The Battle Between the Good and the Best

If there is one thing that will never cease to exist in a Christian’s earthly life, it is struggle–emotional, physical spiritual, you name it. The battle between the heart and the mind shall always prevail until the Creator and Lover of one’s soul weaves perfection in His beloved’s entire being. I am feeling the struggle now more than I did four, five years ago because, by God’s grace, I am willfully putting to death the evil that longs to be part of my sanctified and precious body. Sometimes the struggle is between good and evil–clear-cut black and white. Should I answer back or hold my tongue? Will I trust God and fear no evil or worry and fear everything? The Bible does not beat around the bush when it comes to  the consequences of obedience to God and disobedience against Him; blessings and curses are explicitly stated. If  you honor and obey your parents in the Lord, expect a long and happy life on earth (Ephesians 6:1-2). Refuse to believe in God and die in your sins; repent and believe in the only begotten Son of God and you will live (John 3:16-19).

But what if you have a struggle that a command or a principle in the Bible does not explicitly state or explain? What if your struggle is not exactly sinful, but a battle between the good and the best, the mediocre and the excellent? This is where the going gets tougher.

When I eat out with friends, should I order beef or chicken? (very shallow I know, but it’s hard to choose when you want to eat everything!)  When my Dad tells me he’ll buy me one book and after canvassing for an hour and a half in the bookstore and finally collecting four to five various titles in my arms, which one will I choose–romance, mystery, or humour? When my crush sits next to me and my heart tells me that having a boyfriend is not so bad an idea, should I make the first move or wait until he talks to me (even if he does not eventually pursue me)? The battle between the good and the best is harder than I thought.

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent….” -Philippians 1:9-10a, NKJV

The reason many people don’t experience the abundant life (even Christians) is that their choices are mostly good, not excellent, and the reason people would rather settle with mediocrity rather than to pursue excellence is their love is based on feelings and man-made ideas. “I’ll do anything that will make me happy. I know he or she’s the one when I’m unexplainably happy with him or her.” What is wrong with this picture? C.S. Lewis shed light on this topic in his book, Mere Christianity:

“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all…. In fact, the state of being in love usually does not last….But of course ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love…is a deep unity, maintained by the will, and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask and receive from God.”

Why am I bringing this up? Because no matter how hard I try to repress the romantic emotions inside me, they always surface. Even if I commit to remain single until God tells both me and my future partner, “You’re ready. It’s time,” I cannot help feeling a little sad (but not depressed–no, not me!) when my girlfriends have their guy friends asking them out and acting way too close and I’m just sitting there like..

Okay, maybe that GIF which I got from Tumblr is exaggerated, but I hope you get my idea. 10% of me wants to experience her first kiss, holding hands with a guy, and receiving love letters NOW; the other 90% sincerely seeks her True Love, Agape–Christ Jesus. Elisabeth Elliot’s struggle back in 1948 remains to be same and true in me present day, 2011:

“‘Clogged with wishes.’ I was wishing that my wishes were what God wished, and if my wishes were not what God wished, I wished that I could wish that my wishes would go away, but the wishes were still there.”

When I committed to be wholly pure for Jesus for His glory, I thought that I would never yearn for a boyfriend until I’m after college or maybe even two years after that. I thought I would never feel even just a little bit insecure when a girlfriend of mine shares with me the number of guys who are courting her presently. I did not foresee the time when my own cousins, now grown-up and enjoying their jobs, would come to our family Bible study with a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Maybe Donkey’s right. At least the boulder won’t change or grow tired of me.

But I am not made to talk or associate with boulders and certainly not self-pity and loneliness. God made me for someone, and that someone is God Himself. The battle between the good and best persists because my heart that seeks for eternity often looks for permanent satisfaction in things which are carnal and temporary. I am so grateful to have a Father Who is gracious enough to understand my pettiness and foolishness when it comes to love and emotions. He’s the perfect Lover because only He understands exactly what I’m going through and when I offer up to Him my everything (which I’ve been doing slowly but surely), only He can bring good out of all of my negative emotions. What once was a battle becomes a field for a joyous celebration.

Why do we love in the first place? Paul continues in verse eleven of Philippians 1: “to the glory and praise of God.” For His Name’s sake. I need to remind myself constantly that I or my world is not about  anything else but God. For God. Because of God. Even the battle between good and evil, the good and the best, will turn out the way that He wants it to because He is the Source of everything. Man may have started sin, but God has already conquered it. For that, I am truly grateful.

