Illusion

Two years ago I was mildly attracted to Micah.

Scratch that. I wasn’t mildly attracted to him. I really liked him.

As it often happens with me, I had no chance with him. But no one ever says you can’t continue to admire someone, or cherish deep within your solitary heart a sweet and gentle dream of what could have been just because it’s hopeless.

My heart, I reasoned, was my own; and besides, I couldn’t get into more trouble than I already was: a secret one-sided love made even more painful when Micah decisively dropped out of my life. I figured time would take care of that business and everything would be alright.

How wrong I was.

The first time I saw Rafael my heart skipped a beat.

Rafael reminded me a lot of Micah—whom I had not seen in months now. His confidence (as I read it in his swagger), his looks, the way he attracted people, even his haircut reminded me of Micah. Not his eyes, though, because I had yet to catch in Rafael’s eyes the intelligent spark that I had seen in Micah’s expressive dark eyes. But who cared? Rafael had enough qualities of what I had been looking for.

But settling for a copy never works. Ever. There came a day that I saw Rafael for who he really was—and that was on the day that Micah came back into my life.

The contrast was so painful that the illusion was broken.

What had I been thinking!?

Make no mistake, Raf was still a nice guy who was fun to be around with, but… how could I have mistaken his recklessness for confidence? How did I ever come to think that his features resembled Micah’s? Not his looks or his haircut matched the real thing. Yes, Raf was a people person, but not in the way Micah was. Micah was a leader who knew that caring about people and gaining their trust was the best way to make friends. He inspired others; Raf rallied people but he did not inspire them. In fact, he never really managed to make meaningful friendships.

Whatever had been going on with me and Rafael ended soon after, because the truth was that Micah was The One. I was no longer dreaming of Micah in a romantic sense, but he remained The One. The One that raised the bar and challenged me to grow, The One I still admired and I hoped to one day be like (female version), and The One that to this day I measure every guy up against.

* * *

Now think about this:

The world is full of people, faces, flashing lights, and blaring sounds. If you happen to lose sight of what’s real then there’s much out there that will confuse you into accepting an illusion for reality, trying to pass as the real thing that can give you happiness and satisfy you. But nothing will give you the peace, joy, and happiness that Jesus can give. Look at Jesus. He is The One. In the light of his spotless character and holiness all illusions will disappear, and your eyes will be opened to see the enemy’s deceptions for the inadequate copies that they are. If you turn to him, you will see that all you want, all you need, and all that you long for is in him.

And me? I plan on looking you full in the face.
When I get up, I’ll see your full stature and live heaven on earth. (Psalm 17:15, MSG)

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Doormat

And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I will be loved (2 Corinthians 12:15)

When I began this blog I said that I wanted to share about what I learned as I looked to God. I wanted to share with others my spiritual journey. I was feeling very smug in Christ, I suppose. Please excuse me. I was on the Blessing stage.

Lately I’ve been examining myself and why I do what I do. I’ve been searching within my heart, and scrutinizing my motives. Is my service to others a duty? Is Jesus in the center of it all?

I think about how dejected I sometimes feel because I think that I’m not making much of a difference in people’s lives or making any significant positive changes in my life as a result of the service I do…but mostly (this is mortifying to admit but necessary to say), I feel like I keep making people a priority when those same people think of me as second choice, or replaceable.

Quite honestly, this struggle did not exist until I got a job and suddenly every precious minute counted. And my time finally began to be equated with money. Last week the struggle came to a head. Yes, I’ve reached the Broken stage….I think.

Last week I read a quote from Oswald Chambers from My Utmost for His Highest

The mainspring of [our] service is not love for men, but love for Jesus Christ. If we are devoted to the cause of humanity, we shall soon be crushed and broken-hearted, for we shall often meet with more ingratitude from men than we would from a dog; but if our motive is love of God, no ingratitude can hinder us from serving our fellow men.

That paragraph blew my mind. Chambers goes on to say that with the realization of how Jesus deals with us and how he has “saved us to the end of our meanness, our selfishness, and sin, nothing that we meet with from others can exhaust our determination to serve men for His sake”

He presents us with Paul’s case, Paul’s willingness to become a “doormat” for others for Jesus’s sake. He was met with abuse, ingratitude, calumny from the ones he gave the gospel to. He was persecuted, beaten, almost killed…and still he did what he did—he was a doormat for others to make use of—only because of his love of Jesus.

My soul-searching this week did not reveal to me that my motives are pure. On the contrary. I am selfish. I serve others, but in my heart of hearts I expect them to return the favor, or at least give credit when it’s due. That’s wrong.

