Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Sifting

God usually delivers messages and teaches lessons in thematic units. Like an effective teacher, He communicates deep insights packed into tangible illustrations and surrounded by reinforcing material. He recycles the concepts and presents them again and again until we begin to get them. Well, in my case, at this time, the lesson He has been teaching me for a long while now is tightly wrapped within the theme of learning to trust Him.

He is taking me by the hand; once again…I am a VERY slow learner when it comes to this topic…to show me the meaning of trials and hardship…the importance of storms…the need for brokenness.

A while back, I heard Dr. Charles Stanley in his radio show, In Touch, talk about Peter. I have always been thankful for Peter. The fact that there is a Peter in the Bible gives me huge hope. I especially love the passage Dr. Stanley was using as the basis for his message, which we find in Luke 22: 24-34. This is the passage during the Lord’s Last Supper when Peter gets told by Jesus two really shocking things that will happen in his near future. Jesus tells Peter:

1. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”


2. Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

I like to think of these events as the sifting and the breaking of Peter. Both processes are extremely painful. I don’t know anybody, really, who may purposely seek to go to any of these events voluntarily, but, yet, we all find ourselves, at some point in our lives, sometimes more than once, attending both of them. Today I want to focus on the first one, the sifting. Of course, I’m no expert, so to find out more about the sifting process I did what every 21st century person does when they want to find out information about anything…I Googled it. Here’s what I found:

Sifting involves a few steps. The first step in the process of sifting wheat is to loosen the chaff from the edible grain, which is called threshing. The old-fashioned way to do this is to spread the wheat onto a floor made from stone, concrete or tamped earth and to beat it with a flail. Yikes! The next step is called winnowing, where the loosened chaff is removed from the grain. The old-fashioned way of doing this is to throw the grain in the air, where the lighter chaff is blown off by even a decent breeze. The heavier grain falls back to the ground below.

Next came the actual sifting to further remove the smallest pieces of debris from the grain. Here, grain was passed through some kind of colander tray by, once again, tossing it up in the air several times, and shaking it on the tray until only usable grain remained…cleaned from all chaff…

Read more :

It is one thing to read about this process and to look at pictures of it while knowing we are talking about wheat. But it is another one entirely different when we think of it as being about us. Jesus is saying in this passage that WE are the grain. We are the wheat that in order to be usable, needs to be sifted. We are the grain that is encapsulated inside the golden wheat spikes. And for us to be usable, for God to be able to make bread out of us, we ought to come out of that wonderful shell. Then, furthermore, for our lives to be of any use in the work of the Kingdom of God, it has to be sifted so the chaff is removed and only the true grain remains. And unless you think being thrown against the stone to then be flailed, tossed up in the air, passed through a colander to finally fall on the floor again is fun, the process is painful. Don’t think the modern version of this process gets any easier for the grain. Going through a combine and a mill doesn’t sound any better to me.

The good news is that we do survive this! Jesus told Peter, “when you come back…” not “if” you come back. So we do make it out of it alive! More than alive, we make it out of it whole. Thanks to the sifting we come out cleaned and free from the useless garbage and chains that had us trapped before. Thanks to the sifting we become something God can use for the furthering of His Kingdom. Thanks to the sifting we can come back and serve our brothers and sisters along the way.

It is normal to want to resist such pain. Nobody would willingly put himself or herself through the grind, literally! But it is also good to know that the pain is not in vain. God has a purpose for it all. And some day, even if it is not on this side of the wheat field, we will discover what that purpose was. In the meantime, let us continue trusting Him and His plan…even if we don’t fully understand…

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Pink Lemonade

You know the saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” right? I like that saying…a lot! It’s probably because I do enjoy a nice glass of lemonade. Growing up in Panama, we had a couple of lemon trees in the backyard, and often, I would be sent to pick up lemons to make lemonade. If there wasn’t anything else to drink, there was always fresh lemonade at home. So I’d have to make my little excursion to the outdoors in search of lemons at least twice a week or so.

While I enjoyed the refreshing beverage; however, I did not like the picking up of the lemons. I didn’t like it because the branches were full of thorns. I had to be very careful. We had a long stick with a hook on the end that we’d use, but that stick had a habit of disappearing and once in a while I’d end up having to grab the lemons with my bare hands. The lemons were tiny so I needed a lot of them to make a pitcher. Of course I would concentrate first on the lemons already on the ground, but many of them were too bruised and rotten, so inevitably, I’d have to venture into the branches with my hand if I were to return with enough lemons to make the drink. It’s funny, though, that back then, I never hear of the saying or of any reference to lemons being a bad thing. You know? Now that I think about it, there is another thing I never saw or tasted before I came to the US: pink lemonade.

