Going Back to the First and Greatest Commandment

Yes, because, to go straight to the heart of the matter, that is the whole purpose of our existence. Are we created to exist for ourselves, follow our own desires, build our own “empires” and reign in them like kings and queens? We can try them all for a time, but sooner or later, we will realize that apart from God, we can do nothing. Or fall upon Mark 8:36 and it’s too late:

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Even those who are already in Him but have grown or are growing cold and cynical (or doubtful, bitter, and resentful), perhaps because of the diverse trials that seem to cling like barnacles to a rock – they need this, too.

FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT. This was just a quick sketch and wash on my Monologue journal but I'm quite happy.

FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT. This was just a quick sketch and wash on my Monologue journal but I’m quite happy.

At the start of the year, I wrote about hope when I was grappling for inspiration and courage to face yet another year, still with the hardships of my illnesses hounding me. A week after that, I wrote about the way of being filled up with joy, as a glimmer of light and hope and a bright future seemed to dawn on my horizon. Even if only spiritually. For now.

As the week stretched to another week, love and surrender beckoned me. I so much want to shed off the weariness, the humdrum rhythm of my days and heart. I would do anything just to break it off. I want to challenge myself and coax it out of its tired stupor, as in sick and tired stupor (pun intended), and be greatly expectant of life and God’s miracles once again. For I believe there is no other way to live life than that.

So, how do we love God above all things, with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls? Do we even know how to, really know? Oh, I know of many people who do. Their lives are spelled L-O-V-E and S-A-C-R-I-F-I-C-E. They don’t live for pleasures. They don’t even think about them secretly in their hearts. Their joy is to be at the feet of Jesus many hours everyday, praising, worshiping, praying, fasting. Or trekking valleys and mountains, looking for the lost soul, holes in their tattered shoes or sandals. Yet, that’s their greatest joy and contentment. Yes, I have heard stories like these in our Church, especially those who come from the remotest parts of the provinces, where walking with their own two feet are the only available, or affordable, mode of transportation. These are those who you will never see sporting anything on your FB newsfeed. God bless them!

Then there are those who are fully blessed – spiritually, physically, materially – that they leap in joy and shout out their praises. Who wouldn’t? Even me who is weak and ailing, when the cruel claws of suffering relinquish their hold on me – my spirit shouts and I would love to squeeze the face of my good, good Father in thanksgiving. In those healing moments, my spirit shouts “Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!”, followed by “I love You! I love You! I love You!” And mean it too, with all I have.

But what does loving God with all we are look like when suffering squeezes out all our peace, joy, strength, and even hope? It will look like a soul slumped at Jesus’ feet, begging for mercy and deliverance, enveloped with sorrow, yet full of faith. Faith that is bold enough to proclaim —

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him… (Job 13:15

Keeping God’s commandment is the whole duty of man (see Ecc. 12:13) and the first and greatest commandment is to love Him above all things.

…”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.” (Mat. 22:37)

Sometimes, this proves to be challenging, hard for those who are struggling against bitterness and cynicism. We can go through the motions, but nothing is hidden from God. He knows our hearts more than we can ever attempt to. He who has made our heart, shall He not know?

The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds. (Ps. 33:13-15 ESV)

Love for God is more than a surge of our fickle emotions, more than a high or a thrill. It is a decision, a sacred commitment. A covenant. Love is a verb. To obey God humbly and willingly is to love Him. The Lord Jesus said,

“If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15)

Sometimes, we find it hard to love Him fervently because we can’t seem to feel His love for us. But we know from His Word that He loves us, yes, even when it doesn’t look that way sometimes. So, we work it out, as we do in all our important earthly relationships. We pray. We worship. I have found out, as many others have before me, that meeting the Lord Jesus Christ in worship is the surest way to feel His love.

With my weak diaphragm and problems with breathing, I can only sing one or two praise songs, if at all. But during those moments as I humbly present myself to Him, I am enveloped by His light and love and my worship becomes a sacred dance. Our dance. His Spirit and mine. And I know then that I am deeply, completely, unfailingly, eternally, loved.

This year, I am poised to continue to run the race that is set before me, forgetting the 13 years that I had not received my healing. The 13 long years that I had suffered, that I had been left behind, that I had struggled against deep longings and emotions that were unprofitable. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Or record of unanswered prayers.

Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead (part of Phil. 3:13) —

— with a renewed commitment to love God above all things. Above my healing and dreams and longings.

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To a Desert Place

On an early morning a few days before my birthday, I woke up feeling like my heart and body had remembered that there was a reason for my melancholy, like they were hurting all over, not physically, but emotionally. Does that happen to you, too? Even before your mind has processed what is wrong, your heart and body experience it already. There had been a reason for the heaviness of my heart, but on that Thursday morning, I was compelled to make a decision even before I opened my eyes. I accompanied my decision with a prayer of release against my pillow.

My watercolor painting of a deserted beach at sunset on 9" x 12" 140lb, cotton wc paper. (Reference photo from total-embodiment.tumblr.com

My watercolor painting of a deserted beach at sunset on 9″ x 12″ 140lb, cotton wc paper. (Reference photo from total-embodiment.tumblr.com

Sometimes it happens that the thing that is so close to our heart must be released, when we perceive in our spirit that it may not be God’s will. Or He’s silent about it. Or He’s not into it with us. Yes, even those things which we have carefully planned and crafted and dedicated to His name that we thought He would approve and support. I had been praying fervently for God to bless something I had dedicated to Him, something that I knew would make me happy and bring my life fulfilment. And Him glory and service. But a few months into the project, He was silent and He wasn’t lifting a finger to prosper it.

When I finally released it and told Him I was going to give it up and wait for His word, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my heart.

Sometimes we craft ways to usher in happiness to our lives, but when we can’t get God on board, we may feel that He’s withholding it from us. Thankfully, that wasn’t what I felt in this case. I was relieved to give up something that had kept Him silent and was humble to wait what He had to say about it. Or what He had in store for me. Maybe He had better, greater, more wonderful things in mind for me.

That is faith and great expectations in Him :) .

Later that day, though I was sad because my plan didn’t pan out, I was closely leaning in and listening to that still, small voice. And it came without delay. At first, it was an invitation, a whisper to my soul to come with Him into a desert place and rest awhile. 

I was more than happy to oblige. I needed it. I needed to stop the analyzing, designing, planning for my happiness. The Lord Jesus just wanted me to rest awhile with Him. He wanted me to get away from all my strivings, the noise of my heart and mind and the world around me. Even if that world is so small.

Sometimes we believe that our beautiful dreams and best-laid plans are the best for us, especially when we offer them to God as our way of honoring and serving Him. But in this case, the Lord made me understand that I need not go to such length, or exchange Him for my dreams. He is enough.

To obey is better than sacrifice [and all our other attempts at offering], and to hearken than plunging into our projects that look pretty and bring us snippets of happiness.

Most of the time we don’t understand. But faith is to follow our Good Shepherd wherever he leads and to believe that the adventure He has planned for us is more wonderful, more exhilarating, beyond anything we ever dreamed or imagined or crafted. His plan is always perfect, unlike ours which often has loopholes.

So when He bids us into the desert place, we go. It is where He shows His wonders: leading us with the cloud of His constant presence by day and a burning light by night; parting the seemingly impossible obstacles so we could walk through them; raining on us fine showers of blessings that we often take for granted, which we can only appreciate if we go out and gather them and wonder. It is where He opens our eyes – when it seems to us there is only defeat – to see that we have limitless resource in Him. And we shall never want.

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength…” (Is. 30:15) 

The desert place, not necessarily an endless expanse of golden sands, is a quiet place where we can find our God and Father. A deserted place where there is no wifi, no access to social media, away from the noise and distractions of the world, its envy, covetousness, comparisons, competitions. But only Him, bidding us to find that stairs that is unrolled from heaven to earth.

He bids us to come. Closer to Him. And rest at His feet as Mary of Bethany has done. To know that one needful thing and choose that good part, which shall not be taken away from us (see Luke 10:42). 

The Lord wants to unentangle us from the cares of the world, even if those cares are not of the magnitude of worldly pursuits. Even if those cares are pleasant dreams and godly goals. Still, He wants that He is first and foremost in our lives. That He is the One who will give those dreams and plans and projects. That He will be the One to plan our happiness. Didn’t He admonish Martha of all her fussing?