I’m also a fake. Because there’s a few people whom I know who look to me for some spiritual guidance, and I cannot give them anything. Well. I DO, I listen to them and talk to them and they walk away feeling good or at least feeling better. But I think that is also wrong. How can I minister others? Was I not the one that recently complained to my mom Who will minister to ME? And Why doesn’t the person I care about, care about ME for once?

It’s a wonder I’m still compelled to continue writing in this blog. But like I said before, this blog details my spiritual walk with God, and this is where it has led me. Whoever said that transformation from the sinful human to the Holy nature was like a pleasant saunter?

No one said it.

Holiness to the Lord

For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:9)

We are to remember that God has the ownership of all, and that our pursuits are invested with a sacredness that they did not possess before we enlisted in the army of the Lord. Every action is to be a consecrated action, for it occupies God’s entrusted talent of time.

Holiness unto the Lord is inscribed on all our actions, because our whole being is brought under subjection to God.

–E. G. White (Manuscript 49, 1898)

My first job after graduating from university was at a law firm. It was an experience I’ll never forget, particularly because the nature of the work required that I grow up. I had to step outside of my comfort zone and do things that I had never done before. Serve unlawful detainers? Check. Serve subpoenas and deal with uncooperative receptionists and door men to get it done? Check. Receive all manner of people in the office and call all manner of agencies to get the information I needed (a real challenge for someone as introverted and timid as I was then)? Check.

The legal environment was something I had never experienced before. It’s a fast-paced and demanding line of work. You also encounter in each case so much drama, tragedies, suffering and loss that it seemed to me that one got used to it–nothing was shocking anymore. Maybe only stupid. Oh, they laughed a lot at the stupidity of some of the people who came to us. I think that is why it seemed that the people I worked with seemed to me to be rather cynical.

It was not just that. I’d been a “good” girl all the time, so the environment was rather a shock to me. People swore liberally in their conversations, and as to their–ahem–morals, they didn’t really let them get in the way of doing things that are better not shared here. It was odd to them when I did not laugh at a witty joke full of innuendo, too. In time, however, my boss refrained from saying some types of jokes in my presence because my ears were “virgin” (as he called it), and some coworkers apologized to me whenever the swearing got really bad.

Where did that come from? I wondered. I never preached to them, saying–what you are doing is bad. What you are saying should fill you with shame. Nope. I just did my job–and I did it well, too. And it wasn’t that I was so unapproachable or timid and was living in a silent and isolated little bubble of my own. Nope. After getting the hang of the job I was energetic and friendly with everybody in the office.

* * *

I think that if we are Christians, we must live up to our namesake. Not just in church, or during church activities. Not just among our Christian friends and brethren, but among the people we work and live with. We are instruments, and once committed to God, we are to do God’s work even as we do our everyday labor.

People are not reached by the bullhorn guy who is preaching fire and damnation. People are reached by the Christian friend or the Christian coworker. People like you, and people like me, who live up to their Savior’s name.

The Ruling Principle

What is the ruling principle of God’s Universe?

Love.

Love in action. Service.

From the smallest atom to the flaming sun, stars, and the angels in the heavenly court, the main principle of God’s creation is service. Nothing lives or exists for itself only. Everything has a purpose and a place. Think of plants–even the lowly wildflowers in the mountains have a function, if only to gladden the heart. We are the only ones that may choose to follow this principle or not, and often we don’t. We live for ourselves and ignore others. That is why we are wretched, drifting listelessly in search for purpose, seeking to be on the receiving end of things when we are made to be givers–just like anything else in creation.

Worse, humankind has invented a warped way of looking at the universe. It is based on a wholly selfish principle, in which the survival of each creature depends on it seizing the most advantage possible in order to come out better than others.

In this view, there is no further purpose to the things around us except as things to be consumed or used. This appies to the animals and plants, and how we look at each other too. God’s image imprinted in our fellow brothers and sisters is forgotten. There is no service in this warped view. There is no purpose.

If this were the true principle that defines/rules our world and universe, then we should all live in chaos. Worse. We could not even exist for one second on this earth. It would all implode.

No, the universe would be a black hole.

The Perfectionist Christian

The past week was busy. And on Saturday I had one of those moments….

About a week and a half ago, my sister and I got a last minute request to sing at church. For the first song we were requested to sing was an absolutely unknown (to us) song. McCloud’s “Lord I Would Follow Thee.” For the second song, they requested it be something beautiful; not only a duet, but to include my sister’s flute playing into it somehow.

Heh.

