IN THE SHADOW OF HIS HAND

The country of India is a giant kaleidoscope of varying sites and experiences as conflicting as that of the Taj Mahal and Calcutta’s putrid city dump.

Having spent a month in ministry in various locations, I was actually on my way back to Belgium with a stop-off in New Delhi, when I experienced one of the most memorable of days.  I was accompanied by three gals, whom I had met in Calcutta—a missionary wife, the pastor’s Indian secretary, and a well-known gospel singer from California.  The four of us put our heads together agreeing that we had worked hard and needed some fun before I left the country.  Thus was born the plan to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra three and one-half hours south of Delhi.

Due to the generosity of our gospel singer, we were treated to two nights in a lovely, even luxurious hotel.  Our little Indian secretary had never seen the inside of such a place.  Just sharing her “wonder” and enjoyment of a hot shower was worth the whole episode.

We hired a taxi for our trip to Agra paying the equivalent of $12.00 for the round-trip.  We had hoped to leave early in the morning, but our singer, who was a bit of a “Prima Dona,” just couldn’t get her act together, so we didn’t leave until close to noon.

Our outbound trip down a narrow, two-lane, road, through barren, sparsely inhabited countryside, was uneventful.  We had been warned, however, that highway robbery was a very real danger after dark, so we must return to the city before nightfall.

Having arrived in Agra after 3:30 p.m. and being desperate to see the sights, we sort of ignored the warning.  After all, here we were, four pretty girls.  Who would want to harm us?  I don’t think we actually thought that, but the attitude was there.  Our driver was nervous.  He urged us to leave, but our “Diva” wasn’t ready yet.   Finally, when the sun was already dipping in the west, we agreed to go, but we needed a refreshing drink before setting out on this grueling trip.  Our henchwoman insisted that we stop at a hotel just outside the city.  The driver had no choice.

When, sometime later, we exited the hotel, wouldn’t you know, there before us, in the courtyard, stood a gigantic elephant bedecked in all his finery?  He wore a beautiful “jhools” or saddle cloth, a bright head plate adorned his forehead, and on his back was an ornate “howdah”-a seat for passengers.  How could we resist?  Would I ever have another opportunity to ride an elephant?  It was a blast.  In fact, riding that elephant and later, a camel, were two of the funnest things I ever did.

It was just bordering on dark when we resumed our trip, but the delays were not over.  Thirty minutes out, we had a blowout.  After the driver changed the tire, he insisted we return to Agra, because he had no other spare, but we were tired and hungry and vetoed that idea.  I am sure this kind man had never before faced a phalanx of determined American women.

Darkness had fallen in earnest.  This was no broad, brightly illuminated freeway.  Only occasionally did we see a pinprick of light from a distant dwelling.  It was eerie.  I became increasingly worried as I thought of robbers.  All of a sudden, up ahead, blinding lights appeared.  We were sure the jig was up.  Our California gal hid her expensive camera under the seat and stuffed her jewelry in her bra.

Instead of robbers, we encountered a military roadblock.  We were not allowed to continue our trip until other foolish drivers, traveling the same road, arrived behind us.  After some time, and a long line of vehicles, we had the safety of military escort back to the city. Arriving well after midnight, we were relieved, tired and hungry.

The warning we had ignored was real.  The danger was imminent enough to engage the Indian military, yet I doubt we lost any sleep over it.  Somehow, subconsciously, we felt immune to such threat.  It couldn’t happen to ME!  Could it?

We sometimes treat God’s warnings or counsel in the same manner.  We sort through scripture obeying what we want and ignoring the ones that do not apply to “ME.”

We live in a dangerous world, both seen and unseen.  At times we face danger because of our own foolishness thinking we will never suffer the consequences.  However, our only surety is in obedience, for when our steps “are ordered by the Lord,” we have the promise that He will uphold us with His own hand.

According to the Isaiah,  Jesus is our Counselor.  He instructs us, teaches, guides, and warns us.  If I love Him, I will obey Him happily knowing that it is for His honor and for my good.

Psalm 19:8-11 tells us, “The statutes of the Lord are right …Moreover by them Your servant is warned and in keeping them there is great reward.”

In Psalm 32:7, David itemizes the reward. “You are my hiding place.  You shall preserve me from trouble.  You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.”

This is a dangerous world.  Stay safe “in the shadow of His hand.”

 

WHEN LIFE IS NOT FAIR

“Life isn’t fair,” my friend exclaimed, as we walked toward the sanctuary.  She had been telling me about her sister, who was trying to decide whether or not she would undergo Chemo-therapy.

“No,” I thought.  “Life certainly is not fair!”

I sat in the morning service trying to worship and keep my mind on the sermon, but this thought troubled me.

I remembered my childhood, when we wailed at each other, because “You got a bigger piece than I did,” or “I’m going to tell Mama you won’t let me…  That’s not fair!”

As adults our sense of fairness is offended when we see the way powerful people get away with things, and why should some people be born into money and others be born into poverty?  The simple answer is, “The world has never been fair.”

