Hope for the Smudged and Broken

My father was an artist. I remember vividly one evening when I was in grade school that he came home drunk. He had been working on a special project for our town’s celebration every summer called AgRo (the exact words these letters represented escape me, but AgRo was like an expo of various agricultural products, native arts and crafts). His project was a set of pitcher and half-dozen mugs sitting on a tray all made entirely of bamboo. For hours on end, he patiently polished the bamboo pieces until they were shiny and smooth. After that, he painted on each one a cluster of bamboo trees.

When he left the house that afternoon, he had finished painting all the pieces and meticulously set them on their bamboo tray to dry. But a neighbor, his old buddy, who came from Manila came to our house and saw my father’s work. He held and examined them, admiring each piece, as my mother and I watched.

When my father arrived that night, he saw at once the paint smudges on his bamboo project. He knew there was no way to repair them. He was so dismayed that in great feeling of frustration, he shoved the whole tray from off the table and all the pieces fell on the floor. My mother and I were shocked. When he left, I saw his pained expression. I felt for him. Slowly, my mother and I began to pick up the pieces and mended the broken handles with wood glue.

After almost four decades later, I would come to know, really know, another Father. But instead of seeing Him greatly dismayed with me – covered in miry clay and all broken – He mercifully and lovingly picked me up, mended my broken parts and healed my wounds.

How could something that is covered with filth and with a heart and body so broken it couldn’t function properly be transformed into a thing that radiates the beauty and light of its Creator? But that is how the mercy of my Father in heaven works in a terribly messed-up life like mine was.

His workings are all so wondrous. But why doesn’t everybody see that? Why don’t the smudged, the wounded, the broken run to Him to be recreated, to become new – a new creation? These are the things that I saw:

  • One cannot see the truth in one’s life

One has been completely blinded by Satan’s lie that one believes one’s life is good, all good. I have two female friends who live as a couple, and by the world’s standards, they are blessed abundantly – health, finances, happiness – that their favorite line is “God is good!” To be in the belief that God blesses and favors those who do not obey His Word and follow after righteousness is a very dangerous thing. For it would be more difficult to make them un-believe the lie.

  • One cannot believe that God can forgive and change him or her

A testimony was shared to me by a sister in Christ whose mother-in-law asked her doubtfully when she told her about  the Gospel of salvation, “Can God forgive my sins?” (Her mother-in-law had committed abortion many times due to poverty. In the Philippines, one need not go to the doctor to have an abortion).

But God forgives anyone who comes to Him and repents and receives the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. This is His promise:

“Come now, let’s settle this,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
I will make them as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson,
I will make them as white as wool. 
(Is. 1:18 NLT)

The mother-in-law believed and plunged herself at Jesus’ feet, repenting and humbling herself. She was made into a new creation – sanctified and clothed with righteousness.

Endnotes:

  • Read more of my testimony here.
  • Know the keys of salvation here.
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Journey with Jesus,

The Practice of Love

The kids and I gather together this evening. I had been desiring for our family to have a gathering in the evenings to read the Bible, talk about what we have read, each give thanks for the day, then pray. But I know that my beloved husband can’t be easily invited to such. He sings praises, worships and prays every night for more or less two hours. Gathering with the family for the purposes I have mentioned is a thing he’d rather not join. This saddens me but I was determined to start with our two kids.

Hannah and I have been meeting to read the Bible and discuss, but this time, we include soon-to-be five-year-old Tim for he also needs a lot of teaching and praying over.

Lately, I have been thinking deeply on how to honour God more in my life. I felt that there must be something more to all the things that I do, something that is wrought by the Lord in and through me. I know that I lack and I err and I fail to follow through all that He wants me to  be and to do.

