The love that compels us…

Montserrat (serrated mountain) Catalonia, Spain

Montserrat is a beautiful mountain range not far from Barcelona. The name stands for “serrated mountain” which is very descriptive of its physical form. During a Christmas vacation, my entire family (except for me) went on a hike to one of its peaks. While I was standing at the base where the train dropped us off to visit the monastery and museum, I briefly looked at the height of this enormous mountain in front of me, and quickly decided that a snack of chocolate y churros at the nearby cafe was more appealing. Unfortunately for me, I missed a once in a lifetime experience I could have shared with the people I love the most.

“This hill, though high, I covet to ascend; 
The difficulty will not me offend. 
For I perceive the way to life lies here. 
Come, pluck up, heart; let’s neither faint nor fear. 
Better, though difficult, the right way to go, 
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.” 
― John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

What motivates us to climb our mountains? What compels us to choose to do something even though it’s hard or risky? Some would take up a challenge to satisfy a sense of adventure. For others, it’s a response to the call of duty and even heroism. Many would take risks and sacrifice comfort when there are significant benefits to be gained in return.

The apostle Paul who undoubtedly took great risks to follow Jesus, gave us his reason when he wrote to the Corinthians: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

The love of Christ and gospel truth equipped Paul to endure everything from illness to imprisonment, from shipwrecks to snakebites; he was in danger with his own people and in danger with the Gentiles; he faced danger in the wilderness and danger at sea; he would go days without food and nights without sleep. We only need to read 2 Corinthians 11:16-33 to realize that there was absolutely no physical place of safety in his life and ministry. But that never stopped him. Why? It’s the love of Christ and gospel truth. He was willing to risk it all. “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Phil 1:20-21

In his book Risk is Right, John Piper wrote this about Paul’s sufferings: “Affliction raised his sword to cut off the head of Paul’s faith. But instead the hand of faith snatched the arm of affliction and forced it to cut off part of Paul’s worldliness. Affliction is made the servant of godliness and humility and love. Satan meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. The enemy became Paul’s slave and worked for him an even greater weight of glory than he would have ever had without the fight. In that way Paul— and every follower of Christ—is more than a conqueror.”

To this day, followers of Christ who suffer great persecution pray for faithful obedience, more than they pray for a change of circumstances. No, it’s not a sense of adventure or a sense of heroism that sustains the people of God. It is only the love of Christ and the grace he provides that can crush the idols of safety and security, and free us to live courageously for His glory. Some of us are being prompted by the Holy Spirit to take a step of faith in a certain direction and haven’t done so because we’re still counting the potential losses of doing so. We may have been procrastinating and sitting on the fence because choosing one way or the other would entail significant risks. I pray we may have faith that Christ has indeed freed us to no longer live for ourselves and that we may find strength in the truth that nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ who is worth our all.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation,or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35,38-39

Yes, Jesus is worth it all….

Matthew 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot

The One who holds us…

“And He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17

The patient population I serve is very prone to skin cancer, hence we have a once weekly clinic that is devoted purely to surgical removals of basal or squamous cell carcinomas and even thin melanomas. These procedures are pretty straightforward and only minimally invasive. The actual excision of the tumor itself is fairly quick. What requires more time and patience is the process of closing the surgical wound, which is often done in two layers. The superficial row of stitches, the one that the patient can see, closes just the very top layers of the skin and improves the cosmetic appearance of the final scar. Buried underneath, however, is the more critical set of sutures that bear the tension of the wound and hold the full thickness of the skin together, while healing takes place in the next several weeks. Each and every dermatology resident who has worked with me would have been indoctrinated about the importance of those deep sutures in repairing the surgical defect and preventing wound dehiscence (i.e. separation of the wound edges).

What is holding us…

Stonehenge Monument, England

Ancient ruins attract lots of visitors. For approximately 20 British pounds each, my husband and I (and a multitude of other tourists) were allowed a close-up view of the sarsens and bluestones that make up the Stonehenge monument just north of Salisbury, England. Mysterious and fascinating, this circular arrangement of megaliths, is one of Europe’s most remarkable pre-historic ruins. As my handy audio guide narrated in fine British accent all that had changed about this architectural structure since 3,000 BC, I marveled at everything that remained standing. There is something very impressive about the ability to withstand conditions of wear and tear through centuries.

In this imperfect world with imperfect people, things fall apart quite easily. And not just things. Faced with illnesses, relational conflicts, job losses and crises of all sorts, it is not hard to feel like we ourselves are falling apart. The hardships that we face in this life are real and I don’t think it is helpful to simply disregard the pain and hurt that follow when lives fall apart. Nonetheless we should not avoid asking ourselves the question – what exactly is holding us? Is it our goals, our human relationships, our health and the stability of our circumstances that we count on to keep us in one piece? While these are good and precious gifts from God, they can NEVER hold us together. Much like superficial stitches that improve the aesthetic outcome of skin surgery but are unable to prevent the wound from breaking apart, all of these things (and people) that we love and cherish are not meant to sustain us at the core of our being. They cannot bear the tension of sin. Only Christ can.

