But I never traveled alone ….

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Hong Kong island from the Aberdeen side, 2006

Yesterday during my conversation with my long-time friends Belva and Maureen, I realized something positively and powerfully true: in the four times I’ve flown alone to Asia and back, and the one time with my younger son, I never WAS alone.

Trip # 1, crossing the Pacific roughly eleven hours after I heard the news that sent me online to book a flight, on the phone to call my friend Julia to hopefully connect with her  parents in Hong Kong,  and then hurriedly to the bedroom to pack a suitcase, I  tried to keep my  heart and mind at peace  by reading Brendan Manning’s book “Ruthless Trust.” He wrote, “ For me and many others, Jesus is the revelation of the only God worthy of trust … The promise of his (God’s) presence and the presence of his promise ….” I prayed all the way for safety and  health for my daughter-in-law  and newly arriving over two months too early granddaughter. Was I alone? NO! God’sars of promise and peace wrapped me on that flight, and HE proved his promises are faithful when 1) I easily found Julia’s mother in the airport and 2) Elsa arrived safely and never developed a serious complication in the seven weeks she was in the NICU. I counted 21 miracles on that trip! You may think  miracles are only things like raising the dead and restoring seeing eyes  to the blind, but when God arranges  three successive apartments to stay in on an island with mile-high rents and hotel room costs, a complete Thanksgiving dinner when the best you were  hoping for was turkey sandwiches at a deli, and warmly welcoming people – strangers who became friends –  in a church in Kowloon,  I call those miracles.

Trip # 2, crossing the Pacific again, this time to mainland China and Thailand, on the   I remained in good health and relative clarity of mind  despite the 35 hours without sleep. On my return trip  with what I thought was plenty of time  to  transfer in the airport  in Hong Kong, I was able to pick up my bags (which couldn’t be checked through), check them through security, go outside the terminal, go back into the international side of  the terminal, go through security again, check my bags, go through security again, and get an iced tea at the Starbucks  right beside  my gate with a whopping eight minutes to spare before  boarding  the plane!  Was I alone? NO!

Trip #3,  again to mainland China and Thailand, no issues  going, but coming back I flew from the interior to another mainland airport where, surely, there would be signs in English and English-speaking workers who could direct me to the van to get to the ferry to get across the harbor to the airport.  Uh,  wrong. I exited the terminal to a parking lot  filled with vans with nothing but Mandarin characters on them. Just as God says in Isaiah 30: 21, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” And that’s exactly what happened, when God provided an airline pilot from Taiwan, walking behind  me, to guide me to the van that went to the ferry terminal. Was I alone? NO WAY!

Trip #4, the trip  that Orbitz almost  cancelled due to a  flight change by Korean Airlines, thanks to the 24-hour flu bug I caught, I was able to talk directly to Korean Air and salvage my  trip by leaving a day early, with the added benefit of staying in a hotel in Seoul to rest up, have lunch, and exercise in the hotel gym. On the way back I was  blessed with an extra day to stay with dear friends in Chiang Mai, get a  birthday massage, and hear an incredible story of God’s power and providence. Was I alone, ever? NOT EVER!

Trip $5 to mainland China with my younger son, with (again, we thought) ample time to arrive in Beijing and catch our flight  to the interior, we met  an impossibly long line at immigration, surely too long for us to get through and catch our flight. BUT a cleaning woman directed us (and how did she speak English and see our predicament??) directed us to go through the diplomaticl ine. Then when the inter-terminal train  zipped right past the terminal we needed  and deposited us at the next terminal, again Isaiah 30:21 in the form of a Chinese university professor  behind us, traveling back home (to the same city we were  heading for) from teaching in Texas, who helped us navigate security and find the train that WOULD take us  to the terminal we needed. Then when Satan broke all Heck loose at the next security checkpoint, we  still made it to the gate in time to  board  just before they closed the boarding.

Oh,Rose, why do you ever doubt God’s love and PRESENCE? I can almost  hear my eternally patient Heavenly Father saying,”Tsk, tsk, my beloved daughter, how many times  do I  have to pull your  hide out of the fire before you WILL TRUST MY LOVE FOR YOU and THAT MY PLANS ARE FOR YOUR GOOD???

 

I actually got word from God back in 2013 through an intercessor at a Healing Room – and NOT  the intercessors I was praying with – that said, “I’m trying to bless you. You have to LET me!”

Okay, 1) I must be a slow learner when it comes to my heart catching up with God’s  truth and  2) the sons of Korah said it more poetically than I just did:

For the director of music. A maskil[c] of the Sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One[d]
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.   Psalm 42:1-11 NIV

I share my all-too frail humanity with you all,  with someone else who, like me,has a hard time catching your heart up to God’s truth, to encourage you that GOD WILL NEVER LET YOU WALK ALONE! Even when you may be physically alone and in dicey circumstances, GOD IS  WITH YOU! Remember WHO  walked in the fiery furnace WITH Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He is the same today for you as he was then with them!

This is NOT just the power of positive thinking. Positive thinking couldn’t have gotten me out of any of these troubles or created any of these miracles. GOD DID!

Put your hope in God, for yes, you will yet find reason to praise Him!

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Shake Off the Snake

FOX 10 me with snakeI had no idea in 2012 that I’d be on the TV news in more difficult days than when this photo was taken. Dusting off one from my blogspot posting days, and yes, the serpent is still trying to get me to bite on offense, but I won’t take his bait or, prayerfully, let him envenomate me with accusations and lies, both of which I’ve had to “shake off” with truth in the last month. My words come back as reminders to me, and I pray they minister to you. Um ….  when we gave our lives to Jesus, this battlefield IS what we ( most of us naively, unknowingly) signed up for.

Seventy-five unsupervised and rambunctiously excited kindergarteners sat in a circle on the concrete floor in the echoing auditorium, hands reaching out to touch the St. Helena Mountain king snake I held about five inches behind its head as I walked around their group. This lithe little snake had enough and told me so – snap – in the flesh between my thumb and index finger.

Great – now I had an angry snake latched painfully firmly to my hand and wide-eyed children still waving “I want to grab you” hands. All I could think to do was try to shake off the stressed snake, hide my bleeding hand, and put the irritated reptile away. It worked, until five feet later when the still-agitated snake still told me I wasn’t retreating to it’s transport quickly enough and nailed my hand again.

“This isn’t the job I signed up for,” I thought as I came back into the room with a cuddly by comparison hedgehog in my gloved hands. But it was exactly what I signed up for, though I never realized when I took the job at he Zoo that being bitten was an occupational hazard inherent in inspiring Zoo guests to amazement at the adaptations in wildlife. My praise to Jesus, I came to no harm from that serpent’s two bites, and the next day the marks were as good as gone.  No other snake in the programs collection ever bit or attempted to bite me.

