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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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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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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10 Ways to Find Beauty for Ashes

As true worshipers of God, we have this fervent desire to perfect our walk before Him, to be pleasing to Him in everything we do – every thought, every intent, every word, every endeavor, every work, every interaction. We want that the entirety of our life honors God, an offering and a sacrifice to Him for a sweet-smelling aroma. A life that is in itself a worship. Even David had this deep desire in him:

I will behave wisely in a perfect way…
I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. (Ps. 101:2)

beauty_for_ashes

It is what is at the heart of our daily prayers: to bring God joy, to delight Him with our everyday lives, not only to gain His overflowing favor, but because it is what the Holy Spirit has planted in our heart of hearts. It is the very reason we exist – our lives giving glory to God.

But doing daily life has its own challenges. It’s never really smooth sailing. Stumbling stones will suddenly appear on our paths, often at times when we least expect them. A child might have disrespected us, bringing us pain and great disappointment. Another child might be being difficult and before we know it, we had come to the end of our patience, we had shouted, or spoken harshly, and we had hurt the child’s feelings and brought him/her to tears.

Or maybe a spouse’s gross insensitivity has deeply wounded us and we just want to curl up in misery and drown in our own tears. We are utterly frustrated and we don’t even know how to begin to overcome our grief. Or maybe we desperately want it to work out so we try to talk, at first calmly explaining, even pleading with tears for an open mind and heart, for understanding and a reconciliation at the end. But maybe the spouse is really being difficult, impossible even! And before you know it, you’re fighting back word for word, hurt for hurt. Your morning prayer for a perfect heart and walk before God has been ruthlessly trampled. The atmosphere of love, joy, and peace in the home that you so greatly desire has turned into a nightmare, one that you so want to banish from your memory (especially if you’re still recovering from another similar episode) and be healed of it.

What do you do when you desire beauty in your life but ugliness comes to invade instead? When peace and praise and joy are what you want ringing in your home, but instead, strifes and harsh words and weeping echo off the walls?

The following will save the day during those plowing through stormy, turbulent seas of this thing called life:

1. Pray

Do not let the ugly encounter end there: ugly. After the angry spouse or child has stormed out and slammed the door behind them, fall on your knees. Often, you don’t know what to say, where to start. You are filled with confusion, hurt, disappointment, and all other emotions whirling inside you like a hurricane. Just call out to God and tell it as it is. He has all the time in the world to listen. Tell Him all about it. Your. need. for. His. help. Unload the heavy weight that threatens to rip your chest apart. You may be discouraged about everything but NEVER BE DISCOURAGED IN PRAYING! Don’t give up on God; He will never give up on you! Pour out your heart. Confess, repent, beg.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7).

2. Praise

Go up a few rungs higher. If you thought praise is only for those who feel like rejoicing, think again! With your heavy, grieving heart and unsettled mind, enter the Lord’s presence with solemn, soulful songs of praise. Sing even amid sobs, letting the tears flow freely. Let the lyrics be a prayer drawn from the depths of your soul. Sing until you feel the Savior’s embrace with His soothing words of acceptance and unfailing love. Sing until the clouds of ugliness is lifted off your heart and home. Sing until beauty blooms in every corner of your heart and spreads to every member of your family.

3. Intentionally Create a Reason for Thanksgiving

There was a long season in our life when my husband and I couldn’t seem to strike up harmony within our marriage. This was after we had reconciled (after more than two years of estrangement), had received the Lord’s salvation, and I was already very ill I had to stop working. It was apparent that the fruit of the Holy Spirit in either of us (though in varying magnitude) was a long time coming. We stood on different ends of the sensitivity scale. I am the kind of person who wants to talk heart-to-heart, to sort things out with hearts and minds wide open, and resolve them with words that bridge and heal. He was the kind who didn’t want to open up his heart and express himself, and when he’s prodded, the words came out wounding.

What I often did after having prayed and/or praised, I would cook a very special dish, set up the table and gather the kids around. I would lift up a prayer of thanksgiving for just… everything, then we would eat and celebrate despite the ugliness that had just occurred. Gathering around the table to partake of food especially cooked in love and celebrating with the Lord who makes it all possible will draw beauty into our lives and homes.

