preparation, Spiritual Growth

Strength for the Journey

“Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.” Isaiah 41:10

Hard work pays off. No one knows that better than those in the pursuit of success, especially high school and college graduates.

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An illustration of how God empowers us: My husband and me on a cruise to Bimini in 2013.

Lately, I have been noticing a lot of sentimental posts and pictures from recent grads on social media. I know that feeling of utter relief and satisfaction. Even though I haven’t been in school for quite some time, I still remember all those hours I spent reading, researching, writing, and discovering formulas for algebraic expressions like it was yesterday.

I thought those days would never end. There were times when I was tempted to quit…and there were times when I did, mentally. In a world where some things are dictated by time—like a four-year degree—it’s hard to escape the pressures of completing each semester with a passing grade. No one wants to arrive late to success and the real world, but in most cases, some people get left behind because they failed a few courses.

That can be discouraging, and this is also something I know full well. I didn’t graduate college with my class. It took me an additional three years to finish because of lack of preparation, concentration, and motivation. I almost gave up because I could not deal with the challenges (math was not my strong suit).

One Sunday morning, I attended church service and heard a guest pastor say, “Just because it’s difficult does not mean it’s impossible.” As simple as that sounded, I thought his declaration was profound. I repeated those words in my head in the latter years of my collegiate journey until it was time for me to cross the stage and receive my degree. I was empowered by them because they confirmed two biblical truths for me: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” and “Nothing is impossible with God” (Philippians 4:13, Luke 1:37).

The former verse was a direct quote from Paul, the apostle who was thanking the Philippians for their generosity. He was also sharing with them how he had been able to survive the worst and best parts of his journey because he knew he would be rewarded for his labor when it was all said and done.

The angel who had just told Mary that her cousin had conceived a son in her old age spoke the latter verse. Mary was still grappling with the idea that she would conceive a son through the Holy Spirit. The angel shared Elizabeth’s pregnancy to assure Mary that God would keep His promise.

Considering that we’re all on a journey, we all need divine encouragement to get us through the hard lessons of faith. Paul did not have a church to fund his missionary trips or a private jet to get him to different parts of the world. He relied on God to meet his physical and spiritual needs. Elizabeth did not have access to expensive fertility treatments to get pregnant right away, but her faith carried her through the ache and the wait.

Therefore, not everything that we desire in this life will come easy. In fact, some of our goals may end up unfulfilled. We need the power of God to endure the grueling process of maturity, but it takes discipline to commit to our spiritual progress or any endeavor in life for that matter.

Just as we graduate when we’ve worked hard and passed all the lessons entailed in our field of study, Scripture states that God will “establish” us after we have “suffered a little while” (or after we have passed life’s tests). As challenging as that sounds, it is refreshing to know that the God who is fully aware of our shortcomings, empowers us to overcome any obstacle.

Whatever challenges you are faced with today as you try to achieve your goals, I pray God gives you strength…and that you readily accept it.

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Spiritual Growth

Going the Distance (and Height)

img1491187210827“You have to go through those mountains and valleys–because that’s what life is: soul growth.” – Wayne Newton

Exactly two weeks ago today, my husband and I drove up the famous Mount Wilson peak in the San Gabriel mountains. We were in California for a few days and my husband was looking for an adventure that he could live to talk about later. I just wanted to get close to the famous landmark that is the Hollywood sign. It didn’t occur to me that I would need to travel 6,000 feet off the ground to accomplish my goal.

As we began to ascend on the rocky, narrow winding path leading to the Mount Wilson Observatory, I looked out my window and down. I instinctively held on to the sides of my seat and pleaded with my husband to turn the car around. “Let’s go back. I don’t want to go up there!” I yelled. He told me to calm down. The nerve of him! Did I mention that I am afraid of heights…and my husband’s driving? He had his foot on the accelerator like one of those speed racers in Fast and the Furious (ok, maybe I am exaggerating a little bit, but you get my drift).

My heart was racing and my breathing was short. I couldn’t take it, but my husband kept going…and thank God he did. When we had finally reached the point of no return, which was an expansive parking lot filled with cars, I stopped panicking. I rushed out the car as if it was some sort of gas chamber and was surprised to notice that the air seemed much cooler and fresher up the mountains than it did on the ground.