So what am I to do with loneliness? With that longing to be “close but not romantically related” with my crush? I surrendered it to God so for now, it’s not in my hands. What will I do with something I don’t have? That’s right.

Nothing. 🙂

Sources:

Elliot, Elisabeth (2000). Passion and Purity: Learning To Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control. Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila: OMF Literature.

The Holy Bible: New King James Version. Thomas Nelson Inc., 1985. Biblegateway.com

Struggling With Your Thoughts? Think SPOT

You opened your eyes only to squint them a few seconds later as the sun kissed you good morning. You shifted your view outside your window and smiled as the blue sky and a small maya waved hello. “What a wonderful way to start my day,” you said. “Hey that rhymes! Wow, God thanks!” You sat up, folded your hands, and bowed your head and spent the first few minutes of your day with your Creator. After uttering an ‘Amen,’ you checked your cell phone. Without warning, out of nowhere, they entered your mind. The thoughts. Thoughts of your fight with a friend over the phone flooded your mind. You called her emotional. She called you insensitive. What once was a bright and good morning suddenly grew dim and dull. All because of thoughts that “came out of nowhere.”

Do you struggle with your thoughts? I know I do. It has been my struggle since last year. My thoughts vary from time to time: swear words (even if I don’t swear; I think they come from the movies and books), false views of God, selfish motives, and even hurtful words against others (even if I don’t actually say them). If you’re like me, you’ve probably read this command from God:

“We are destroying speculations and every  lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

You’ve probably surrendered all your evil thoughts to God, asked to be freed from the enemy’s bondage, and claimed God’s victory. (If you’re like me, all of these things took place in a Christian retreat where the enemy and his minions seemed to be on leave from duty) After your bondage breaker, you successfully counteracted almost all evil thoughts with God’s truth. For a week you succeeded.

Then came week two. The battle was on again. Satan and his mini monsters resumed their positions. The awful past, a lazy present, and an anxious future clouded your memory. Your heart followed suit. Then your hands and your feet. From a confident, joyful, and strong Christian, you turned cranky, depressed, worried, and critical. What went wrong?

One of three things usually led to the pervasion of evil thoughts in my mind:

  1. Rationalization. I entertained a half-truth, half-lie, conformed it to my lustful desire, and attached an “it’s-okay-it’s-not-that-bad” string to alleviate the pain from the bump of my conscience
  2. Complacency. Similar to exercise. Couldn’t I let my thoughts wander for just a moment every once in a while?After all, my mind is the only place where my crush comes up to me to tell me he shares my sentiments.
  3. Selfishness and Pride. Why should I apologize to her? Okay, fine, she’s authority, but she’s wrong too! Am I the only sinner here?
One word sums up these three evils: Misalignment with God. Pastor Peter Tan-chi, our senior pastor, warned us against misalignment with God: it is the root of our sin and at times, our problems. In a preaching on overcoming discouragement and depression, Pastor Peter wisely said:
“To overcome negative emotions, you need to address the root problem then align with God.”
I believe that the same principle applies to overcoming evil thoughts. Emotions, after all, are products of our thoughts.
This morning, God reminded me that I am His mirror and that He is the Source; I am to reflect His glory. Along with this wonderful truth is the harsh reality that I am utterly self-centered. He wants me to change and He wants to change me. I know that I can do nothing of myself. After addressing the root problem of self-centeredness, God revealed to me 4 steps with which I am to counteract temptation. I called it the SPOT technique.
the desire and intention to do things for myself and all my expectations. God can’t work out my problem if I won’t give it to Him, and the longer I hold on to a temptation, its pull on me will only grow stronger.
that God will replace my evil desire with His desire; that He will show me a way out of that temptation (He promised this! Check out 1 Corinthians 10:13); that He will tell me what to replace with sinning. It’s not enough to just run away from temptation. I need to do something that will actually glorify God.
The wonderful thing about God is that He speaks. Maybe not audibly, but definitely clearly. In high-definition. I just need to lend Him my ears and my heart. This step becomes easy because it is God Himself who empowers me to obey His will. And lastly…
give God the glory–He alone deserves it. I learned that I should not miss this last important step because if I did, I will trust in my own power instead of God’s. Also, I should thank God even if  I encounter disappointments because I trust Him. He is God, He knows better, and He loves me dearly. 🙂
God holds me responsible for my thought life. You, too, are responsible with your thoughts. We should not let our minds wander and underestimate our thoughts’s power to control us. Next time those nasty, demonic ideas penetrate your mind, think SPOT. 🙂 And remember: this is all by God’s amazing grace. You and I will still fail and make mistakes, but when we let Him, God promises to pick us up, take us by the hand, and lead us to Paradise. The journey with Him is a struggling adventure, but you’d rather choose that over a depressing, miserable life. Right? 😀