And Jesus answered and said unto her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful… ” (Luke 10:41-42)

One thing is needful. Yet we often miss it. One thing is needful, yet we often ignore it. One thing is needful, yet we often choose what we want. One thing is needful, yet we often trade that with fleeting happiness. One thing is needful, yet we are sometimes blind, deaf, and numb to it.

One thing is needful and it is where our Savior God bids us to.

Where is your desert place? Where is your wilderness where you can hear God’s still, small voice more clearly?

I can’t go out of our house. I can only go as far as our patio which connects to our garden. But it suffices. As I write this, I sit here in our patio surrounded with quiet, with only the twittering birds somewhere among the thick foliage of the trees. And I like that. Earlier, a strong breeze swept off the fallen leaves from the trellis roof above me. They fell on the grass below like a shower of confetti. I looked up from my laptop to witness and feel the breeze swirl all around me. For a moment I thought the Lord was making His presence felt in a subtle yet un-ignorable display.

Here in our patio where trees on every side afford me seclusion – narra tree on the north, mango tree on the south, and santol tree on the west – I find my desert place where I can rest awhile with my Lord Jesus.

It was around my birthday (October 2) when I received the replacement of the thing that I had to give up. And it was glorious in my eyes! (More on that next time :) ).

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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 Pull of the World

In September last year when my husband arrived from a three-day prayer and fasting in our church’s fasting house in Pampanga, I asked why he didn’t go straight to work which he was wont to do in years past. In the earlier years after our salvation, whenever he came back from the fasting house, he never failed to visit the office on the same day. Except that time when he fasted for 15 days, he always came home radiant and showing perfect health and strength, like he didn’t abstain from food for three days. That last time, however, I noticed him looking emaciated and tired.

pull of the world

“I’m still feeling weak,” he answered. He just confirmed what I’d been suspecting. I told him about my observations of his fastings in previous years and the recent ones and he acknowledged that yes, it was different now. I was emboldened to tell him why it was so.

Months before he finally decided to leave for the fasting house, I was fervently praying that the Lord would speak to him and prod him to go back to his first works. And every time I did, I felt a resistance to my prayer, a struggle. The Lord was telling me that we had gone so far away from the spiritual zeal that we used to have. The gradual shift from our burning spirituality to one which was affected by secularism in recent years has somehow weakened our confidence and watered down the faith that can move mountains we used to have. I knew that and I could feel that deep within me. Because of this, I prayed the more urgently and passionately, acknowledging our faults and failings.

I put the blame on this: When we opened our doors to the Internet and social media, our focus began to shift. Ever so gradually, but it happened.

The years following our salvation, our world revolved around Church, morning and evening praise and worship, prayers, regular 3-day prayer and fasting for my husband, Bible reading (I only read the Holy Bible then, many times a day), and crusades during summer. It was rather a closed world, hedged by God’s Holy Spirit.

Then social media came to our life. In late 2010, I created my very first: Twitter. I shared encouraging tweets and verses everyday. A few months later, I created my blog, Minister of Mercy, where I wrote and shared the many amazing testimonies in our Church. Later on, I felt I wanted to write some more and share my life in the Lord and His Word to the world. So, I created Our Healing Moments and began to write in earnest. Both were gifts from heaven. My territory expanded outside the boundaries of our home. The world opened up before my eyes as the Internet broke down barriers between continents and I was introduced to the community of Christian bloggers. It was a gradual but very rewarding process. It was a time of stepping out into the world again, albeit virtually.

It was much later that I entered Facebook for the sole purpose of creating a page for my blogs and be able to share to a wider readership. There was a certain degree of apprehension on my part at first. Although I was already into blogging, I didn’t want to totally break down the walls around my private world of only God, Church, family, and a few choice neighbors. I had become used to that world, a far cry from my years of career and business. Being ill and weak, I felt safe and secure in that world.

But in the end, I had my FB account and to make the story short, I was again in the world through social media. Not long afterwards, Felix created his own FB account. Gradually (and I really observed this closely), members from our Church, from the least to the greatest, joined in. My FB community has burgeoned into proportions I didn’t quite expect. The opportunity to share my writings through my blogs has gradually increased and continues to do so. I’m really thankful for that. But somehow, we have changed, and that change is largely influenced by FB.