Unfortunately, we were still a little too far from the sign (it was east from where we were), but I was over it once I caught the view of the city and the other mountains. It was beautiful! Not to mention the lavender sky with the splashes of orange right above the horizon and the gleaming Pacific Ocean. The sun was setting and it was casting a nice glow over the peak from which we stood.

I felt calm. It was as if the beauty of my surroundings had me in a trance, making me forget all of my fears and worries.

My experience made me think of Lot, Abraham’s stubborn nephew who refused to go up the mountains when the angels of the Lord instructed him to do so. It is likely that the angels pointed in the direction of the mountains in the west where Abraham was. But Lot chose to settle in the little town of Zoar. His reasoning? “I will die up the mountains!” he told the angels. He was afraid, which kept him from obeying God.

For years, Lot had been sinning against God. He left his greed unchecked and that caused him to take the “best land” for himself. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having property and wealth unless they keep you from walking in God’s will. Abraham walked in God’s will, which is why he did not end up in Lot’s predicament in Sodom. The path that Lot chose led him to greed, sexual immorality, drunkenness and eventually incest (although his daughter’s initiated that sin).

The angels were trying to get him back on the right track, but his pride would not let him comply. Having everything to having nothing only to have to depend on his uncle, Abraham…that was the ultimate humble pie. Lot did not want any servings of that. No, thank you. “Let me settle in Zoar,” he said. When he was finally ready to go up the mountain, it appears that he went east of Zoar to the region of Moab, opposite from where Abraham was and where the angels sent him in the beginning.

In retrospect, Lot missed out on an opportunity to experience God’s unfailing love, including a divine transformation. Ultimately, his unwillingness to confess his sins, repent and obey God led to his demise as well as his family’s. God was gracious enough to spare his life, but there was no way God was going to beg Lot to go higher and dwell in His mountain. That was Lot’s choice to make, just like it is ours. Unlike Lot, we have to be willing to go higher in order to grow. Salvation is simply not enough to transform us.

I can’t say for sure that God led me to the mountain away from the Hollywood sign (which has come to symbolize fame, wealth, and status), but I know for certain that nothing is ever wasted with Him. Going up that mountain afraid and seeing God’s creations from atop caused me to be in awe of Him, which I probably would have missed if I was busy taking selfies next to a man-made sign.

It also taught me that no matter how scary the journey of life gets, God always has my best interest at heart. His purpose is always to take me (and you) to new heights in Him…for His glory!

preparation, Spiritual Growth

The Appointed Time

 A few years ago, my husband and I, including our cousins, missed our flight to the Dominican Republic. We pleaded with the airline to let us check in since our plane had not yet arrived, but they would not budge. I was appalled by their lack of grace. The nerve of them!

Okay, okay, the nerve of us. We knew the rules—arrive two hours before departure, no refunds for a missed flight unless you have insurance (does anyone really pay extra for that?), bags should be checked online to save time at the airport, etc. We broke all of those rules.

Needless to say, our designated chauffeur was my sister whose car had been giving her trouble all week! We should’ve just called a cab, which we ended up doing anyway because my sister’s car stopped on the road. We wasted half an hour pushing the cursed vehicle to the nearest gas station, ten minutes calling other family members and friends to pick us up, and another ten minutes waiting for a taxi because those family members and friends did not pick up their phone. We ended up spending more money (for cab fare and new plane tickets) than we wanted to all because we failed to prepare and manage our time effectively.

When the disciples asked Jesus about the signs of the last days and His return, He revealed to them that there would be wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution of Christians and other tragedies. He also told them that His return would be unexpected. He said, “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away” (Matthew 27:37-39, New Living Translation).