We worked hard, practiced late into the night, eschewed going out at nights with friends for the sake of practice. To do a good job, worthy of who we were singing it for.

Then. . .

Saturday morning comes. Our turn to sing. We stand up in front of hundreds of people and wait for the beautiful music track to play (A track I am rather proud of, as it is one of my finest efforts for a song that I didn’t compose). We wait for five seconds, ten, thirty. The people are stirring uncomfortably, there is an audible murmur of discontent. People are throwing dirty looks up at the balcony where the sound booth is at. Our job is to smile serenely without losing our confident stance as we direct our gaze to the guy at the sound system who is panicking and shrugging his shoulders at us….

Lizzy whispered to me to just start acapella. I refused, hoping that the technical issue would soon resolve itself. During sound check the song had played just fine! But Liz, knowing that this waiting is more uncomfortable for the audience than it is for us seasoned performers (not to brag, but we are pros), began when the wait got painfully protracted.

She began singing with her clear, lovely voice. I have to follow. We split into harmony. I do melody, she does upper harmony, the notes are angelical, the message is heavenly. Hey, it does not sound half bad! We will be able to pull this off!

Then the music track begins playing! I have to rely on my knowledge of the music track which I myself made to know what verse of the song it is now playing at so we can just jump on in at the next verse.

We finish the song. People clap. I walk off, upset, I have to run upstairs to give someone a piece of my mind….

But before I can exit the sanctuary, the morning prayer time begins. I can’t exit the nave, and feel like I am forcefully subjected to prayer and contemplation of my tempestuous feelings. I am glad for that prayer time. I didn’t exactly pray, but those short minutes calmed me down–ten seconds would not have been enough, you know.

* * *

I take pride in what I do. If I am expected to do something, I will make sure that it is right and beautiful, and excellent, and hopefully better than anyone else’s. Yes. And I’m also a perfectionist.

God knows that I carry this mentality into what I do for Him as well. So as I thought about this today, all I can say is that the lesson God wanted me to learn was patience. As a leader, or just as someone who has to be a team player, I have to be excellent in what I do, but also be mindful of others and their feelings. I could have stormed upstairs, thrown a fit, or I don’t know what, and then felt bad about it. After the prayer one of the sound tech guys approached me and told me that the guy at the booth had gotten confused and had pushed up the wrong slider (or fader, whatever you call it to bring up volume) on the sound board, so while the CD was playing fine, the volume was turned low.

When I went upstairs (to make sure the track for my sister’s song would be played properly and the thing wouldn’t happen again) the guy apologized profusely. What did I do? I smiled and told him it was alright and that “all’s well that ends well” or some such other nonsense. By the time my sister’s song came, he was like a tiger, absolutely prepared, focused, and all went good.

After the service many people approached us and congratulated us on the beautiful music–but most particularly on how we handled  the first song. It was brave, our pitch was very good, our harmonies sublime. We did not wither but rose to the challenge, etc.

It’s sad that people missed out on the message of the first song, though… And that as I sang the song in that stage with thunder and wrath in my heart, missed out on it as well…

Saviour may I learn to love thee, walk the path that thou hast shown
Pause to help and lift another, Finding strength beyond my own
Saviour may I learn to love thee, Lord, I would follow thee
 
Who am I to judge another when I walk imperfectly
In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see
who am I to judge another, Lord, I would follow thee
 
. . . Saviour may I love my brother as I know thou lovest me
Find in thee my strength my beacon, For thy servant I would be
Saviour may I love my brother, Lord, I would follow thee
(Susan McCloud, “Lord, I would follow thee” V 1,2,4)
 

In our pursuit of spreading the gospel–and doing so with excellence–may we not forget the heart of the message we preach. Let’s love God. Let’s love our brothers. Doing so even when it is difficult shows that we are, indeed, Christians.

 

Acceptable Attire

For all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes (Galatians 3:27 NLT)

I grew up in a very conservative church. I loved it, love it even now, but looking back, and remembering some unpleasant episodes experienced within the bosom of that venerable institution, I can say that there are some aspects of church life I wish had been a little different.

The majority of “kids” of my generation are MIA when it comes to church, fed up with the numerous rules of conduct, dress, behavior, and all the various do’s and don’ts that were hammered into us during our formative years.

For example, there was a very beautiful girl in our church. The sixth-grader me was a little envious and not a little awed at the sixteen-year-old beauty with the angel voice, pretty figure, and the gorgeous wardrobe. The fellas were, of course, attracted to her—and the adults would regularly feel called upon to scold the young pariah for not being a little more modest. And for goodness’ sake, could she not wear so much make-up?

