Trusting the God who sees it all…

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Aerial view of the peak of Mayon Volcano, Philippines

I was thirteen years old when I first read this passage from the book of Isaiah. I thought that after all these years of reading the bible, I would be able to apply this verse and take on the right perspective when the unexpected happens. Our guest pastor today pointed out that the danger with scripture verses that are so familiar is that they do become too familiar such that our knee jerk response becomes “I’ve heard that before.” So for the nth time in my life, I pray to dive deep and seek refuge in the wonderful truth that God’s ways are not my ways; that there is an enormous difference between what He knows (i.e. what He had always known) and what I will ever know. If I’m having a hard time with this, I’ve either thought too little of my God or too much of myself (or both). If the disparity between who He is and who I am, between his knowledge and mine, is unsettling instead of comforting, then my heart needs to go back to the shadow of the cross – the place where Christ died to bridge that great divide. Only when we humble ourselves before him can we truly rest in the incomprehensible greatness of God and submit to his sovereignty. The cross clarifies my proper position – that of absolute dependence upon him who needs no guidance from me at all in accomplishing his purposes. Here I am reminded of who it is who sits on the throne. He is the One who sees all things and does what he pleases.

“Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” Psalm 135:6

Arthur Pink, author of The Attributes of God, wrote: “God does as he pleases, only as he pleases, always as he pleases. None can thwart him. None can hinder him.” As a recipient of God’s mercy and grace, I find this reassuring. But when the story of life doesn’t follow the plot I would have written, I sometimes forget that God is still in charge and that he is, in fact, doing as he pleases, which is always for our good and his glory. At any point in time, He who is the Alpha and Omega sees the entire picture, while I only see a very small fragment. I will never fully understand how, but nothing catches our God by surprise because he sees it all and knows it all. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. It is high; I cannot attain it.” Psalm 139:6. 

I don’t need to understand it all. My role is to trust that my Good Shepherd will lead me in the path of righteousness and that no matter how broken I am, he will restore my soul. In the midst of pain, it can be a struggle to even begin to think about restoration, especially when our wounds involve others, too, and not just ourselves. When we are hurting, it is hard to believe that healing can take place, even though that is what we ask for. Yet we cannot allow disbelief to take control. We need to trust our God who does not tire of mending the broken pieces of our hearts that we may become more like Christ in his humility. “In trial and weakness and trouble, he seeks to bring us low, until we so learn that his grace is all, as to take pleasure in the very thing that brings us and keeps us low. His strength made perfect in our weakness, his presence filling and satisfying our emptiness, becomes a secret of a humility that need never fail.” Andrew Murray

James 1:12 “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God promised to those who love him.”  

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Taal lake and Taal volcano, Philippines

Sitting still and being steadfast means we don’t put discipleship on hold while we are grieving. Our trials should intensify our training. We need more than ever to pray, to serve, dwell in his word and embrace his people. I also heard a preacher say that if our trials stem from having been wronged by others, we should all the more pursue the holiness that we long for in them. God’s work must continue through our pain and sorrow. The enemy will try to paralyze us but Jesus is at the helm and he will make us fishers of men (Mark 1:17) regardless of our circumstances.

Corrie Ten Boom once said, “When the train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”

There is no need to fear. Our Father sees it all.

Faith beyond the bend…

I just got back from a fabulous vacation. While I was away, I had been meaning to blog about welcoming the new year with faith and trust but each time I tried, I would feel overwhelmed. I know this year won’t be easy. Without going into details, there are new health issues that confront our family as well as church and ministry changes that have become evident in the recent weeks. I have more questions than answers, and the uncertainty is not comfortable at all. BUT more importantly, (and the reason I’m finally blogging now) is that God has once more pointed the eyes of my heart to His Son Jesus Christ, our Living Hope, and 1 Peter chapter 1 has once again spoken loud and clear.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  According to his mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living  hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now, for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:3-6

I know I will keep coming back to this passage and I will preach it to myself many more times. I need to plant my feet in his mercy, to fix my gaze on the inheritance that is mine in Christ, and to believe that God’s own power is guarding me. The bottom line is that Christ is my Hope and in him I rejoice. There will be grief but he has given me faith, more precious than gold, for his praise, glory and honor. This is what I need and what I pray for – faith that pleases him.

