Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Lasting Power of Words of Love

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24

For the last few weeks and months…actually, for the last several years I have been feeling very convicted by the command to speak kindly to others, particularly to my loved ones.  My struggle with containing my tongue has been a long and a hard fought battle.  And it continues to this day.  It is an instinctive reaction.  I feel threatened; I lash out with harsh words.  The funny thing is that those I love are the major recipients of my lack of self restraint.  I pray for kindness to come to my words, but I fail time and time again.  The Lord is working this discipline of the Spirit in me very slowly.  One of the things He is using to change me is to make me realize the power of words of love and words of affirmation.  

The Lord has brought back to my mind countless memories of people who have spoken kindly to me throughout the years.  He has shown me that if mean and harsh words have the power to destroy; words spoken in love have the power to build up.  And once you build up someone, the effects are long lasting.  Speaking loving words to someone who feels insecure, threatened or rejected have the power to bring that person out of the pit of darkness.  And once someone comes out of the pit into the light, the chances for that person to deliberately climb back down in there are pretty slim.  

I remember many occasions in which kind and loving words have rescued me from a place of insecurity and vulnerability.  Today, however, I can’t stop thinking about my Father-in-Law.  Dan’s Dad was a very special man with a divine spark that was evident in the kindness of his eyes.  I didn’t get to spend much time with him.  I only knew him for a few short years, but the impact of knowing him will be everlasting.  

I remember it as if it was yesterday.  Dan and I had been married for only a few months and we flew back home to have a wedding celebration with Dan’s side of the family and his friends, since we had gotten married down in Panama and were living there at the time.  My in-laws invited the entire family out to eat one day during our visit, and as we were getting ready to leave the restaurant, my Father-in-Law, out of the blue, gave me a big hug and whispered in my ear, “I love you.”  I didn’t know what to do or say.  I just stood there taking it all in, basking on the heartfelt love that he was transferring to me with his spontaneous action of care.  Those words echoed deeply within my soul because at that time I was in the midst of a season of insecurity and vulnerability that would last for years to come.  He didn’t know that, but he sensed that I needed to hear I was loved, and he didn’t hold back.  He took the step and acted in love, for which I’d be forever grateful.

As life would have it that was the last time I saw my Father-in-Law alive.  Soon we left for Panama and a short few months later I would be flying back to the States to attend his funeral.  That was my first experience with pure, unadulterated grief.  It’s been almost 17 years and I still feel the sting of his loss.  I guess the wounds caused by the loss of a loved one are never completely healed.  It’s only by the mercy of the Almighty that the pain becomes less bitter and the memories a bit sweeter with the passing of time.

The memories of his hug and caring words remain with me as a gift that comes back to me in hours of struggle.  It was a gift from God delivered directly to me by a dear man whom I’ll never forget.  It pains me that my sons never got to meet their Grandpa.  Grant bears his namesake and I have to say, he carries it well.  Once in a while I spot that same spark of divine inspiration in him when, without warning, he unexpectedly hugs me and tells me he loves me.  

I have the privilege to walk among people of great kindness and compassion.  I pray that the Lord will teach me through them the art of actions of love and loving words.  In the meantime, I have to continue to find inspiration in Scripture and in the treasured memories of those who have touched my soul along the road.

Ephesians 4:29
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

James 1:26
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

Friday, February 24, 2012

In a Little While

Dylan doesn’t like to see me leave the house.  He’s always been the one to start crying and begging for me to stay every time he sees any movement that signals me leaving for an errand.  “Please, Mama, stay.  Don’t go!”  Dylan’s words are always met with my standard reply, “Don’t worry; I’ll be back in a little while.”  However, he usually counters with, “Can I come with you?”  To which I respond, “No, you can’t.  It won’t take long.  I’ll be back soon.  You’ll be fine.  I’ll be back in a little while.”  Now, as he struggles to comprehend the concept of time, he is adding to his repertoire the question, “but, what is a little while?”  I haven’t really come up with a good answer for that yet.  Often I just say things like, “a little while is kind of like 2 or 3 episodes of…The Wonder Pets or The Backyardigans?!” (or any other TV show that he enjoys watching)  This is not a very satisfactory answer or explanation for what “a little while” might mean, but at least it keeps him occupied on trying to figure out how long does one episode of his favorite show feels like.  This distraction gives me a few seconds to escape out the door unnoticed.

This common occurrence at my house makes me think of John chapter 16.  In it, Jesus is talking to His disciples about the trials that they will soon begin to go through  Our Lord explains to His beloved friends how He needs to go away so the Spirit of Truth would come to them as their personal compass for the life to come.  Jesus then says to them, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” (John 16:16)  To this, the disciples wonder among themselves, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.” (John 16:18)  They were nervous about the prospect of not having Jesus with them anymore.  It didn’t matter if it was supposed to be just for a “little while.”  The disciples became anxious just thinking about Jesus not being there with them.  Like us, we crave His presence more than anything.  Life’s hardship is bearable only if we perceive His presence going before us.  No wonder the disciples were worried. 