I never dreamed being bitten by the enemy was in the job description when I gave my life to Jesus, either. No pastor or priest ever gives the benediction, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. Beloved of God, go in peace, and now you have a target on your back,” but it’s true. The day I gave myself wholly and forever to God through Jesus, I crossed a line and took a side that makes the Devil more than slightly agitated.  The Bible describes him as a thief, serpent or snake:

The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.  Revelation 12:9

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I (Jesus speaking) have come that they (we) may have life, and have it to the full.”  John 10:10

How does the snake latch on to us? The devil’s venom is lies and offense: he lies about our identity, accuses us and bring up condemnation as though the Blood of Jesus isn’t more than enough to truly wash away and cleanse us from all sin, injects us with offense when someone wrongs us, and plants fear that God isn’t faithful to His promises, as though His Word isn’t powerful and God is a liar with less than overwhelmingly loving and good plans for each of our lives.

When Peter in his first letter to the church exhorted believers to humble themselves before God, cast their anxiety on God, and be self-controlled and alert, he likened the devil to a prowling lion looking for someone to devour, and he was doing it then and still doing it now to believers. Peter doesn’t end on that note of warning, but concludes by saying, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”  (1 Peter 5:5-10)

I remembered the snake incident at the Zoo today in a rush of recognition that, of course, the devil isn’t happy that I’ve forgiven a betrayer and have continued to forgive and pray for his salvation. I must have a huge red bulls-eye that reads, “bite this one” on my back. Well, of course we’re targets, and the more damage we do or will inflict on the devil’s plans through our forgiveness, unrelenting love, faithfulness, and praise to God, the more irritated and madder that “adder” will get. But then which do I want: to fall into bitterness to placate the devil and anger my Father and Savior, the Living God, or would I rather anger the devil and please, obey and honor God?

The apostle Paul encountered the devil in the exact form of a poisonous snake on the island of Malta when the ship carrying him to Rome ran aground in a severe storm.  Paul’s companion and physician Luke recounts the incident:

The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.  Acts 28: 1-7

And thanks to Jesus, the Devil may bite, but he can’t inflict any permanent damage on us, either, when we choose to believe God’s Word and love are true and faithful:

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. .. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample on the great lion and the serpent. “BUT I’ll “shake off the snake” of accusations and fear from the lying devourer and just tell the serpent taking aim at me to “TALK TO THE HAND!” By that I don’t mean mine, but “THE HAND OF JESUS, THE HAND THAT BEARS THE SCARS OF THE NAILS” that drew the Blood that paid for my complete forgiveness and forever righteousness in Yeshua the Messiah, the conquering King of Kings.

The seventy-two (disciples of Jesus, whom he had sent out to do his work) returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”  He (Jesus) replied,” I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:17-20

A “. . . BUT . . .” to move:  Lord God, I never wanted to become a target of Satan’s anger, but being on your side means I’m not on his. I know that means he won’t be happy, BUT I know that means you WILL ________________________________________________ because YOU PROMISE TO ______________________________________________________________________. As I shake off the snake, today I tell him “Talk to the HAND who delivers and conquers, gives me authority to command you to submit  and who writes My name on His hand and heart in Heaven! In Jesus’ name I  shake off the snake and the lies that I _______________________ andI embrace God’s Truth that I AM the Lord’s beloved!  Praise God,amen!

Play It again – The Bug Brought Blessing

IMG_5329This is a reposting, but after weeping as I uploaded photos from this miracle 2012 trip to turn into a photo book, I  wanted to re-run this story of God’s great grace, provision, and protection showered on me when I literally lay on the floor in desperately deep need of a miracle. GOD brought it! “The steadfast love of  the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end.They are new every morning. Great isThy faithflulness, O God, great isThy faithfulness.” (from Lamentations 3:23)

Feeling my way from chair to chair in the darkness, I sat down next to someone in church on Wednesday night, perplexed by my phone’s cryptic voice message from the bargain travel site: “Go online immediately to view your reservation.” I was set to fly to Thailand the next Tuesday with a suitcase stuffed with donated card-making supplies to take to a missionary conference. I’d done the same thing two years earlier, intending to give a “girls’ night out” to women from all over the globe, but the response from men, women and children who flooded the dining room and cut, glued, and stamped with delight had absolutely stunned me.

Set and eager to reprise the blessing, I suddenly sensed my body’s churning “voice message” alerting me that lunch wasn’t the only thing in my stomach; an unwelcome “bug” was growing. Oh, no! Not the flu a week before my flight! Nausea growing, I left the service and called my boss on my way home, “Dean, I won’t be in first thing in the morning. I’ve come down with a bug and may need to come in late.” Once home, I quickly brought up the email and, to my confusion, read two conflicting flight times into Seoul: one arriving 45 minutes before my connecting flight, but another arriving just 15 minutes before the flight to Bangkok.

“Maybe,” I thought, “my head and intestines will be calmer by morning,” so I curled up with a hot water bottle and prayed for healing.

Morning was worse, but I called the site. What I heard filled me with panic. “The airline changed flight times, so we’ve cancelled your itinerary.”

“No!” I blurted over waves of nausea. “I made the reservation months ago, and I have to be in Bangkok for a conference.”

Oblivious to my alarm, the agent said I could rebook my flight for only $3000 more. “That won’t work,” I replied in calm I didn’t feel. “Can you call the airline?” That began a four-hour fencing match, the agent thrusting they were only a broker, me parrying with, ”Please call the airline.” She did, and I prayed ferociously between holds and offers, declaring every scripture I knew about God being my shield and sword of victory. Could I leave next month? Could I leave in two weeks? Could I go to another destination? No, no no!

During the hold times I lay on the floor and prayed, decreed, over myself:

It may be that the LORD will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.” 2 Samuel 16:12 NIV

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 4:15 NIV

Her insensitivity churned frustration in my stomach on top of the bilious “bug,” and her tide of consternation rose higher with my relentless requests to try again. Desperate, I finally pleaded, “Let me call the airline then; just don’t cancel my reservation!”

No weapon formed against you shall prosper, And every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, And their righteousness is from Me,” Says the Lord. Isaiah 54:17 NKJV

The agent, glad to get rid of me, gave me a number, which turned out to be the airline’s air cargo line. They transferred me to an agent, and twenty minutes later God air-dropped a miracle into my lap: the airline took responsibility for the schedule change and offered that, if I could leave on Monday night and stay one extra day, they’d put me up for the day in a hotel in Seoul so I could make my connecting flight to Bangkok!

 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 NIV

Hooray for God and an upset stomach! I needed those four morning hours to battle bureaucracy and for God to bless me via the most unusual means He’s ever used in my life. The “mess” made a miracle that blessed me with time in Seoul to walk, shower, eat lunch, and nap before my flight, a day to get over jetlag, and a day on the end of the conference to stay with friends I hadn’t seen in over ten years!