I now lament that instead of being soaked up with the things of God, to some degree, we are being drenched with secular things, just by lingering on that seemingly endless FB newsfeed. It is not as much as spending too much precious time there that should have been wisely spent in Bible reading and meditation, prayer and worship as it is an influencer of one’s mindset, affections, and desires.

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Rom. 8:6 ESV)

I told my husband that our immersion in social media has diluted the anointing, the density of our spirituality, and has somehow doused our fiery faith. He could only agree. In the past, he offered prayer and fasting every three months. Now, eight months had passed before the last one. The Lord warns us:

Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. (Rev. 2:4-5)

At the end of our conversation, my husband and I both agreed that complete and steadfast obedience to God and His will is always the most excellent way, for us to be in His perpetual remembrance and favor. We both saw the benefit of laying up treasures in heaven and investing on future needs being met and God’s blessings in general through fervent, faithful, intentional, and unceasing prayers now.

The Lord Jesus said that we are salt and light.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. (Mat. 5:13)

Our saltiness will lose its potency when we adopt the ways of the world instead of being a light to it. When that happens, the Master will find no use for us. But it’s never too late to purge ourselves of the pollution of this world. Apostle Paul encourages us:

 If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work. (2 Tim. 2:21)

The chameleon’s color changes according to its environment. When we linger too long in the world, like the chameleon, we will adapt its color. But when we faithfully abide in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will be conformed to His image as God has predestined us to be (see Rom. 8:29).

That night, I lay in bed in our already dim and quiet room as I listened to praise music. I still can’t sing, my diaphragm being weak. But when I don’t enter the presence of the Lord through worship, the more that weaknesses catch up on me.

We only realize how hungry we are of God when we are already being filled by Him through worship. We realize that all those times spent fretting and worrying would have been prevented by intentionally abiding in His glorious presence.

Something miraculous happens in praise and worship. Even when we are just listening and not able to sing, when we put our all into it, the Lord transforms us from inside out.

So I lay still and just let the Lord love on me, whisper words of comfort and courage, strengthen me, expand my heart and mind, feed my soul. Heaven drew near and the love of Jesus was a tangible thing. Tears escaped from the corner of my eye.

(Photo credit: Jose Luis Casti via Flickr).

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Life in the Slow Lane

Michele Cushatt, Christian author and blogger whom I follow on Instagram, posted a beautiful, soul-refreshing photo of verdant, rolling hills near her home with the caption: “Beautiful morning for a 3-mile walk. I’m happy to report I no longer walk like a 90-year-old woman. I now walk like an 80-year-old one.” The place where she walks is like nothing I’ve ever seen or been before in my part of the globe. I even commented one time: “If this is what’s outside of our home, though I’m bed-bound, I’d crawl out.” A runner before she was diagnosed with cancer, I can empathize with her frustration now walking like an 80-year old. After multiple throat surgeries and chemo, her old energy took a back seat and it took some time before she could get back on her feet and walk, not run, like a 90-year old as she has said. She says she doesn’t compare her progress with her running days, but the days that she was homebound fighting cancer.

slowlane

At least you’re walking however slow. Me, I’m bed-bound! That was my reflexive reaction but I immediately checked my heart. I chose to rejoice with her with the progress she was gaining. I’m sincerely happy for her that she’s now walking along that beautiful meadow outside her home.

Being a brisk walker 12 years ago when health and strength were mine in abundance, for years it frustrated me that I could hardly walk more than a few steps when illness took over my body. And now, I’m bed-bound and haven’t been able to ride my wheelchair (except to go to the comfort room) or use my walker for brief exercises in the mornings for months. However hard it is, the Lord never fails to give me my portion of comfort. He inspires me and renews my hope so that I’m able to experience some measure of joy in my days and still dream for a better, brighter future.

He inspires me to plan improvements around our home and garden. Although my life is lived in little increments that progress can hardly be observed, He lifts up my spirit in ways the world can’t understand. That is my life with my Savior. But there are times when I see a glimpse of the outside world, how people, both from our Church and outside, are living in the fullness of blessings — health, strength, career, travels. In those times, I can’t help my spirit to sag.