Jesus then proceeded to reassure His followers by telling them what to expect in the near future and of the limitless joy they would experience after their trials because they have believed that He came from the Father, and how the Father would give them anything they ask in Jesus’ name.  Jesus then wrapped it up by saying to His friends, those whom He had chosen, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

He has overcome the world and He is our peace.  That sense of stability and serenity doesn’t derive from our circumstances.  Peace is the person of Jesus Christ; and by giving us His Holy Spirit, He gives us His peace.  He had to leave so we would be able to have Him within us always.  It is one of the many Biblical paradoxes that twist the brain in nuts of mystery which will only be deciphered when we meet Him face to face some day.  In the meantime, we rest assured in His faithfulness and in His truth.  We keep busy while we wait; and we delight in His peace.  For now, even though, just like Dylan, we can’t fully grasp the meaning of God’s time; we rest on His promise that He’ll be back in “a little while.”

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Aroma of the Knowledge of Christ.

Is there anything better than the aroma, the fragrance, the scent, the smell of what we love? That’s the secret of the success of scented candles, I suppose. Some of my favorite aromas are lavender, the ocean, rain, movie theater pop corn, baked goods, Christmas trees, and the way my Mother used to smell after taking a shower (I know…strangely specific… : )

The sense of smell has the power of immediately transporting us to the original source of the aroma.  The same way a not so pleasant “smell” can turn our stomachs as the bad associations are triggered and rejection surfaces; aromas that we associate with something good, special, precious, and treasured to us trigger the immediate soothing of our soul, and we are pleased.

One of those sweet aromas that never fail to trigger the soothing of my soul is Yardley English Lavender. That’s the line of bath products that my Mother used all of her life. Even though I left my parent’s home some 25 years ago and my Mother has been gone for almost 12 of them; the scent of Yardley English Lavender brings me back to the days of my youth growing up in Panama under my sweet Mother’s gentle watch.

My Mother was a petite woman with a giant’s heart. I don’t know many people who come close to her kindness and gentleness of demeanor. Her generosity and compassion are still remembered by those who knew her. And the very mention of her name makes people smile. It is no wonder that the aroma that reminds me of her brings me to a place of rest, of contentment and tranquility.

Thinking about how a set of scented bath products makes me feel good inside and is pleasing to my soul reminds me of the Scripture that says how Christians are a pleasing aroma to God. 2 Corinthians 2: 14-15 says,

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

What a beautiful image. Christians carry with them the knowledge of Christ as we become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. That knowledge of Christ goes with us wherever we go and as a lovely aroma, those around us should be able to perceive it. When we fulfill our God-given mission to “spread the aroma of the knowledge of Christ everywhere,” God Almighty is pleased with us.

Christ, “loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5: 2) Christ lives in us. Therefore, His fragrant offering continues to be lifted up straight to the Throne of God each and every day, particularly when we not only share that fragrant offering with Him, but we spread it around to all who surround us.

I close my eyes and imagine our Father in heaven, taking a deep breath to inhale the aroma of His beloved down here on earth. I picture Him smiling in delight each time one of His children intentionally pursues to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Christ around. We are the treasured children of God, and we are capable of triggering satisfaction in our Heavenly Father as He takes in the aroma that we exude thanks to the person of our Lord Jesus Christ and His perfect sacrifice on the cross.

The way a set of scented bath products sets my heart at ease and pleases my soul is but a faint reminder of how we too are to become that fragrant offering thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ. As such, that offering is to ascend to the Holy nostrils of our Most High God as a pleasing and living sacrifice to His throne.

Perhaps one day, I would get to embrace my Mom again, and who knows, but I might even breathe in that old-fashioned Yardley English Lavender fragrance up in heaven once again.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Let's Get Busy for the Kingdom of God

The good thing about living in a place like Western PA - where we get a good, solid 7 days of sunshine per season - is that you don’t get to see the dust that accumulates all around your house very often. Especially in the winter, the layers of dust become invisible to the untrained eye in the midst of the grayness of the days. But then, one day…out of the blue, completely unexpectedly, the sun decides to show its glorious face and…yes, the dust becomes visible again. 

This “phenomenon” made me think of the words of our Lord Jesus to His disciples when, while hanging out at the Mount of Olives they asked Him about what signs would announce the end of times. In the comfort of a familiar and safe place, Jesus told them about the “beginning of birth pains” that will signal the end. Chapter 24 of the Gospel of Matthew records our Savior’s words of revelation. And the picture that Jesus painted was not a pretty one. He told his disciples how they (we) would recognize the season that’d user the end, but He also told them very clearly how no one really knows the exact moment when it’ll happen.

 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24: 36

Then, Jesus proceeded to masterfully make His point as He said:

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Matthew 24: 41-44

By saying this, Jesus revealed not only the events that we would have no control over, but most importantly, He told us, by telling His disciples, about the things that we could actually do. And it was simple. He told them as He tells us today, “be prepared.” You don’t know when I’m coming back, but as surely as God lives, I will be back and you better be ready!

He illustrates the horrible consequences that those who are not diligently and vigilantly awaiting the Master’s return will suffer. The parables of our Lord Jesus clearly declare the importance of living a life of obedience, following His precepts and doing what is right while we wait for His return. He tells us to keep our lights shinning, produce fruit and care for our brothers and sisters so, even though we don’t know the hour, when He comes back we may be found working for His Kingdom.

"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” Matthew 25:13

On that unknown day, the Lord’s entrance will be like that unexpected ray of sunshine in a winter day. He will burst through the clouds regardless of how thick and gray they may seem. He will cut through them and light will expose the hidden compartments of our souls. The layers of dust that we neglected to clean would be visible and would cover us with shame.
The good news is that even the thickest sin is dusted off and washed away by the blood of the Lamb. The unrighteousness of our total depravity dissipated the day God chose us as His adopted children and inputted the righteousness of Christ in us as we received the salvation that only His perfect sacrifice is capable of offering. With each nail in His hands and feet, Jesus took our sin. With each drop of His blood, we were made clean.