In one more miracle, the “body” I sat beside in church when the battle began was my friend Judy, who asked if the missionary ladies would like bracelets. “I couldn’t help you the last time you went, so I’d like to help you now,” she’d sweetly offered. Two days later I discovered a box at my doorstep containing 50 lovely costume jewelry bracelets for the missionary women and girls, and $500.

“Oh, God,” I gratefully cried on the other side of the world as again women and girls – with beautiful bracelets adorning their arms – and men and boys stamped, glued, cut and created wonderful cards and bookmarks, “you did so much more than I could have ever dreamed, done or imagined!”

Thank you, God, for the bug in my belly that brought blessing beyond belief!

A “…BUT…” to pray: Most Merciful God! How many times, I wonder, have you diverted a scheme of Satan in my life and I never even recognized your hand was in the blessing, even if it looked like a calamity? Remind me now of a time when things looked black, BUT YOU my God came through for me and made a wonderful way for me to prosper ____________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________. Thank you, thank you, Loving God, and help me to trust you in days ahead that you CAN cause all things to work together for my good. In Jesus’ Name, amen. Holy Spirit, I’m listening _____________________________________________________________________

God doesn’t “grade on a curve”…

Reunion 3

Grade school and high school buddies, decades later, still friends ! And yes,Thea, I’m glad ,too, the school photo is blurry!Thanks, “Mo,” for sharing it.

I still shudder when I remember the day in seventh grade when our teacher handed back math test papers, handing the papers for all the row to the first person in the row. As the boy in front of me handed the stack back, my paper now on top, he loudly proclaimed, “Ooooh, Rose got an 85!” The whole class echoed his “Ooooooh!” as though I’d done something dreadful, an unimaginable, unspeakable horror. Never mind that he didn’t announce HIS grade to the class, nor did any of my classmates; all that mattered was that I didn’t have a perfect score.

I cringed, sighed, and knew one “B” wasn’t going to impact my semester grade that much. For those of you who laugh at the nerdy characters on the television sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” let me shed some light for you. Gifted students deal with other people’s expectations of their perfection, or near-perfection, ALL the time, and often base their sense of self-worth, validation and value on meeting the expectations of others. Does that sound like a weight you’d like to live under?

Flash forward to Calculus 102 in college and the soul-shaking day I got back another test paper, this time with a horrifying 69% on the top. My psyche rapidly started crumbling, until the professor put the grading scale on the board, and I realized I’d made an A. I breathed sigh of relief, though I still didn’t feel good that I hadn’t mastered 31% of the material. If the bulk of the class scored a failing percentage, evidently neither the textbook nor our professor had adequately explained the material. That was one day I was VERY grateful for the concept of grading on a curve, determining letter grades based on the highest achieved class score.

I suspect we’d all like to think God Almighty “grades on a curve” when it comes to standing before His judgment throne, and we’d like to think we’re good enough, love-able enough, to earn God’s love and grace on our own merit. That just tells me how insecure in ourselves and in trusting God’s lavish love for us – not based on our performance, but on how HE sees us and who HE says we are TO HIM in Christ!

After all, God does say in Hebrews 9:27  “It is appointed for men once to die, and after this the judgment.” Notice in this sentence the facts that 1) everyone dies – that’s truth; 2) we only get one “shot” at life, “ONCE to die”; 3) death is not the ultimate end, “and after this…” ; and 4) we all will face God’s judgment.

Here’s the other sobering fact: God doesn’t “grade on a curve.” God is Holy as well as loving, and we can’t ignore or deny God’s holiness.

“I am the LORD, your Holy One, The Creator of Israel, your King.” Isaiah 43: 15

Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders? Exodus 15: 11

Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders? Psalm 77: 13

For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. Luke 1:49

Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor. Habakkuk 1: 13a

“You shall not profane My holy name, but I will be sanctified among the sons of Israel; I am the LORD who sanctifies you,…” Leviticus 22: 32

But the LORD of hosts will be exalted in judgment, and the holy God will show Himself holy in righteousness. Isaiah 5:16

But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” 1 Peter 1: 15-16

Uh, you ask, isn’t God expecting too much from human beings in asking us to be holy? And what IS the standard for holiness, anyway? I certainly don’t do the evil things some people do. As a friend said to me one day regarding an issue in his life, “If that’s the worst of my sins, it’s not so bad.” In other words, isn’t it good that I’m better than a mass-murderer? Won’t God cut us some slack like my Calculus professor and grade on a curve?.

Jesus raised the grading scale on what God considers right living: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. Matthew 5: 26-29 NIV

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” James 23: 10

The eternal grading scale is actually pass-fail, but it takes 100% to pass

“From the holiness in God’s character we can understand His righteousness and justice. The man who does evil sets his will against God’s will and against the principle upon which He conducts the universe. Such a man has placed himself where he must either turn back and forsake his sin or take the inevitable consequences of resisting the purpose which God is fulfilling.” Henry T. Sell

Jesus said: For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.  And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. John 5: 21-29 NIV

“NOT FAIR!” we shout. Hey, I’ve blown it just like you have, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….” (Romans 3:23) sin meaning to “miss the mark,” and “all” means me, too, so I’m NOT here judging and condemning you. I AM here to share some incredible truth with you: you aren’t made right with God because of anything you do, and no way you blow it can ever end God’s deep love for you.

It wouldn’t be fair, UNLESS God Himself made a way for us to pass, to in effect score 100%. God did exactly that in sending Jesus to draw us to God’s love and grace, to die on the Cross and rise again to eternal life, not for wrongs HE had done but for every wrong you and I have done and ever will do. He gave us, you, me  the grade Jesus earned! You aren’t made right with God because of anything you do, except for one thing – receive his free gift of salvation and righteousness through confessing your inability to be perfectly righteous and receiving God’s gift of Jesus’ 100% ability!

God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us (a complete offering to atone for sin), so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

“… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[a] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Romans 3: 23-26 NIV

In offering himself in Jesus as the One complete 100% payment for sin who could make you perfectly 100% right with himself, the holy God completely satisfied both his holy righteousness and his relentless love for mankind! God values you SO much, sees so much beauty and worth in you that HE HIMSELF made a way for you to be completely righteous. The world had never before or ever since seen such incredibly powerful, passionate, relentless love!

For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57: 15

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. “By His stripes you are healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1: 5-9 NIV

God doesn’t grade on a curve; thankfully God grades on Christ’s Cross! And you get an A!

 

A “…BUT…” to pray: Holy God, I know and confess that I’m a sinner, yes, a sinner, and I’ve blown it, missed your true standards, in many ways large and small, BUT what they were doesn’t matter to you. What matters to you is what I choose to do with your gift of perfect forgiveness, grace and unmerited love to me through Jesus, so I say _________________________________________________________________! And now I want to live out of that gift, live the good, upright, wise and loving choices you enable me to do through your Holy Spirit living inside of me, So Righteous Father God, I ask you to help me daily __________________________ and, as I need to, daily confess my sins and come back to knowing I’m completely forgiven when I do. In Jesus’ name, thank you! Holy Spirit, help me to listen __________________________________________

 

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WHY SETTLE FOR THE SKYLIGHT WHEN YOU’RE DESTINED FOR THE SKY?