In true Jesus fashion, He backed up His response with a parable so that the disciples would not miss the spiritual lesson in His teachings. He told them a story about ten bridesmaids who had an important meeting with the bridegroom. When the bridegroom took too long to show up, the bridesmaids fell asleep. They were awakened by a loud announcement, “The bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet him!” All the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. Five of them, who are labeled as foolish in the Bible, asked the other five for some oil. “Our lamps are going out,” they said. It’s important to note that these lamps were like torches. The others replied, “We don’t have enough. Go buy some for yourselves.” So the five foolish bridesmaids went out to buy some. But while they were away, the bridegroom showed up. The wise bridesmaids were ushered into a marriage feast and the door was locked behind them. When the other bridesmaids got back, they stood outside asking to be let in. They cried, “Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!” But He replied, “I do not know you!”

It may sound like the bridegroom was being harsh, but He gave them more than enough time to prepare for this meeting. It would have been unfair for Him to accommodate the latecomers since the others did what was required of them.

The five bridesmaids who were considered wise demonstrated their belief in Christ by keeping their lamps burning in a dark environment. The oil in their lamps represented their salvation. The five bridesmaids who were considered foolish had knowledge of Christ and His imminent return, but they did not have a relationship with Him, hence their lack of oil.

Jesus shared this parable with the disciples to teach believers like us the benefits of making the most of the time while we still have it. One way to do that is to let our light shine (or keep our lamps burning) for those who are still in the dark. Jesus was also stressing the importance of preparation. We may be able to make up for missed opportunities, such as an important flight, but we cannot redeem the time we’ve wasted on trivial things on the day of His return.

“Get ready; be prepared!” Ezekiel 38:7 (NLT)

Spiritual Growth

A Divine Potential

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I admire people who can make something out of seemingly nothing or, who find value in another person’s trash. Sadly, I am not one of those individuals. You may never find me making crafts or shopping for used items at some yard sale. Call me spoiled or uneconomical, but I take pleasure in purchasing quality items and paying the full price (unless there’s a sale).

However, lately, I have noticed a lot of DIY projects on Pintrest and Instagram that has got me feeling like I missed out on one of God’s greatest giveaways – an abundance of creativity. Apparently, my friends have a lot of it to spare.

One gal pal in particular found four old, broken chairs behind a restaurant. She loaded them up in her car and took them home since she was in need of a dining set. She took the seats apart, sowed new fabric onto them, sanded the wooden frames and painted them gold. After attaching the seats back to the bodies, she had brand-new fancy looking chairs to call her own. What I would have considered a lost cause, she deemed priceless, figuratively and literally.

It dawned on me that when she discovered the chairs, she didn’t just see a big mess; she saw potential just as God did when He created the world.

Contrary to the Big Bang Theory, the book of Genesis makes it clear that God created everything and everyone. It states, “In the beginning, when God created the universe, the earth was formless and desolate” (Genesis 1:1-2).

After God made the skies, land, plants and animals, He decided to create humans. God took dirty, loose soil and made a man. Then he took a bone from man’s rib cage and created the woman (read Genesis 2:7, 21). God was pleased when He looked down at everything He had made. He saw potential in a dark space and created perfection.

Even though much of God’s creation today has been marred by sin, He doesn’t obsess about the broken fragments of our lives. He’s God and He’s pretty creative. According to the author of the Book of Hebrews, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14).

Simply put, we are no longer a lost cause because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. And because we are not a lost cause, we shouldn’t interpret difficulties as a sign to quit. In knowing this, we should look at the circumstances in our lives and see them the way God sees them – with potential.

When the Israelites were released from captivity in Babylon by the Persian king, Cyrus, not many of them returned to Jerusalem. The small group who did, found the city in ruins. Under God’s command, Cyrus was committed to restoring the region to its glory days by rebuilding the Temple. The people participated in this project using materials that Cyrus provided them with. Although the task was daunting at times, the people persevered and completed the Temple (read the Book of Ezra).

The damage done in Jerusalem represents the obstacles that we all face in life. It is interesting to note that God did not get entirely involved with the rebuilding project by performing miraculous deeds as in former crises. He let the people do it themselves which is a clear indication that God does not give us success on a silver platter.

Much like rebuilding a city or taking on DIY projects, getting over a divorce, dealing with health issues or overcoming a financial calamity takes a lot of faith, patience and hard work – all of which are developed through the sight of potential.

It’s hard to see the beauty in difficulties, but they are in fact gifts from God. Through them, we are able to grow and propel to greater heights of perfection which can only be found in Christ.