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

remodeling

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.

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Uncommitted to Commitment

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:2-3

My generation is the worst when it comes to commitment! Yes, I said it! And you know what? I am part of the problem too.

We are so relationship challenged and social media is not even to blame.

As a matter of fact, we are great at being social even if it kills us to be genuine while doing so. We do such a good job putting on an act behind our computer screens that pretending comes naturally to us when we see our “friends” face to face.

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But when it comes to maintaining meaningful relationships, we lack effective communication skills, compassion, forgiveness and patience to stay in them for the long haul. We are quick to dismiss those who rub us the wrong way, exclude those who do not measure up to our ideal human standards and end things between people we’ve known for years (since childhood even) over something minuscule.

And lets not get on the topic of marriage! Kim Kardashian is not the only one who holds a record for calling it quits after 72 days of wedded bliss (and disharmony). There are countless others in that age group who have lasted about that long if not less, and who, fortunately for them, do not have to deal with the attentive eyes of the public, media sensationalism and scrutiny.

I don’t know if the fault lies in Disney movies, but what I do know is that we have been conditioned and disillusioned into believing that perfect relationships exist. As a result, we can’t keep friends, spouses, children or parents around us for too long if they don’t march to the beat of our drums.

This zero-tolerance-for-flaws attitude that we have is even affecting the way we do church. I can’t tell you how many times I have literally watched from the back pew as the church fell apart…and away. At one church in particular, we downsized from a 300-member congregation to 50 faithful worshipers in a matter of two days. From what I learned from my mother (she was part of the latter group), the majority of the flock were unhappy because our pastor was not open to the idea of purchasing and remodeling a big abandoned warehouse across town. That’s all it took!

A few years ago, I watched (again) as some of my fellow peers from the young adult ministry jumped ship. I am not sure what their real reasons were, but I knew some of them were unhappy that our senior pastor had released the youth pastor, who was also the head honcho of our group. I remember feeling as if something was wrong with me because I still chose to attend the church. I tried to persuade my husband into leaving and prayed that God would show us to the door and point us to the perfect house of worship, but neither my better half nor my Savior would budge.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that whatever happened between the senior and youth pastors was not my battle. I was not in a committed relationship with them; I am devoted to God. And the church I attend is our divine meeting place until further notice.

I also learned that you can’t follow people toward a path that looks or feels right. People will lead you astray. Since I decided to follow Jesus, I have to trust His way, for better or worse, for narrow or narrower.

He has said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” (Matthew 7:13). 

Why leave the church over one person (or two)? Why send your spouse “to the left” because he failed to get one thing right? Why yell “no new friends” because your confidante disappointed you that one time? I get that we are human and capable of being hurt. But the people who hurt us are human too and fully capable of getting it wrong (just as we are).

Granted, there are instances when we have constantly forgiven those who have wronged us, but isn’t that what commitment to God is about?

Imagine if God was not committed to us or to His cause (which is to save each and every one of us from the pits of hell)? Imagine if He lacked effective communication skills (the Word), compassion, forgiveness or patience in our relationship with Him? Where would we be?

Oh I’ll tell you…we would have been dismissed, excluded and put to an end! Thank God, He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

We can’t allow the world to be our source of inspiration when it comes to commitment. They’ve got it all wrong anyway! They’ll tell you “to love things and use people instead of use things and love people.”

God created people so that healthy relationships would be formed in love and unity would permeate the earth through peace. It was His way of demonstrating what He desires with us — intimacy and oneness. But we can not accomplish neither of those without commitment. In the final analysis, anyone worth having is worth fighting for. If I am worth it to God, then you are worth it to me. If you are worth it God, then I should be worth it to you.

Because God sees us in completion, He fights for us and is committed to helping us realize our full potential.

And if we say we are committed to God, then we owe it to Him to accept our pastors, flaws and all; to accept our parents, flaws and all; to accept our spouses, flaws and all; to accept our friends, flaws and all; most importantly, to accept ourselves flaws and all. We owe it to God to maintain our relationships (unless He tells us to cut ties with certain people).

Let’s stop nitpicking at the fragments of people’s identities, and start loving them in the wholeness of Christ. Let’s be committed for Christ’s sake.