But being in this place for a long time now, I have learned not to dwell in those negative emotions when they come. I’m not always that strong, but I have found a way to turn around a negative feeling into something that I can offer to the Lord. Sorrow, for instance. On a Sunday as I watched the live webcast of our whole-day worship service, I finally let out the swelling stream of sorrow that had been building up inside as suffering battered my body for most of the day. When the Jesus Finest Generation Choir sang their last song, No More Night, the tears found their way out. I was slumped against my pillows as I let every single tear that fell tell of my sorrow, my pain, my longing, and the other myriad things I couldn’t put into words.

Sometimes there’s no use for words. But we can trust that God sees and we offer to Him what we’ve got: those tears and deep feelings we don’t have words for. There must be something good out of them when offered to the One with whom all things are possible. What did David say in Psalm 38? O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.

So, it’s okay to not try to express the inexpressible. It’s okay to not open our lips to speak but to let the quiet flow of tears say it all. Let the Holy Spirit intercede for us. The solemn silence makes the communion with God more sacred.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Rom. 8:26)

In the slow lane, the smallest gift is a reason for thanksgiving. The senses are heightened: you observe more closely; you see the minutest detail. You think deeper and are always aware of God’s hovering presence. Yes, there’s a deeper awareness of His omnipresence: that He sees all and hears all. Lessons stick more securely. The minutes and hours move (that is, the situation shifts) in dependence on God’s mercies not on one’s own strength. This could be utterly frustrating. That’s why one needs to totally surrender to God to walk the slow lane with peace and enthusiasm.

The Israelites of old walked the same lane to the Promised Land. God wanted to be in their midst, a hands-on God. They didn’t move without His instructions. He wanted them to know Him, to be their God. But many of the people didn’t believe Him and rebelled against Him. This was the reason why it took them 40 years what should have taken them 40 days to travel.

The same way that God has a reason now for the slow, arduous journey toward our own Promised Land (that place at the other side of this trial). Like healing, for instance. We may not be stiff-necked or rebellious like ancient Israel, but there must be a reason for the prolonged testing. It’s either that or He’s not walking with us. But if we know that we are walking according to the Spirit by whom we were sealed for the day of redemption, then we can rest in God’s faithfulness.

We know that God is the God who heals (Ex. 15:26). It is His will to heal. The Lord Jesus Christ revealed this when he walked on earth (John 6:38), healing all the sick that came to Him. He healed then, He still heals today, for He stays the same (Heb. 13:8). And by His stripes, we are healed (Is. 53:5). All these we can affirm in faith over and over without letting up. But let us be continuously obedient to Romans 12:2:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Is trying to conform to the world clouding our discernment of what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God? Does our will clash with God’s as we try to compare our peculiar lives with the world’s? The people of God complained of their life in the wilderness. Everyday, the Lord supplied them with manna for food, but they lusted for meat. They longed for flavors like garlic, onions, and leeks, and wanted to sink their teeth into melons and cucumbers, while their souls starved, for they resisted the will of God for them. And what was the will of God?

So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. (Deut. 8:3, emphasis mine)

We may not fully understand the testings, but we can continue to live by God’s Word. That is the whole truth we can lean upon as we wait and walk the slow lane.

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A Love That Burns

Recently, I read something that reminded me of the Lord’s first and greatest commandment: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

Have we been sailing through our faith journey – so singularly focused on the wind, its contrary direction, or its presence or absence, and on the waves, how huge and towering they could become most days as we traverse the rough and deep waters of faith – that we have left behind God’s first and greatest commandment? I know it may always be there, tucked safely in our hearts, but in the midst of life’s overwhelming concerns, we may have forgotten it’s even there. Our love for the Lord, the kind that is active, pulsating with life, and burning with passion, may have slumbered into a deep sleep and we haven’t even noticed.

You have left your first love. I hear it like a faint whisper.

