Keeping a Worshipful Spirit

I fret when things other than the Lord Jesus Christ occupy my thoughts and time most of the day. I feel that it is a great shortcoming and failure on my part, and in my list of “major offences” against God, those two are lined with “sin”. Maybe unlike most Christians, I am very fearful of God. I still haven’t learned to not connect my sickness and suffering with God’s punishment or chastisement. Often, I still think that my suffering intensifies because I might have offended God in some way (although sometimes I can’t really think of any, unless God is uber-sensitive like that). I know that you think otherwise. I, too, cannot totally believe that God is hovering over me, just waiting for me to slip and then – boom! The punishment comes. I cannot really believe He works that way, yet, it surely feels that way when the sting of suffering grips me.

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So, I am fearful of Him, so much so that I cower in my spirit and when I haven’t behaved perfectly, I actually beg Him to not punish me. But I do not want to go back to those beggarly feelings or living like an adopted-and-unloved child, because I’d been there and it just isn’t true.

Instead, I respond to this fretting and fearfulness (or in other words – conviction) by listening well to the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ and praying more agonizingly. And most of all, I strain to find ways to please Him and worship Him whatever I do during the course of the day.

Well, to be honest, I fret because there are bad habits I have not yet completely forsaken. Bad habits and weaknesses that trump my resolve to “behave myself wisely in a perfect way, to walk within my house with a perfect heart” as David had declared. There are times I still fall prey to them.

opening my cellphone to check  messages and IG (a quick browse) first thing in the morning

my mind dwelling on vain thoughts while waiting for sleep to come at night and back to them in my waking moment

feasting my eyes on things of this world (especially online), even as simple as a pretty teacup

planning, devising (like in home decorating), and round and round it goes

planning, imagining projects for watercolor painting

planning, arranging, scheduling menus and recipes and baking actvities

I may live a sedentary life and most of it in bed, but my mind is always active and busy 😀

With the exception of the first two, the activities I listed above are not bad. But when they worm themselves into my mind more than necessary, and especially during worship service (via live streaming on my laptop), that is bad. They then become distractions, a word I’m becoming to hate more and more everyday.

And the worst thing? When they consume my thoughts, affections, and time. Suddenly at the end of the day, I realize I have wasted my time with vain things, worldly things that don’t really matter to the Lord and eternity. Then, I fret. I get sad and soul-heavy.

I guess I am more prone to such habits or “thought life” because of my situation. I don’t go out (because I can’t). There are very limited activities I can do beside reading, watching, looking, painting, writing, praying, AND thinking. The painting, writing, and reading I cannot do any time I want. I need to wait for strength and comfortable breathing to be able to do them. In the meantime, I browse online. Browsing and looking are my easiest ways to pass the time. But when I am unable to do even those, I keep still and close my eyes. Then, things play in my mind, some are spiritual, some are not.

I don’t want to live this way everyday. I want to be always in the presence of the Lord, yes, even when I am doing something that is not spiritual. I believe this is possible when I don’t let my worldly activities and thoughts and plans consume me. Consume is the key word. When we let things other than God consume us, then they become sin. This is the thing that Apostle Paul mentioned in Colossians 3:5:

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col. 3:5)

Inordinate affection. Inordinate is defined as “1. disorderly, unregulated 2. exceeding reasonable limits: immoderate”*. We should not develop inordinate affection to worldly things. Temperance or self-control is the operative word. It’s not as if I shop and shop online with no care about the price or their necessity. No, not at all. But, for instance, I like collecting vintage or used teacups and I buy them from local IG sellers. Yes, I like looking at them, collecting them, and using them for tea, but I don’t really buy the expensive ones. I only buy the cheap ones. Yet, I feel guilty and fret sometimes because I delight in them and I think about them and they make me happy.

I don’t want to border on covetousness, no matter how simple the things I want to have and enjoy. I always endeavor to live simply, although my heart longs for beauty. 

Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: 29 for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:28-29)

God should be the One filling our hearts and minds and not the things of this world. The prayer I whisper every time I find myself being pulled away by my worldly desires is this: “Lord Jesus, fill my heart and mind and days with Yourself that I would be so full of You!” There is a need for intentional and diligent seeking of Him. If we want to be nearer to God, then let’s intentionally draw near to God, for when we do so, He draws near to us. So, I tell myself, “Just do it. Make ways to do it.”

What my soul desires is to worship Him until I should have touched the throne of grace and He should have touched me that I am transformed. And healed. For that to be always my goal.

In my life, it’s my weaknesses that vie for my deep and constant devotion to God, those weaknesses that bring us fleeting thrills. Indeed, there are endless distractions that pull us away from a connected worship of God. In the course of the day, we go through many things, both the needed and the desired, the essential and the exciting, but they should not consume us, they should not occupy more territory in our minds than what we give for the Lord – thinking, meditating, worshiping, and delighting in Him.

