Monday, August 29, 2011

Can God use me on this ordinary day with the dog snoring in the chair?

Have you ever thought you live such an ordinary life that the possibility of achieving anything of note is even less likely than seeing a man from Publisher’s Clearing House on your porch extending a big, fat check?

Or that the God of the Bible is just that—a hope caught between precious pages?

I think the reason I enjoy reading other people’s stories of faith is because they encourage me on those days when the dog is snoring in the chair, and I’m trying to pull some thought of wisdom out of my head, and nothing’s wrong except an undercurrent of discontent that I am not doing enough for God and I am certainly not being enough for Him. (I know—He’s not about that, but my defective agitation is.)

And then I read about another “ordinary” person whose “ordinary” outlook was changed in an instant by the reality of His presence. And I am reminded He is the same God then and now; for her and for me, with Whom all things are possible.

One of my women of faith heroes is Amy Carmichael, the young Irish woman who ended up in India rescuing children sold into sex slavery for the temples.

In her book, the Gold Cord, Amy said her life changed in an instant on an otherwise uneventful Sunday afternoon when she and her mother and siblings were walking home from church. They came upon a ragged woman carrying a heavy burden. The Carmichaels, who were a respectable Irish Protestant family, but “not at all exalted Christians,” offered to help.

Amy and her siblings were, in fact, mortified to be doing so. She said they plodded along, “the wet wind blowing the rags of that poor woman till she seemed like a bundle of feathers, and we unhappily mixed up with them.”

And then, in the middle of that adolescent embarrassment, on that ordinary Sunday afternoon, as they passed by a fountain, she suddenly saw a phrase emblazoned through the drizzle:
                “Gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble…if any man’s work abide

As she turned around, the voice, the flash, the words disappeared, and all she saw was the drizzle, the fountain and the people. But that moment, that outburst of God into her life changed her forever and she knew “nothing could ever matter again but the things that were eternal.”

Although in the fifty years she lived in India, she rescued thousands of children, a feat we would deem mighty, she actually had trouble getting people to help initially because many missionaries wanted to do “God’s work” rather than nursemaid children.

One day while she was working in her room, a toddler picked up a book and grinning, as though he greatly approved, held it straight out. She had to laugh at the humorous truth. The title—Practical Christianity!

We all may not be as Amy Carmichael and get to experience an instantaneous Holy Spirit, life-changing Eureka, and we may not all go to far shores and do great and noble things, but we all can press into Him with our heart, mind, and body and be faithful to what He has given us this moment because we don’t know what the next moment holds. We have no idea what He can do tomorrow with our little faithfulnesses of today, with our seemingly insignificant days of practical Christianity.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.

Carmichael, Amy. Gold Cord: The story of a fellowship.Fort Washington, Pennsylvania: Christian Literature Crusade, 1992.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Not your typical hymn: "We have no bugs, we have no fleas, come, come, come"

Can you imagine saying goodbye to your daughter, knowing she has less than $10.00 in her pocket, yet is determined to go to the far and distant land of her calling, even though it means traveling alone across Siberia in a time of war?

I suspect heaven was bombarded with tears of sacrifice as Glaydys Alyward’s mom sewed secret compartments in her daughter’s underwear, tied a couple of pots to her old suitcase, which held more food than clothes, and blessed her farewell. Determined to share the Gospel with the lost, Gladys boarded the train and set her face toward China.

(Although I want to stay on with Gladys’s story, I pause to reflect on trusting the Lord with our loved ones—allowing Him the way and the will to do with them as He so chooses without our “protective” interference.)

The journey across Europe and Asia was not without danger. When the train stopped because of fighting ahead, Gladys walked alone through the Siberian night to backtrack to the last town, got held hostage by Russians who changed her passport from missionary to machinist because they needed workers, escaped on a Japanese boat, and finally arrived in China only to find out the woman had not met her, and she still had to travel two more days by mule. To say nothing about having to sleep on the lice-ridden communal kang (brick bed with fire underneath) with the mule owner and every other traveler.