Loboc River, Bohol, Philippines

In his book, A Fiery Faith, A.W. Tozer emphasized that faith is a journey, not a destination. While on a lunch cruise in Southern Philippines, I noticed the meandering nature of the river and how it was simply impossible to see beyond the bend. It brought an element of surprise in that once we’ve passed a river bend and have admired the scenery in front of us, the river then curved to the opposite direction, which meant another bend that would open up another view. Some portions were more interesting than others but you always wanted to be ready with your camera because you just never know what you would see past the next bend and you wouldn’t want to miss it.

Our faith journey can take on a similar course. We don’t know what lies beyond the bend but we trust our Lord, the captain of our ship, to take us through. When he does, our lives, though difficult, will be full of truth and grace. In the end, what lies beyond the bend does not matter as much as the Vessel that is carrying us. He who created the river knows exactly where to take us to make us more like Christ, for his glory and our good. 

I’m a planner and my human nature would very much love to plan in detail what this year would look like. But I know I can’t see beyond the bend and my heart is at peace with that. I’d rather have Christ, the Author and Perfecter of my faith take the lead every step of the way, to transform me and work his will in me and through me, until he takes me home.

Sunrise, Panglao Island, Philippines

“All of life is a lab for my discipleship. All discipleship involves truth and grace. When faced with difficult situations, I need not ask why. Instead I ask what does God want to do in me/through me in this situation.” Pastor Mark Spansel (from the teaching series on How People Change)

Advent, waiting, and sunlight on a frozen pond

“Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.” (Charles Wesley, 1744))

Advent has gained momentum. From scripture readings to church music, to the lighting of the wreath – there is no doubt that we are now in this blessed season of anticipation. Even the weather tells me it’s that time of the year (brrr). How we got here, I have no clue. The year seems to have gone by faster than I could imagine. 

Our tabletop nativity scene

Although Advent seems to some a mere prelude to Christmas,  it is in itself a grace-filled season of longing for the Savior. We remember in awe that greatest mystery of all when God became man and was born in Bethlehem. Christ “emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:7) But while we celebrate his coming as a baby, we who have placed our hope in Christ also bear in our hearts an even deeper longing for his second coming, when he shall return as the triumphant King.

In the account of Christ’s ascension into heaven in Acts 1, we read the following – And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes and said ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.'” (verses 10-11) Advent reminds us that we live in what many Christians have called “the already but not yet.”  We live in the knowledge that we are sinners who have already been redeemed by his death and resurrection, yet we are still waiting for the day when our Lord Jesus Christ takes us into glory and sin will be no more. “But our citizenship is in heaven and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Philippians 3:20  For us who are in Christ, the best is yet to come indeed. This is the hope that explains why the apostle Paul considered shipwrecks, illness, hunger, persecution  “a light momentary affliction that is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17)”. I love Paul because from the moment he met Jesus, he just never took his eyes (and the eyes of his heart) off him. He knew that nothing could be sweeter than to enjoy the full glorious presence of Christ forever. In his final days, he wrote to Timothy “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:6-8  In a dark and damp Roman prison cell, the glory of heaven was so close, Paul could almost taste it! 

I believe that Advent gives us an opportunity to know this kind of longing for Christ and find strength in the hope that one day our Bridegroom, the King of Kings, will come in glory beyond description, to usher us, his bride, into his kingdom where we shall dwell with him forevermore. No poet, author, artist, can capture the beauty that our eyes will one day behold when Christ comes again. And so we wait. And we wait in confidence because he is faithful and true. 