That’s what I realized lately when I read Elizabeth George’s paraphrase of Deuteronomy 6:5:

He wants us to love Him with every fiber of our being — every breath, every ounce of energy, every thought, every emotion and passion, every choice. He wants us to love Him. He wants us to think first of Him and to desire above all else to please Him. And He wants that love to be intense and total…*

It hit me like a strong breeze, the kind that awakens your spirit and senses, and made me think. Yes, in the past many months, I have been immersing myself in all things spiritual, God things – more committed to prayer, Bible reading (and other good Christian books), passages meditation, and verse memorization. But I have to admit that I have been relentlessly pursuing God, first and foremost, to find favor in His sight and receive my healing. Which is not at all a bad thing. But I had forgotten to love Him with as much passion as I beseech Him for my healing.

I hound Him night and day. In my sick bed, I wrestle with the truth of His love for me. I had doubted it, questioned it. Then I would believe it again, based on His Word. I was jealous (still am) of His love for others. I want it; I covet it. I’m hungry for it. I want to experience it in my life, through my healing, through being raised up, through walking in divine health and happiness.

But have I been loving Him with the same intensity as I have been craving His love for me?

To desire above all else to please Him. Yes, my heart and mind have singularly pursued to do this, but my motive is clear:  To find favor in His sight above all else so that I could finally receive answer to my most ardent prayer — healing.

There are moments in a day, when labored breathing eases and heartbeat steadies, that I feel peace bathing my soul, and my heart swells with gratitude to Him. I punctuate those moments with “I love You so much, my dearest Lord Jesus!”

But is it enough? Is it enough to neutralize those times that I am sulky? In the past months, when sickness and suffering intensified once again, have I been loving Him primarily, intentionally and fervently, despite all the hardships, confusion, sorrow, and fear?

The Lord says in John 14:15, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” I read His Word everyday because I genuinely love it. I share it through social media because I want to obey His commands. So yes, I love Him. I love my Lord and Savior. He’s everything to me. But I realized that this love must be very present in my every moment. A hovering presence. The front and center of all my thoughts, desires, and intentions.

For the redeemed who walk in divine health and strength, it s easy for them to plunge themselves at the Savior’s feet and thank and worship Him with all their beings, words of love and adoration dripping from their lips. But for the sick, weak and suffering, this will prove to be more challenging. Groaning is what is mostly heard from them.

But what if I will make a firm decision,  every moment of everyday, to love God intentionally, actively and not passively? Yes, even through those hard and painful times when He seems so far away or just looks on to my suffering and doesn’t deliver me out of it completely? What if, I will choose to see beyond the battering (and His lack of action on it), and will love Him anyway? Love Him without traces of resentment or doubts? Love Him fiercely, with all my mind, heart, soul, and strength? Can I do that? Can we do that?

It is His first and greatest commandment. Even this we need to pray for. Oh, that my love for Him would trump all feelings of self-pity, jealousy, bitterness, and all their kin! That would be a wonderful place to be!

This reminder gives fresh hope, meaning, and purpose to my life. When all I can do is love and adore Him, then that will I do. And I know I wouldn’t be like being “left behind” or defeated or inferior in my faith life or in my place in His Kingdom. For then I would be embracing and obeying God’s greatest commandment. This means so much to Him, more than anything else I could do and give. My place in His heart would be special.

What does your love for the Lord look like?

*Raising a Daughter After God’s Own Heart by Elizabeth George.

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God’s Unique Ways

I stood before the white formica counter lined with beakers containing various emulsions that we were evaluating, a cellphone pressed to my ear as I talked to the representative of Ichimaru, one of our company’s major suppliers based in Gifu. I was in the laboratories of Ajinomoto in Kawasaki, another major Japanese supplier, together with other distributors from surrounding Asian countries. It would have been a thrilling experience for me, being a chemical engineer by profession, to work in an advanced cosmetic lab had I been well. But I was already sick even before I went to this trip, a weeklong technical training, against my doctor’s advice.

Standing in my low-heeled pumps – enduring what seemed to be a million tiny needles pricking the soles of my feet and worse, it felt like the insides of my shoes were lined with sharp pebbles, my back was screaming in pain all I wanted to do was lie down right there on the lab floor – I told my supplier I was sorry I needed to cancel my trip to Gifu. I needed to go home because I was sick.

The Gifu supplier was eagerly anticipating my visit to their place and manufacturing plant after being in partnership with them for 5 years. I could feel their disappointment.