All the way, she clung to her word from the Lord: “Be not afraid.”
The elderly missionary, Mrs. Lawson, figured if they turned the dilapidated building she’d acquired into an inn, they could tell Bible stories to the travelers at night. The problem was, no one wanted to stay at the “white devil “women’s place.

 I’m sure Gladys never suspected her first missionary work would be to stand in front of the inn and sing: “We have no bugs; we have no fleas, Come, come, come.”  Not only did she have to sing, but she had to grab the lead mule as the mule train passed by and pull it into the yard so that the others would follow—all the while being yelled at by the frightened mule driver!

When Mrs. Lawson died, leaving young Gladys alone, she desired to continue but had little means of support. Once again—His ways are not our ways, but how wonderful they are!

The Mandarin of the territory solicited her to inform people throughout the countryside of the new mandate against binding feet. At first shocked that she was to be a foot inspector, Gladys quickly realized that she would have protected access to innumerable homes and would be able to share the Gospel as she checked and unbound feet. It was a perfect setup!

Lord, open our eyes to the opportunities You present in unexpected packages. May we trust You in the twists and turns of our journey and rest assured You will accomplish that which concerns us.

Over the years, Gladys took in hundreds of orphaned children, at one point, fleeing from the Japanese invaders over mountain passes with a hundred little ones.

Gladys Alyward: One ordinary woman in the hands of one great big God.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

When God doesn't favor the straightest line between two points

“This was not the life I had pictured for myself.”—Gladys Alyward, on becoming a mule handler and foot inspector in China. 
Ha! Hardly the outcome a young missionary would have envisioned for herself, and for some of us, not the life we had expected either.

Don’t you love the possibilities with God? When He says His thoughts are not our thoughts, He means it. One of the things I delight in about His ways is not only are they full of promise, but they are often full of unusual surprises.

I’ve enjoyed re-reading some of the stories of extraordinary women such as Biddy Chambers, Gladys Alyward, and Amy Carmichael who dared to follow God even when the “doors shut” and the path lead over uncertain ground.

Gladys Alyward (1902-1970) wanted to be a stage actress, but after giving her life to Christ at a church meeting one night, she turned her passion toward the unsaved. When she heard about an elderly woman who had packed up and gone to China on her own because she couldn’t find anyone to go with  her, Gladys knew that was where she belonged.

She enrolled in a mission society college but after three months was dismissed on grounds that she was “unqualified.” Here she was, a young woman burning with a desire to go on the mission field and tell people about Christ, but who had just flunked out of mission school.

Man may affect our plans, but what appears as detours and barricades to us, are possibilities and pathways in the hands of the Lord. He was not finished with His plans for Gladys.

The school chairman recommended Gladys take a job caring for some retired missionaries. From them, she learned an important lesson—to wait and trust God with her dream. Her question was one we labor over in each of our lives: “How will I know when and where to go?” she asked.

The missionary couple’s answer was simple, “He will show you.”

I suspect we often want God to give us the answer all at once in a nice, tidy, clear way. We think waiting for His specific direction means just that—waiting without moving until it is all mapped out. But a moving object is easier to direct than a stationary one. And sometimes, oftentimes, we just have to do the next thing.

While reading from Nehemiah one night, Gladys realized that although Nehemiah was just a butler, he went and did the task the burned his heart.

She felt the Lord ask her, “Is Nehemiah’s God your God? Then go.”

 “I am not Nehemiah,” she countered.

“No, but assuredly I am his God.”

And that is, in the purest, most simple form, what we all need to remember when all else is complicated and cloudy. When others say we aren’t and we can’t.

He is God.
The issue resolved, with about two cents to her name, Gladys Alyward, a young woman in her twenties, moved to London and  began saving money for her passage to China.

To be continued

Alyward, Gladys.The Little Woman as told to Christine Hunter. Chicago: Moody Press, 1970.
Benge, Janet and Geoff. Gladys Alyward: The Adventure of a Lifetime. Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 1998.