy, gym, eat out, a night out with friends and booze – just to name a few. But for me, entering into the presence of God never fails to soothe my afflicted soul. So, I sang and worshiped until tears streamed down my face and I sobbed because of the powerful touch of God upon me.

The last time I read this phrase (which was just recently), it gripped me in a way that it hounded me for weeks: …stand in the holy place… (Mat. 24:15). I know I don’t always stand in the holy place. Sometimes, I find myself standing in the place of bitterness or discontent, even unhappiness. At other times, I stand in the place where there’s too much hunger for the fulfilment of dreams and desires. More often than I’d want to, between my morning and evening devotions, I find myself in places where I strain to entertain myself through writing (a Christian novel), reading (Christian romance novels), watching (Halmmark movies), Facebooking. And I know, deep in my soul, that these are not totally holy places. My soul cries out silently.

That shaft of light that emanates from the Savior is not found in the places of pleasure, but only in His presence, in the place where we humbly bend our knees, bow our heads, and worship the One true living God in spirit and in truth.

Let not our surroundings hinder us from approaching that shaft of light, thinking that we are unworthy. On our own, we are unworthy. For He alone makes us worthy. That’s why we come to Him, again and again, not because we are holy and without blemish, but because He is. And in His presence, in His holy place, He washes us from all filth.

Stand in the holy place. And yet, our feet are so rooted in the earth where temptations abound. “Gravitational pull” in the form of sinful pleasures, idolatries, etc., keeps people stuck on the earth. Even Christians, too, in their unguarded moments and moments of weakness. However much we strive to be holy, our surroundings can taint us. This reminds me of the Prophet Isaiah:

 So I said:

“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The Lord of hosts.”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth with it, and said:

“Behold, this has touched your lips;
Your iniquity is taken away,
And your sin purged.” (Is. 6: 5-7)

Like the Prophet Isaiah, we dwell in the midst of a people of “unclean lips” (sinfulness, not only among the people around us but where we put ourselves into, like the Internet, etc.), but when we come before the holy throne with humble and contrite hearts, God is merciful to purge us from all filthiness. So, stand in the holy place.

But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7 NLT)

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What Makes for a Beautiful Marriage

I’ve read quite a few stories of Christian weddings where the bride and groom kissed for the first time or were together as man and wife for the first time on their first night. My tears flowed at one time after reading one of those stories shared on Christian blogs. For isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? Coming together for the very first time on your wedding night? That was also my fervent dream growing up. But somewhere between my young girl dream and marriage at 33, that idealism was lost completely. For the ways of the world never collide with the ways of holiness.

And so, looking back, even if the bride that I was was garbed in a designer wedding gown, rode on a stretched limousine, and me and my groom received guests at the grand ballroom of a 5-star hotel — I regretted the path we took to reach the altar. Crying one night, I told my husband how I wished we could remake that one single day and night in our lives and experience how it was to be a pure, blushing bride.

Then came the 2-year chasm in the marriage where the sin of adultery reigned. How can one redeem the beauty of a ruined marriage?

My answer is this: It starts with the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other who can turn the ashes into beauty. He it is who makes a marriage sacred. In the flurry of our glitzy Catholic wedding, we had completely forgotten to invite Him into our lives. Thus, there was no blessing in the real sense of the word. But one solemn afternoon in our living room, me, dressed in a simple white suit and my husband in his barong tagalog, a preacher from our Church blessed us as husband and wife. It was our Christian wedding. And it was beautiful. Why? Because of the grace of the Lord which washed us from our sins and made us white as snow. Grace is beautiful. Forgiveness is its crown.

To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. (Is. 61:3)

I have not seen a perfect marriage in my world from my childhood to adulthood. Everywhere I look (that is, the ones that I can look into),  I see flaws, some kind of ugliness, and some measure of pain. Our marriage is one of those. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t carry its own beauty. With the love and grace of the Lord, beauty can never be absent.

I see beauty whenever my husband assists to wash me. From the top of my head to the tip of my toes, he lovingly and efficiently bathes me while we talk. Sometimes we break down laughing and I will spray him with the shower head. Those are the times I’m strong. Sometimes, we’re quiet as I endure the whole process, sitting still in my wheelchair. Those are the times I’m weak and not feeling well.

I love to read and tell stories. My husband reads only the Holy Bible and the news. We’re completely opposing poles, like a cation and an anion (excuse the terminology, I’m a ChE anyway :) ). But he loves to listen to the stories I tell about the books I read. When I can’t sleep at night (and that’s often because of my discomforts), he either massages my legs or listens to my stories. There are nights I burst out laughing because of something I remembered while he stifles his huge yawns. Later on, he’ll be chuckling with me.

What makes for a beautiful marriage? It’s the Lord Jesus Christ who holds it together and showers it with His daily grace. It’s the love you share, at times sacrificial, at other times covering. However it looks like, it all emanates from His love.

At night when my husband is already snoring at my side, I marvel at the beauty of a man and a woman sleeping side by side in their marriage bed. Don’t you? (That’s for my married readers).

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Waiting and Watching

After Friday overnight service at around 4:30 in the morning, I heard a taxi stop at our gate. I knew it was my beloved husband arriving from the airport. He traveled to Shanghai, China to attend a cosmetic ingredients exhibit and conference. Immediately, I opened the CCTV to see him enter. But instead of opening the pedestrian gate with his key, he reached out his arm for the lockbar of the garage gate and tried to open it. I knew then that he didn’t have his key. So, I rang the bell for the maid to open for him. When I looked at the CCTV again, he was gone. Before the maid could open the main door, I saw my husband jump over the fence. As he landed on the ground, I imagined a thief trying to stealthily enter our house.

As I watched him haul his luggage and hand-carried bags, my thoughts wandered to the “thief of the night” which the Bible speaks of.

But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. (1 Thess. 5:1-2)

A thought flitted in my mind: Can I catch the coming of the Lord Jesus through my CCTV camera? Maybe if I keep on watching and waiting for Him, I just might. I smiled at my silliness. But the thought remained with me for days. Are we faithfully waiting and watching for His coming? Are we living like He might come any day, any hour, any moment now? What if He comes just when we are not watching? When we are busy pursuing other things, non-spiritual things? I know sometimes I live like He’s not coming any time soon. Not in my lifetime anyway. But such thoughts will only dampen our fervency in following and serving Him.

As I look at photos and updates of some of my younger JMCIM brethren on my FB newsfeed, I’m distressed at how they are being influenced by this ultra-modern generation. I can see that holiness is being compromised. I remember the beloved Hon. Asst. Pastor Lina C. Almeda teaching fiercely about following a life of holiness. In all the days of her life, she breathed it. In the pulpit, she lamented the state of some of the Church’s youth who strayed from the teachings of the Bible, pursuing worldly pleasures and breaking their parents’ hearts. I thank the Lord that her teachings on living a holy life were established in my heart and they serve as my guide. They are constant reminders for me to exemplify a life of holiness and to teach it to my children in turn.

The youth can easily fall into temptations, what with the Internet and all. Even parents can be influenced by the modern thinking of their children if they are lax and not watchful. I’ve observed that there are Christian parents who are afraid to rebuke their erring teenagers. Hence, they turn away from the teachings of the Bible and fail to follow the way of holiness.

Do we love the pleasures of this world so much that we don’t anticipate the coming of our Lord and Savior with eagerness and watchfulness?

 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping [not doing the things He has called us to do]. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:35-37 NIV, annotations mine)

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