I don’t want gray days keeping me from doing what I am commanded to do. I don’t want my circumstances to determine my actions. I want to stay in vigilance. I want to be watchful. I want the light of His advent to shine on me and find me unashamed. I want Him to find me busy about His work when the time comes for His return.

For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24: 27

P.S.:  perhaps, part of that work for the Kingdom also includes seriously cleaning, dusting and de-cluttering my house ; )

Friday, February 17, 2012

Our Security is in Christ Alone!

Last night, I had to do the bedtime routine by myself since my husband Dan was at a meeting and he would come back passed the kids’ bedtime. Once the boys were in bed, I decided to do something mindless and watched some TV. Soon, the boys got quiet in their rooms and I assumed they’ve fallen asleep. After a while, I heard the door opening downstairs and it was Dan coming home. Out of the blue Grant, my 9-year old passed by behind me flying and ran down the stairs to greet Daddy. I had no clue he was awake. He gave Dan a big hug and then went back to his room. Shortly after, we checked and he was fast asleep. Hmmm…I wondered if he had been waiting for Daddy to come home to feel secure enough to sleep. I think so.

I know, personally, I need security. I think everyone does. Some people are more tolerant to risk than others, but in general, I believe we all need to have certain level of safety and security in our lives in order to thrive. When we feel that our security/safety is being threatened, we go on survival mode and stop growing. Safety and security become our priority, so we relegate all other pursuits to a secondary role. We turn into one-issue-minded people and the rest gets put aside.

It is understandable that we feel that security is a number one priority. After all, we are equipped with God-given instincts which help us avoid danger. Everyone needs the stability found in feeling safe. Could it be possible, however, that our desire for safety and security might lead us away from Christ?

I believe the answer is perhaps, yes. I believe that when we search for our security in places that are distant and removed from Christ, we are, indeed being taken away from the path that leads to Him. He is our source of security. He is the only one who can ultimately and definitively keep us safe. No one or nothing else can. Therefore, when we misplace our trust for security and safety in the hands of worldly things, we are doing nothing but creating idols upon which altars we will eventually, and maybe inadvertedly, some day bow down and worship. After all, no body can serve two masters, “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24)

According to Gill’s Exposition Commentary, the word “money” in this passage is the word "mammon," a Syriac word that signifies money, wealth, riches, substance, and everything that comes under the name of worldly goods. Hebrews used the word to denote wealth, and also to imply confidence and trust in such wealth. Therefore, I believe what our Lord tells us in this passage is plain and simple, if we love the world, symbolized by money here, and put our trust and confidence in it rather than in Him, we would simply not be able to love Him. Our love would be torn from Him and squandered on worldly pursuits.

I don’t want my love to be wasted on the world. I want to love and honor and serve Christ above all. He is my master. I don’t want to be in bondage to anything or anyone else. He is the only one worthy of my worship. Worthy is the Lamb!

I believe the Lord wants our complete trust to be only on Him. He wants us to believe His promises given to us in the Bible and confidently proclaim without fear,

The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. 
What can mere mortals do to me? 
The LORD is with me; he is my helper. 
I look in triumph on my enemies. 

Psalm 118: 6,7 

Regardless of what the “enemies” of our soul and body may be, the Lord is with us, to whom then shall we fear? He promised that He will not let our feet slip. He who watches over us will not slumber nor sleep. The Lord will keep us from all harm. He will watch over our lives. (Psalm 121)

When I go back to the promises of the Bible, I realize that my job is to trust Him and let Him be God in my life. My job is to seek Him first and all the rest will be given to me as an added bonus. (Matthew 6:33)

Jesus comforts me and all of His beloved with His unwavering words, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. 
(John 14:27)

As I recognize that Christ doesn’t “give us as the world gives,” I know that finding security in Him might not necessarily mean living the risk-free life of comfort that the world attempts to make us imagine as ideal. A life as a follower of Christ’s way usually mean a road paved with hardship and pain. But it is the road that leads to victory eternal.

I don’t want the temporary victories that this world may offer me. As a matter of fact, I don’t want to rely on anything this world has to offer. I look around to those who put their trust in worldly promises and all I see is a society in decay where life is not valued. I see a society that seeks instant gratification and pursuits pleasure at all cost. I see a society that has developed a sense of entitlement and a servile dependency that had turned free people into slaves. I see a society that has chosen to worship a different master. I choose to worship my Lord Jesus the Christ.

It may sound counter-intuitive to some; but for those who know our God, we remember what He says to us,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
neither are your ways my ways,” 

declares the LORD. 

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, 
so are my ways higher than your ways 
and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55: 8-9 

As I think about my young son finding a sense of security and safety in the arms of His earthly Father, I too want to run to my Heavenly Father every time I feel the threats of life hanging over my head like an overcast Western Pennsylvania day. I want to run into His arms for it is only there that I will feel completely safe.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Remember You Are His Beloved!

I have never done anything in my life more difficult than being a mother. I don’t have much experience at it; but I have never felt more nervous, scared, concerned and worried in my life than I have in the last almost 10 years since I became a “Mama.” Parenting is really not for the faint of heart and I would never be able to survive it without the help and the constant presence of Christ in my life and career as a Mother. 