So the three of us gather together, forming a small circle (I don’t want any of the Lord’s words to fall to the ground). We talk about love. I point out to them that we are not loving the way the Lord Jesus wants us to. I tell them that sometimes we choose to be impatient, unkind, ungentle to one another. I point to myself. Why do I let myself speak harshly at times and snap rather than pay attention? Why can’t I completely rein in my temper and just be known for my gentleness? Why can’t I stop myself from answering back their dad when I am hurt? Why can’t I just take the pain and keep quiet? Most often, it’s my pride that gets hurt. So then, why can’t I just kill my pride? Didn’t the Lord tell us to pluck out our eye or cut off our hand if these make us sin? To have a meek and quiet spirit is still my earnest prayer.

“If I am not known for my gentleness, what am I known for? What are we known for?” I ask them, voice cracking. Why would you shove your brother to the side? I am looking intently at Hannah. Why can’t we love just like the Lord loves? Tears find their way out.

“We can’t stay like this”, I tell them. But I also tell them that I’m thankful I’m hurt and broken this way, for that means I’m not numb to God and His commandments. For if one has become numb and unmindful of God and what He thinks, one has become barren, spiritually dead. I am thankful for His tuggings at my heart for I know I am fully feeling, knowing, seeing. I am fully awake! The tears flow freely.

And I tell them more, like the Lord’s commandment (well, more like an urgent plea) to His disciples before He was taken to be crucified.

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34-35, emphasis added)

We will be known as the Lord’s disciples by the way we love  one another.

“Can we begin to practise love, really, intentionally practise love everyday starting today? Just like how the Lord loves us?” I ask them. The Lord is not harsh nor unkind nor shoves nor shouts at us. Hannah nods sincerely.

I hold Tim’s face. His still-baby skin feels so soft in my hand. I tell him about loving by showing respect. I tell him what is love and what is not. I explain, I implore, and I am held in awe by how his beautiful eyes grow bigger and rounder. His eyes have opened and rounded to the full and I am amazed at the beauty of the faith of a child. If only we could easily open our eyes that big and round and fix them to Jesus, just like little children do. 

Maybe then we would not miss anything. Maybe then we could practise love everyday, even every moment.

We end with prayer. I pray and reach and cry out to God. I offer up our lives; we are His. For only in His light do our uglinesses vanish and we are changed. And we love Him so, with all our hearts, minds, and souls. Copious tears keep streaming down. We have been touched.

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A Heart Check

(Meditating on Psalm 81)

Sing aloud to God our strength;
Make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob.
Raise a song and strike the timbrel,
The pleasant harp with the lute. 

For this is a statute for Israel,
A law of the God of Jacob. 
(Psalm 81:1,2,4)

This, also, is the statute of our Church: to sing praises and worship God not only during worship service when the congregation gathers, but also in our own homes, in the morning and in the evening. Those who do this fervently with a willing spirit are blessed beyond their hearts’ desires, specially with a stronger faith in God.

But there are those who neglect to praise and worship and their focus was diverted to the things of the world: agendas, schedules, plans, and passions with other things like careers, hobbies, and other pursuits that may veer one away from deep communion with God. The more time spent with our pursuits, the less time we give in seeking God. Even in the time of private praise and worship, one may not be spiritually present; one’s mind and heart may be upon the to-do lists, or other exciting projects that await.

When our affections and passions (am I being redundant?) are diverted from the living God to the things of this world, aren’t we loving, adoring, and worshiping them instead? Isn’t this a form of idolatry? God admonished His people Israel:

There shall be no foreign god among you;
Nor shall you worship any foreign god. 
(v. 9)

I’ve heard testimonies in Church that they got so engrossed with work or flourishing businesses that they began to neglect to praise and worship God with all their beings. They had forsaken the Spirit’s admonition. They could no longer listen to Him for their hearts had been captured by their passions or given away to their work’s demands. Until one day, they found they no longer walked in the presence of the Lord. The Holy Spirit had left.

But My people would not heed My voice,
And Israel would have none of Me.
12 So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart,
To walk in their own counsels.
 (vv. 11-12, emphasis added)

To be given up by God is a most dreadful thing to happen.