Banish the ugliness by intentionally creating beauty with God’s grace.

4. Witness

No, you don’t like to curl up in a corner and sulk and wallow in self-pity and misery. You are an overcomer, more than a conqueror. You will not speak anything that will dishonor God. You will not ambush a family member or a friend (or even your housekeeper or caregiver!) to catch all your bitter complaints. But this is what you will do: you will testify of the goodness, mercy, and faithfulness of God. You will talk about what He has done and continues to do in your life. You will highlight His works, not somebody’s faults and failings. Remembering God’s wondrous deeds and talking about them will take back the victory the devil has stolen.

5. Rest

Whether you were embroiled in a fight or you’re sick and waiting for healing, rest will do you a world of good. Rest will bring a lull to a stressful situation, a time to cool and calm down and steady your heart. Rest is a whisper to your spirit, “I care for you.” You may rest in different ways: sit and just be still, nap, read a psalm and meditate on it, have a tea for one, write on your journal (express your feelings on the pages or write a prayer), etc. However you choose to rest, it should bring you peace. It should push away ugly thoughts from your mind and bring in warmth and serenity to your soul like a flannel blanket in a stormy night. Rest refreshes the mind and body and enables you to think clearly.

6. Talk Heart-to-Heart

There should be a resolution to the conflict and a time for reconciliation. Communication is the key. Communicate, not to further play the blame game, but to build a bridge. “Communication translates the Greek word logos, which means to speak intelligently, to articulate a message…”*. You may invite the child involved into your room and talk heart-to-heart. If you’ve hurt their feelings, be humble enough to own up to your mistake and sincerely say sorry. Set a good example on how to humble down and honor others. With all love and gentleness, encourage them to open up their heart and talk.

If talking heart-to-heart is not a good idea (there are men who hate it, I think), write the involved party a letter. Your words should show no more of the accusations but a humbling down, an offering of peace and forgiveness or a plea for one.

7. Do Some Home Beautifying

Dwell not in the ugly thoughts and emotions. Do some “house-warming” to blow away those cobwebs from your mind. Arrange fresh flowers in a vase; light a scented candle; play praise music; plump up the throw pillows, change their cases; fix fresh fruits in a tray. Whatever you do to enliven your home, it should speak of your love to all those who live in it.

8. Do Some Gardening

This activity will surely cool your head and calm your heart. Cultivate the earth around the plants;  sprinkle fertilizer; deadhead, prune, trim; water the plants. Gardening will help you gather back joy into your life. Find refreshment and inspiration for your spirit while you’re out there: the cool breeze caressing your face, the sun’s rays seeping through the trees, the birds flitting from branch to branch, the sun-dappled grass, the spread of dandelions. All these God gives for your enjoyment. Whisper a “Thank You” toward heaven for His gifts.

9. Create Something

Dabble with watercolor, paint, draw, do origami. With your whole attention focused on your work to create something beautiful, you will not have time endlessly thinking and analyzing the ugly and hurtful events. You have prayed and placed everything in God’s hands. Now, stop fretting. You may do these activities with your kids. Craft together, laugh together. Create art, create fun, create love.

10. Take a Walk

Thank God for your strong two feet! Walking is a very rewarding activity but do it to draw closer to God. Use this quiet time to talk with Him, every step a praise, a remembrance of His loving-kindness.

Don’t fret about the troubles and trials that come, but let them bring us ever closer to our God.

*From A Word for the Day by J. D Watson, p. 76.

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Love Never Fails 2

Growing up, we learned that the opposite of love is hate. Then Joni Eareckson Tada wrote in one of her devotionals that lust is the opposite of love and went on to prove her point. But when the Lord put into my heart to write about the subject of love, this sentence hung on my mind and would not let go:

The opposite of love, agape love, is selfishness.

love never fails

In my head, I couldn’t string more than two sentences together, let alone construct a whole paragraph. I lost some sleep thinking about it. But because there was no other inspiration that came to me from the Lord, I thought He really wanted me to write about it. I’m not an expert on the subject, but I pray that you will learn from this short journey of love as much as I learned writing about it.