I can hardly think of anything else harder to endure than seeing your child hurt or broken hearted. Unfortunately, I’ve already had to witness it not long ago and it almost literally killed me. The tears of my young boy silently crying on my arms bruised my heart. The worst part of it is that there isn’t much I can do to protect him from it ever happening again. Life is just full of hurt and disappointment. We live in a fallen world and evil relentlessly roams and prowls around, seeking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5: 8)

The best I can do is to be there to comfort my son and point out to him that even when others reject him, Jesus never will.

This is a truth not just for my young boy; but for all of God’s beloved. It is a truth for you and for me. It is very difficult to go through life without clinging to Christ and His love. Sometimes we forget, though. That’s why, by whatever means we have at our disposal it is crucial for us to remember who we are, that our identity is in Jesus and that we are citizens of Heaven. It is vital for us to stand firm on the truth that we are the chosen ones and that nobody could possibly love us more than our Jesus, who died for us while we were still sinners.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:16-17

We will share in His glory. He promised! We will suffer for a little while here as we walk through this valley of the shadow of death. But we are not to fear any evil, for He is with us. His light and His presence go before us. The Good Shepherd knows our name and His rod and His staff, they lead us and comfort us. Therefore, we shall not want for anything, for as long as we seek Him first and His Kingdom, all the rest will be given to us according to His riches.

Just like I told my child, “hang on to all that is good, and remember who you are; you are a beloved of Christ,” we too need to remember that everyday, so the hurts of this life don’t overcome us.

Let us listen to the words of Jesus and find rest in Him as He tells us,

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16: 33

Listen to this great song too!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Let's Go Back to the Well

Another Valentine Day is approaching very fast.  This is not one of my favorite holidays.  It is nothing but work for me.  I have 3 dozen treat bags to make for my boys’ party, and my back and wallet ache!  I’ve been listening to a lot of commentaries and programs on the radio about how to rekindle the flame of your love, how to reconnect with your spouse, how to love and respect one another, how to make time for each other, etc, etc, etc., and frankly, I am tired of it.  Hearing all these “tips” and well-intentioned advice only stresses me out. 

Dan and I don’t even celebrate this day.  We stopped making a big deal out of Valentine’s like 20 years ago, when we discovered that, for some reason, no matter what we did, the day always turned out rotten.  And this was when we were still dating!  So one year we said, enough!  No more Valentine’s.  So hearing about the flowers and the chocolate gives me heartburn.

Today, however, among all the chatter about Valentine’s I heard someone on the radio talking about the story of Jesus and the woman at the well.  This story of hope is found in John 4.  The person on the radio said that he believes that sometimes, when we go through a dessert in our faith walk, we need to go back to the well and have Jesus replenish us with His living water.  He is the only One who can quench our thirst during those dry seasons in our lives. 

When I came home, and finally found a minute to myself, I read the passage.  I drank it, rather.  I was very moved by verse 6 where it says that Jesus was tired and He sat down by the well.  I found so much comfort as I imagined the scene.  A long journey in the scorching dessert sun, feet hurting, back aching, our Lord and King, the Creator of the Universe, needed to sit down and rest.  In His full humanity, Jesus experienced what I experience every day after a long and grueling day.  He too knows what it means to be tired.  He too needed to get off His holy feet and rest.  What an amazing image that is.  Our Lord, fully God and fully man, is able to identify with us and us with Him, even in the most mundane of events.

The Samaritan woman approaches our Lord with her empty jar to fill it up at the well.  He asks her for a drink.  She belongs to a group of people who doesn’t associate with Jews.  Jesus couldn’t care less.  He breaks all the rules and speaks to her.  And not only does He talk to her, but He asks her for water.  The purpose of the encounter is to change that Samaritan woman’s life and the lives of all who are to read this passage through the centuries. 

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  John 4:13 

The woman at the well had no idea that she was going to draw living water so she would thirst no more.  When I think of her I imagine she was tired too.  Only, she was tired of her life.  She had no husband.  She had a collection of lovers and a hard life of sin.  She was tired.  She needed water.  She was running on empty.  Her life had not turned out the way she imagined it as a little girl.  Her dreams of lemon drops and cotton candy clouds dissipated as she grew up and reality became harsh.  She was tired.  But God had reserved a precious gift for her that day, - an unexpected gift, - a gift of grace.  The encounter with the Living Water would change her life and renew her.  Not only would her jar get filled up that day.  Her life would too overflow with the perfect water that only Jesus can offer.

I see a bit of that woman in me today.  Exhausted, spent, tired and thirsty.  I’m running on empty.  My jar needs refilled.  It is time for me to go back to the well and let the Living Water pour down on me and in me. 

There’s no way I can love others if I don’t allow My Jesus to love me first.  That’s the only reason we love, precisely because He first loved us.  (1 John 4:19).  By coming back to Him, He will fill me up to the brim with His love so I can pour that love into those around me.  Let’s go back to the well, today. 

As I fill up the last treat bag and curl the last ribbon for my boys Valentine’s party tomorrow I think of them, so young and full of wonder about the holiday, (they want to keep eating the candy!).  I decide I’m not going to ruin it for them with my cynicism about the celebration.  I put on a smile and talk about how much fun the party will be.  I let some of the freshly refilled Living Water in my soul spill over into my sons’ hearts as I wish they have a happy Valentine’s Day!  