Where do are our affections lie? Do we praise God with our lips but our hearts are far from Him? Do we worship in vain? Or do we delight in Him more than anything in this world? It is good to always have a heart check.

When Obedience and Zeal Go Together

A few years ago, I dreamed of putting up a house of worship in my hometown in the province. At that time, I had been through a lot: prolonged illness and suffering, partial healing, pregnancy, postnatal illness and suffering, but to serve God was foremost in my heart. I could have died when I delivered my son, considering that I wasn’t well. But He made me live and I wanted to give back to Him.

So we bought a lot at the outskirts of the town. It was along the highway and on the other side was the great river that flowed deep and quiet. After just a few months, a single-storey house was erected. There was ample yard left where a tent could be put up if worshipers overflowed.  Some workers from another town would come every Saturday to hold a Bible Study. They also visited some homes bringing the true Gospel of salvation. But their small group didn’t flourish. The preacher who visited every Saturday died and the Bible Study was discontinued.

I had thought that the one who took his place would continue the weekly visit to our town. But that was our (my husband’s and mine) mistake, not following it through closely. For since then, the place has become desolate, except for my beloved mother who would bring someone to cut the grass that had grown tall and thick.

We wanted to obey God wherever He led us to, but I now realized that we should have also prayed hard for our hearts to be ripe and ready, to be steeped with God’s zeal.

So, there was negligence on our part and it really pains me now to think about it. One of the reasons was I became very ill in early-2010 near unto death and spent most of the rest of that year recovering and hoping for God’s mercy yet again.

I had been unceasingly praying for the salvation of my loved ones and the people of our old town, but the Lord made me realize that even my prayers lacked urgency. For if they would have been frantic and more fervent, these would have driven me to act without delay. It saddens me now to think that I had waited for almost 2 years before preparing this letter requesting for workers to visit our town and resume the weekly Bible Study there.

But I’m ever grateful to the Lord that He completes whatever is lacking in us, like our love and fervency. He supplies them, the desires of our hearts, and alerts us so we could hear His voice and prods us into action to accomplish His plans and purposes. He is faithful to remind us that the harvest is ripe; our hearts are ready to dive into serving Him without reservations. I believe this is the fruit of my abandoned prayer and worship I offered not too long ago. I wrote this in my journal just after that private worship filled with the presence of the Lord:

I sing at the edge of the bed. I sing, though my breathing is short, breaking the lyrics into divided words and phrases with pauses. For my hunger to get well to be able to travel must not be greater than my hunger for Him. Just for Him.

And when I feel His sweet, comforting presence gently descending upon me, and the tears start to roll – I know there’s nothing in this world that could taste better, feel more wonderful, than His love. I want it most.

And in His presence, in His love – every desire, every dream for self, fades into the background. 

When we earnestly pray and truly surrender our lives to God, abandoning all fears, doubts, and reservations, and denying our own wants and dreams – He will put His desires in our hearts. His desires will become ours and we are able to do those which He has planned and purposed for our lives. Our obedience and service to Him then bear fruits.

For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Phil. 2:13)

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The Pursuit of an Authentic Life

It happens again. My son Tim breathes hard as his cough hardens. The rapid heaving of his tummy makes him weak and brings pain to his stomach muscles. I rub his back as I start to sing praises. I sing with all that’s in me. I lift up my soul and soon, tears are leaking out from a heart that surrenders everything. I release all – fears, worries, sadness, control. But this time it’s more than all that. It is also a cry for help, not only for my son, but also for myself. Because I ache to be true in my pursuit of Him.

I’ve been carrying that pain somewhere deep within me lately. I feel that all the things that I do – praise, worship, pray, read the Bible, write to share the Gospel, care for my family, encourage, nurture friendships – are not enough. Not enough to show the Lord that I’m true in everything I do. I want to examine deeply my motives why I do the things that I do. I want to weed out any trace of hypocrisy or farce in any aspect and part of my life. I believe that only then would I know I am a joy to the Lord and my relationship with Him is free from any obstacles.

