“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 __________________________

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G-ray vision

imagesSuperman in the 1950’s TV series had X-ray vision to see through walls and doors and anything. In my later years I wondered, as I’m sure some boys did in earlier years, if he truly saw through EVERYTHING. No doubt some wished for that super power.

I’m moved so deeply today through another kind of super power. To be “catchy,” I’ve titled it “G-ray vision,” but its far from a funny hook. I was moved to fall on my face on the floor in humility and my own contrition for a huge blunder I made last month, on the floor a few minutes ago to recognize that beyond our sin, how incredibly valuable God’s children are to him, how great indeed beyond measure the price he gave for us to be in relationship with him, not as his servants, but as his sons and daughters. That gives each of us who call him our Father and Lord the responsibility to see each other, to consider each other, to regard each other as that valued and actually holy. You are God’s child, infused with incredible value, worth, dignity and honor, and any person who seeks to know you (at least I think in God’s perspective) dang well ought to recognize and respect your intrinsic value, irrespective of anything you do or don’t do, or say or don’t say, withhold or give, apart from your intelligence, apart from the deeply demanding work you do, apart from your appearance, purely because you are worth the Blood of Jesus.

How we miss it! How we value and withhold value from others based on all of those superficial things, go through online dating sites’ bazillion questions to determine “compatibility,” screen out people as friends or worth getting to know or let into our life in any way based on their appearance, their job, their net worth, their car, their hobbies, what movies and music they like, what they do for fun, when we ought to be looking for the stamp of God’s ownership on each other, knowing other factors are minor, superficial, of secondary importance compared to that person’s God-infused dignity and value.

That’s why I can’t lead a brother into temptation and sin, why I can’t dress enticingly – especially not in church – why I can’t use my words to flirt and flatter and cause any brother to fall into any kind temptation or degrade him in any way by seeing him as a “catch” or “something that will give ME worth to possess” or to “bag.” How disgusting to God if I thought of any man that way, and how dishonoring to him and filth-bringing to the vessel of honor God intends me to be because of his offering of himself in his Son Jesus to bring me into God’s very own family.

It’s why no Christian man, no one who names himself by the Name above all Names, should ever entice a woman with flattering words, shiny gifts, pricey dinners, or false promises just to “bag” her for his own glorification or personal gratification. We aren’t created and bought with Jesus’ blood to use each other or lead anyone away from personal integrity and purity.

Why does a  Christian woman wear that extremely short dress to church? I saw one woman today on Easter Sunday and wondered how she cold sit in the chair in front of me without revealing what God has called holy, meant to be seen by one man alone in covenant alone? Why the plunging neckline and five-inch heels? Sisters in Christ, why lead a son of God into temptation just to satisfy your need to feel desirable and wanted? Men, brothers in Christ, why are you giving  seductive winks, flattering words and slick phrases like flowers meant to attract a “bee,”  and false promises to God’s daughter if you don’t intend to honor and respect her and protect her integrity and purity? Do you see what you are doing to your own worth, dirtying the dignity Jesus gave you in his bearing the lashes and thorns and nails?

This is G-ray vision:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:3-8 NSAB

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Romans 12: 9-11 NIV

His (God’s) divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 2 Peter 1:3-7 NIV

Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. 2 Timothy 2:18-21 NIV

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 2 Peter 2:20 NIV

I don’t care what “modern American culture” says is okay, what is tolerable, what’s even admirable and desirable to achieve “self-actualization,” what slips and slides from righteousness are “not so bad.” I actually heard a man excuse and rationalize  his pornography habit by saying, “If that’s my worst sin, it’s not so bad. Besides, God made me this way.”  What an insult and affront to the Blood of Jesus, the holiness of God, even that man’s own purity as a son bought and meant to be cleansed and holy by the agony and sacrifice of Jesus Christ! I don’t care WHAT the world says; I care what the God of the Universe, Alpha and  Omega, Creator, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Righteous One, Holy One, Immutable Love and Purity,says is right, what He says is wrong, what He says honors others, what he says degrades them and defiles me in the doing.

Under the compelling conviction of the Spirit, today, on Resurrection Day, I  publicly say these things to prayerfully help a few other people who may read it choose to really, truly, rightly and respectingly turn from culture and truly honor and value others.

Anyone’s attitude of dishonor, contempt and degrading selfishness is intolerable to God, given what Jesus paid for you and me. That’s not my pride talking, because i didn’t and couldn’t do a thing to make myself “acceptable” to God.I am only acceptable, and more than acceptable – beloved – because of Jesus’s death on the cross for my sins.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  2 Corinthians 5:21

Believe me, in no way am I “holier than thou,” I ain’t holy at all in my own right, and I fall down and fail as often as the next person. Today I had to bow before my Father God in surrender and say, “Yes, Abba, I am yours, I must choose to see and honor your value in me and not degrade the price you paid for me, just to have a man want me.”

Salvation is our free gift; discipleship costs us. What am I, what are you willing to give up, give over, do without, yes SPEAK OUT and stand up for to honor the Savior who bought you?

Can I call you to join me today to become the true superheroes? Can I ask you to choose, against the tide of an increasingly narcissistic culture, to  become the men and women with G-ray vision? Can you feel your own dignity rise as you do, to your rightful place as a child of the living, holy God?

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And value them as you are valued, see them as you are seen by God!