From Kawasaki to Tokyo, I went home to Manila very sick and weak. A few days later, I received salvation. This was in October 2003. From that day on, I hadn’t been able to go back to work. In 2007 while still waiting for healing, the Lord spoke clearly in my heart: I wasn’t going back to my career even when He had already healed me. I cried buckets, but in the end, I submitted to His will. For who has resisted His will? Hoping to gain His favor for my complete healing, I vowed to never go back to work and turned my back to my career for good. For years I grieved for it.

But I trust that God has a beautiful purpose for me. It will unfold in His own perfect time.

In 2004, my husband took over the management of my company. He is a mechanical engineer by profession and worked in a food manufacturing plant for decades. He didn’t have a clue as far as cosmetic ingredients were concerned. But he depended heavily on God, praying and fasting and faithful in giving our tithes and love offerings. He studied hard, too. And on days that I was well enough to give him some tips, he listened well. He was always grateful for the advice.

In the intervening years after that phone call in Ajinomoto laboratories, God showed up mighty powerful. Though our lives were shaken hard beyond our worst nightmare, He gradually and surely put everything into place. I realized later, not without frequent bouts of bitterness and struggles against resentment and heartaches, that placing my husband at the helm of our company was the most excellent thing to happen. He is the leader of our family, that includes our business. There were hard, difficult-to-swallow lessons that God wanted me to learn and important things that I needed to let go. Year after difficult and painful year, I did slowly surrender control, in my mind, in my words and actions, and sincerely in my heart.

Now, almost 12 years later, my husband travelled to Japan to visit the manufacturing plant of our Gifu supplier and attend a convention in Yokohama. The dream was fulfilled through him and rather than be bitter and resentful about it, I chose to be happy for him and rejoice with him. Through the years, the Lord has immensely blessed him as the president of our cosmetic ingredients company and in the process, prospering further our business. My heart is grateful. I take David’s words and lift them up to the Lord:

Your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness. (Ps. 26:3)

God works in marvellous ways, ways we often do not comprehend. But Apostle Paul had somewhat grasped His mysterious ways when he wrote:

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Cor. 1:27-29)

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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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A House Divided Against Itself

Sometimes I feel like “a house divided against itself” for all the things that I let into my heart and mind, vying for my attention. I know that there are things that can veer me away and dilute my fervent fellowship with God, but in my weak moments, I just let them. What I’m fussing about may not be as important to others, but if you have experienced a life of intimate walk with the Lord Jesus Christ, you know when your love is ebbing and your “first works” are gradually set aside. Until they are completely forgotten.

The Lord warned that a house divided against itself will not stand (see Matthew 12:25). It will not have peace. It will not know how to hold joy. Its faith will be fickle and weak. Its love will not endure. This is the “house” that takes in both the world and Jesus; the mind that insists to be spiritual, but is at times carnal. The mind divided against itself, oscillating like a pendulum between carnal and spiritual, will not stand. The Bible says,

For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Rom. 8:6)

In the Gospels, the Lord Jesus talks of a strong man whose house can be plundered by another by binding him first. Reading this recently, it spoke to me that, sometimes, I am that “strong man”. I let another, that is, the enemy, bind me so he can plunder me. Have you realized that? Although in this passage, the Lord was talking about the stronghold of Satan being plundered by another stronger force – that is, Jesus – the situation can very well be reversed if in the first place, we are divided against ourselves. Satan can come, bind us, and plunder our goods. But this is not what the Lord wants to happen to us. He said He has overcome the world. And because He has, we can, too. He has given us the power “over all the power of the enemy” (see Luke 10:19). Only that we easily give it away in a moment of weakness. It’s like handing Satan the key to our “house”.

Often, we claim that our “house’, that is, ourselves, are built upon the Rock, the Lord Jesus Christ. But the Lord said that it is only when we hear and do His teachings that we are considered wise to have built ourselves on Him.

Hear then do. Not hearers only, but doers also.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. (James 1:21-24)

But at the end of the day, or in that moment when we know the plunderer tries to bind us, Jesus calls us to Himself. He wants to offer us rest from the battle. He wants to whisper that only in and through His strength, we can overcome. This is the song of my heart:

…When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. (Ps. 61:2)

The Rock that is higher than our weaknesses, failures, mistakes, and bad choices.

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