I really can’t pinpoint on which aspect of my life I am not being totally true. Sometimes I catch myself asking, Do I really care for this person’s salvation or am I just doing what I need to do? Everyday, I strive to live a life pleasing to God. But I can’t deny the tug of the Spirit at my heart, sometimes reminding me and pointing out to me the real motives behind the things that I do. And I continue to carry a heavy heart and an emptiness somewhere deep within me until I have closely looked into every single motive behind every action.

So, I cry as I beg God to heal my son and I rip my heart open to Him thinking that in that way, I’m ripping up every veil that might be separating me from the floodgates of blessings opening wide and gushing upon my life.

We can never hide anything from our God. He knows the deep crevices of our hearts more than we do. We cannot fool Him at all. God is not mocked (Gal. 6:7). And the soul knows that.

The whisperings of the enemy are in fact a mirror or an indication of what and where we are weak of. He whispers that my blog is not growing by leaps and bounds unlike other devotional blogs whose followers are by the thousands. He prods me to think that I’m inferior, my writing is not pleasing and excellent, and there’s nothing I can do that could change the situation.

The enemy’s attempt to attack and bring one down can be the very thing that can make one stronger, wiser and sharper. These whisperings could actually bring one closer to God as one would be prodded to look deeper into oneself and one’s motives in the light of one’s service to God.

The enemy assays to bring our focus to ourselves and away from God. He makes us think that it is all about us – everything we do is for us, and of us, and to us, and by us. But all this brouhaha with the enemy can be completely silenced by declaring that he is a liar and the father of it (John 8:44). Nothing, absolutely nothing, that he whispers is true.

All that we are, and therefore, all that we do, is for Him, and “of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).

And I do my best to stay attached to and focused on this fulcrum of truth upon which my life spins. This must be the sole gauge in all the things we do. I am His; all that I write come from Him; I set up this blog for His purposes; my life is all about Him, for His glory. Shall we dare steal some of that glory? God forbid! He saith, am the Lord, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another… (Is. 42:8).

I write to win souls for Christ, not to gain fame for myself.

So, we walk this journey knowing that the eyes of God are ever upon us. Whatever we learn in Church, that should be lived wherever we go. However we live outside of the walls of our homes, it should be the same when we’re inside of them. The early apostles had a word for it. Unfeigned love. (See 2 Cor. 6:6; 1 Pet. 1:22).

Additional readings: How to Truly Seek God and Live an Authentic Life

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How to Maintain Inner Peace

The morning of the day I planned to write this, a problem arose that would test exactly what I wanted to write about. This wasn’t the first time that it has happened – the testing before or after the writing. It is as if the real Author of all these Spirit-inspired written words are testing this writer if she could practice what she preaches, or walk in the way of what she writes about.

Early in the morning, my beloved husband learned that our company driver who was sent to the province with the delivery van was apprehended by the traffic police and without calling and informing his boss (my husband), he paid the police PhP2,000 just so, according to him, they wouldn’t impound the van and take his driver’s license. My husband at once got furious.

Why didn’t he call him about the problem and before he paid PhP2,000?
What exactly was the violation? Transporting a second-hand oven. (Huh?!)
Did he get a receipt for paying PhP2,000? No. It went straight to the hands of the enforcers. (What?!!!)
Did he get the names of the traffic enforcers who received the money? No, he did not.

My husband started to think that maybe the driver, who has been working for our company for eight long years, wasn’t telling the truth. He gave him PhP3,000 for gas and toll fees which was more than enough (the tank was more than half-full before the trip). Without going into much detail, he has reasons to think so. When he told me all about it, I myself was surprised. To be apprehended by traffic police for transporting a second-hand oven which sits inside a closed delivery van is very unusual. (We upgraded our kitchen and the old oven was going to a relative). And, being born-again Christians, it is our company policy never to give bribes for any reason at all.