Saturday, February 11, 2012

When the World Hates Us

"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you."      John 15:18-19

I had a mild encounter with the reality of this statement made by our Lord Jesus to His disciples 2000 years ago. I dared to state that the only way to recognize, see and know the truth is to know Jesus who is the Truth. (John 14:6) I added that only those who listen to His voice know and stand on the side of the truth and that’s why so many seem lost and confused. (John 18:37) That’s why what is so clear and evident to those who know Christ is hidden to those who abide by the dictates of the world. I expressed these views in a secular media which I thought was “safe”, and the whole thing blew up on my face. I was rebuked by standing on Biblical truth.

I felt a combination of fear and anger that made my hands shake and sweat; but the Holy Spirit quickly came to my rescue by bringing this passage to the front of my mind. I realized, or remembered rather, how I am to expect this type of reactions when people outside of the church are confronted with statements about Jesus.

There is so much power in His name that even non-believers recognize it. In the book of Acts chapter 4: 1-12, Peter and John were talking to the crowds after healing a crippled beggar in the name of Jesus, and Jewish priest and temple guards seized them and put them in jail because their actions, teaching and proclamations were all done in the name of Jesus. The Jewish leaders were “greatly disturbed” says Scripture. The mention of His Great Name had the power of greatly disturbing these unbelieving members of the Jewish hierarchy; so much so that they gathered the rulers, elders, and teachers of the law the next day to interrogate Peter and John. “By what power or what name did you do this?” They asked the disciples. To this, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit said to them, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead…” (Acts 4:10)

The power of His name made the Jewish leaders so afraid that they commanded Peter and John not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John gave one of the most important replies for Christians all around the world back 2000 years ago as well as today in the 21st century, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19)

That is the key to our desire to speak about Christ. We cannot help it. We cannot make ourselves be quiet about what we have seen and heard and experienced in our own lives. The reason we want to share Christ and the truth with others is because we are commanded to love them, and we want the world to recognize the greatest love of all, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."  (John 3:16)

However, I should not be surprised when the world rejects my desire to weave all situations into the fabric of the Kingdom of God. I do not belong to the world. He chose me out of it, and now the world hates me too. Praise the Lord!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Waiting Upon The Lord

I realize that not all stories have a happy ending.  It is not how life works, right?  Happy endings are just for fairy tales and cheesy romantic comedies.  Real life is hard and often sad.  Yes, I admit that I am a bit of a pessimist.  Negativism is usually the default mode of my thought process.  Having Christ in my life, however, means that I have the Holy Spirit dwelling in me; therefore, His fruits should be evident, and one of His fruits is joy.  How do I reconcile my pessimistic views with the fact that I am the vessel of the Holy Spirit, hence I am supposed to be joyful?  I think the answer might have something to do with waiting.

One tiny problem…I am not a patient person either.  I don’t like waiting.  The Lord, however, has taught me that there isn’t much in life worth having which comes to us quickly.  Most of what is Godly takes time.  Waiting is then, an inevitable part of life.  The farmer carefully waits for the harvest.  The mother-to-be lovingly waits for the baby to be ready to be born.  The Father watchfully waits for his son to become a man.  The old man who has lived a Godly life calmly waits for his Lord to call him home.

King David expressed the two concepts beautifully in Psalm 40:1, I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.  There you have them, the ingredients to finding joy in a world that at times seems and feels so grim, gloomy, sad and hopeless.  For a person like me, however, “waiting patiently” suggests an impossible dream.  I can’t “wait patiently.”  I don’t know how!  I’m incapable of exercising such discipline.  (I told you, happy endings are for the birds!)

I am incapable if I lean on my own power to accomplish it.  “Waiting patiently for the LORD” would be out of the realm of what is possible for me if I count only on my own strength and forget about the Holy Spirit who is precisely the One supposed to produce the fruit of patience in me.  

The proof is in the fact that even though I am incapable of “waiting patiently,” I’ve done it.  I’ve done it many times!  Throughout my life I’ve “waited patiently” for the Lord to speak to me in regards to issues of great importance to me personally.  Granted, His version of “waiting patiently” for me might look a bit different from His version of the same action for normal people : ).  But I have waited in Him and for Him.  I “waited patiently” for Him to deliver me from my bondage to materialism.  I “waited patiently” for Him to put me in the right place to meet the love of my life (side-note here, I never really dated until I was in my early 20s so the waiting period here was rather long : )  I “waited patiently” for Him to guide me to a career that I love.  I “waited patiently” for Him to make me a biological mother.  I “waited patiently” for Him to give me an adopted son.  And I continue to “wait patiently” for Him to act on several concerns of my heart today, still.
The only reason people like me could do all these waiting is because we “can do EVERYTHING in Christ who gives us strength.”  (Philippians 4:13)  Not just some things, we can do everything in Him, including “waiting patiently.”

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. (Psalm 130:5)

We have work to do while we wait, though.  While we wait, we put our hope in His Word, we trust that all His promises are true, and we serve Him and His beloved.

We put our hope in Him and His Word, for He promised that
…those who hope in the LORD
   will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
   they will run and not grow weary,
   they will walk and not be faint.  (Isaiah 40:31)

We put our hope in Him and His Word and we serve Him, for He said,
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28: 19-20)

We put our hope in Him and His Word and we serve His beloved, for He said,
"Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Galatians 6:10).