Anyway, the whole symbolism does make sense. A lemon by itself is not the most delicious of fruits. Across America, not many kids have a lemon in their lunch boxes as their fruit of choice to eat with their sandwiches. Besides, not many people actually want to stick their hand in a tree full of thorns to get them (of course here in America we don’t have to do that since, as we all know, lemons come from the produce isle at the grocery store.)

Another thing about lemons is that they are a fruit that require processing in order to be appreciated. They kind of have to be mixed with other things. It is the combination of flavors and textures what makes the particularly sour taste of lemons, particularly…tasty! At any rate, I see how not many people would want life to give them lemons, especially when we have such a wide range of sweetly delicious fruits to choose from. It takes time to appreciate a lemon. There’s no instant gratification when you get one. It takes work and other ingredients…and we would probably prefer not to have to go through all that if we could choose.

But many times we just can’t…hence the saying, right? When you get them…well…deal with it. Stop whining and make the darn lemonade!

It’s a piece of popular wisdom that refers to the trials that we will get in this life, which we will get…and how to handle them.

Well, personally, I don’t really mind lemons because I love lemonade! God has given me a keen taste for it (which is probably why I end up with lemons so often.) You know what I REALLY like? Pink Lemonade! Since I first tried it, I decided lemonade was not lemonade unless it was pink! So, while thinking about all these I’ve decided that from now on, I’d like to see trials as a tall glass of cold lemonade, handed to me by the hands of a loving God who is unfolding a perfect plan in my life. This perfect plan includes the manifestation of God’s unique kind of love…a love in which trials become blessings, and lemons become lemonade…of course, in my case, it will be pink lemonade!

Monday, November 16, 2015


Now, we’ve come to the third and last way that author, Sarah Young reminds us, in her devotional Jesus Calling, that we can know that we are able to do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Philippians 4: 13). This third principle has to do with remembering and it tells us that our past experiences of His presence help us to cope successfully during hard times.

The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. 
Psalm 126: 3

Recounting our blessings in times of struggle, counting them one by one, and looking at what God has done is a necessary exercise, especially when we feel the weight of the world fall upon our shoulders.

It is imperative that we take a retrospective look at our lives once in a while in order to not be consumed by despair, frustration and fear. The future seems bleak. The future is a scary place. The future is uncertain. And even though the past is already gone and we should not live in it, remembering God’s hand on us during the steps that we’ve already taken brings us the comfort of knowing He has been there before, which means He will continue to be here now and later because He never changes.

Thinking back in the years that have gone by, I can recount a long line of trials. For instance, as I still mourn the passing of my Father, even after three years, looking back at the huge blessing that his life represented to my own life comforts me. I praise God for giving me the gift of a good earthly Father and for the underserved blessing of a childhood spent in the safety of his embrace. Today, I don’t have him here with me anymore, and his death has left a great void; but I can rejoice because the memories are still with me and that is one of the many manifestations of God’s presence in my life, of His mercy and of His love.

God’s delivering power goes beyond the everyday and the mundane things of this world. His actions have the power to transcend to the eternal realm. What He has done doesn’t just impact our lives in this world, but our lives beyond…and it is all because of His love. Even if we can’t remember any but one blessing, let it be this one:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

This is what God has done for us. His Love Endures Forever!

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Promises of God

The second principle that Sarah Young indicates in the devotional reading I read the other day from her book, Jesus Calling states that by knowing the promises of the Bible we will know that with Jesus we can get through everything. This is yet another thing I was not familiar with before I began to attend church here in the United States at New Bedford Evangelical Presbyterian under the guidance of our Pastor Doug Runyan.

Back in Panama, I do remember singing at Mass a song in Spanish that translates into English as something like: “the promises of God are mine/”Las promesas del Señor mías son.” But I don’t recall ever really thinking through the meaning of the words I sang. God’s promises are mine? What promises?