 

img_0808Rose M. Jack200440345-001son © 1994

This is a very old message, first given 24 years ago,  to the women of Community Church of Joy. I had no idea how prophetic this would be for my own journey into a “dis-comfort zone” that has stretched my understanding and trust in the incredible love and hidden purposes of God Almighty.  I never imagined in 1994 that I would be in this place in my life, and it still feels like the “wrong fit” for someone  who often feels more like a canary than an eagle on  many days, but God has proved to me he is  with me every step of the way. My next post will be another early thought, but today I need to remind myself, and very likely someone else  out there, that God is the wind beneath the wings he  gave you and wants you to try as he lifts you up to the purpose He created you for.

 

I heard a bird chirping as I cruised through the mall early one morning on my two-mile walking circuit. It startled me, for though this mall – like most – is landscaped with Ficus and Pothos and other requisite ornamental plants to give the place a quasi-rainforest feel (minus real rainforest bugs, of course) it’s hardly the place you expect to find living creatures. Looking up, I spied a sparrow perched on a mauve concrete ledge just below the skylights illuminating the courtyard in front of a big department store. I speculated that the bird, like me, found its way in, on an early morning. The plant man or the cleaning staff or some delivery person probably had left the doors wide open and empty long enough for the sparrow, fooled by the adjacent windows’ reflections of the world outside, to sail unsuspectingly inside.

Well, I asked myself, was that such a tragedy? Wasn’t it in fact serendipity for the bird? I did a quick mental tally of what the mall provided:

1) It’s climate-controlled. That is, after all, one of the main reasons I walk there. The temperature is always a comfortable 75 in summer, 80 in winter. There’s no pelting rain or, here in the desert, dry, parching wind to deal with. It’s always in the comfort zone in the mall.

2) There aren’t any predators – another reason I myself walk there.   There are no obvious threats. Sparrows don’t need to worry about the occasional purse snatcher anyway, and I’ve never noticed anyone even paying any attention to the birds, much less trying to harm them.

3) There are trees to nest in. They may not grow very large, and there may not be many to choose from, but they’re there, limbs artfully pruned to be up out of reach, carefully tended to stay green and healthy.

4) There is a reliable water and food supply. Gardeners are there every day to water the plants. Small children, in particular, are certain to trail cookie crumbs, popcorn kernels, bits of French fry, and the occasional entire slice of pizza. The enticement to eat is designed into every mall (don’t I well know, and why is it that I always park so that I have to exit past the cinnamon roll stand as I end my walks?). A food supply – even if not real nourishment – is guaranteed.

5) There is the ever-present elevator music to provide a pleasant ambience and set up a mind-numbing alpha-wave state in the brain. I don’t know if that matters to birds, but it does to mall designers; I suspect it puts customers in a pleasantly detached mental state conducive to spending money without realizing you’re doing it. I use it as “white noise” to help me focus and filter out distractions on my walks, because I use my walking time to do my intercessory praying.

6) There are lots of skylights, double-paned and insulated, to let the sunshine in, so people and birds have a view of the clouds and sun (but not the stars because the lights are never all turned off in the mall). You can see the sky without the bother of direct sun to fade your feathers.

All in all, I reflected, the mall could be a pretty good place for a vegetarian bird. All the basics seemed to be there, with no worrisome predators. To be objective, though, on my second lap I asked myself what wasn’t in the mall. On deeper inspection, I found lacking:

1) The natural cycle of the seasons. Even in a place with moderate winters, like here in Arizona, a bird needs to know when to do what. Certain bird behaviors, notably nesting, are triggered by the change in seasons. Does it leave a bird with a false sense of eternal spring, and upset biorhythms, to live in the mall?

2) The meaningful company of other birds. There are just not that many birds in the mall. I’ve never seen a group of birds perched on a pediment. I’ve never seen a nest tucked into any of the “o’s” or “e’s” of store signs, the way you always see them outside of grocery stores. Meaningful companionship seems hard to come by in a mall. Which leads me to:

3) Limited options. In mates, in only the ubiquitous Ficus Mallius to call home, in room to fly, in diet, all options in the mall are sorely limited. What you see is all you get. If you develop a craving for a nice earthworm in the middle of the night, forget it. Organic food is out of the question. There may be two health food stores in the mall, but, for a bird, healthy food is hard to come by. Nourishment, emotional and physical, is sorely lacking for a bird in the mall.

4) Purpose. In the natural world, birds serve a purpose, whether it is controlling insects, spreading seeds, or, even in death, feeding other animals. Without natural food to search for, predators to evade, and changing seasons to guide it, how could a baby sparrow ever learn to be the bird it is supposed to be? What purpose do birds serve in the mall, other than to arouse the curiosity of people like me? They certainly aren’t filling their God-given niche, or serving their God-given purpose in life. But – here’s the real sadness – do they even know they aren’t truly in the world?

5) Sensitivity. That anesthetized state of “pleasant” induced by elevator music does have its dangers. I discovered this first-hand one morning when, immersed in my own praying, I clipped a corner on a jewelry store too close and gashed my hand, not even realizing I was bleeding until half a lap later. What it does to birds, I don’t know, but persistent “pleasant” de-sensitizes us to danger and pain.

6) An easy way out. Though a wide-open door is a fairly easy way into the mall, there is no easy way back out. A bird has to wait for, and, more importantly, recognize, another open door in order to find its way out of the mall. Someone has to leave the door wide open. Then a bird has to risk closeness to people, the very people who frighten it, to take advantage of an open door out.

7) Sky. In the mall there are none of the risks of the sky, but there is also none of the freedom of the sky, none of the possibilities that exist only within that risky freedom. Outside, the winds may buffet it, the rain may soak its feathers, it will have to spend its days searching for food and water, and someone may even eat it. But outside, a bird will have the winds to soar on, trees and eaves and letters on store signs to shelter in, and a host of its own kind to find companionship with. A skylight is a poor substitute for the real sky.

What in the world does a bird in the mall have to do with you and me? Well, as if you hadn’t noticed, the world is trying to sell us on life in “the mall,” and we are only too willing to buy into that philosophy. I don’t mean the literal mall – though more and more of us seem to spend more and more of our time there – but the attitude that life in the comfort “happy” zone should be our highest goal. This is the state of mind that equates stuff with security. Peace means nothing beyond achieving a mental state of perpetual “pleasant,” undisturbed by pain or anxiety (our own or anyone else’s).   That’s even the first definition of “comfort” in the dictionary: “A state of mental or physical ease, especially one free from pain, want, or other afflictions.”Adversity is to be avoided at all costs. “Sounds good to me,” we reflect, and ask where we go to sign up.