Agape is defined as “love as revealed in Jesus, seen as spiritual and selfless and a model for humanity.” Before the love and light of Jesus came into our lives, most if not all of us, were into all kinds of sin, not because we hated (that is, what we had known as the opposite of love), but because we were selfish. We only thought of ourselves: how to make us happy and satiated. There is no better embodiment of this than myself. Before I came into the light, I was wrapped up in my own self-love. And you know, if you only love yourself or your love for yourself is much higher than your love for others, like family, for instance, you don’t care if you shatter their hearts or ruin their lives. 

Why is there adultery, dishonesty, broken marriages and families? Is it not because we are selfish? Why  do same-sex individuals choose to couple and live together like a husband and wife and would fight to the death for their “rights”, rebelling against God’s commandment? Is it not because their love for themselves is greater than their fear of God? Materialism, covetousness, liberated lifestyle [not bound by traditional sexual and social roles] – don’t all these have their roots in selfishness?

We read the characteristics of love in the beautiful Love Chapter written by the apostle Paul:

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. (1 Cor. 13:4-8)

A selfish person cannot always be patient and kind. He will always think about his own welfare before others’. Grumbling is his native tongue. He is never free from feelings of envy and always finds the need to brag, for he is essentially proud and wants only to believe in and admire himself. A selfish person cannot “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things,” for he will always be looking out for himself, wanting to be free of all hassles, inconveniences, and encumbrances.

There is no true freedom, or power, or victory in selfishness.

But love is entirely on a different plane. When I began to feel the tugs of guilt on the magnitude of my sin and sought the Savior’s light, He also began to strip off my selfishness. That shift from selfishness to the Lord Jesus Christ was a journey of love. A love that is wrought with power, grace, and no small miracle. We begin to learn love the moment we shift our focus from ourselves to God and others.

I believe that love is not only a verb, but it has its own mighty power that conquers. Unlike selfishness which is vain and completely futile, love is the key ingredient for a God-sized miracle. When I received Jesus in my life, I began to look into the powers of this love, His love, as the single thread that holds everything together: freedom that comes with salvation, healing, peace, joy, faith, hope. The nails, no matter how big they were, weren’t what held Jesus at the cross. This is poignantly expressed in the song What Held You on the Cross?

What held you on the cross was more than just the nails.
With all the pain and suffering and all that you have lost
Your love for me could only be what held you on the cross.

This love was so powerful it resisted to the point of shedding blood, striving against sin (Heb. 12:4). A love so encompassing it saves from the fires of hell. A love so divine it lifts the redeemed into glory.

I believe in the power of love to heal and make whole.

This was what I always implored my husband during those painful strifes between us that hurt our faith and family. And I believed, had hindered my healing. I’ve always believed that dwelling on the side of love – active, fervent love – especially so in trying times, will shift the tide of defeat into an overwhelming victory. I believe that a love that is steadfast [firmly constant, unchanging, unmovable] through all life’s seasons and vicissitudes is the kind that conquers all.

I believe that unity bound by strong cords of love could usher in a great miracle. A threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecc. 4:12). And we know that the third strand is the Lord. When He is the third party in our marriages, we can conquer all. “For where two or three are gathered together in [His] name, there [He is] in the midst of them (Mat. 18:20).

When we gather before Him in love and peace (and not in strife) as a couple or as a family and without resentments in our hearts, He will meet us. And in His mighty presence, all things are possible.

Love is greater than faith. Apostle Paul wrote, “…And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). In another letter, he wrote, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6 NIV). Also, Saint James challenges us with his words, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).

Expressing our faith through love. Showing the evidence of our faith by our works. The parable of The Good Samaritan exemplifies best these teachings. A priest, then a Levite, both came down the road where the man who was left half-dead by thieves lay. Upon seeing him, they each passed by on the other side. The priest and the Levite have a religion but not love. But the Samaritan showed his faith in God through his mercy and love.