Beyond the Lord’s Prayer and Mary’s Song of Praise found in Luke 1: 46-55 it is safe to say I never memorized Scripture. Honestly, I never really spent much time in the Bible at all. I had a Bible, and I did pursue every opportunity I could to join any kind of study I could find while still living in Panama, but those were few and far in between (especially far! I remember having to ride a couple of buses to a not so safe neighborhood once a week to attend a pretty serious Bible study. Now that I think about it, it was more like a lecture type of class with not much room for personal meditation or listening to God’s voice speaking to us, straight to us, through His Word…not even sure I had my Bible with me at those classes, to tell you the truth…)

Anyway, my point is that I was not very well acquainted with God’s promises found in Scripture. The problem with that is…well… if I don’t know His promises, how could I then claim them as mine?

If I don’t know God’s promises, how could I know He is Faithful?

If I never heard about God’s love, how would I ever know He loves me?

If I never read about Jesus and His Sacrifice, how would I ever know I am saved?

Then, where do I learn about God’s promises?

Well…the way to know His promises is to know His Word. And the way to know His Word is by reading it in the Bible, by studying it in small groups, by listening to teachers expressing their insights, by meditating on it ourselves, by making it our guide and our light.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. 
 Psalm 119: 105

Our journey through Scripture marks the discovery of our source of truth and of our fountain of strength. Reading the Word and committing it to memory will be like arming ourselves before we go to battle so once in it; we have the weapons we need to fight. (Ephesians 6:10-18)

The Word is the Light. The Word is the Sword. The Word has always been. The Word will always be.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome. 
 John 1: 1-5

Therefore, knowing the Word is how we know His promises. This is how the promises sustain us in times of trial. This is how we make His promises ours. This is how we stand on the Promises of God

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,

When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,

By the living Word of God I shall prevail,

Standing on the promises of God.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Our Personal Relationship with Christ

Continuing with the three ideas that I read in Sarah Young’s, Jesus Calling devotional yesterday, one of the ways that we will know that Our Lord will get us through our trials and tests is by sustaining a personal relationship with Him.

Well, let me start by saying that up until my early thirties, I did not know what that concept meant. I grew up in the church, but I was completely ignorant of this aspect of being a Christian. It would take years for me to begin to understand what a personal relationship with Jesus meant.

It was back when I moved to the United States for good, twenty years ago that the Lord began to slowly reveal Himself to me in a personal way, and the journey began at what would become my home church. I had visited New Bedford Church several times before while dating my, then, boyfriend Dan. So I was familiar with the surroundings. I also thought I was a good church girl and that I had the whole religion thing figured out. Any misunderstandings I might have had back then, I attributed to the language barrier. But later, when we got married, settled in the area, and began attending regularly, I discovered that my lack of understanding had little to do with English not being my first language, and everything to do with Christianity not being my true religion.

Whatever I had practiced up until then was but a veiled image of what Christ calls us to be. Christianity had been something I did on Sunday mornings, but I had not realized it should be something that permeates my entire being. In other words, I didn’t know Christianity should not be something I did. It should be who I am. And that the only way to answer God’s call into His family is to be intentional about cultivating a personal relationship with Christ in my everyday life. The problem was that I didn’t have a clue what to do with that truth!

Back then, twenty years ago, a new Pastor came to our Church. His sermons began to challenge everything I believed in. And the theme of a personal relationship with Christ revolved around his every word. For years I puzzled over the whole thing, still not sure how to go about the seemingly impossible task of establishing a relationship with Jesus. But the constancy of our Pastor’s teaching and his sound, Biblical foundation were the tools that God used to reach out to me.

Little by little, while sitting on our pew Sunday after Sunday, actively listening in Sunday School, participating in Bible Studies every time they were offered, attending women’s small groups and circles, serving in the church every time I could, having fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, God lifted the veil that had blurred my vision and I began to discover that a relationship with Jesus is not something I do, it is something I seek.

He creates the path for me to follow, He calls me, and I go. What the path looks like and the way one walks on it is entirely up to Him who planned it. It is tailor-made for each pedestrian on the road. And often times, like the men walking to Emmaus, we walk ignorantly missing the fact that He is there, alongside us all the way. But eventually, when the time is right, He reveals Himself to us, usually while in communion, within the gathering of believers, while He sits in our midst.

Seeking a personal relationship with Christ is a crucial part of knowing that He is always there, in the good times as well as in the trials. Thanks to this relationship, we are empowered to get through the fires without getting burned. I pray our veils finally get torn and we can see His glory as He leads the way on the path of our lives.

Monday, November 9, 2015

November Blues

For the last few years, and even longer, November has become a month full of sad memories that threaten to rob me of the joy I try to pursue.