The endless analyzing and discussing while temper is slowly brewing can sap one’s energy for sure. And I didn’t have my praise and prayer time yet! Which effectively brought to mind my topic for today. So, I told my husband this: “What has happened has happened and we can no longer undo it. If the driver is telling the truth, we have to accept it and move on (except of course, my husband has yet to discuss it again with the driver in person). If not, God knows it and He will be the one to do something about it. The thing is, there should be an end to all the angry talk and doubts.”

That is what I really wanted to write about today: Much of our problems are aggravated (if not triggered) by our incessant worrying, analyzing, judging, discussing, complaining, striving, and by often choosing the way of anger and dissatisfaction. This happens when we focus more our attention to the things around us – people, events, material – than focusing our eyes on God.

I remember the early days when the “new man” was a babe in Christ – fresh, yielding and with an undistracted, quiet spirit. We were on our way to a nearby province to attend a wedding where my husband and I were principal sponsors. We were traveling with a sister in Christ who was older than us, both in age and in years of serving the Lord. She and my husband were jovially talking about people and events, and now and then, joked and laughed at the stories they were sharing with each other. I sat quietly in my seat, not speaking a single word. I was revelling in the quiet of my spirit, soaking up in the peace that the Lord put in my heart. I would sometimes stroke the long strands of my hair while I looked out the window and gazed at the seemingly never-ending green fields and rolling hills in the horizon. Ah! What peace! What an invigorating feeling of fresh holiness! 

I have to be honest: I have lost much of that holy quiet and calm throughout the years as I wrestled with prolonged physical suffering and with the difficulties of trying to keep up with the daily grind, what with a body that easily gets weary and weak.

I grieve about losing much of that constant quiet glorying in the Lord, but I haven’t forgotten that day nor the feeling of basking in the Lord’s light, unmindful of the chaos in my surroundings, and I believe it is still possible. It is always possible.

Here are some ways to maintain inner peace:

  • Be mindful of the things we think about. Don’t let negative things play in our minds, endlessly and futilely wrestling with them.

Is there somebody in your life who hurts you with his or her rude or thoughtless behaviour? Don’t focus on it. It is not your problem. It has nothing to do with you. But you can pray for him or her.

  • Don’t weary yourself by endlessly thinking, analyzing, worrying, or discussing about things that you cannot change or have no power over.

Learn to accept the things that you cannot change. Hand all of them over to God. Let Him do the solving and fixing. He is a specialist in mending the broken, rearranging what has gone awry, and making all things work together for our good.

  • Fix your eyes on Jesus and stay under His light.

One day years ago, my husband walked into the room with the news that there was something wrong with the papers of one of our properties that we were planning to sell. I understood that I might not have transacted with the rightful owners when I bought it. When he left, my body at once reacted with the stress this news brought, but I raised my hands and prayed. I relinquished all control to God. I found peace also in releasing that material thing. Later in the day, my husband told me that there was just an error and everything was well.

Don’t let problems suck you up. But be sucked up in the Lord’s light. Under His light, we receive wisdom and the peace that comes with it. Away from His light, there are shadows and darkness and it would be easy to lose our way.

Additional reading: The Spirit Bids {Ways to Seek Holy Moments}

Giveaway Winners!

DaySpring “Blessed and Loved” mug with lid and Dayspring “Live, Love, Laugh” journal.

DaySpring mug with lid and journal: Bing Puzon

DaySpring journal (consolation prize): Marilyn Facton

Congratulations and thank you all for joining!