However, by regulating, adjudicating or legislating, we have tried to do away with unfairness.  We give money to people, many of whom don’t even want to work.  Schools have done away with “Winners” and “Losers.”  Everybody gets a ribbon whether or not he ranked first or fifty-seventh.  But mandates don’t create fairness.

Many years ago, when I was a public school teacher, a father sat across the desk from me.  It was parent-teacher conference week.  His daughter was one of my fourth-grade students.

She was a pretty little thing, well behaved for the most part, and she did try.  But she was, on the best of days, a “C” student.

Her father, a psychologist in his own right, imagining that he had the upper hand in this conference, didn’t like what he saw on his daughter’s report card and was determined to change it.

“Look,” he demanded.  “You can change some of these grades.  Just put some more “A’s” on this card.  After-all, she’s a pretty girl.  She will grow up and marry well.  What difference will it make then?” He wanted to level the pathway for his daughter.  He wanted life to be fair.

Reality is that life isn’t based in fairness.  Some things happen that we don’t bring on ourselves.

After waiting seventy-six years, sweet Cecil came along, and we were married.  Five months and eleven days later, God chose to take him home.  That doesn’t make any sense.  All of my friends have enjoyed fifty years or more of marriage.  That’s certainly not fair.

I have envied my brother and his family.  They were always together for holidays.  On Christmas, when I called, I could hear the happy ruckus in the background, and I longed to be with them.

Now my brother, who is the best man in this world, is virtually alone.  His wife is gone.  His oldest daughter died last fall, and his younger daughter has moved away.  That’s not fair.  He deserves better.  I am sad for him.

And the list goes on!

I know that you can add your own story to my catalog of unfairness.

Ninety-nine percent of people think they are treated unfairly at one time or another, and the other one percent think they are not treated fairly enough.  We can spend our time complaining and never extricate ourselves from this quagmire of self-pity, or we can realize that whether we were born with a silver spoon, plastic spoon or no spoon at all, it’s not the circumstances, but what we make of them.  We always have choices about how we respond.  The greatest adversity life can throw at you affords another opportunity to look to Jesus for His “more excellent way.”

And—by the way, you are permitted to question God.  Jesus did.  He cried, “Why have you forsaken me?”  God understands you.  He knows your struggle.  He knows your need.  You can complain to Him.  He will not hold it against you, but while you are complaining, do a little listening.

This world often judges us unfairly, because we are judged by what we can do and the number of people we impress.  I am grateful this world is not my ultimate judge.

One day, after I have navigated the rocky shoals of this life, I will stand before my maker, God Himself, the one who said, “WHOSOEVER WILL MAY COME,” the one who said He would make no difference between “JEW or non-JEW, SLAVE and FREE, MALE and FEMALE.  He will be my judge, and His judgment will be absolutely fair.  He won’t care about how much money I have accumulated or how many people I have impressed.  I will be judged by three things only.

  1. Has the blood of Jesus Christ been applied to my life—is my name written in His book?
  2. Have I been faithful to Him?
  3. Have I obeyed His Word?

On that day, I expect to hear the words from Matthew 25:23.  “…Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Lord.”

In spite of this world’s unfairness, just be faithful to God.  Through His compassion, kindness, and love, you will receive more than you deserve, more than you can ever earn and more than you can ever hope for.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

A DIFFERENT KIND OF FREEDOM

I sat in my living room floor, in Brussels, packing and repacking.  I was scheduled to leave the next morning for a teaching assignment in the country of Poland.  That was 1979, and the “Iron Curtain,” which divided the east from the west was a looming reality.

It would be eight years before President Reagan would stand in front of that dividing wall and demand, “Mr. Gorbachev, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!”

Those under communist rule suffered cruel restrictions and limited resources.  I had heard frightening stories about attempts to smuggle Bibles and other religious materials into communist-controlled countries.  Materials were confiscated, the culprits jailed and keys thrown away.

Yet, there I sat surrounded by mountains of religious materials that were absolutely essential for the training of Sunday school teachers and other children’s workers.  In a brief moment of fear, I thought to cancel the trip, but, resolutely, I put everything back in the cases, and made the trip as planned.

Much to my relief, my luggage was not opened in Warsaw (that’s a whole other story), and after a short flight to Krakow, I was met by a friendly pastor and Peter, the young man who would be my translator.  We drove through the dark, snowy night to the town of Cieszyn on the border of Poland and Czechoslovakia.  Barriers, border crossings and armed guards were strange sights to this gal from “America, the land of the free.”

It had been arranged that I stay with the pastor and his family in their tiny, cramped apartment.  I was thrilled to be in a Polish home.  It didn’t matter that it was not luxurious.  However, I was puzzled by a conversation overheard between the pastor and Peter.  They were concerned because there was no room available for me in the hotel.

“What would the authorities say?”

“Can’t I just say I am staying with you,” I asked?

“No, that would be very unwise,” the pastor replied.

By the next day, a hotel room was available, so I went to the hotel, registered, picked up my key and returned to the pastor’s home.  On my last day there, I went back to the hotel, paid my bill, turned in my key and left without ever having seen the room in which I had “stayed.”  I did, however, have that essential piece of paper in my hot little fist—the paper that proved I had paid for a hotel room.  Such intrigue was beyond me, but it was part of the fabric of life for these people who lived it every day.