We long for a life with no threats, no changes unless they’re positive, no risks, no unmet needs or desires, and no surprises – unless they’re to our benefit. We want nothing to jar us from our externally and circumstantially induced reverie. But, as wistfully as I yearn for it, is such a “controlled climate” existence the same thing as a life of peace, happiness, contentment, security, and purpose? With a “climate controlled” mind-set, how do I respond when the mall door opens, something threatening or unsettling rolls in, and I realize “pleasant ambience” won’t take care of it? Do I ever consider what will happen to my “peace” when there’s a power failure in “the mall”?

Birds get into the mall by accident, but people long for and actively look for a way into the perpetual comfort zone that I’ll refer to as “the mall.” We long to wake up in an ever balmy, no-sweat life, where the only one who notices changes is the maintenance person (God’s new job description) who makes the seasonal thermostat adjustments needed to keep us in our comfort zone. As for “seasons” in our lives, we’ll stick to the changing window displays that give us fair warning of Christmas four months in advance. We’d prefer a superficial seasonal change something like changing window displays – new furniture, the latest development in plastic surgery, or a new place to vacation – to those nasty seasons of failure and frustration, thank you, and don’t even mention the wrinkles on my face or silver “snow” in my hair unless I have some guarantee that the winter of my life will be as blissful as a Bing Crosby musical!

How hard we work to maintain some sort of permanent “white noise” to help us screen out the rest of the world and focus on ourselves! In the world of “the mall,” we covet the meaningful company of others only if they’re as carefree as we are, with their messier or more demanding needs already met. I admit, though not to my credit, that I draw back before pursuing relationships that may demand too much of my time or energy. Sometimes it is honestly because I recognize my time and resources are limited, and I want to live up to the commitments I do make, but my reasons aren’t always so honorable. Sometimes I simply don’t want to be bothered. Sometimes I’m just afraid that my own deficiencies will be revealed. I pull back from people who have significantly less money and education than I do – good grief, I even pull back from relationships with people who have significantly more!

I was shocked to discover how severely my comfort zones can limit my blessings shortly after we moved to a new town. The first people we met at church were a friendly couple, Jack and Kathleen, newcomers themselves, who were starting a small group in their home. Our son had a chorus concert on the evening of the group’s first meeting, so I went to the concert while my husband represented us at the small group. When we both got home that evening, my husband said he’d had a good time. He told me nothing about Jack and Kathleen’s house, except to note that they didn’t have a swimming pool. We did have a pool, and since Jack and Kathleen had two children, my husband thought it would be nice if we’d invite them over for a cookout and a swim.

“Sure, that would be great,” I replied, excited to have new friends to share with, so Jack and Kathleen and their two children came over for hamburgers and a swim. I gave them the tour of our house and told them to make themselves at home.   We really enjoyed getting to know them better, and I could tell Kathleen and I could be good friends.

A week later we went to the second small group meeting at their house – and I was horrified. You could put our house on the first floor of their house and still have room leftover! I felt so embarrassed, thinking of how I’d given them “the tour” of our modest house when theirs was palatial by comparison. Why hadn’t my husband told me before we invited them over? Why had he let me “make a fool of myself”? Then I realized – even more horrified by my shallowness – that if he had told me they had a lot more money than we did, I never would have felt comfortable opening our home to them. The difference in our income levels and my desire not to look “poor” by comparison would have kept me from experiencing the depth of friendship we soon came to share with them as we honestly opened our lives to each other. Staying in my “comfort zone” would have walled me off from so much goodness! I have to wonder how many significant friendships I miss in every direction when I’m uncomfortable with economic and ethnic differences.

How much we miss out on when we restrict our life to “the mall”! Does such a place really exist, and what would I lose from spending my time there?   Would it be a healthy place for me to live and grow?

I’d find no meaningful interaction and relationships with others – in short, no real love. No changes in my life would mean no growth. Now before you tell me I’m sounding like your mother and “growth” is just a euphemism for “unpleasant and painful”, consider this honestly:

No growth means I’d never develop discernment, wisdom, good judgment, or faith, or compassion for others that comes when my life doesn’t go the way I want it to.

I’d find no true peace, for genuine peace doesn’t come from the absence of conflict or fear.

I’d never learn endurance, and I’d never exult in victory, for victory implies a contest and the possibility of defeat.   I’d never fulfill my purpose, with all the unlimited-in-God possibilities my life could hold.

We can learn that from the life of Jesus. Knowing the cruel ordeal he was about to face, Jesus nevertheless assured his disciples during their last meal together:

 

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

With the dread and anguish of heart and mind that must have warred within him, recognizing what must come, how could Christ possibly have peace for himself, much less peace enough to give away? Yet he did. It came from something other than his circumstances. It came from the presence of God in him in his circumstances.

The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.                                                                               Psalm 29:11

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”                                                                                                    Isaiah 26:3

The peace and confidence Jesus had and gives to us doesn’t depend on living within some white-noised, “there is no pain in this world” problem-free zone where we always look like we have life together. Peace and security don’t come from our circumstances. The peace of Christ that “passes all understanding,” understands and trusts in the faithfulness, goodness, mercy and power of God to give peace within our circumstances.

True security doesn’t come from how much stuff I can amass as a shield about me, or from sailing through life with no troubles, or from surrounding myself with “happiness” and only people who “make me happy”, or from projecting the image that I have my life together. Stuff can disappear overnight, as Jesus pointed out to the crowd listening to him on a mountaintop, and problems are part of the reality of life.   If our security is in our portfolio, then we have no security.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust to not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”                                                                                       Matthew 6:19-21

Besides moths, rust, and thieves, today Jesus could add to the list downsizing, layoffs, identity theft, and plunges in the stock market. But if stuff isn’t security, then what is? What, or who, won’t leave us?

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”                                                                                                                                            John 16: 33

Real security is anchored in the promise that Jesus is bigger than our problems, that it’s who we are in him that matters, and that he will never leave us.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.’”                                                                                              Psalm 91:1-2

What better security can we have than knowing that God is always present with us, the victor for us?

What else would I miss in a climate-controlled life? I’ve noticed that malls offer plenty of stores to choose from, but they tend to offer just numerous variations on the same theme, whether shoes, jewelry, books, clothing, or fast food. Despite a veritable glut of stuff, often I’m unable to find what I really want in the mall, and I have to settle instead for something that only partially satisfies my need or is approximately what I want to find.   The same is true of life in our comfort zones: it’s an approximation of joy and freedom, superficially close to the real thing, but not at all what we really need. Jesus, on the other hand, offers us what we truly need and want to long for, if we trust him enough to fly out of “the mall”:

“I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance – to the full, till it overflows. ”                                John 10:10 (Amplified Bible)

Abundance, breadth, broadness, completeness, entirety, profusion, totality, vastness, and wholeness: these are a few synonyms for fullness. That hardly sounds like the narrow “everything going my way” constraint I mistakenly think I’d like to impose on my life.   Have you ever muttered, “Lord, I didn’t ask for this,” only to recognize that you have, in fact, asked God for strength, compassion, purpose, and victory? The very word “victory” implies overcoming an obstacle, threat, or challenge. My problem is that I want victory without the battle, meaning without the challenge! But Paul’s’ words remind me that God desires more than pseudo-abundance for me:

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”                                                       Ephesians 4:1

What is the life “worthy of the calling you have received”? It is:

“. . . that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.”  Colossians 1:10-12

This is what a life worthy of the calling of Christ looks like.   How does that stress-free, planter-boxed happy artificial scenery compare? As a friend of mine bluntly phrased it, God is more interested in our character than in our comfort. After I wince, I examine that truth and realize it is a loving truth, because the character of Christ is what I really need to fill the landscape of my life with exciting, meaningful, overflowing abundance.