November is the month of many goodbyes. It’s the month that marks the day I left the home of my youth behind for good. It’s the month that brokenness entered our family. And it’s the month I said my last goodbye on this earth, to my father.

Nature seems to commemorate my sadness…

The fact that by the time November arrives, autumn’s glory has begun to fade doesn’t help. Bare tree branches, like a thousand wicked witches’ pointy fingers; emerge all around us to dress our surroundings in a sort of post-Halloween custom, resembling more a scene from a classic horror film than our peaceful neighborhood. There’s an eerie stillness that makes me uncomfortable. It’s like nature goes to sleep…or worse…

Most November days accentuate my longing for my ideal paradise on earth, the beach, and make me want to just go to sleep until nature wakes up and the sun warms up again.

My thoughts constantly revolve around the things that are wrong with the world. My mind drifts to illnesses, suffering, loneliness and places of loss where my spirit gets lost in the lowlands of my soul. Fear and worry fly freely in my heart, making everything feel as dead as the dry leaves on the ground.


But then…in the middle of my self-pity party, there is God…Our Ever Faithful, Ever Thoughtful, Ever Mindful, Ever Loving God.

He directs my steps to a path of reflection, where I can finally begin to rein in my thoughts and stop letting my emotions control my mind.

He places His Word in my hands for me to read and breathe in.

Like a Devotional book by Sarah Young called: Jesus Calling. In the simple words of its little pages I have found the truth of Scripture spoken directly to me. For instance, the calling to “appreciate difficult days” could not be more timely. Inspired by The Word, the author recognizes that the knowledge of the fact that we can do all things in Christ and through Christ will get us through such difficult days. Also, that this knowledge is three-fold:

1. Our personal relationship with Christ.

2. The Promises of the Bible.

3. Our past experiences of His presence helping us to cope successfully during hard times.

These are the three aspects of our walk with Our Lord that we can hang on to when we feel as if we are falling into the pit. These are the life-lines that lift us up and restore us. These are the memories that will need to be recalled in times of trouble. These are the thoughts that should flood our minds to push all others aside.

In times of trial, our history with Christ needs to be sharp in our heads and in our hearts. The next few days we will explore together this three-part strategy as a way to shake off the November blues and as a way to prepare our hearts to settle into an attitude of gratitude and light, rather than to stay stagnant into an attitude of sadness and darkness.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Me of Little Faith...

For the last few days I’ve been wrestling against a spirit of fear that wants to take over me…of course…nothing new here…but it was kind of funny how at one point, on one of those anxiety-filled morning-commutes to work, the words I kept hearing in my head were the words my Endocrinologist told me back in June during my last consultation. That day, which, again, was an anxiety-ridden day, after noticing my emotional condition, the Doctor looked me in the eye and asked me, “Do you know the word Faith?”

I wrote about that incident then, but today, it comes back to me since I kept hearing her question over and over in my head during these past few days while I was fretting about my son Grant’s seemingly explainable knee pain and swelling.

The question challenged me now, the same way it challenged me back in June.

Do I know the word Faith? Do I really know the meaning of Faith?

What is Faith?

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, faith is: belief and trust in and loyalty to God.- Belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion.- Firm belief in something for which there is no proof.- Complete trust.- Something that is believed especially with strong conviction.- A system of religious beliefs


That’s all well, and all…but the definition given by a secular source leaves something wanting, doesn’t it? It’s as if this definition, or set of definitions point to baseless and blind trust on a fairy tale-type narrative that has no foundation in reality. I get that uncomfortable sense, especially when I read the part that says: “firm belief in something for which there is no proof…”

It seems utterly contradictory. On one hand it says “belief and trust in and loyalty to God” then on the other it talks about “the traditional doctrines of a religion.” So is it trust in the God Almighty, Maker of the Heavens and the Earth or is it in the man-made rules and regulations of a particular religion?

Again…there’s something wanting…

Faith transcends to dimensions that cannot be fathomed by academic thought. So its meaning cannot be contained in a dictionary.

Faith is the supernatural riddle that tells us that through it we are saved by the Grace of God. Faith is the instrument that Grace uses in order to reach us. (Ephesians 2: 8-9) Faith is the Divine paradox that assures us of things hoped for, and that gives us the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11: 1) Faith is what derives from opposing concepts, allowing a reality that enables us to fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal…while at the same time commanding us NOT to live by sight! (2 Corinthians 4:18, 2 Corinthians 5:7)

Faith is what gives us ears to hear the voice of the Shepherd-King who is also the Perfect Lamb and calls us by our name.