Love that flows from our hearts into our lips and hands has the power to bind up wounds and heal broken hearts and bodies.

Do you have a sick and suffering person in your life who needs your love and care? A hurting soul who needs healing and lifting up? God put them there for you to minister in mercy with your faith working mightily through love.

Never underestimate the power of love, the love of God [that] has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom. 5:5). Love never fails.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:13).

(All definitions were taken from thefreedictionary.com).

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Love Gives

Hannah brought home two small packs of sweets from her afternoon out with friend Sary. The sweets were wrapped in colored transparent cellophane obviously made by a small-scale backyard business. I asked where she got them and she told me this story:

After spending crazy time at Worlds of Fun, they went to eat at McDonalds. Near the entrance, they were met by a girl (Hannah said she looked like a college girl) who offered them the sweets. She was selling them to raise money for tuition fee. Hannah said the girl showed them her college ID, she looked nice and Hannah believed she was genuine, that she was as she claimed herself to be. She and Sary at once bought two packs each. She said there were others also who readily bought her merchandise. (The sweets looked like they were priced 10x their expected price, but then I understand that if she didn’t put a considerable profit, it would take her ages to save up for tuition fee. And that is why also, the girls bought only two packs each :) ).

I bit my lip upon hearing this. I know, yes, I KNOW, how it is to be so desperate to finish college amid financial hardship. I had been there: 5 gruelling years of struggle and tears, at times with hunger, at other times with the fear of not being able to take the Final Exams because I hadn’t paid my tuition yet.

I admire the girl who braved selling not-too-attractive sweets in the mall just to finish college. My eyes well up for such a heart for education and the unrelenting dream for a bright future. I can see a part of myself in her.

And since we want the underprivileged but bright kids have a chance to education, our family has been sending a few to school the past years. I am telling this not to brag about what we do. I am always reminded by the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 6:3 regarding our charitable acts: “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” I want to tell our story to inspire others to do the same. That is all.

There are lots of families in our Church, especially in the far provinces, who are rich in faith but poor in material wealth. Most of the kids from these families sing in the Children’s Choir and love the Lord with all their young hearts and minds. We choose those who are fatherless or orphans and who really love to go to school.

It has been a rewarding journey of love for us. This year, by the abundant grace of the Lord, we are expecting to add one or two more children to our sponsorship. I pray the Lord will give them to us.

These words from Psalm 18:25 and Matthew 5:7 compel me:

With the merciful you show yourself merciful… 

Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.

For I so need His mercy. But I know that these stirrings of love for the other person take their roots from God.

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19 ESV)

I know so well that my heart is imperfect. I still struggle with envy, jealousy over God’s love, comparison, self-pity, bitterness, selfishness (these mainly emanate from my prolonged sickness and suffering). And if I’m downright honest, I must also add a little of covetousness, materialism, and just plain worldliness. But it is God who sanctifies and transforms me. What I can do is to cling to Him like a branch clinging to the Vine and do my best to obey His commands.

And in these small acts of love, I hope and pray that I am doing just that.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12 ESV)

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Unity in Brotherly Love

Meditating on Psalm 133.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity! (Ps. 133:1)

When I became a born-again Christian and began to serve the Lord in Jesus Miracle Crusade International Ministry, my experience of religion changed dramatically. Though I grew up going to church (Catholic), I was used to living in a hypocritical environment. Then I became an adult and a hypocrite myself: “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof… lover of oneself, lover of money, boaster, proud… disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving… without self-control…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God… always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (see 2 Tim. 3: 1-7).

But in the congregation of the saints of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is entirely different. Everyone walks (or does his/her best to walk by the grace of God) in the Holy Spirit, praying and working to know and follow the will of God. And dwelling in unity bound by love. Brothers and sisters as one body in one Spirit with one hope.