 “Be patient, therefore brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also be patient. Establish your hearts for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” James 5:7-8

James tells us that to live in the “already but not yet” requires patience. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and an expression of love (1 Corinthians13:4). God’s word instructs us on patience and his creation illustrates it.

Where I live, the season of Advent falls around the time when temperatures drop, snow begins to cover the ground, and ponds and lakes turn into ice. While taking a walk on a chilly Sunday afternoon in our local arboretum, I happened to stare at one of the frozen ponds, and  I thought to myself how depressingly dreary it looked. I thought I liked it so much better in the summer with ducks floating and foliage growing. However, in a matter of minutes, the clouds  gave way to the afternoon rays of the sun, and I saw how the still and seemingly lifeless pond  reflected the sunlight so beautifully. Snow crystals, like multifaceted diamonds, provide multiple surfaces where light could bounce. (Brilliant!)

Could it be that our patient waiting, far from being useless, in fact enables us to reflect the light of Christ?  When our hearts learn to be still before our Savior and are bathed in his light, we become more like him and we reflect his image more clearly to a watching world. We so often desire to glorify him by our deeds. We forget that he is also glorified in our trustful waiting. Let us abide in him – our long expected Jesus, the joy of every longing heart.

 “And now little children, abide in him, so that when he appears, we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” 1 John 2:28

His daily mercies, our daily hope

Morning fog over Lake Como before sunrise

Psalm 74: 16a Yours is the day, yours also the night.

I’m fascinated by how God, from the very beginning, set up a rhythm in his creation, calling the light day, and the darkness night. (Gen 1:5).  “And there was evening, and there was morning”  is the God-ordained cycle in which we live. There is no need to even think whether night will be followed by day because God saw it fit for the earth to rotate on its axis the way it does. There is a sense of hope that comes with the breaking of a new day. The way the sun rises at dawn and  overcomes the darkness of night is such a metaphor of how the light of Christ shines and dispels the darkness in our own hearts and in the world. The bible also tells us that God’s mercies are new every morning.   

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion’, says my soul; therefore I will hope in him.”Lamentations 3:22-24

This is a popular scripture passage for many, even though the book of Lamentations itself is usually not a favorite. These verses were written amidst terrible circumstances during the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem. The entire Lamentations  (and the title is so appropriate) expresses pain, fear and sadness as the author describes the devastation around him. The writer was not simply whining. Everything he saw and experienced was absolutely horrible. Chapter 4 verse 10 says, “where once compassionate women have boiled their own children and they became their food.” (Yikes! And I thought I had a bad day?) The once proud city of Jerusalem lay in desolation not because of unexplained tragedy but because of the idolatrous and disobedient hearts of its people.  What is fascinating is that in the midst of it all, though plagued by the consequences of sin, the author declares his hope in  the steadfast love and faithfulness of God. 

Mid morning on Lake Como, Italy

Ultimately, it is only because of who God is and the grace he provides that we are able to rise up in the morning and face each day. All other reasons are as good as crumbling bricks and rubble.  Some of us may be in a fog right now engulfed by a huge amount of uncertainty. Some of us have been waiting so long for that sliver of light to finally break through the night. The truth is our Savior walks with us in the fog and the night is subject to his authority as well. On looking back at her life as a holocaust survivor, Corrie Ten Boom wrote,
“Today I know that such memories are the key not to the past, but to the future. I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work he will give us to do. ”

Until our Bridegroom takes us into glory, we will continue to experience the effects of our own sins and those of others. We will stumble while we love and serve. Even the joys of fellowship with brethren can be interrupted by periods of disappointment and dissent among equally devoted followers of Christ. BUT as long as the Lord is our portion, as long as He is enough for us, we have hope. “Weeping may tarry for the night but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5b

We have hope because it is Christ who holds all things together. He alone suffices. It is foolish to believe that we need more than or something other than him. Our hearts can rest secure for his mercies never come to an end. Our hearts can find courage because his mercies are new every morning. 