Faith is the grain of mustard that contains the power to make us move mountains! Therefore, we cannot expect to contain Faith in a few lines on the pages of a dictionary.

Do I know the meaning of faith?

Although I certainly cannot explain it, I know it in my soul. Faith is what keeps me on the side of Jesus and what permits me to see Him for who He is, My True Hope, My Lord, The Savior of the World.

As I received good news regarding my son’s knee problem, the waters of anxiety began to recede. However, lingering questions still remain: do I know that Faith is what gets me through these waters? Do I accept that my Faith is my Hope? Do I understand that Faith is not blind belief on a fairy tale that cannot be proved? Do I surrender it all to the Author and Perfecter of my Faith and let go?

I pray that the Holy Spirit continues to work in me so the peace that comes from knowing His presence is in me continues to grow until I have no doubt. I pray, like the Apostles once did, Lord, please increase my faith!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Walking on Water

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14: 25-33

I love, LOVE the passage of Jesus walking on water. It is the record of one of those moments in the history of the Christ on this earth in which we can see the immensity of His infinite power…and how that power pours down on us. It is the testimony of how we, too, can walk on water as well. It is the story of how even little ole me, just like that little ole fisherman named Peter, empowered by the Caller, could also be able to follow Him without any barriers, in a limitless way, wherever He calls me...even if it is out of the boat onto the water, in the middle of a wind storm.

Jesus said to Peter just one word: “come.” Peter obeyed. Peter walked on water.

It is the power of the Word!

What happened next, however, shows us how we self-impose limits as to what the Almighty can do in us. Our minds build barriers. Our minds create borders. Our minds allow distractions to cause us to lose focus. Our minds make us lend ear to the lies of the enemy. The result is, we often take our eyes off of Him, the source of our strength and power and inevitably we begin to sink.

We forget what His power just got us through. In an instant of panic we forget what He had just done for us. In a moment of fear we forget how He has never abandoned us before and how He will never abandon us now nor ever.

The good news is that even in those moments in which we allow fear, and panic, and anxiety to make us forget…He never forgets. Our shakiness doesn’t move Him because He is the Solid Rock upon which we stand…and the fact that we shake doesn’t make any difference…He holds us and we won’t fall. The wind won’t knock us over. The pit will not engulf us. The waters will not swallow us. Like with Peter, immediately, we haven’t even finished our cry for help, when His hand is already stretching out to grab us and pull us up to safety. And on that promise I trust!

In my moments of doubt, when I allow my eyes to wander off of His face into the raging winds, I will call upon this passage and know that I must not be afraid because it is Him in the storm. When I feel like I’m beginning to sink because I allowed fear to creep in, I will call on Him and I will call on this passage, and I will count on His Hand to be already grabbing me out of my trouble even before I finish my sentence.

And when the winds of the storms of my life die down, I will proclaim the power of His Word, for He is truly Our God, and I will recall how by His power, He made me walk on water too.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Happy Tres de Noviembre!

November 3rd…it just doesn’t have the same ring when I say it in English. For everyone who was born in Panama, el tres de noviembre is a date that has tremendous resonance. The brain hears those little words together and the psyche reacts with national pride because it is Independence Day. 

My family’s psyche has an added reaction…this was my Father’s Birthday as well. Faded memories of the High School Band serenading my Dad at the crack of dawn dance in my mind as I turn in my bed this morning. Being miles away from the land that cradled me when I gave my first cry, intensifies the sting of his loss. I wrestle with the thoughts of a life that almost seem never lived…was it real, or did I imagine the whole thing?

Another tres de noviembre that I’m not there. Everything that once was my life is now all gone…and I’m left to wonder…standing in the loneliness of time and space, I cry alone. There’s no way around it…I miss my Dad and I don’t know if the sadness would ever stop. He was a gift…a gift to me…a gift from above…this is the third Birthday I don’t get to hear his voice on the phone. I know that, ever since I left Panama all those many years ago, though he knew it impossible, he always kept a secret hope I’d be able to come back home to celebrate his Birthday unexpectedly. Why not, after all, it’s a big holiday down there…but I never did.

Well, the time for regrets has come and gone, and today my heart finds comfort in the fact that he is now, truly home…with my Mom, the love of his life…and maybe one day I will get to see him again in the land of no more goodbyes.

In the meantime, happy tres de noviembre to all my brothers and sisters from Panama, and Happy Birthday Papa, wait for me, I will be coming home one of these days!