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My gratitude list – the gifts I received from the hand of the Lord:

  • My daughter Hannah lovingly offering to massage my aching legs; she did it well, inducing me to a sound slumber :).
  • Learning to photograph objects in motion
  • The peace that descends and covers my whole being after a heartfelt praise and worship.
  • The blessed celebration of my birthday: family, good food, love and laughter.
  • A nephew who helped me with all the preparations so that I was able to rest and relax.
  • Filled to overflowing for all the testimonies of God’s miracles that I heard in Church today during the 12th Victorious Mindanao Peace Mission Anniversary.
I’m linking up with other blogs, please check the list at the side bar.

More on Giving Ourselves to Prayer

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:15-16)

She talks of the latest evil that was done in that little town. A local government official – some kids’ father, someone’s husband, a father’s son, some man’s friend – was gunned down and everybody believes it’s politically-motivated. The father wept despairingly, wounded deep in his heart. There was indescribable hurt as well as anger that was hard to contain. The wife said, “All of my children’s hope and future have altogether crumbled and gone in an instant.”

This is the second time. Not too long ago, it was the town’s leader. He was a new one, full of promises and actions and well-loved by the townsfolk. They mourned then and were greatly shocked. And now this.

She talks how the proud and the fierce and the hungry for power threatens some more, emboldened. And there is shock and fear, and — helplessness. The one who holds on to power and hungry for more is one who is utterly powerless. Powerless against the evil that works in and through him. I stare at the Queen Anne chair and remember the words of our beloved honorable pastor, “We hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Hate the sin, love the sinner. But at this instance, I don’t know where the line between the two is drawn. It seems to me that the sin and the sinner are hopelessly intertwined and they are one, and I don’t really know what to feel.

But always, “love does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the truth”, and I strongly denounce such evil. These things stir up anger and the proud mouth can’t be stopped, so I burst out with these words, “Hell is never full; it is never satisfied.” God knows and sees everything that is done under the sun among the children of men, and His Word, His will, His master plan will stand. He has set up a day of judgment and punishment for the wicked.

The Lord has made all for Himself,
Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.
 (Prov. 16:4)

Either that or His Gospel of salvation will be gloriously descending upon that mourning town and penetrating into the people’s hearts and they will all be humbly and hungrily accepting it. And they all will be miraculously saved and delivered from the evil one. So I tell her now, “The Lord Jesus Christ is the only hope of that town. He is the only one who can raise it up from the heaps.” I say this while deep in thought and my whole being shrouded and heavy with all this dark news. God is all-powerful. He will make a way. He will judge. He will reprove. He will punish. Or, He will turn their hearts around. And I don’t know what else He plans to do but I know He wants us to pray. Pray agonisingly, earnestly, unceasingly, unrelentingly. 

There stands at the outskirts of the beloved town a small, new house with ample yard. The dream is – this will be a house of worship of the true Church of the living God, a haven for the lost and the mourning. But the years pass – the grass grows uncontrollably, except for occasional cutting by  a hired help – and the house remains unoccupied, silent. For the workers are few and it breaks my heart. Didn’t the Lord tell us to pray for more laborers for the harvest? So, we pray. There are souls that need to be liberated – from evil works, from hatred and unforgiveness, from despair and hopelessness.

We can’t afford to be complacent, to be doing nothing. So let us “give ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).

Endnotes: Above photos courtesy of Bro. Edu Cortez of Extreme Details Photography; JMCIM worship services.

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My gratitude list ~ the gifts I received from the hand of the Lord:

  • My salvation and healing which comes from just One: the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Tim greeting the whole congregation and reciting a verse before their choir – Cherubim’s Choir – sang on a Sunday service.
  • Blessed to be a blessing: making my sister’s birthday abundantly blessed.
  • healthy menu plans and food that is good and available
  • Tim enjoying my homemade dark chocolate ice cream, how he scooped up by the spoonfuls and heaped them into his mouth :).
  • an afternoon in the garden – precious moments
  • a yellow chair, a throw, and a Bible

I’m linking up with other blogs, please check the list at the side bar.
Linked up with Lessons from Ivy.