Afternoon on Lake Como, Italy

“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:23-26

In Awe of a Great God

La Tour Eiffel, Paris, France, photo taken from the Seine

Someone had said to me, “I don’t like the Eiffel Tower. It is too weird of a structure to be standing in the middle of a city.” Because I respect people’s tastes (and I don’t work for the French embassy), I didn’t disagree with him. Though later on, I asked him, “When did you visit Paris?” And he said, “Oh, I’ve never been there but I’ve seen enough of the Eiffel in pictures and movies.”  Although the most iconic structure in France does not appeal to everyone, I believe there was still a high probability that this person’s impression could change if he were standing on the banks of the Seine in the 7th arrondissment, staring at the real Tour Eiffel in the city of lights.  Pictures and movies cannot fully capture that experience for him or anyone. 

Psalm 33:8 says “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!”

We have a God who is awesome beyond description and it makes perfect sense to live in awe of him. To be awed is more than to be inspired. The word awe describes a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder.For us believers, it is our heart’s response to the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God that reveals to us who Jesus is. The early church lived this out. They were filled with awe at what God was doing in and among them. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.” Acts 2:42-43. 

Counterfeits do not inspire awe.

In the letter to the Hebrews, believers are encouraged to be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe.(Hebrews 12:28).  I do think there are times when we go about our days in great need of this God-directed awe. Having hearts that are prone to wander, we tend to look away from his light and limit our vision within ourselves and our own situations. Maybe we have been hurt by fellow believers, those we count on as image-bearers of Christ, and it has discouraged us from turning our eyes to the God who forgives and restores. I bet we have also chosen the ordinary over the extraordinary God, and in our complacency, have been too easily pleased by counterfeits and faulty images of him, not unlike the fellow I met who relied on pictures and movies to form his opinion of a monumental landmark. When we find ourselves lacking in awe of God, it is not because God has ceased to be awesome. It is because we have settled for weak surrogates of his greatness, poor substitutes of the true satisfaction that comes from him alone.

There is no way God’s greatness could ever decrease. It is our faith that must increase. 

In the end of the story of Job, after all the hardship he went through, he repented of his arrogance before God, and said “I  have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me which I did not know…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear but now my eye sees you.” Job 42:3,5    Out of his goodness and wisdom, God himself builds our faith and does whatever it takes for the eyes of our hearts to see him for who he really is.  When we stand in awe of him, when we make much of our Savior and Bridegroom, grace takes over and we are changed. Hearts that are filled with awe of him, cannot remain hard or prideful, because the worship of him who is much greater is a good antidote to  the worship of self. God may bring tears but only to wash off the scales that blind us, so that we can see that Jesus is our soul’s true joy, and we can delight in unwrapping the endless treasures of his kingdom even as we live in the here and now, Now, that is AWESOME!

“I came to see that I was wired for awe, that awe of something sits at the bottom of everything I say and do. But I wasn’t just wired for awe. I was wired for awe of God. No other awe satisfies the soul. No other awe can give my heart the peace, rest, and security that it seeks. I came to see that I needed to trace awe of God down to the most mundane of human decisions and activities.” Paul David Tripp

Pont Alexandre, Paris France

Recipients of Lavish Grace

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight.” Ephesians 1:7-8

Lavish – an adjective that means sumptuously rich, extravagant, or luxurious. When used as a verb, the word lavish means to bestow something in extravagant quantities. The apostle Paul says that through the blood of Christ, we are recipients of lavish grace. Not a little grace, or some grace; not even just enough grace, but over-the-top abundant grace. (Insert a round of applause and a loud hallelujah here). 