Getting It

Reading a chapter or verse from the Bible does not automatically make you get it just as you can’t fly a plane after a 2-hour, one-on-one session with a professional pilot. Getting it, really learning it, takes time and constant practice depending on the subject matter. I remember when I was a little girl, about 7 years of age, I couldn’t read the clock properly. My knowledge was limited to hourly readings. I don’t think I really got it until I was ten or twelve. It took me years to read time–whether it be in quarters and halves–properly and correctly with ease. That was five years ago and the things I learned were simpler. Lately, things have been tough.

Growing up in a Christian home, I thought I already knew the Bible. I do know and understand Biblical doctrine (at least half of it) at the back of my hand and with conviction, but I didn’t know I haven’t gotten it just yet. How do I know? Well, for the past few months since 2011 started, I was compromising. A lot. I generalized one sin after another, saying it can be condoned because it’s not that bad. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into until I found myself in the aftermath of all my actions. Bitterness, ill-thinking, gluttony (it was still there all along), selfishness, and pride slowly but surely paved their way into my heart one compromise at a time. The effect was staggering. Since my temperament make-up tends towards the introvert side, I don’t throw wild tantrums or instigate quarrels with my family and friends. I find it more terrifying to be the silent type. Ika nga, nasa loob ang kulo ko. When I reach my boiling point, instead of whistling, I well up with emotions–sorrow, bitterness, anger–you name it.  This is the same girl who grew up memorizing all 66 books of the Bible by heart, singing Psalty songs, and teaching young kids in Sunday school. Saints can get pretty messed up, too.

What I was trying to “get” was totally unreachable. God Himself already said it:

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

– Isaiah 55:9

“Child, getting it completely is not the point. Obedience and love is.”

I can never fully understand God’s ways until I see Him face to face! 🙂  His love is unfathomable. In effect, I was trying to see if my knowledge can match with God. Obviously, my effort failed. He did not ask me to know Him completely in one sitting or in one year. For this reason, the Bible often makes use of the verb seek. “Seek and you will find.”  A stomach stops seeking food and water when it is full. The Bible says seek His face. Seek the Lord. Day in, day out. You can never be “full” with God that you have to pause and say, “I can take it from here. Thanks, God.”

” My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, LORD, I will seek.”

– Psalm 27:8

A true child of God will hear and feel his heart cry this statement out: SEEK His face! A true child of God who has wasted plenty of time in worldly affairs will eventually hunger and thirst for true spiritual feeding. Getting it, coming to your senses, is the first step in true repentance. No matter how often you listen to Gospel sermons, unless you get it–unless the heart and the mind connect–there is no transformation.

Have you gotten it? God will wait. The moment you do start to go back to Him like I did, He’ll start running. Yes, God runs. It’s been a habit of Him ever since the first ear-piercing sound was heard: the crunch of a bitten fruit in the middle of  a beautiful and perfect Garden. And He’ll never stop running to you until you get it. 😉

Love Believes The Best

Edward Bulwer-Lytton once wrote that “The pen is mightier than the sword.”  After listening to our pastor speak yesterday morning, I found that one thing a hundred times mightier than the pen or sword combined: the mind. The destiny of a man lies in the course of his actions; his actions are bred by the thoughts spurred on by his mind. In other words, the way we think matters. It matters not only because it affects our behavior, but more importantly, our thought life affects our relationships with the people around us.

In Godly wisdom and through the power of the Holy Spirit, Pastor Peter preached yesterday morning:

“To fall in love is nothing; it’s easy, shallow. But to stay in love for a long time–that is another story….It’s hard; it takes more effort and discipline.”

Fairy tales have mastered the art of concealing this basic principle, the commitment to stay in love. One applicable and practical way of staying in love is by believing in the best in people. Love believes the best.

“[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:7 NASB

I found this message comforting and at the same time rebuking mainly for 3 reasons:

  1. I realized that I have been subjecting my thought life to wrong masters, namely Vain Imagination (including those daydreams such as when my crush talks to me one-on-one and hugs me from behind :|), the Worst is Yet To Come and Miss Pity.
  2. God believes in me–He sees the best that would come in time as I grow in Him. He will never, ever give up on me or YOU. 🙂
  3. People can change. In God’s vocabulary, you won’t find incorrigible (unless the person’s dead). There is hope for every person no matter how utterly terrible his past, how numerous and grave his mistakes and how late he was in life to realize his need of a Savior.