Years ago while we were on our way to our first crusade in the province, we passed by an outreach of our church which was along the way. We attended the mid-week service there. It was our first visit to the outreach. After the service, one of the workers who managed the outreach, a sister in Christ,  approached us, took my hands in both of hers, and implored us to stay the night and have supper with them. Dusk was gathering and they couldn’t imagine us continuing on our trip. But I assured her gently that we would be fine and would be spending the night in a hotel nearer our destination. I knew they had a lot of work to do and I didn’t want us to be a burden to them, but I saw in her eyes the sincerity of their love for the brethren.

In another crusade in another province, the preacher and his family assigned in the outreach there arranged for our lodging: a spacious guesthouse surrounded by trees and yonder were mountains which brought fresh breeze that invigorated us. A day after the last day of crusade, a Monday, we were packing our luggage in haste and hauling them into our van. My husband Felix needed to attend a staff meeting in our company. When we were about to settle in our seats, the preacher and his family arrived with pots and dishes full of home cooked, delicious food. They prepared a modest feast for us before we went home!

When we attempted to explain that we needed to be on our way, their faces fell. It was then that I heard the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit, “Stay and eat what they have prepared. The staff meeting in the office is not that important. Love and fellowship with the beloved brethren are what matters more at this moment.” We all alighted from the van and went inside the guesthouse again. I took the hand of the beloved preacher’s wife and smiled warmly, silently assuring her that we so appreciate their care for us. Other workers and choir members joined us in the breezy balcony as we enjoyed the sumptuous lunch they lovingly prepared. We shared testimonies and stories of God’s love and mercy. We talked and laughed and rejoiced in the Lord, the staff meeting completely forgotten.

 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

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Modelling Christ

After my morning worship and prayer, I opened my KJV Bible to where it was bookmarked and continued to read:

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matt. 34-40)

(image from Facebook)

I read the passage one more time, then put back the bookmark and slowly closed my Bible. The solemn moment reminded me of the purity of the heart of the King and how I’m still grappling with keeping His teachings to heart. My mind was full of the passage and my heart ached for it. For a fleeting moment, the three fatherless kids that we are sponsoring to school this year flashed in my mind. But I slowly shook my head because I knew it was shameful to even think that I can be proud to count every good deed as my own. The thought squeezed itself to my mind: It’s not the value of the donation or the magnitude of the help, but the real concern. The genuine love.

I sighed as I put my Bible down. Well, I can do it only by the grace of God. Little did I know what awaited me that day.

After breakfast, while I worked on my blogs, I called one of the maids to plug the extension cord so I could charge my laptop. While she worked on it, she looked at me sharply and said, “The agency texted me that sir [Felix] is there right now to pick up my replacement.”

Which reminded me that I had completely forgotten to inform her that she was going to be replaced. Just after a week after her arrival, I talked to my husband and asked him whether we shall replace her right away or I will do my best to learn to be patient with her. My husband answered me promptly, “We’ll replace her as soon as possible”. Then he proceeded to tell me how the maid had neglected to do his instructions.

The second time she assisted me to bake for Mother’s Day, I was slumped in my wheelchair, my painful back was killing me, I was straining for breath in front of the big electric fan, and I was trying my best not to succumb to crying. My two batches of unfinished muffin batter had been sitting longer than necessary, waiting for the bigger bowl that I told her to get. But although we had used it before and she had washed it and kept it to where she got it, she could not remember it. She could not remember what it looked like and where she put it. And on it went with the other gadgets and ingredients that I needed.

After that episode, I didn’t have the desire to bake again with her assisting me. I didn’t want to expose myself to another stressful time with her.

She’s assigned to cook meals (except when I’m strong enough to do it myself). One morning, she brought my breakfast. It was composed of dried-up rice and two small pieces of shrivelled, almost burnt bacon. This time, I did cry. I cried because I was done with complaining and I didn’t want to be afflicted by it again. I cried because I didn’t want to be provoked to speak and criticize and have negative feelings. I cried in frustration because I couldn’t cook my own breakfast.

But now, my problem was I had forgotten to tell her that she was being replaced. That wasn’t fair to her. I had thought of telling her when the time drew near but it didn’t work that way. The words of the Lord Jesus Christ was hovering all over me. I can’t let this wrong hurt her. I don’t want to displease God yet again. I must do something.