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The Promises of Spring

I love the spring season. It seems full of promises and new opportunities, especially after enduring a long, dreary winter.

I remember when I was getting married in the spring of 2008. I had a spring-themed wedding and stuck with colors like pink and green with yellow being the accent of our floral arrangements and decorations.

springtime

At the time, I had no idea that the number “8” symbolized new beginnings  or that “3” represented the oneness (God in three persons) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When I learned this (I got married on 3-8-8), my wedding date took on a deeper meaning for me. It became more than just marrying the man I fell in love with in front our family and friends in my pretty ivory dress.

My husband and I were entering a holy covenant together as one, before God, and about to embark on a new journey. We were boldly — you have got to be bold to make a vow to God — leaving an old life behind and braving the unknown, all the while trusting God would be with us. In retrospect, we were taking a page out of Noah’s book.

Noah knew what it was like to experience a new beginning. And while the other saints in the Bible could also relate, Noah’s story is unique in the fact that he and his family were the only people standing as an old era came to an end.

God was pleased with Noah’s faithfulness, but disappointed in the sinful men and women of that time. He decided he would wipe the human race from the earth with a flood, sparing Noah, his family and “two of all living creatures, male and female.”

God told Noah to build an ark and gave him specific instructions on how to build it. It had to be 450 ft. long, 75 ft. wide and 45 ft. high with three decks, many rooms and just one door in the side. It took Noah 120 years to complete.

When the time came for God’s plans to unfold, Noah, his family and the animals entered the ark. God shut them in. For 40 days and 40 nights, it rained and the ark floated on the surface of the water. Noah and his family had no concept of time (no clocks or calendars) and had not heard anything from God while they were in the ark.

Noah’s faith in the Lord was probably the only thing keeping him sane and hopeful. And though God did not speak to Noah, he was mindful of him. In the eighth chapter of Genesis, the text states, “God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded” (Genesis 8:1).

It took a year for the flood to end and for the land to be dry enough for Noah to leave the ark. To test the outdoor conditions, Noah sent out a dove to see if it would find dry land. It returned to the ark. Seven days later, Noah sent the dove out again. This time it flew back carrying an olive leaf. But Noah waited to hear from God, which was about a month later. God said to him, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you – the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground – so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it” (Genesis 8:16-17).

People often read the story of Noah and conclude that God messed up with creation the first time and needed to start over. However, that was not the case. Humans messed up (Adam, Eve and their descendants) and the wage for their sins was death.

The flood was a physical demonstration – and one of many – of God’s judgment toward mankind. In Noah’s case, the ark symbolized the salvation found in Christ. That is why scripture states, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10). It is important to note that the one door built on the ark represented Jesus being the only way to enter God’s rest (John 14:6).

Noah’s story is a prototype of our Christian walk and we would be remiss if we did not apply the lessons of his journey to our own. Noah’s relationship with God was the difference between his life and the life of the sinners during that era, and it set the course for Noah to experience a new beginning filled with God’s many blessings.

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Get Up and Do Something

“Rise up, this matter is in your hands.” Ezra 10:4

dosomethingIt’s easy to sit and watch life pass us by.

We can get so caught up in trying to acquire material wealth, in an effort to keep up with Hollywood, that we miss out on opportunities to discover our God-given purpose in life.

Our idea of dreaming big is limited when all we can think of is winning the lottery or purchasing a big home. The reality is that we will never be fulfilled unless our vision surpasses ourselves.

About a month ago, CNN shared a story about a 13-year-old in Georgia who set her sights on impacting her world in spite of her daily battles. McClain Hermes is legally blind and her doctors say she will not be able to see at all in the next two to five years.

But Hermes has not let the prognosis stop her from living her life by serving others.

In 2009, after her father showed her an article about a shoe recycling program, she decided to start collecting shoes. Instead of recycling them, she donated the shoes to people that needed them. Through that, Shoes for the Souls was born.

For the past five years, Hermes and her father, Matt Hermes, have collected and delivered 10,000 shoes for a homeless shelter. Hermes said, “If you have a dream and you think it’s unrealistic, just keep on doing it because you’ll get there.”

