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 __________________________