And the best thing to do was to admit my mistake and ask for forgiveness. And I did that. Really sincerely. But she remained hostile. I asked her gently how I could help (I was really becoming depressed with the whole situation and it was affecting my breathing and heartbeat). I asked her if she had a place to go aside from the agency. Yes, she had. She answered resentfully and defiantly. She is angry and she doesn’t bother to hide it. I am right with my decision to replace her. But I was determined to make the situation right. At another time and place, one that wasn’t inhabited by the Lord Jesus Christ, this wouldn’t have been tolerated by me, the old, tough me.

I explained to her that this was for the best. That I didn’t see in her the qualities of a good maid or cook, especially one who assists me, and that I didn’t want to always criticize and complain about her work. That I didn’t want to hurt her that way. I told her that I believed she could look for another household to work for, one which doesn’t have a sick member like me who constantly needs assistance.

Then, I asked if I could pray for her. Oh, how I really wanted to help her! I didn’t want her to leave our house with anger in her heart. I patted the bed and asked her to sit down beside me. Reluctantly and with a frown that looked like it was permanently pasted on her brows, she sat down. And I prayed for her. I cried as I prayed.

After my prayer, she said “thank you” faintly. I gave her her salary. Then I opened my drawer, took a P500 bill and said, “I’m giving this to you.” At that, she unashamedly hugged me and cried and thanked me. I hugged her back, patting her back. I had penetrated her heart. No, Jesus did.

I gave her a copy of our Church’s leaflet, an invitation to worship service. I told her about how good the Lord Jesus is. And told her some more until the time to say goodbye. She was grinning when she finally left, our office caretaker, a brother in Christ, carrying her bag. He was going to drive her to the agency.

After all that, my cold feet warmed, my heart stopped trembling, and I breathed comfortably and happily.

“Thank You, Lord Jesus, for walking with me through this day!” My heart whispered in relief and awe and thanksgiving.

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Journey with Jesus,

“The Wrestlings” Discussion {Chapter 8}

In chapter 8 of my free ebook The Wrestlings Along the Narrow Path, I wrote how I face the day-to-day challenges of maintaining a gentle and quiet spirit. I do, indeed, wrestle with the many things that try to steal away my  patience and gentleness.

Unlike other Christian households, ours faces more difficult challenges. My illness is the number one source of weariness for me and burden for the family. It frustrates me to such an extent that I often lose patience and the courage to forge on. The combination of the discomforts (difficult breathing, dizziness, and overall weakness) brought about by my illness, the problems of dealing with maids that do not uphold our family’s rules, practices, values and beliefs, and kids that disobey and constantly fight, gets into my nerves and it is a humungous task to hold my temper.

Sometimes I find myself shouting, speaking succinctly while grating my teeth, snapping, or giving out a lengthy sermon. And sometimes I just bow my head, put my hands to my face and cry in frustration. I had analyzed that when I’m physically weary and have not given my mind and body enough rest, I am most prone to being impatient and ungentle.

The following teachings that I share with you on how to maintain a gentle spirit, patient and unwavering in its pursuit, are the ones I do my best to practise everyday. I am not saying that I have perfected them and am now in that place of bliss, but they do help me retain peace and joy in my heart and mind despite my circumstances, and help supply the inspiration and encouragement I so need through the day.

  • Quiet Meditations in the Morning

The first thing I do in the morning is to reach out for my Bible and read and meditate on the Word. Sometimes I take note of verses that are speaking to me in my journal. I read a daily devotional, then sing praises to the Lord. I do my best to shut out the world in those few moments of communing with God through worshipful and prayerful songs. I strain to feel His love for me, to appreciate and praise Him for His faithfulness with my whole being. Then, I pray. And I find rest, peace, and strength, both physically and spiritually, to face the day.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Mat. 11:28)

  • Always in Remembrance of the Word

When I am drenched with the Word, the powerful verses constantly hover over my mind during the day, reminding me to pause and think, speak or act according to the Lord’s teachings. When I let the cares of this world take over my mind, pushing the Word to the periphery and let it fade into the background, negative powers take hold of me – impatience, anger, resentment, discontent, disappointment, discouragement, self-pity.
And the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Mark 4:19)
  • Rest or Nap During the Day

Don’t let weariness punish you and ruin your day. Care for yourself by resting or napping, especially when you are really tired. Don’t push your mind and body to the limit until you are burnt out and have nothing to give. Even the Lord rested from His teachings and healings, and He encourages us to do the same. (I wrote about this here).