The premise of Jesus’ ministry in the Bible was servitude. During one of his teaching moments, Jesus told his disciples, “And whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44-45).

Paul adopted this attitude in his ministry. He was determined to be a servant for Christ by picking up where Jesus had left off. He traveled around the world preaching the Good News and healing the sick.

But Paul did not just go anywhere. He allowed the Holy Spirit to guide him to places where there was a strong need.

In one instance, Paul had a vision in the night. He saw a man in Macedonia urging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Matthew 16:10). He knew the vision was from God, leading him to a place where the people lacked hope. He and his disciples set sail from where they were and went to Macedonia to pray for the people.

He realized praying for people and preaching the gospel to them was as important as feeding and clothing them. That is why Jesus, when being tempted by the devil after his 40-day fast, said, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’“ (Matthew 4:4).

It’s not always easy to get up and travel with a missions group to an impoverished, third-world country, but you do not have to serve on a grand scale to please God. You can serve in your neighborhood, community or church.

You can even serve in your own family. When my cousin’s husband was given a few days to live, everyone in my family rallied to help her and him in whatever way we could. Whether it was praying for them, preparing a meal, cleaning the house or just lending an ear, we served as often as possible.

What we did lifted her spirits, even after he passed. Our serving demonstrated our love for them, and it allowed us to forget and lose ourselves.

I doubt any of us were fantasizing about becoming rich or worrying about our bills. We were just grateful for life. And in seeing how short it really is, we knew we could not afford wasting another minute of being consumed by things that don’t matter.

There is always a need somewhere – as Hermes has realized at such a young age – and you don’t have to be a genius to figure out what and where it is. It’s all a matter of having the compassion and readiness to act when the opportunity presents itself.

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Life began with the Word

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  John 1:1

word-of-godOne of my favorite past times is reading. Growing up, I enjoyed going to the library and checking out five-seven books a week. I always chose the thick paperbacks because I wanted my reading experience to last me a couple of weeks. I also hated to see a good story come to an end.

My favorite books to check out were from The Babysitters Club collections, including anything else by Ann M. Martin. I always got lost in the lives of the characters and pictured myself right alongside them. Reading made me feel so alive, so inspired and so creative.

Every time I finished a book, I would write a poem, a song or a short story in my journal. As I got older, I became even more fascinated with reading and writing. It was my way to escape my reality, express my true self and engage my colorful imagination. Interestingly enough, I never thought that writing would be a part of my career nor my purpose.

I started reading the Bible when I became serious about my relationship with God. I had been attending church since I was a baby. I knew about God, but nothing about Him and His love toward me. I knew He loved the world — so much so that He gave His Only Son to die for it — but I did not know that He knew me before I was in my mother’s womb and that He had great plans for my future.

Discovering this truth made all the difference. I had been wandering aimlessly, thinking the wrong thoughts, hanging out with the wrong people and doing the wrong things for a long time.

Sure, I had goals. Sure, I fantasized (indulged in daydreaming about something desired) about what I wanted my future to look like. Sure, I wanted a better life. But that’s where it stopped for me. I didn’t have the ambition to go after my dreams nor the faith that they could ever come to pass.

I accepted Christ as my personal Savior after high school. When I began to delight in the Word of God, I began to see my heart’s desires manifest. One of my dreams was to get married. My mother used to study me and my sister’s hands when we were kids. She told us the creases in our palms formed an “N.” She said that it meant “no marriage” and revealed to us that some girls had “M’s” in their palms. These girls were the ones that would someday become wives. She told us that we had inherited her curse. My father never married her even after she had us. They entered a cohabitation agreement when they began dating and never pursued a deeper level since. My mother longed for that sort of commitment. But truth be told, my father was abusive and he was a cheater. Even worse, he was not a believer like she was. They were completely, unequally yoked.

She planted a seed in me. It was a seed of failure and death, as far as relationships and finances were concerned. I watered that seed with confidence that what she said would be. I had no idea that I had subconsciously agreed to the terms of generational curses. Thank God for Jesus. When I gave my life to Him, I saw the light. I saw a way out of despair. I saw life after years of inhabiting a dead place.

I realized I had a purpose just as long as God was not dead in my life. Slowly, but surely He showed me…sometimes in dreams, sometimes through sermons, but most of the time, through the Word.