I do want more from life than my own ease and pleasure – or at least part of me does. Another part of me gets very nervous when I feel the draft from the door God’s just opened. Let me clarify that I’m not talking about God calling me to dig wells in Africa. No, I hide in comfort zones much closer to home. I am appalled, in fact, to recognize how narrow my comfort zone truly is and how slight a shift it takes to make me anxious. The two “malls” that most often entrap me are “What will people think of me?” and “I don’t want any interruptions in today’s schedule.” Do you regularly visit to either of these?

Not long ago God challenged me to pray for people on the spot, as soon as I learn they have a need, even if it is in public. My first thought was, “But God, what will people think of me? They’ll think I’m a nut or some kind of religious fanatic.” The breeze was unmistakably blowing, though, so I mentally committed to pray out loud, in public, the very next time someone told me they had a need.

It happened the next week in the check-out line at Wal-Mat, and you can’t get much more public than that. When I politely asked, “How are you?” the clerk told me her husband was in a nursing home, recovering from serious surgery. She deeply longed to bring him home for Christmas but was afraid she wouldn’t be able to take care of him, even for a few days. My usual response would have been, “I’ll pray for you,” but I sensed it would be a shallow blessing if that was all I offered. Instead, I nervously asked, “Would you like me to pray for you right now?” My stomach knotted when she sighed, “Oh, yes.”   “Oh, no!” was my instant gut response, but I took a deep breath, willed myself to ignore the line of shoppers behind me, and prayed out loud for the clerk and her husband right there.

The look of peace that spread across her face told me Jesus was there for her with strength and peace in that very moment – and to see that, I didn’t care what the people behind me thought. She was encouraged, and I was free and flying!

Similar things happen consistently when I “fly with” interruptions in my days. In my normal “mall” state of mind, interruptions destroy my peace along with my schedule. Recently I had my busy day neatly arranged when the phone rang. “Oh, no,” I thought – my internal red flag that my comfort zone is about to be breached. I considered just letting the phone ring, but picked it up anyway. On the line was a friend from church who had moved out-of-town, just calling to say hello. At least that’s what we both initially thought the call was about. I still don’t know how the conversation shifted, but she was struggling with a painful issue that she had no idea I had also experienced in my life. The Holy Spirit suddenly powerfully filled my living room – at least that’s how it felt as we talked and prayed together. I was stunned once again with the realization that God moves across miles and through minutes to bring healing and hope, and if I cooperate instead of nesting stubbornly in “the mall” of my own agenda, I get to be part of his powerful purposes. I confess that I still cringe initially when the phone rings or a neighbor knocks on my door, but feeling God’s hand in mine as I take part in his purpose in each encounter refreshes and renews me.

I do (I think…) want to try my “wings” to find my purpose and fulfill it fruitfully, to grow in my knowledge of God, to be strong and persevering through all the seasons and circumstances of my life, to be a thankful, joyful, patient overcomer, no matter what comes my way. That means moving outside of the skylight world to a place where challenges will come. When I face that open door out of the mall and begin to see God’s world outside my own contentment, convenience, competence and complacency, sometimes I get nervous. No, let me be honest: I get scared, because it’s not a “safe” place out there. People who reject or abuse my efforts to love them can hurt me.   I can attempt an avenue of ministry or a challenge I’ve never tried before and fail. I may stand up for Christ and be cut down by people who scorn Christianity. It may cost me. The truth is, I usually feel more like a sparrow than an eagle. But like a bird in the mall, I won’t find the room to become more than I am now, or the place that’s truly my home if I never leave my comfort zones. I won’t learn what God is capable of if I never dare beyond what I know I can achieve myself.

But does that mean I must live without comfort? Not at all, and this is where the other definitions of comfort apply: “Relief from sorrow, distress, etc.; solace, consolation. One who brings ease or consolation. Help or support;” The Counselor whom Jesus said God would send, the Holy Spirit, is our Parakletos, which is Greek for intercessor, consoler, advocate, and comforter.

So how do I break free from that skylight-deluded mindset? A bird in the mall may have to wait a long time before it recognizes an open door. My problem isn’t the open door; I usually don’t have to wait long to feel the whoosh of God opening an opportunity to move me out of my comfort zones. “Donate cans of food for the food bank? Sure! But help serve a meal in a dining room for the homeless? Now wait a minute, God! It didn’t feel as weird as I expected the day the homeless lady hugged me outside the grocery store after I bought her some food, but do you actually want me to get to know one of these people?” No, my problem isn’t in finding an opened door; my problem lies in recognizing the emptiness of a climate-controlled life, the fullness and purpose of living in God’s daily call on my life, and God’s faithfulness to me when I do “fly out the door”.

You can not only trust Jesus to hold that mall door open for you – you can trust him to be the door for you, offering you the freedom to trust in him and “fly.” He wants us living freely and fully the broad, vast, whole life he promised – not captive to the counterfeit of the mall and the skylight. Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus is what God surely desires for us all:

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. . . .”                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Ephesians 1:18-19

The “skylight life” is a poor imitation; genuine life is in God’s abundant, risky, exhilarating, liberating adventure for us when we’re willing to fly out into the open skies. Will you take a deep breath, look afresh through the eyes of your heart, and trust God to be faithful in the adventure to which he’s calling you? Don’t settle for the skylight when YOU are destined for the sky!

Questions for you to  ponder with the Holy Spirit:

1) What defines your “comfort zones”? What stresses, misconceptions, or deceptions tempt you to wish for or actually head for the “climate controlled” life?

2) From time to time we all do need a place of rest, but  is the absence of stress the same as the presence of peace and rest?

3) God asked Moses to move WAY beyond his comfort zone. Read Exodus 33:12-17. Where can you find real peace and rest? ( also see Matthew 11:28-30 and Psalm 116:5-7)

4) Why does God call us out of our comfort zones?

Philippians 1: 3-6

Ephesians 2:8-10 3:16-19

5) Do you need to be afraid of what’s outside “the mall” of what the world calls safety, peace and meaning?

John 16:33

Jeremiah 29: 11

Romans 8:28, 38-39

Now the  big question:

6) In what area do you hear God calling you to “fly out” of your comfort zone this day, this week, this month and fly free in his calling?