 31 And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

  • Teach Your Children

I believe there are kids out there who are more responsible, industrious, obedient, and easier to get along with than my kids. But I also know that there are kids who are worse than mine, spoiled and selfish ones. However difficult our kids sometimes are, we know that there is no giving up in our calling of motherhood, of rearing our children in the love and admonition of the Lord. My kids and I, we pray together, read and discuss the Bible together. I teach them, sometimes with tears. I give them of myself, hoping that in this way, they will see my deep sincerity to teach and guide them as they grow.

And you, fathers [and mothers], do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. (Eph. 6:4, bracketed addition mine)

  • Maintain Inner Quiet and Strength

Aside from resting and napping during the day, I have also found the wondrous comfort of keeping in touch with my inner self in quietude. When you have learned the practice of revelling in quiet inner peace, whether you are in a clamorous crowd, in the middle of an argument, in the verge of losing it, or in the blissful silence of self and surroundings – you do not easily get provoked and unravelled. In the middle of a rift or any situation where you know you can be robbed of your collectedness, capture the gift of silence and forbearance. Show meekness. Stop the flow of words that you know are counterproductive. There is pure delight in knowing you have a place inside of you that you can retreat to when your surroundings become hostile.

Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting onfine 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)

 Too much talk leads to sin.
Be sensible and keep your mouth shut. (Prov. 10: 19, NLT)

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Journey with Jesus,

God’s Covenant of Mercy

Meditating on Psalm 89.

 I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever;
With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations.
For I have said, “Mercy shall be built up forever;
Your faithfulness You shall establish in the very heavens.” (Psalm 89:1-2)

Psalm 89 speaks of God’s covenant to David and then proceeds to declare His sovereignty, mighty power, majesty, wondrous deeds, mercy, truth, and faithfulness. God promised to David, “My faithfulness and My mercy shall be with him…(v. 24). My mercy I will keep for him forever, and My covenant shall stand firm with him (v. 28).”

Reading these words reminds me of the hard days when I was bound in bed, sick and suffering. Just going through the day was tough; there was no relief, every moment breathed an anguished sigh and a hope and a prayer, much like Job had experienced. And in the midst of those days, I read Is. 54. What great promises! I held on to them like my bright shining hope, but at the same time, I doubted and hungered, sorrowed and agonized – how I wanted to receive those promises!

With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment;
But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,”
Says the Lord, your Redeemer.

For the mountains shall depart
And the hills be removed,
But My kindness shall not depart from you,
Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,”
Says the Lord, who has mercy on you. (Is. 54:8, 10, emphasis added)

Now I read Psalm 89 and see that it is similar to God’s covenant of mercy and peace to Israel in Isaiah 54, and I know, that while I held on to His promise of an everlasting kindness to His people, that promise was for me, too! I am not of the seed of David to whom He promised that his seed will He make to endure forever (v. 29), but through David’s seed, the Lord Jesus Christ, I received the Spirit of adoption whereby I cry, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). God’s covenant to David has trickled down to me, because of his Seed who endures and lives forever – my Savior and Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ!

He shall cry to Me, ‘You are my Father,
My God, and the rock of my salvation.’ (v. 26)

I have received God’s covenant of His everlasting mercy, for all His promises in the Lord Jesus “are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20).

Psalm 89 and Isaiah 54 are both beautiful, exalting the majesty of God and bringing bright shining hope and abounding peace and encouragement. These promises are for us and we receive them through our Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the Lord forevermore! Amen and Amen (v. 52).

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Journey with Jesus,