We put our hope in Him and His Word, wait patiently in Him and for Him, and keep our eyes upon Jesus and our hands working for His Kingdom for He said,
“…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:33)

The task is not easy.  Personally, I know I will fall back on my old ways from time to time for I am a sinner; but I also know that I am forgiven, and the Holy Spirit dwells in me.  I can call upon Him for strength anytime I feel faint, and His power will be made perfect in my weakness.

He said that He will listen to me, and that I will find Him when I seek Him.  Like Psalm 27:13-14 says:  “I am still confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”  While we wait for Him, He is not inactive.  He is always working things out together for the good of those who love Him.  So will I also not be idle while I wait.  I will serve Him and His beloved while I wait.  I will trust Him while I wait.  I will put my hope in Him.  And I will rely on the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in me to help me achieve unimaginable joy.  He will help me wait patiently for my happy ending.  I've posted this song before, but it goes really well with this topic.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I Just Had to Get Out...

My niece Nicole is spending some time in Panama with my ailing Father.  For all purposes, he is Nicole’s Dad too, so seeing him in such debilitated condition is taking a toll in her soul.  As with all who knew my Father for longer than the past year, Nicole is facing the once unthinkable reality of seeing my Dad not in full control of himself and unable to function at full capacity.  

All his life he has been a strong tower, a fortress of strength.  He has provided a sense of safety and stability to those who knew him, specially his girls, starting with my late Mom, my sister, myself and of course, Nicole.  As a little girl I remember never being afraid of something harming me, because my Dad was always around.  I vividly remember the first time that I ever felt an earthquake.  I was in elementary school.  My Mom and Dad were visiting my Grandma, as they always did every evening until the day she passed away.  Then, something crazy happened!  The earth started to shake!  At first, I just didn’t know what was going on.  I was home with Rosa and I began to cry for my Dad uncontrollably.  After the quake stopped, Rosa quickly called my Grandma’s house and begged my parents to come home for she didn’t know how to comfort me.  There were several aftershocks, but my Dad had already made it home by then.  As soon as he entered the house, he held me in his strong arms and paced with me back and forth, quietly and gently brushing his big hands on my head again and again.  We had to go outside as a safety measure, but he never let go of me.  Needless to say, I immediately calmed down feeling completely safe in his arms.

Now that the world is up-side-down and it is up to his girls to make sure he is safe and taken care of, we don’t know how to deal with it.  “He wanted to continue chatting, but I just needed to get out,” Nicole told me on the phone as she was recounting a long conversation she had with him in his bedroom, while he laid frail in his bed.  “He wanted to talk, and even though he took long pauses to formulate his thoughts before the words slowly came out of his mouth, he was very lucid at the moment,” Nicole continued.  “But after a while, I just needed to get out of the room…”

There was deep sadness and frustrations in her voice as she confessed the reality of her feelings at the moment, but I knew exactly what she was going through.  The same thing happened to me a month ago when I was there, in that same room, listening to the paused words slowly dripping out of my Father’s once eloquent mouth.  I remember not wanting to be there.  I remember not wanting to see him that way.  I remember burying my head in a book so I wouldn’t have to witness his daily decay.  I too just wanted to get out.  

The tower of strength is crumbling.  There isn’t much left of the fortress that he once was.  But I do know that my real Tower of Strength is keeping His merciful eye on my earthly Father during his last days in this valley of tears.  I know the One and only Fortress will be there to receive him and give him a place to rest under His shadow.  And I know that when the time comes, my strength will be and my help will come, as always, from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. (Psalm 121)

Today, only the love remains.  However, the same way I remember wanting to burst out of his room not to see my Father in his current condition, I remember laying my head on his chest as he gently brushed it with his shaky hand again and again.  The memory of those moments when he pulled me toward himself and made me lean on him so he could embrace me and run his bony fingers through my hair as if to comfort me, as if guessing the agony in my heart, would live with me forever.  I would cherish the memories of the moments when, though wanting to run as far away as I could, I stayed in his room to enjoy his embrace even if for only one last time.  

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.  Proverbs 18:10

Monday, February 6, 2012

We Are Victorious!

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through
our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 15:57

My older son, Grant, has discovered a new way to entertain himself while at the same time burning some energy on a winter afternoon, “hurdle jumping.”  He lines up two or three laundry baskets in the living room, runs and jumps over each one of them, one by one.  He is not the athletic type.  He doesn’t like sports, but he is fascinated by this activity.  He spent most of this lazy Saturday doing this.  After watching him run and jump over and over again, I think I’ve figured out the reason for this newly discovered fascination.  I believe my son enjoys this activity because it has allowed him to experience the thrill of victory, even if just to himself. 

Just like my son, even if we don’t live competitive lives, we all need to delight in the exhilaration of victory once in a while.  Sometimes, however, it may feel as if we are permanently stuck in a deep and dark pit of despair, where hopelessness and defeat keep us on our knees.   It is at those moments when we need to tune-into our Heavenly Helper, the Holy Spirit so we can hear His whisperings.  "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest...” (Matthew 11:28) were the words of our Lord Jesus to those who followed Him when He walked upon this earth; and to those of us who still follow Him today.  This is one of His eternal promises.  How hard it is to let our souls be at rest, however.  In the midst of our busy lives, our convoluted world, our messed up society, we fear and we struggle and we become weary just watching the evening news.  How are we to find rest when our children are under constant attack and we fear they will not know the way they should go, even after our tireless efforts to educate them in the faith?  Though we know in our minds it is a promise, and we believe our God is faithful, we can’t help but wonder if we ever will experience such rest. 