We eventually moved, so I don’t know what became of her. My hope is that she did not feel discouraged by the continual disapproval of the adults and, instead, hung on to Christ. I know, however, that few are able to get to that point. It is by a miracle that I am hanging by a thread!

Others still remain inside church, but their spiritual experience is non-existent. They go to church because of habit; sad specters that haunt the church halls and limp about under a heavy load of church-imposed rules.

I am now an adult—a young adult—but still, I find myself in a position of some leadership in the church. I look at myself and I wonder what kind of Christian I have become. What attire do I enforce by the way I treat others—especially the younger, (and as they are at times called) “wilder” youth?

I hope that I may never forget the simple truth. Above all regulations of skirt length, trouser fabric, hair style, or body adornment is the one supreme requirement for all Christians. We must put on Jesus Christ.

Because all of us who have been baptized and born in Christ are clothed in Christ. And with that attire we have to privilege of putting on his humility, purity, and—above all—his love.

And that is the only attire that we Christians should really care about.

Galatians 3:27

Why It Matters

It’s not like he didn’t know the date.

She had been reminding him about their Big Day for almost a month:

“Honey, remember that our Big Day is in exactly four weeks.” She had said over breakfast one morning.

“My dear, I’d like to have dinner at Azul on our Big Day. Could you please make the reservation?” She had said over dinner two weeks later. And then—“Don’t tell Jo to come over next week! Remember it’s going to be our Big Day!”

She was a forbearing woman. Being married to her husband had taught her that much. And it’s not like he didn’t love her, but he always just did things his way without sparing much of a thought to the significance of what some things meant. So it was with a sad shake of the head that she saw their Big Day come and go without him making so much as an allusion to their anniversary.

At night she tossed restlessly in bed—so much so that she inadvertently woke him up.

“What’s wrong, babe?” He said sitting up.

“No—nothing is wrong. I’m just—I don’t know. I just can’t sleep.”

“Is something the matter?”

“No. Not really. I’m sorry I woke you up—Why are you looking at me like that? Don’t look at me that way! Nothing is wrong!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes… No. Well. Okay, fine.” She sat up, determined to get it out. Maybe by getting it out of her system she might find some rest. “It’s about today. Do you remember what day it is today?”

He recited the date.

“Yes, I know the day, month, year.” She broke in impatiently, “Honey: It was our anniversary! I just can’t believe you forgot. I mean—even yesterday I asked you about the reservations and you said you’d made them!”

“Oh, but Honey, I did!”

“Well what happened?”

He had the grace to look a little sheepish, “Well, today was a bit inconvenient, and since you know how hard I work and how tight my schedule is, I knew—hoped, really—you wouldn’t mind if we celebrated it some other day? I was thinking next week?”

“What!?”

“Yeah, it will be the weekend after Valentines! It will be great—like killing two birds with one stone! From now on, we could celebrate both our anniversary and Valentine’s on February 15th or on the 16th! I mean, I don’t see how a simple change like this could matter…”

Her eyes have glazed over. She doesn’t even hear past the part where he says that they can take advantage of the reduced prices on flowers and candy if they do it on the new date he has picked. With a sigh, she plops back in her pillow, wishing that he could see just why it matters, and wishing she loved him just a little bit less so that guilt wouldn’t keep her from sending to the couch.

 

***

 

Friends, God is a lover, too. And he also wants you to remember something special.

Remember what?

Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. Exodus 20:8-9

You must remember the true Sabbath. The Sabbath observed on the seventh day of the week: on Saturday. The Sabbath was instituted at the time of man’s innocence: at the Garden of Eden. It is special in every respect and better than anything God had given man up until then. Yes, it was better than the sun, moon and stars; better than the Garden of Eden; better than marriage and–yes–sex. Unsurpassable, it is the ultimate symbol of communion with God and commitment to do his will, and like marriage, it should still be considered as sacred and holy just as God initially intended it to be and on the day of his choosing (rather than on the day that is most convenient or the one that most people go along with).

In Exodus 20, God had to remind Israel of the Sabbath. You see, the seventh day Sabbath  was nothing new. Most people think that it was at Sinai that the Sabbath was given to Moses, like a brand new pair of shoes that only fit on Jewish feet. No. It is a gift for all humanity for all time.

And it matters which day is your and God’s Big Day, so get it right.

God loves it when his children gather together to worship his name. It is true that he takes pleasure when you come to him any day of the week. But Saturday is your and his Big Day, and no one can get, or should get, in between a God and his child.

Anyone who teaches otherwise, or institutes another day, is entirely out of line.