“You cannot be lazy in the way you think,” Pastor Peter exhorted. “Every Christian is responsible for the way he thinks.” When I heard this, my soul twitched and my heart jumped as if a needle pricked it for a millisecond. I recalled the instances in my life where I concocted a vain thought, warranted it search my soul and allowed it to govern my actions. The consequences were destructive–at least for me. I lost, to some extent but not completely, in the sea of awkwardness, a friend. I developed this nasty habit of avoiding people because I allowed my vain (and stupid) imaginations to determine my perspective and govern my actions. By God’s grace and with the hope I have in Jesus Christ, I’m coping from a mild deluge. 🙂

So how does one believe the best in people? To avoid confusion, Pastor Peter differentiated believing and trusting people from being gullible. Trusting people is accepting what they tell us regardless of the truth value and leaving the judgement to God. After all, judging is not our role. Being gullible on the other hand is to believe what people say and live by them instead of living securely in what God says is true. Believing in the best is giving people the benefit of the doubt; being gullible is doubting the benefit by allowing doubt to cloud your thinking. Believing in the best is not raising your voice or replying in all caps when your friend does not respond to your messages or calls; being gullible is ignoring the truth so that you let your friend keep on doing what she/he does without you asking her/him gently or helping her/him fix with a problem. Difficult, huh? I realized that differentiating between trusting and being gullible requires the exclusive wisdom available only to God’s kids. Apart from the Holy Spirit’s leading, a person can still fail to hope and believe in the best (especially if he has all the reasons not to).

This morning God reinforced this message to me. 😉 Thanks, Father. Another Godly and wise man, Tom Holladay, wrote a book entitled The Relationship Principles of Jesus. I highly recommend this book if you desire to grow deeper and deeper in your relationships. The principles are life-changing, applicable, simple (though not easy to do), tested proven and reliable. Anyway, there’s a part of the book which I heard God tell me. Don’t ask me how I heard it, but this I tell you and it is true: When God speaks, He makes sure the hearer hears Him loud and clear. When I read this passage I felt my heart pricked with needles, that twitch:

“You may be right on the edge of quitting in a relationship…..I’ll face this with you. I believe in you. I’ll look forward to the future with you. Even when every bone in my body wants to run and hide, we’re bound together. I will stay with you and we’ll overcome together.”

Although that passage was directed to Christians and their relationships with the people around them, it was first directed to the Christian from God. For the past few days, I have been feeling lax in my walk with God because I allowed my mistakes to define me. Don’t allow your mistakes to define you! You are who God says you are. When God sees us, He does not look at our sins; He sees what we can become. 🙂 God is a Judge, but He does not condemn us. This is precisely why we should not judge others; a sinner cannot judge another sinner.

If ever you feel like giving up on life or a relationship, do not despair! Believe in the best. Jesus said,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28 NASB

Tom Holladay wrote, “I was taught to trust God instead of myself for forgiveness. God has plenty of good things He wants us to do, but these good deeds are a response to His grace and not a way to earn His grace.”

God believes in you and me. He is at work in our lives. He told me not to focus on myself and to focus on Him so that I won’t lose hope. He tells you the same thing. 🙂 Hold his hand; give Him your mind so that your actions won’t go wayward. Give people the benefit of the doubt and leave the judgement to God.  God bless you!

Love? God? I don’t get it. I would love to tell you more about establishing a relationship with Jesus Christ here.

PS: Watch this music video! May Josh Wilson’s track entitled Before The Morning encourage you today. 🙂

SOURCES

Holladay, Tom. The Relationship Principles of Jesus. Singapore: Campus

Crusade Asia Ltd., 2009.

Tan-chi, Peter. “Love Believes the Best.” 40 Days of Love Series – Sunday

Worship Service. Christ’s Commission Fellowship, Ortigas Center, Pasig

City. 3 April 2011.

The New American Standard Bible. Ed. BibleGateway.com

(www.biblegateway.com). 1995.

Who’s Sitting At Your Heart’s Stool?