The principle behind this is what the Apostle Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31:

But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, 30 those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, 31 and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away. (1 Cor. 7:29-31)

Those who buy as though they did not possess. Those who enjoy the things of this world, however simple and innocent, as if they did not enjoy them. It’s like that, right?

Because we are all “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

*From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

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What Makes Life Beautiful?

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

beautiful life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the life that He gave – it is beautiful.

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Life Hidden with Christ

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a fellow Christian artist friend. She knows the physical difficulties I am going through (in fact, she gave me an emu balm she bought during her trip to New Zealand to help soothe my atrophying legs) and she also shared her own health problems (although I could sense that she was trying to downplay her own health challenges because she knows how hard I’m suffering). At the end of our exchange through Viber, she expressed her faith in our Lord Jesus healing us both, and I replied that yes, He will keep us and protect us under the shadow of His wings. For I felt then that, we, as mothers who long to be strong and live long on the earth, need the Lord’s all-encompassing protection and keeping.

hidden with Christ

I was feeling frustrated while painting something for my blog theme, for I felt exhausted after even just half an hour working. But my Lord comforted me, whispering to my heart that it’s okay, that I need not rush things and I need not produce perfect. Just something to bring Him joy.

When I am sick, weak, and fearful, all I want to be is under the shadow of God’s wings. I want to hide myself in that safe place from everything that’s making my life hard until it all comes to pass. Sometimes, that means I am invisible to the world, too, and that’s fine with me. Being hidden, obscured from the world’s prying eyes, is a definition of safe and peaceful for me. For the more than 13 years of illness, I’m used to my quiet life at home.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me!
For my soul trusts in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge,
Until these calamities have passed by. (Ps. 57:1)

When life is looking up bright and some measure of wellness is mine to hold, I venture out into the world, albeit virtually through social media. I would share photos of our family and our simple celebrations. I would share my art and words to encourage. I also like the connection I have, especially in Facebook, with loved ones and friends old and new, far and near.

My motive for sharing our life in photos and words through Facebook is to let others know that despite my health situation, we are doing fine by the grace of God. That there is real joy and peace in our hearts despite the trials, and there is always a reason to celebrate and thank the Lord. Whenever I arise from the ash heap of sickness and suffering, I post a photo of myself (in a pretty blouse and maxi skirt and with a light makeup) as a testimony of God’s enduring mercy and to send a message to the world: “Hey, the Lord keeps me alive!” I want God to be glorified in that regard.

But sometimes, I can overdo it. Sometimes, the inner motive becomes something like, “Hey, people! We are doing fine, far better than you think. We are not left behind. We are not pitiful. See? We’re having a party. The husband and the kids went to this place and that place, etc. etc.” It is then that the motive is tinged with pride and comparison.

Sad to say, social media is not all connection, but also a breeding ground for comparison. And competition.

With great dismay, I have examined my heart and found out that not all my motives in posting on social media are pure. They are tainted, in one way or another, with pride and the desire to be admired. It is terrible, I know, but that is the human heart if we don’t search it every now and then and let the Holy Spirit guide it even in the smallest matters, like posting on social media.

I’m not sure if this is true for you, too, but I think that there is this tendency of the human nature to flaunt to the world that one’s life is beautiful, even if only on social media. If a life is “true and through” good and beautiful in the Lord Jesus Christ, then go ahead and testify it to the world, for God’s glory and honor and for the edification of others. Nothing more, nothing less. Never to make others feel envious, or less-than, or miserable. And even if that isn’t our purpose, we may still end up affecting others in a negative way if we are not careful.

Our lives in the Lord should edify and not bring others down. Edification is defined as the instruction or improvement of a person morally or intellectually*.

So, when I felt that connection in Facebook has turned to comparison and realized that my life was overwhelmed with envy and that I wasn’t growing spiritually but rather shrinking inwardly, I slowly retreated to the quiet of my solitude.

In the past, I used to think that my life in obscurity is something to be ashamed of. I don’t want people feeling sorry for me and our family. I don’t want them thinking that we’re not normal. So, when I saw the opportunity through Facebook to let others know we’re thriving in spite of, I grabbed that.

But now, the Lord is teaching me that the hidden life, the unknown, obscure life we live for Him is not something to be ashamed of. Life still happens, very much throbbing with events, both miraculous and mundane, even if the world doesn’t see. Even though it’s hidden from the world’s stage, life’s every moment still matters, every season full of purpose and meaning, when lived at the center of God’s will and love. We have only one audience. God. There is only one we need to please to the uttermost. God.

Many people including myself, want approval. But there is only one approval we need to seek. God’s.