 

A  “…BUT…” to pray today:

Litany of Wings

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,

For my soul takes refuge in you;

And in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, Psalm 57:1

For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. Psalm 63:7

For it is you who deliver me from the snare of the trapper,

and from the deadly pestilence.

You will cover me with your feathers,

and under your wings I may seek refuge. Psalm 91:3-4

You make the clouds your chariot and ride upon the wings of the wind;

you make winds your messengers Psalm 104:3b

Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength;

I will mount up with wings like an eagle,

I will run and not get tired,

I will walk and not become weary. Isaiah 40:31

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you Psalm 116: 7

Be at peace as you fly free in his calling

 

Funk & Wagnalls+ Standard College Dictionary, Funk & Wagnalls, a Division of Reader’s Digest Books, New York: 1966, 270.

Ibid.

 

“You Will Hear a Voice Behind You…”

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Ethan and I in Nanning – we made it!

Sometimes, sometimes God’s Word rings true right in the middle of real life. It’s always true, of course; I just don’t see it in action up close and personal every day, but at Christmas in 2014, God certainly proved his Word – and his Love – very true to me.

I flew my younger son Ethan with me to China to spend Christmas with my older son, daughter-in-law and the two grandchildren. Ethan had never been to China before and I thought it would be a fun way for him to see where his brother has worked for the last ten years. I’d taken four trips over there by myself, and yes, on the last two I had run into several snags in airports, but God had orchestrated help for me. Ethan was going to get to see God in action, and I was going to get a powerful reminder!

We flew into Beijing to catch an in-country flight to another city, arriving on a large. full plane early in the morning. We had about 90 minutes between planes, which I thought was adequate time to transfer, that is, until saw the line at the customs station in the Beijing airport. Ahead of us in line were roughly 200 people! It would take a small eternity to clear customs, and at 6:30 in the morning ….

A woman pushing a cleaning cart came up behind us as we were eyeballing the roadblock of people in front of us, and seeing our confustion, suggested in her limited English that we go through the diplomatic line over to the right. Could we do that? I decided it was worth a try, so, clock ticking,  we walked over to the  diplomatic line. A family was in front of us, and the father was methodically handing over eight passports to the agent. Sloooowwwwly the agent looked through them and stamped them, and sloooowwwly handed them back. At last we were next, and there was no problem evidently with us going through that line, even though we weren’t diplomats, when I showed the agent our departure time.

We sped off to the inter-terminal train, hoping to quickly go from Terminal B to Terminal D. The train zipped along to Terminal C, people exited, doors closed, and then the train zipped right past Terminal D to Terminal E! Whaaat???!! We had no choice but to exit the train, and ahead of us was yet another checkpoint. Beginning to feel flustered and anxiety creeping up in me, we began walking toward the checkpoint when a voice in perfect English behind us inquired, “Are you going to Nanning?”

I turned to find a young Chinese woman walking toward us, smiling. “Yes, we are,” I replied, amazed that of all the cities she could have named, she named the one we were going to. She walked withs through TWO checkpoints: the one into the terminal and the one on the other side of a stairway to catch the train going back toward Terminal B. She was a Mandarin instructor at a university in Texas and just happened to be from Nanning!

That wasn’t the end of our trials in departing the airport, and I will spare you the cliff-hanging terror of the accident when a bottle of taco seasoning my son was carrying as a Christmas gift flew out of one of his shoes as the FOURTH security team looked through his backpack, shattering and spilling spices all over the floor. (Frankly, this has been the story of my life for the past seven years!) Suffice it to say they held the gate open just long enough – and I’m talking ready to roll the jetway back – for Ethan to run to it and all of us board the connecting flight. Whew!

As we plopped down in our seats on the plane, a verse from Isaiah ran and leaped on the jetway of my consciousness: “Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”” Isaiah 30:21-22 NIV

Praise God, praise God, from whom all blessings flow …. I absolutely knew God had directed two people, perhaps women who didn’t even know him, to help us make our connection that morning.  Four years earlier I’d faced a similar dilemma when I arrived at another airport in China, this time on my way back home,. I needed to catch the bus to the ferry that would take me to the Hong Kong airport, but what met me in the parking lot was a sea of vans whose only signage was in Mandarin. Behind me was a voice on that morning, too, asking me if I needed to find the bus to the Hong Kong airport ferry, and who should God have sent that morning but a pilot for Air China!

If you look back to my posts in 2013, you’ll find one that’s titled “God of my steps and mis-steps.” Boy, have I taken some mis-steps since then, out of sheer grief that sometimes rose like a tsunami to drown me. I would much rather tell you that I’ve trusted God serenely with my whole heart, but in all honesty, and because I’m sure someone else who’s goofed, staggered, and fumbled their way  through grief or PTSD needs to hear this, GOD has remained completely faithful to me despite my staggering!

Some days I still do, finding it hard to believe even now that a person I trusted completely would prove utterly untrustworthy, BUT God is trustworthy in spite of my wavering trust in him.

I quote Charles Haddon Spurgeon from a sermon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, July 23, 1882:

I invite you to notice first of all THE POSITION OF THE WANDERER to whom this special blessing comes. How does God find men when he declares that they shall hear a word behind them? First, he finds them with their backs turned to him. This is clear enough, if you remember that the word is to be heard “behind” them. The sinner has gone away from God, and God calls after him from behind. He has turned his back upon his true Friend, his best Friend, his only capable Friend, but that Friend does not therefore change his temper and resent the insult; nay, he is provoked to a love more pleading and persuasive than ever, and calls to him to come into the right way. After having transgressed wilfully and wickedly, the rebel now distinctly turns his back on God and truth; according to the Lord’s complaint, “they have turned unto me the back, and not the face.” He turns his back on the law, on the gospel, on mercy, on eternal life. He turns his back on the adoption of the great Father, on pardon bought with the blood of Jesus, on regeneration which can alone be wrought by the Holy Spirit: he turns his back upon holiness, happiness, and heaven. He turns away from sunlight, and wanders down into deeper and yet deeper night, striving to get away from God and holy influences. Yet the Lord follows him, and with a voice of touching love and tender compassion he calls to him, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” The word of warning, instruction, and entreaty follows the wanderer, and with ever-increasing pathos beseeches him to turn and live. Again and again the wise, earnest, personal voice assails his ear, as if love resolved that he should not perish if wooing could win him to life. The wanderer seeks not God, but his God seeks him. Man turns from the God of love, but the love of God turns not away from him. What matchless grace is this, that God should thus call after sinners when they openly renounce his rule, and flee from his mercy.  http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1672.php

This reminds me of one of my favorite songs, both in English and Chinese: “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father. There is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not; Thy compassions they fail not. As Thous hast been, Thou forever will be.”