How can I tell you about these simple, warm-hearted folks, who opened their hearts and arms to me?  I believe they actually liked me—this strange American woman who went bareheaded on the coldest day, who insisted on drinking cold water in the dead of winter and devoured their delectable potato dumplings with delight.  They opened their hearts and minds to receive the simple teaching and materials.  They laughed at my silly jokes, and with tears expressed their gratitude for such help.  Then on the last day, they brought lovely gifts that I  cherish still.

On Sunday, after learning that demonstrations in Warsaw had canceled flights and stopped most trains, we rushed through the bleak countryside eighty miles to Katowice, the city made famous by Lech Walensa, to the railhead, where a train to Warsaw might originate.

The scene on the platform was one of bedlam.  It was almost impossible to get through the crowd.  Finally, the pastor and our driver picked up Peter and put him through the window handing my luggage in after him.  Then they hustled me up the steps and said their goodbyes.

The corridor and every compartment were jammed with travelers.  There was standing room only.

“I thought we had first class tickets,” I said.

“This is first class,” Peter replied.

After some time, we found a jump seat in the aisle, and Peter graciously offered it to me, while he stood for the entire five-hour trip.

Monday was a delightful day spent touring the beautiful old city of Warsaw.  Early in the evening, without incident, I boarded my flight to Brussels.  As I flew home, my heart and mind were filled with the people, whom I had just left.  These people lived in bondage and deprivation, yet they enjoyed a kind of freedom that many never know.

Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free…”

Galatians 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free…”

2 Corinthians 3:17, “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

These dear, fellow believers had found their freedom and hope in Jesus Christ.  They touched my life only briefly, and somehow I was changed forever.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

Growing up poor, in humble surroundings among good, Godly, simple people, you would think that my expectations and ambitions would not rise far above the common.  However, I have learned that it is impossible to know and understand the longings of a human heart.

Regardless of my background, from early years, I longed to be part of the “beautiful people.”  O, I’m not thinking at all of the glitz and glamour of this world, for my life totally revolved around the church, where I spent many of my waking hours.

To me, the “beautiful people,” in the church, were those who sang, and preached, and taught—the ones who were in charge of events, who were elected to office, whose names were well known—those on the platform.

I wanted to be on the platform.  I must admit, my assessment of those “beautiful people” was only skin deep.  I knew nothing of the way they lived life.  I just wanted the same attention they enjoyed.

I am happy to tell you that this longing was tempered through the years, as I learned to be obedient to God, and follow His plan for my life.  It was during those early years of ministry, that I met and fell in love with some of God’s truly “beautiful people.”

I was on temporary assignment to our Bible College in Spain, when I met Trella Hall.  Trella was a spinster—a maiden lady, (I hate that term) in her mid-sixties.  She was a veteran missionary with years of experience in Latin countries.

Though her appearance was pleasant enough, I doubt she would have been considered beautiful.  She certainly would not have passed as fashionable.  She wore cotton house dresses and laced up brogan shoes.  He white hair was pulled back into a knot on the nape of her neck, and the front of it was tortured into narrow finger waves.

Trella was not the president of the college, in fact, I don’t know what her portfolio was, but to my way of thinking, she was the glue that held that school together.

She knew and loved every student aware of his particular situation.  The students knew, and loved, and respected her.   In fact, they “feared” her more than they feared God Himself.  When Trella said “jump,” they jumped.  She lived on the grounds and was readily available in times of need.  Students knew they would always receive a truthful, appropriate response from this dear woman—comforting arms or a stern voice.

I was alone in Spain, and I was lonely.  The missionaries, who were responsible for my being there, were extremely busy and had no time for the fellowship I had anticipated.  What would I have done without Trella?

She opened her arms and her home to a young, inexperienced, “green horn” missionary.  The cups of tea, the conversations, the council, and the comfort are tucked away in my collection of wonderful memories to be unwrapped at odd moments and remembered with pleasure and thankfulness.

During those months in Spain, I began to understand true beauty.  As the truth dawned, I found myself praying, “O, God, I want to be a missionary just like Trella Hall.  I want your love and compassion, and wisdom to flow from me as it flows from her.

In Trella, I met one of God’s genuinely “Beautiful People.”

I learned that I don’t have to be on the platform with people groveling at my feet to be beautiful.   I just have to be genuine—genuinely in love with Jesus—genuinely in love with His ways—genuinely in love with people.  When I am genuine, I open the door for His beauty to shine in and out of my life.  When the beauty of Jesus can be seen in me, then I’m one of the “beautiful people.”  It is not my beauty.  It is His beauty.

In Matthew 23:27, Jesus said, to the Pharisees of His day, “People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.” 

I don’t want to be a fraud!  I want to be beautiful.

The words of this song keep singing over and over in my spirit.

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me,

All His wonderful passion and purity.

O, thou spirit divine, all my nature refine,

‘Till the beauty of Jesus is seen in me.” 

This is my daily prayer.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!