The days I was putting up this blogpost, I reached Judges 13 in my Bible reading. Manoah seemed so in awe of the message of the angel regarding the birth of their son Samson that he blurted out, “What is your name, that when your words come to pass we may honor you?” But the angel of the Lord was quick to reply: his name is secret. He wanted to remain anonymous. He wouldn’t receive honor from men, only God’s esteem.

Like the angel of the Lord, may we not seek to be honored and applauded. May we always seek to bring glory and honor to God and not to ourselves.

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Col. 3:2-4)

*From the online dictionary.

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A Wall and a Window

Growing up into an adult, I noticed a peculiar aspect of my personality: I was the kind of person who observed people, even strangers, and try to think about their lives, their homes, their work. I study their countenance, the furrows on the brows, the longing in the eyes, the faraway look, the slumped shoulders, the crinkles at the corners of the eyes when they smile, and I would try to look beyond what my eyes could see. I would look at a woman sitting on a bench, for example, and I would begin to think, “What is she feeling? Does she have a problem at home that weighs down on her heart? How are her home and family look like?” Or maybe an aging man, and these things would run through my mind, “Does he have happy grandchildren that love him to pieces? Or is he longing for the days of old, when life was far different that it is now? Is he estranged from his daughter. Does he long for her?”

WINDOW. My watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper. (Reference photo for this painting by Sonja Aric via Instagram).

WINDOW. My watercolor painting on 9″ x 12″ wc paper. (Reference photo for this painting by Sonja Aric via Instagram).

One time, I told my older sister about this peculiarity in me and asked her if she did the same. She said no, she never did that and asked why would I do that?

One day many years ago, I stopped at a busy intersection at a plush village where the wealthy Filipino-Chinese reside. A young boy about 7 years old played on the bars of a gasoline station at the corner. His sampaguita garlands hung at the end of the bar while he played. I watched and drew up this story in my mind: he was a happy boy. Though he was poor, he had a loving mother who fed him, washed his clothes (his t-shirt was shabby but tidy), and sent him to the public school. Tears pooled at the corner of my eyes and I sniffed.

Do you observe people that way, even ones you do not know? Do you look beyond what you see on their facade?

If you do, then you might love to talk with people face to face, too. You want to listen while studying their expressions: the purple spider web veins peeking through translucent skin, how their eyes light up, or show coldness in their depths.

What delights you? People and conversations, words spoken, the resonance and cadence of voices, funny stories and the bursts of laughter punctuating them? Stories that stir up the soul and make you want to reach out to the person and squeeze their hands? To look at the tears that stream down from their eyes and make you want to whisper words, words that, if possible, were drawn from the heart of heaven itself, to soothe that sorrowing soul and stop the flow of tears?

But technology is changing all that. Do people, especially the younger generation, still observe people? Are they learning to study people and learning to empathize in the process? Do we still visit with one another and make delectable conversations without the intrusion of gadgets? 

When the husband comes home from work, does he lounge in his favorite chair, put up his tired feet on a stool and start conversation with you? You have probably been waiting for him and are eager to hear about his day, or he about your day. There are stories to be told, things to be discussed, anecdotes to be shared.

But he opens up his cellphone and launches on a date with the Internet. Or Facebook. He is (more) eager to  browse and read of other people’s stories than his and yours. You get hurt and dismayed.

A virtual wall, as high as the Berlin wall and as wide as the Great Wall of China, is built.

If communication between spouses or the parents and their teens are already strained, the wall the gadgets build could prove to be indestructible. Communication, which is vital in our relationships, would suffer greatly. If people don’t intentionally foster healthy communication within their marriages and families, there is no real growth, both in the individuals and the relationship as a whole. People would not flourish as they should but may get lonely and depressed, or worse, indifferent.

The smartphone, the iPad, or any other gadget that makes one captive, is a sturdy wall that divides us from our spouses and/or families and it is not easily broken down. No, not even with a battering ram.

Do people still talk face to face? In waiting lines and lounges, in the parking lot, in the public market, in the park. Or have we discarded that and bury only our faces in our gadgets? I have seen weird pictures where people in a public place are lost in their gadgets and no one was talking to any one.

Do we want to behold our screens more that the faces of the people in our lives?

In our home, I fight tooth and nail against the invasion of gadgets and do my best to not let the wall rise up to such extent that it’s impossible to scale it. I fight to break down the walls these gadgets are creating and sadly, there has been a lot of tears shed on my part. But I m not buckling down and giving up an inch. If my family had its way, the gadgets would not be put down. But I fight for the old ways. I want to treasure those things that gadgets cannot replace: story-telling and rings of laughter around the table after dinners, heart-to-heart talks between a parent and a child, or between the husband and the wife. No walls. No barricades. No screens.

But even though social media has been abused that we have let it divide us from people, it is also a window to the world in forging new friendships.