While my professor wrote motion problems as calculus applications on the board, I struggled in a war between priorities and whims in my seat. Seriously. Last week, right after we watched Unknown (another movie premiere), my Mom showed me the ticket to this awesome movie:

I was eager to see this movie because of Natalie Portman, an actress I so dearly admire and respect. She’s got brains (Harvard alum and Hebrew-Japanese student, thank you very much), beauty, talent and a big heart for people and animals (she’s been a vegan since childhood). Since Thursday evening, I was looking forward to this premiere. Then Monday came.

My professor in Filipino 2 unexpectedly required us to submit the 3rd chapter of our research this Thursday. She usually gives us a week to do it, but since the semester has only less than a month before it officially ends (and summer comes in! WOOHOO!), she rushed the deadline. Then there’s the debate on Monday. Although I could really squeeze in the premiere in my schedule, my heart, soul and mind told me that it’s not a good idea (this is one of those rare moments when those 3 elements agreed on one thing. Hallelujah) The words  “priorities”  and “love” played in my mind the entire time as I meditated on what to do. Should I text my Mom that I would attend the premiere and my Dad to meet with me in Ayala or go home immediately after class? As I mentioned earlier, I struggled. Do you know that feeling when you want to do something you know you shouldn’t do even if you can foresee the negative consequences that would result if you push through with that bad decision? The situation is as complicated and complex as my previous sentence. 🙂 Anyway, I think I brought home the point. Thankfully, I’m not alone in this tug-of-war. Although no longer living, the Apostle Paul knew and experienced exactly what I was talking about when he wrote the following words (Romans 7:21-24):

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am!”

Not only am I wretched and held prisoner–I am a fool, too. As my math professor scribbled derivatives of functions on the whiteboard, I addressed my dilemma on paper by constructing the following table (in spite knowing the right thing that I should do).

Now that I think of it, I realize that this work of art is not so foolish a masterpiece after all. As I pondered on reality and truth, I realized that at that time as I struggled and desired “earthly things,”  I loved activities and fun more than I loved God and other people. The left column manifested the black swan in me–selfish, greedy (in a subtle way) and proud (because I wanted to take control of my life…again).  Had I obeyed my feelings instead of my feelings obeying me (well, God), then I stored earthly treasures, acted selfishly and contradicted my own words to my brothers and to myself: Know your priorities and ACT on them!

By God’s grace, power and Holy Spirit, I turned down the premiere. I knew that the best thing to do at that time was to act by faith and not by sight. By doing what is right even when I didn’t feel like doing it, I became the real me.

An hour and a half after this struggle in Math class (I usually struggle in Math class with or without a “black swan” temptaion. HAHA), I arrived home. I decided to knock on my grandmother’s house first before knocking on ours. Mama opened the door, greeted me cheerfully and announced a piece of news that took me off guard:

Andyan si Daddy mo, may sakit.” (Your Dad is there at home, he is sick)

Oh. My. Goodness. Just think if I texted my Dad during Math class (thus causing me to sin) and told him if we could meet in Ayala before the movie started. If I were in my Dad’s shoes, I would be disappointed because my daughter texted me only when she wanted something. This news further exposed my selfish attitude. 😐 Thankfully, there’s grace. Thankfully, there is no condemnation for me. I am forgiven and loved. 🙂

I grabbed the opportunity to serve my Dad and my brother who was also stricken with fever and headache. Later that afternoon as I sat in the couch, I read a book entitled The Relationship Principles of Jesus by Tom Holladay. Again, God struck my heart. Though the “pinch line” (as in the painful pinch mothers gave their naughty children) hurt, I was encouraged too:

“God does not demand of me that I accomplish great things. He does demand of me that I strive for excellence in my relationships.”

Whenever I triumph over sin and temptation or do a hard thing for God, I think that God was extremely happy over my achievement. Well He is happy since everything I do for Him is not in vain, but His joy is made more complete when I value my relationship with Him and with others above things, tasks, money, time and even my achievements. All this world needs is love. We are made for relationships. The best way to successfully murder a man physically and spiritually is to alienate him from all forms of human contact. Relationships are necessary for man to truly live.

So whenever you face a similar, less difficult or more difficult “black swan temptation” like I did, ask yourself: “Is this decision rooted out of love? Who am I showing my love to when I make this decision final?” Because whether you like it or not, you are always showing “love” to something or someone: whether God or money or yourself. I’m reminded of the video I saw in my Sunday School class a few weeks ago about who sits at my heart’s stool.  Is it me, money, fun, activities or JESUS? Remember that elementary principle about matter because it also applies here: Matter cannot occupy the same space (heart) at the same time. 🙂

 

And now, the video!