Scripture, however, also clearly teaches us that our God, not only promised His children that He would comfort us when the burdens of this world seemed unbearable.  He also promised us that we would have power, authority and ultimate victory over our enemies, as we see in Luke 10:19:
“I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions, and to overcome all the power of the enemy…”  This is a statement to remember at all times, but especially when we feel the blows of the enemy on our back.  Yes, on our back, for he is a coward, who stabs the children of God on the back, when our guards are down, when we are not paying attention, and when we are immersed in doing God’s work.  That might seem a controversial statement.  However, the enemy attacks us the hardest when we are focused on our mission.  When we are in our most productive time for the kingdom of God, the enemy strikes us with his dagger, sometimes straight to the heart, churning it inside of it until he sees us defeated, until he succeeds in making us fail at our work. 

That is why the enemy attacks us while we are doing something significant for the Lord…to see us quit, to see us abandon it.  This is the battle ground of the enemy of our souls, and unfortunately, he wins many battles in there.  The only way to not let him win is by knowing that we are victorious from the beginning.  By knowing and believing that we have already won the war, even when he wins the occasional battle; we derail the enemy’s objective of seeing us quit on God.  Nothing pleases the enemy more than seeing a child of God down, deep down in a pit of defeat.  On the other hand, nothing mortifies him more than seeing that same child of God take stand; and from that pit, call on His Lord to his rescue; and see this child of God climb out of that pit in his God’s loving arms.  Nothing works even better at defeating the attacks of the enemy than to recognize them the moment they occur That way we can take our stand right there and then, before his back stabbing has any effect; before we find ourselves in the pit. 

We must, therefore, be alert at all times, so when we feel ourselves deviating from God’s plan for us, from what the Bible instructs us as godly living, from what we know God has asked us to do; we take our stand against the enemy and firmly say, “stay behind me Satan,” “He who has overcome the world dwells in me.   He who is victorious, lives and He lives in me.  Therefore, I am victorious too and you have no power over me.  I am in God’s hands.  I am God’s child and you must flee.”  Trust in Him who lives in you and voice your stand against the enemy.  You will see him flee in terror.  He is relentless, though, and he will be back.  It is our job then to be alert at all times and aware that he wants us defeated.  We must know that the enemy wants to separate us from God and he knows what buttons to push.  Surrender your all to Christ and pray without ceasing that the Holy Spirit will guide you, and keep you aware.  In the meantime, continue standing on the Solid Rock.

Jesus concluded His promise in Luke 10:19 saying, “…nothing will harm you.”  And as stated in Romans 8:31 “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?”  This is when the “rest” that Jesus Christ offers us comes to our weary and burdened souls.  This is when we find the peace that surpasses all understanding.  When we believe in our victory through Him who lives in us, and exercise our power against the attacks of the enemy, we find perfect rest in Him regardless of the circumstances that surround us.

As I watch my son clear his home-made hurdles across our living room I feel my “cup running over.”  Hope comes to my soul for I know that regardless of the obstacles, struggles and difficulties that he will experience during his life on this earth, he too already shares in the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Ephesians 6:12

God sure does stretch us to our limits so we can be the best that we can be!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Dream of Two Doors and a Pathway...

“I had a strange dream last night,” said my son Grant this morning as he climbed out of bed.  “What was it?”  I asked.  “Well, I was standing in line with a bunch of other kids and there were two doors…and a pathway…” Grant tried to explain the dream to me, but he seemed puzzled by these two doors and the pathway, and by the selection of children who were standing by his side.  As I listened to my son try to recount his confusing dream, I could not help but thinking about the two gates and the two different pathways found in Scripture. 

As in Grant’s dream, there comes a point in our lives when we encounter those two doors and one decision that lead to one pathway.   Christian life is actually based on this decision.  After we consciously make that choice, the rest is a daily walk on the true Way, and constant reaffirmations of our decision to follow Him. 

But, what is this choice?  What is this decision on which the rest of our lives depend?  We choose to accept and receive Christ as our Lord and Savior or we choose to reject Him.  That’s it.  When asked by Thomas as to where the “way” is, Jesus replied to him:  I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”(John 14:6b-7)  We choose the Way, which is Christ; and once we know Him, we know that He is the Only Way.  That’s the first step into the pathway to sanctification.  After that there is nothing but to keep on walking without looking back. 

This decision makes all the others more easily discernable.  It is so because from the point of our decision to follow Christ onward we have The Holy Spirit and His Word as our guide.  The rest of the choices we face as we walk in His path could be made by searching Scripture empowered by the clarity that only the Holy Spirit can give, and by holding Its Decrees as Truth for He is not only The Way; but He is Truth and He is Life. 