But how well do we understand this lavish grace that we have received? A year ago, I switched to a full time employment with an institution I used to work part time for and I received a new benefits package from the Human Resources office. I’m glad my husband went over the details before I scheduled my next dental visit because it would have been a pain to sort things out retroactively had I gone ahead to see a dentist who was outside of our insurance network. As an employee, I should have a better knowledge of the benefits my employer provides. As believers we could also lack knowledge or have the wrong knowledge about our God-given benefits package We sometimes think and behave as though our grace package promised no sickness, no job loss, no death in the family, no difficult relationship, no financial hardship, no church conflict, when in fact, God gives us lavish grace in sickness, sufficient grace in a job loss, unbelievable grace upon a death in the family, unexpected grace in a difficult relationship, enduring grace in financial hardship and miraculous grace in church conflicts.

In the gospel of John, we read “For from his fullness, we receive grace upon grace.” John 1:16. The apostle Peter also encouraged the believers that  “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” 2 Peter 1:3 It is clear that God is the source and giver of grace, and there is no need to wonder whether grace will be sufficient for our daily life. Not only that. This grace that he pours into us does not remain stagnant within us but overflows to others. We are his vessels not only for storage but for distribution. “And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times you may abound in every good work.” 2 Cor 9:8

public drinking fountain Dubrovnik
Small Onofrio’s fountain in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Recipients of lavish grace are conduits of lavish grace. How does this happen?

I came across this fountain in Dubrovnik on a summer trip. Thanks to Neapolitan architect Onofrio Giordano dela Cava, it is not only pretty to look at but is also a source of cool, clean, drinking water, and tourists are encouraged to fill their water bottles here for free. Indeed there are many places in Europe that benefited from aqueduct systems which facilitated the distribution of water from distant mountain springs, down to where people dwelt. As early as the 19th century BC, the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct was constructed in Rome to channel waters to Roman baths and fountains to serve its citizens.    The endpoint of this ancient

fountain of trevi
Fontaine de Trevi, Rome, Italy

aqueduct is the  Fontaine de Trevi –  definitely one of the grandest monuments in Europe and apparently one of the oldest water suppliers in Rome. (What an absolutely gorgeous water tank!)

What is worth noting about the blueprint of an aqueduct system and what makes it  an effective channel is that the distribution point is always lower than the water source. engineering an aqueduct

So should we be in relation to our God. Such is the position we need to root ourselves in at all times.  Humility allows for the unimpeded flow of grace and to be effective conduits of his lavish grace, we need to be humble.

“Here is the path to the higher life: down, lower down! Just as water always seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds men abased and empty, His glory and power flow in to exalt and to bless.” Andrew Murray

All glory and power belong to God.  He allows them to flow through us when we take the proper posture before him and before all men – down, lower down. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5 Whenever we find it hard to believe that there is much grace available to us, or when our circumstances overwhelm us and we think God, for some reason, is withholding the help that we need, could it be that God is in fact calling us to deeper humility?  In his bitterness toward the lavish grace that his father bestowed upon his prodigal younger brother, the older brother showed how pride and self-righteousness blind us from seeing God’s grace, even when we’re surrounded by it. (Luke 15:28-30) Author Jen Wilkin teaches on this: “But the moment we begin to ask out of a sense of entitlement, we contaminate grace. To demand it is to defile it. In doing so, we take on the role of the prodigal’s older brother, grown so accustomed to abundance that he believes it is his by right rather than by gift.” (from In His Image)

If we are in Christ, we have been lavished with grace. It is not just a drop here and there but an unstoppable cascade that is meant to overflow and give life to others.  Let us open our hearts wide and let us humble ourselves that God may be exalted.