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

I wonder how much different my life might have been, how many potholes and how much quicksand I might have avoided if I could have done just that: trusted in the Lord with ALL my heart? Oh, people advised me to, but the problem is, nobody tells you HOW to do that, and the people telling you TO do that have very likely never gone through gut-wrenching tragedy to give you some helpful advice. Well, I have gone through it, and I’m still alive, and God is still showering his goodness on me despite all the (probably, definitely) needless angst and craziness  in my life since 2009. THAT is the message I have for you, dear someone who feels like a flop and failure for not being able to pull yourself up all by yourself and nobly trust in the Lord with ALL of your heart:  “Yet the Lord follows him (YOU), and with a voice of touching love and tender compassion he calls to him (YOU), “This is the way, walk ye in it.” The word of warning, instruction, and entreaty follows the wanderer, and with ever-increasing pathos beseeches him(YOU) to turn and live. Again and again the wise, earnest, personal voice assails his (YOUR)ear, as if love resolved that he (YOU) should not perish if wooing could win him (YOU) to life.”

As the trite saying of the 1970’s went, God ain’t finished with YOU yet! I don’t know what you’re going through. Some light is shining in my life at the end of a very long, dark tunnel, and I’m deciding maybe God wanted good for me all along! That’s who God is: goodness, love, mercy, kindness, power, provision, grace.

BUT God is also HOLY, Righteous, a Refiner’s Fire, PURE, and we do ourselves a mischief if you and I don’t remember that God is not to be trifled with in terms of the way we live our lives when we know better from God’s Word. So here is the rest of the passage from Isaiah 30:

Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day your cattle will graze in broad meadows. 24 The oxen and donkeys that work the soil will eat fodder and mash, spread out with fork and shovel. In the day of great slaughter, when the towers fall, streams of water will flow on every high mountain and every lofty hill. Isaiah 30:22-24 NIV

Pretty graphic warning, isn’t it? I am/you are to regard everything we cherish, value, fear or reverence above God Almighty as unclean, unholy, un-holdable, untouchable, not to be done, thought, said, valued, or worshiped.

You are radiant with light,
    more majestic than mountains rich with game.
The valiant lie plundered,
    they sleep their last sleep;
not one of the warriors
    can lift his hands.
At your rebuke, God of Jacob,
    both horse and chariot lie still.

It is you alone who are to be feared.
    Who can stand before you when you are angry?
From heaven you pronounced judgment,
    and the land feared and was quiet—
when you, God, rose up to judge,
    to save all the afflicted of the land.
Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise,
    and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.

Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them;
    let all the neighboring lands
    bring gifts to the One to be feared.
He breaks the spirit of rulers;
    he is feared by the kings of the earth. Psalm 76: 5-12 NIV

In our “God is our buddy” culture that I see all too often in the church in America, we need to remember that the voice we hear behind us speaking in mercy is also a voice of PURE Holiness from the ONE who has a right to judge every useless thought, word, attitude and action, and let us, sisters and brothers, live our lives wisely and care-full-ly in REVERENCE and Holy Awe, too, of the incredibly just and righteous God we dare to call Father.

A “…BUT…” to move: Today, God, show me how you’ve been there for me before. Remind me of the times you broke into my life with your love and guidance, even when I wasn’t looking for you: _____________________________________________________. And show me, please, yes even this: show me YOUR HOLINESS so I have the proper respect and awe of you, Olam El, Everlasting God Almighty ___________________________  In Jesus’ name, amen, and Holy Spirit, please, speak to me know in a way I can hear and understand. Correct me where you long to and need to, and lead me in YOUR righteousness to make YOUR way plain before my face __________________________

I’ll Never Find Another You

Gosh, my age is showing here, but I heard this song in my head this morning and amazingly remembered the name of the group, The Seekers. Hmmm… God speaks throughout culture sometimes in ways we only recognize later. In 1967 I/we thought this song was about that true, starry-eyed, Prince Charming/Cinderella faithful human love we’d find, but now after experiencing the if/because/when/until transience of conditional human love, I hear it more as a song about Jesus and God’s love for us through him. Now we’re – or some of us are – old enough to that know His, or human love fueled by His, is the only love that won’t walk away or fail us when we mess up.

For all of us Seekers, one of my favorite promises from God are in the words Moses spoke to Joshua:

Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance. “The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”Deuteronomy 31:7-8 NIV

The Lord appeared to us in the past,saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. Jeremiah 31:3

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high. Leviticus 26:13

Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me. Isaiah 49: 13-16

And Jesus was and is God’s love incarnate, made flesh. He told his followers, “I am the gate for the sheep… I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the  good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” ” John 10:7, 10-11 NIV

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you…as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.”  John 15:4,9

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. 1 John 3:16-24 ESV

I’m dumping “limerence” (that little “tingle in the belly” and stars in the eyes) that we so easily mistake for true love, putting it in its proper place as a temporary hormonal response that depends on the limbic system, and holding out for Jesus’ kind of courageous, marathon, forgiving and unflinching love. It’s the only kind worth giving, too, so that’s my aim and target, to be that kind of love for another/others.

No ejection seat, no parachute … just always, “forever and a day.”

True confession: I have the purple mini skirt dress I bought with my first paycheck in 1968, Carnaby Street look with a vest to go with it, and I can still wear it. I gelled and scotch taped my bangs, as all of us did back then, but my hair never would stay straight and flat ….. and still won’t. Older and hopefully wiser, my feet feel the”pony” coming on while my wavy hair does the same thing it’s done since 1968: wave. Somethings never change: my wavy hair, and, more importantly, God’s love and faithfulness.Let me dance for YOU, Jesus, and as I walk through the storm, you’ll be my guide, for I know I’ll never  find another YOU.

Can you lift this song in thanks to God for the unchanging, timeless, unconditional love he sent through Jesus? Let these words speak to you too, about his love for you:

There’s a new world somewhere
They call the promised land.
And I’ll be there someday
If you could hold my hand.
I still need you there beside me
No matter what I do
For I know I’ll never find another you.
There is always someone
For each of us, they say.
And you’ll be my someone
Forever and a day.
I could search the whole world over
Until my life is through
But I know I’ll never find another you.
It’s a long, long journey
So stay by my side.
When I walk through the storm
You’ll be my guide, be my guide.
If they gave me a fortune
My pleasure would be small.
I could lose it all tomorrow
And never mind at all.
But if I should lose your love, Lord,
I don’t know what I’d do
For I know I’ll never find another you.

A “…BUT…” to pray:  sometimes, God, it’s hard to believe that you can love me. People sure don’t love me, or act like they love me, when I mess up. I know I’m all too often the same, getting angry when others don’t meet my expectations, yet wanting mercy from those same others when I mess up. BUT here I am, Father God, standing in need of you more than anyone else. Remind me who I’ve failed and should ask forgiveness from _____________________________Remind me who’s failed me,  and I should extend a loving hand to anyway_______________________ Most of all, today, remind me of who YOU are to me ________________________________________ and who I am to you, Jesus ____________________________________________________