Once we make the decision to follow Christ, we become children of the Most High, adopted through Jesus according to His pleasure and will.  (Ephesians 1:5)  We are no longer slaves to sin, but vessels of the Holy Spirit.  We don’t make our choices based on the latest trends and polls.  We don’t make our choices based on society’s consensus or on peer pressure.  We don’t make our choices based on what everyone else is choosing.  We choose Christ.  We choose to seek Him and His Kingdom.  After that initial choice, all the pieces fall into place by the Will of God. (Matthew 6:33)  It is a decision that leads us through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14) 

Though the choice is clear, it is not easy.  It is not easy for it implies a walk that rejects self-indulgence and a denial of the desires of the flesh.  On the other hand, the wide gate is enticing and inviting.  It promises earthly fulfillment and it leaves appetites or sinful passions unchecked.  Besides, there is plenty of company for those who enter through it.  The wide gate is highly visible and hard to miss.  The narrow gate, on the other hand, is not so conspicuous and only a few eventually find it.  Only those who say yes to Christ are directed to it.  For this reason, the narrow gate may present a lonely alternative.  It may also represent a separation from those with whom we used to walk before.  But once we go through it, we will find ourselves in the company of the faithful and will develop fellowship in Christ all the way to our eternal home. 

I attempted to talk to Grant about how his dream was so very important.  I tried to tell him that his dream had made me think about the two gates and the pathways, and how the narrow gate is the one that leads to life.  Dan even told him that God sometimes chooses to speak to His people in dreams, like Joseph; but Grant was off to something else by then.  I guess he just didn’t feel like enduring another grueling sermon by his parents.  All he wanted was to share with us his puzzling dream with us.  Our hope and prayer is that when Grant faces that crucial point in his life the Holy Spirit will guide him to the narrow gate and the path of righteousness for no one can walk on both…we can’t walk with one foot on one and the other foot on the other.  Either we step in the path that is Christ with both feet firmly planted or we are on the path of wickedness which leads to death.  

1 Blessed is the one
   who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
   or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
   and who meditates on his law day and night.
  Psalm 1: 1-2

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

You Are My God, My Redeemer!

Mark 8:29 And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ."

The fact that we are Christians doesn’t mean that our lives are going to be as smooth and pleasant as a summer walk on the beach at dusk (you can fill in with your own image of a perfect moment. I love the beach so my idea of perfection is being at the beach : )  On the contrary, Christians face intense seasons of suffering, hurt and pain.  The difference is that as Christians, we don’t have to go through the difficult moments of our lives alone.  We have a loving Father who holds our hands as we navigate through choppy waters.  

I remember not long ago I experienced years of agony as I watched my husband struggle with a medical condition that nobody seemed to be able to treat.  Every day was plagued by the anxiety of the unknown and by my inability to surrender it all to Christ.  The enemy fiercely attacked me during those years.  I felt defeated and exhausted.  I did not know if I was going to survive.  

Later I realized that when we face our fiery trials or land in the lions’ den or walk through the valley of the shadow of death are not the best moments to figure out who do we think Jesus is, or what we believe or what we know about our faith.  

There is not much time for deep contemplation when we are drowning in our circumstances.  There is not much time for strategic planning when we are in survival mode.  

Our time of personal tribulation is a time when our knowledge and beliefs come to our rescue.  This is only possible, however, if we had invested time in cultivating a relationship with the One who can save us; otherwise, we have nowhere to go but down the pit of despair.  On the other hand, if we have developed, through study of Scripture and meditation a true conviction regarding our faith, we do not have to consider how we’ll react when life becomes a scary rollercoaster. 

Of course this doesn’t mean that we are expected to be “Super Christians,” rather than what we really are, flawed humans.  It is not by our own power!  But we must ready ourselves in preparation for the trials that will come.  After all, we are to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (1 Peter 3:15)  I believe that a crucial part of such preparation is to have determined some foundational answers to the most critical questions regarding our faith, so, when the moment comes, we don’t hesitate. 

Which are such crucial questions?  In my opinion, Jesus himself tells us.  He tells us as He told his disciples when He walked on this earth.  Back then, when his beloved followers were telling Him how some where saying that He was “John the Baptist; others Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life;"  (Luke 9:19) Jesus posed backed to them what I consider the most crucial question of all: “But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" (Luke 9:20) 

Who do you say He is?  Who do you say Jesus is?  If we answer this question with conviction, stick to it and remain loyal to this answer, we’ll be prepared.  Let’s not waste another minute and spend time right now answering this question.  Who do you say Jesus is?  Meditate on it.  Ponder it.  Wrestle with it.  Examine the evidence.  Do what you have to do so you can be able to reply, just like Peter said:  “You are the Christ.” Examine His pierced body.   Like Thomas, see His wounds, put your fingers in the holes on His wrists, and stick your hand in His side, wonder and finally marvel at His sight and say, like Thomas:  “My Lord and My God.” 

“Who do you say I am?”  You are the Christ!  You are the Great I AM.  Lord of all and Lord of my life.  You are my Lord and my God, without a doubt.  He cannot be anything short of this.  All the other answers are not of the Holy Spirit.  He is not a great teacher.  He is not a great man that lived 2000 years ago.  He is not a great healer.  He is not a loving man who did some great things.  He is not one more in the collection of the gods of this world. 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only; who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”  (John:1 1,14)

“Who do you say I am?”
I say He is who He says He is:
John 6:51:"I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever;"
John 8:12 "I AM the light of the world.”
John 10:9: "I AM the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture."
John 10:11: "I AM the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.
John 11:25: Jesus said to her, "I AM the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.
John 14:6: Jesus said to him, "I AM the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
John 8:58  "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM."

What do you know?
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  Job 19:25

What do you believe?
I believe that, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Psalm 23: 4

I know not everyone is a fan of blue grass, odly enough, I do like it, and I just love this song.  I think it is great for upbeat/energized worship and adoration.  I hope you don't hate it too much : )