“A cup brimful of sweetness cannot spill even one drop of bitter water no matter how suddenly jarred.” Amy Carmichael









For everything there is a season

“For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

It’s fall back day today. The day our clocks turn back an hour to adjust for the coming days when daylight gets shorter and the night gets longer. It’s also the time of the year when leaves that have changed colors fall to the ground. Everyone tries to enjoy and soak in the beauty of autumn’s peak foliage days when the trees are at their grandest. I personally have two reasons for frantically taking pictures of fall foliage. One, the trees are truly picture-worthy to the point that I feel like I’m living in a postcard. And two, I know the colors won’t last long. The fleeting nature of this beauty brings an urgency to enjoy it while it lasts.

fall little mountain

Life is full of changing seasons. Our Creator and Father designed our journey that way and he has the best and wisest reasons behind it; some of which we understand and some of which we don’t. Each period comes with its own joys and sorrows. Some seasons are truly harder than others, we can’t wait for them to end. But then there are those that bring us so much delight that we don’t want them to end, and we question why they must.

In the book The Afternoon of Life, Elyse Fitzpatrick explains: “Why has the Lord so arranged the universe, from smallest molecule to the full course of our lives, so that we’re constantly faced with change? Because he wants us to observe and to learn. To learn that we are finite, dependent, weak, in need of daily sustaining. And to learn that he’s unlike us.” Psalm 102: 25-26 “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish but you will remain.”

fall little mountain 3

I find it beautifully paradoxical that the God who never changes, filled our lives with change. That life is not stagnant but is in fact in constant motion brings an urgency to make the most of our days. This does not mean we focus on checking things off a bucket list or living the best life now. The brevity of life should prompt us to pray like the psalmist asking for wisdom. So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12. The physical changes that come with chronological aging, while feared by many, should not discourage the believer whose sole security is the unending faithfulness of God from generation to generation. Mary, the mother of Jesus proclaimed “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” Luke 1:50.
If we are in Christ, we can have the assurance that each season is an opportunity for God to lavish his grace upon us and knit our hearts to his, to make us more like Jesus and accomplish his will. The truth is, above and beyond the changes that are happening in our lives, there is an even greater work that God is doing for his greater glory. Our response is to love and delight in our God throughout the journey. His grace is sufficient to run the race that is set before us fall, winter, spring and summer. We can serve him regardless of the season. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

I know I cannot keep the leaves on the branches when God says it’s time for them to fall. Similarly, I can not hold back the buds when it’s time for the flowers to bloom again. It does not help to hold on to a season when he tells us to move on. Neither should we jump ahead before he leads us to the next one. Instead, we dance to his music for his rhythm is perfect. It’s never a beat ahead or behind. He does make all things beautiful in his time.

“If we hold tightly to anything given to us unwilling to allow it to be used as the Giver means it to be used we stunt the growth of the soul. What God gives us is not necessarily “ours” but only ours to offer back to him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of… Many deaths must go into reaching our maturity in Christ, many letting goes.” Elisabeth Elliot

fall red little mountain

Never without hope…

Psalm 33:18 – Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love.  

Conkle’s Hollow, Hocking Hills, Ohio

Cliffs and gorges are not my kind of thing at all, or so I thought. I’m not sure why but I’ve always associated nature hikes with physical injury. Climb a mountain? No thanks. I prefer going up the Spanish steps. Follow a trail? Only if it leads to Champs Elysees. Hence this past weekend was different from all other weekends because I went with my dear husband on a nature hike! Willingly! And absolutely loved it!

Following a trail through a gorge was particularly interesting. It was my first time to appreciate walking within a narrow valley or cleft between two hills, with steep rocky cliffs  on both sides.  Topographically, a gorge is a low point that can make one feel trapped.

I can’t help but think that in our hearts’ journeys, we do encounter something very similar.  In fact, more than a few of us may be navigating through emotional ravines of discouragement and are praying with the psalmist “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2  Believers are not exempt from periods of emotional turmoil. I’ve known this for a long time but I learned it again within a couple of months of serving as director of women’s ministry at our church. The difference is that we who are in Christ, are never without hope.