Christ alone holds us…

When the apostle Paul raved about the supremacy of Christ in Colossians chapter 1, he said “and in him all things hold together.”  So there it is. He who was there from the beginning and through whom all things were created (John 1:2-3 “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” ), he likewise holds all things together. Christ and only Christ keeps us from being crushed into pieces. As long as we are his, even in our lowest and most desperate moments, we can be assured that Christ is in fact holding all things within and around us, both visible and invisible, and that is all that matters.  

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” Isaiah 41:13 

Stonehenge: portions that have fallen apart

When things go awry, my reflex is to chase after the parts and pieces that are trying to break off from where I would prefer them to stay. If you’ve tried that, I’m sure you’ve also experienced what an exercise in futility that could be. Our Father, in his goodness, wants us to stop trying to pull ourselves together and start trusting him to do the mending. He never said it would be painless. He never said it would be quick. But the Greatest Healer is more than able to seal the gaping wounds of our human weaknesses, repair our brokenness, and restore our souls in him.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

“He restores my soul, he leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Psalm 23:3.

Hold it all together
Everybody needs you strong
But life hits you out of nowhere
And barely leaves you holding on
And when you’re tired of fighting
Chained by your control
There’s freedom in surrender
Lay it down and let it go
So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held, just be held

Songwriters: Mark Hall / Matthew West / Bernie Herms

Cleansed and whiter than snow…

“Behold you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness. Let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:6-10

Our snowy backyard

We are blanketed in snow these days. That’s just how it is at this time of the year. On a nice sunny day, it’s really beautiful even though it’s terribly cold. The psalmist prays to be made whiter than snow. As I look out my window, I find it hard to imagine what could be whiter than fresh snow. It looks so pure and clean as it covers everything on its path. Just like the grace of God that covers my iniquities, and apart from which, my heart stands no chance of becoming white as snow (more like volcanic ash!). And so I praise the God who has forgiven me.

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Psalm 32:1

Forgiven and justified…

The list is extremely long for things I am thankful for. But at the very top of that list is the fact that I have been forgiven and freed from the penalty of sin. There is no life, no joy to speak about, if one has not yet known salvation in Christ and what it’s like to be forgiven by a God who is both Merciful and Just. Everyday, I live, breathe and walk as a debtor whose enormous debt has been paid; with nothing of my own to boast about, but with everything to be thankful for. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 His pardon does not lead us to a position of pride but a posture of meekness and freedom that the world can not comprehend.

Forgiven and called to forgive…

As followers of Christ, repenting and seeking forgiveness for our sins, and graciously forgiving those who sin against us ought to mark our days as we are being sanctified. Our Lord Jesus himself taught his disciples to pray “forgive us our debt as we have also forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12) because of its importance in our personal walk with him, in our life within the body of believers and in our mission to the world that has yet to know him.

I’m sure I’m not the only Christian who is frustrated about particular sins or idols that keep coming back into our hearts. For some of us, it seems as if we have driven on the same road many times yet somehow we manage to still sink our tires in the same potholes. The good news is that genuine repentance always receives genuine pardon from him who is Faithful and Just. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9   We need not be discouraged. Our God continues to forgive.


Niagara Falls

“There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains,  And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains”  (William Cowper, 1731-1800)

As sinners who have been forgiven, we are to extend the same forgiveness to others when we are sinned against. Ephesians 4:32 says “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” The same fountain flowing from Immanuel’s veins pours out the grace to forgive, regardless of the nature of the offense or our relationship with the offender. For us created beings to withhold forgiveness from others after we ourselves have been forgiven by our Creator makes no sense at all. I have gone through times of not wanting to forgive (or at least delaying it). Those were not the wisest moments, much like refusing a good treatment for a terrible cancer. Unforgiveness only puts us in bondage. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15 

A heart surrendered to Christ is a heart that is unable to hold a grudge. It is a heart that overflows with gratitude that there is just no room for bitterness or resentment. Yes, it grieves over the same sins that grieve the heart of the Father, and it is zealous for righteousness, but it is also quick to run to the fountain from which God’s forgiveness flows, knowing it has no power on its own to forgive. Let us run to that fountain to be cleansed again and again and again, knowing that someday, sin will be no more, and we, the bride of Christ, will be made whiter than snow.

Our snowy street in Ohio

“Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him….Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness….And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on his. When he tells us to love our enemies, he gives along with the command, the love itself.” Corrie Ten Boom

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.”  

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is taal-lake.jpg
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