There is no clearer example of that than in my life. I haven’t been able to go out these many years. My world revolves around our bedroom and the adjoining patio which leads to a small garden. I have not been receiving visitors except for family members composed of my mother, siblings, and niece. (The excitement of visiting exhausts me). I haven’t relished friendships in the longest time, the way I had before I fell ill. Two of my closest friends now live in Canada. In my whole ailing life, I had considered myself friendless.

That is, until I met a new friend through Instagram. She is a watercolorist like me, except that she is strong and healthy and has a career. We are both moms, about the same age, and most of all, we both love the Lord Jesus Christ. Soon, she was sharing her professional fine watercolors to me, which she has in piles, at cost prices. We began the habit of chatting on Viber and encourage each other regarding our art. She insisted that we meet and paint together. I would have loved that, for she has a storeroom of fine watercolor paints and brushes collected from around the world 😀 . Except that, I can’t travel farther than our living room.

So, we started to paint at the same time but in our own homes using the same model as reference. This arrangement has excited us, pushed us to persevere when the painting gets tough 😀 , and challenged us to do our very best and reach our maximum potential.

Even Felix my husband is happy that I had found a friend, if only through social media.

 Social media can either be a wall or a window. Choose now how it will serve us.

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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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The Lighted Path

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

lighted_path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Surrounding Nations

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

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

surrounding_nations

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

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

The Lord wanted Israel to:

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

Why? Because:

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

And because:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trading Conversations with Gadgets

If there’s one thing I want to throw away, that is my husband’s iPad. When my husband comes home for lunch, he opens his iPad and closes it only when he’s ready to go back to the office. When he arrives in the afternoon and snacks while resting, his iPad is in front of him. Before dinner, he is glued to his iPad. After dinner, even before I’m finished eating (because I’m always the last one to finish), his iPad stands on the table between us. I so want to throw his iPad. I’m sure you get the picture? Is it the same scene in your homes, too?

(image source)

This is the painful part: since I can’t go out because of my illness, our bedroom is my world. That’s the truth (but please don’t pity me ~ :) ). Since our bedroom is in front of the house (beside the living room), I hear all sounds from the street and the neighbors’ movements across it. But I only see the street and the people and cars passing – from my window. From the bed (which is my writing and reading place, etc.), I can also gaze at the patio and garden through the french doors and watch the bunnies dart and nibble on my poor, undernourished plants. I hear the birds’ excited warbling amongst the branches of the narra tree but I can’t see them flitting and fluttering their wings.

Those are the sights and sounds of my day, everyday, from morning ’til dusk. That is, until the husband and kids arrive from the office and school in the afternoon. Only then my world becomes alive with human interactions.

But most of the day, my world is silent. Only my mind is full of conversations and words and chatter, which come out through writing novels and blogging (I just completed my first novel The Homecoming).

So, you understand that I crave for conversations. I’ve always loved conversations. All kinds – playful bantering with a Kindergarten kid, serious exchange with an elderly neighbor, frenzied chatter with a good friend, animated discussion with a spouse or better yet, a romantic conversation, heart-to-heart talk with a teenage child. I could go on and mention a wonderful exchange with a stranger (not the dangerous kind, mind you), the giddy exchange with a new acquaintance, and so on.

But I don’t think that world still exists today: when people talk to each other, eye to eye, noticing the nuances and inflections of the voice and language; how the corners of the eyes crinkle at a warm statement, or the lips twitch trying to stifle a smile, when a solitary tear trickles down the side of a face because a word has touched a person? Do couples, families, the world, still talk to each other? Really talk to each other, as in they are all there?

This is not a rare scene at home: husband is glued to his iPad, daughter to her smart phone, son to a borrowed cellphone or laptop (usually checking origami-making videos), and me, to my Macbook. The room is quiet. No one is talking to another. Where have spoken words gone? I once saw a picture of a small restaurant (more of a carinderia) with the sign: NO WIFI, TALK TO EACH OTHER! Exactly!

While my husband is gone, I plan the things I want to tell him when he comes home – some serious, some funny, some sweet. When I hear him at the door, I shut my laptop (after I’ve saved whatever I was writing) and eagerly anticipate a good conversation with him. But he gets hold of his iPad and I’m forgotten. At the dining table, I looove to talk (that’s the best place to talk, I think). When the kids leave the table, I’m excited to talk with my husband, but his eyes flit from the iPad to me, usually giving me a blank stare. It’s frustrating to say the least!

But one day, I put my foot down and told him this must stop. Thankfully, my hundred spoken words or so had their effect on my husband and he changed his ways.

We need real conversations, people!

I love how the King James version of the Bible puts it:

Thus were they defiled with their own works,
and went a whoring with their own inventions. (Ps. 106:39)

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Journey with Jesus,