The apostle Peter said it well. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,”  1 Peter 1:3  The empty tomb is our greatest reminder of the hope that is now ours in Christ; a hope that is permanent and can never be taken from us; a gift from our merciful God.  It is a hope that provides assurance not just today but for eternity. Peter continues to encourage us further “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13  I love how he describes the mind as a place of action. We know this is true in that our minds are indeed the battlegrounds where truth and lie confront each other. Even here, and especially here, we are to set our hope fully on the grace promised to us in Christ – our King who will one day return and permanently crush the father of lies.

Our walk with Jesus is not confined to grounds that are level. Our shepherd brings us to places high and low through paths that are easy and trails that are hard.  As my husband was leading me through the gorge during our hike, I was stunned by the majesty of God’s artistry that surrounded me, all of which I would have missed had I remained above at the level of the parking lot.  Down in the gorge is where one finds the stream. It becomes one’s companion on this trail.

Upper Falls, Hocking Hills, Ohio

Hearing the sound of the water reminded me of Psalm 42:1 “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you O God.”  A place that makes me yearn for my God, is always a good place. Down in the gorge is  also where the enormity and grandeur of the mountains is most evident as it is the only vantage point that allows a full view of the patterns and formations of rocks that make up the cliffs.  It made me think of the countless times the Lord revealed my nothingness so that I can marvel at his greatness; and oh, those moments are always precious. This gorge is also studded with caves – like hiding places  which spoke to me of his protection  as in Psalm 27  “For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble, he will conceal me under the cover of his tent…”  God showed me that there is beauty in the gorge just as there is hope in the lowest and deepest points of our journey….because he is there and he is enough.

Old Man’s Cave, Hocking Hills, Ohio

Corrie Ten Boom who suffered in a Nazi concentration camp said “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”  As long as the Shepherd is with us, we don’t go praying for a different trail, which is often what we do. We desire better circumstances, easier routes, more favorable conditions. But all that is like staying at the parking lot and pitifully missing the purpose of the trip. Let us not prefer the comfort that prevents us from knowing the depths of his love. Christ went to the cross for us. Let us now go wherever he takes us.

“Give me the Love that leads the way
The Faith that nothing can dismay
The Hope no disappointments tire
The Passion that’ll burn like fire
Let me not sink to be a clod
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God” 
― Amy Carmichael

Romans 5:5 “..and hope does not put us to shame, because God‘s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”











’tis my God that leadeth me…

For you are my rock and my fortress and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me.” Psalm 31:3

road to the castle (3)
Tree-lined road leading to Vaux le Vicomte castle in Maincy, France

GPS has changed the way people travel. It has its flaws and risks but it has tremendously helped me find my way on the road, en route to new or unfamiliar places. I simply plug in the address of my destination and Google maps tells me how to get there. This navigation is made possible through signals transmitted by a network of satellites providing location information that spans way beyond the 20 feet ahead that I can clearly see with my own eyes.  Guidance from a system that sees the bigger picture keeps me going on the right path.

The Bible makes it clear that our God is a loving God who is committed to leading his people. Nehemiah recounts how God faithfully led the Israelites –  “You in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go.” Nehemiah 9:19  Like a good father, God does not abandon his people. He does not call a people to himself only to leave them to figure it all out on their own.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me.” John 10:27  What a powerful promise to us who are in Christ.  He who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) gave himself up as a sacrifice for us that we may become part of his flock – the sheep that hear his voice. We now have a Good Shepherd who knows us more than we know ourselves. Jesus, our Shepherd who is also the Word of God, writes his law in our hearts and renews our minds such that we see him as our ultimate joy,  obedience becomes our delight and the follow me happens.  Jesus, the Word of God, is our pillar of light that dispels the darkness within us, speaks to our discernment, and directs our steps. No wonder the psalmist exclaimed “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105  God takes no pleasure in seeing us fumble and stumble (though he sometimes allows it to teach us a lesson). It grieves him to see us wandering aimlessly like sheep without a shepherd. In Isaiah, God also declared that he will be a Teacher who will be there for the tough times.  Isaiah 30:20-21 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left

Considering the power of his word and the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, it is absolute foolishness on our part when we simply ignore his guidance; when we put on our earplugs of pride. Praise God for those moments when despite our deafness and callousness, our Father chooses to reach out with his own hand and  hold us with a firm yet loving grip that causes our hearts to soften and yield, such that we can keep on following him who always leads us for his glory and our good.