I rediscovered my passion for writing my senior year in high school. Initially, I had my mind set on becoming a doctor (pediatrician to be exact) at my parents’ request. But I knew, there was more to God’s plan for me than some worldly status quo.

Since I love movies–they are the manifestation of a written story– I decided to pursue a career in film. Things did not go as I planned. My parents could not afford to pay for my tuition, nevertheless take out a loan for me so that I could attend school at the International Fine Arts Academy in Miami. I ended up going to my local community college.

Soon after, I transfered  to another community college eight hours away from home. I was relieved at the opportunity to leave my parents’ home because their semi-marital issues began to take a toll on me. All I saw or heard was negativity. Seeing that convinced me more each day that their plight would soon become my own. Going away saved me from the noise and got me alone into a quiet place with God.

I prayed and read the Bible more when I went away. I focused better on my courses and passed them effortlessly without the added stress. I discovered what I wanted to do — become a journalist. I figured it would be the only way I could do something that I love which is writing. Also, I had developed an admiration for the evening news. Thanks to my dad, the majority of my childhood was spent catching up on local and world affairs instead of tuning in to my favorite cartoons.

When I finally graduated from college, I transferred to a university back home to pursue a Bachelor in Arts degree. I chose to live on campus to maintain some sanity. I eventually graduated in 2007 and let me say, I was excited and confident about my future. I could not wait to share news with people through writing or broadcasting (I figured a career in television would be equivalent to one in film). I did not get the job I wanted at my local television news stations, but I did land one with my local newspaper.

I started off as an editorial assistant which gave me the opportunity to publish stories about the school board. One day, my supervisor proposed an idea–for me to write about something I was more passionate about. That was easy. I love Jesus! We weren’t sure how the Editor-in-Chief would feel about a weekly religion (I like to call it my personal faith) column, but by the grace of God she obliged.

Let me just say, my column took a life on its own. Every week, I shared an experience combined with a biblical story and lesson in the paper. This generated a lot of buzz in the community. Everyone was writing me to tell me how much they enjoyed reading my articles. My supervisor and her boss said I was the only one among all the writers in the office that got so much feedback. Soon I was being invited to give lectures at retirement homes and women Bible studies.

It’s funny how God can take the foolishness of man to confuse the wisdom of man. I wanted to share news through writing and He had me doing just that. Only, it was the Good News instead of the horrid stories of debt, theft, murder and injustice!

I was grateful for the experience. The ability to encourage people and impact their lives with the Word brought so much joy to mines. It also confirmed that I was not destined for failure. God did not only prove this to me by connecting me with the man of my dreams and allowing us to get married, but He revealed it to me through all those years I spent in college and in my career.

I didn’t graduate from college in four years. It took me seven years to pass the courses (math classes) that I failed over and over, overcome health issues and a financial challenges to finally walk across that stage.

It took me a year and a half (after being jobless for two years) for me to get hired by my current employer. Every set back was literally a set up. I could not see it then, but I see God’s glory now. I am grateful to know that my mom was wrong about me and that God had me in the palm of His hands all along.

And you know what, I am not mad at my mother. She was a victim of her cultural upbringing and the dangerous environment she found herself in after she met my father. In spite of her religion, she was without hope. She didn’t have peace because she was surrounded by darkness and she lacked faith because all she saw was a dead end.

I am happy to say that she is in a prosperous place these days. My mother left my father after 27 years of being with him. She declared 2007 as the year of deliverance because my siblings and I were adults that time. She said she stayed with my father because she did not want us to be raised without structure.

As strict as my father was, I am actually thankful for the way he raised us. It was traumatizing sometimes, but God allowed it to work out for our good. We respect people as well as ourselves, we value hard work and most importantly, a good education. We didn’t have a choice growing up.

It was a great thing that my mother kept us near the cross, literally, in the midst of such turmoil. We were at church six days a week. Sometimes, we went to three different churches in one day because she kept us involved in children Bible programs that our home church could not offer. We increased in our knowledge of Christ, which set the foundation for our faith today.

All because of the Word, my life was given a chance to catch up with my destiny. All because God lives, I can finally face all of my tomorrows!