But thanks be to Godwho in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 2 Cor 2:14

He leadeth me: O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be,
still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

He leadeth me, he leadeth me;
by his own hand he leadeth me:
his faithful follower I would be,
for by his hand he leadeth me.

Sometimes mid scenes of deepest gloom,
sometimes where Eden’s flowers bloom,
by waters calm, o’er troubled sea,
still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

(from He Leadeth Me – hymn by Joseph H. Gilmore and William Bradbury, 1880)



Chosen before the foundation of the world

Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. Ephesians 1:4     

Taken at sunrise, onboard a train going up to Montserrat Spain

Really, Paul? Weren’t you just being poetic here? How could God have chosen me before the foundation of the world? I thought the first thing was “Let there be light” (Gen 1:3).

As head of a medical service one of my tasks is the hiring  of personnel.  I believe I have quite mastered the science and art of reviewing resumes and piling them into 2 categories. If I’m not interested, it goes to the “I wish you all the best in your future endeavors” shredder. If the resume looks great, it goes to the “invite this person for an interview” stack. The interviews would narrow it down to the best candidate who is then offered the position.

As far as I know, none of us submitted our resume to God and none of us were interviewed. To be chosen by him was and is totally independent of anything we could ever have done.  Chosen. This past participle form of the verb “choose” always involves a decision or action of someone outside of us. When we are chosen, someone else did the choosing. When God chose us before the foundation of the world, he was acting out of his infinite goodness and love.  It was dependent on his character and not based on our worth. 

A closer though still imperfect analogy would be the process of adoption. The infant being adopted has no clue about what’s happening. The baby doesn’t pay  lawyer fees, airfare/relocation expenses. The baby doesn’t have to prepare for the court hearings and other legal processes. The burden lies entirely on the adoptive parents. Once all is said and done, the baby simply gains  a new set of parents, a family, a home, a future.

If Paul’s words don’t convince us, then let’s see what Jesus had to say. In John 6:44, Jesus said “No one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws him…” And during his last moments with his disciples, he said “You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” (John 15:16). 

How does this help shape our identity? First, it establishes that our worth and our value is based on the fact that he chose us. We can lose our jobs, suffer illness, undergo bereavement, experience losses of all sorts, but none of these can rob us of the assurance of who we are in our Father’s eyes. Similarly we can succeed in our various roles, know prosperity, enjoy health and other good things, but none of these can even attempt to compare to the overwhelmingly glorious truth of God choosing us.

Secondly, it establishes our purpose – to be holy and blameless before him. And since only Christ walked this earth holy and blameless, this means we are to become image bearers of him, just as the branch is made of the same wood as the Vine. After all, the ability to bear lasting fruit only happens when we (the branches) remain in the Vine (Christ). Apart from him, we can do nothing.

Andrew Murray, who pastored churches in South Africa in the late 1800s  wrote “The deeper I enter into this purpose of His electing love, the more I will realize what the link is between the purpose from eternity, and the fruit to eternity: the abiding in Him. The purpose is His, He will carry it out”  (from The True Vine: a devotional).

Father thank you for choosing me before the foundation of the world. This is what your word says and your word is true.  I did not earn it. I do not deserve it. I will never be worthy of being chosen by you. Thank you that it was all by grace, sealed through the finished work of Christ on the Cross. Let me not seek any other identity except that which you have designed for me, and may you be glorified now and forever in the fruit that I bear as I yield and abide in absolute surrender. In Jesus’ name, Amen.