Revelation through Total Aggravation

When Jesus Walks Through the DMV  taught me that God is sovereign over all – believers need not disdain any bureaucracy or authority.   Obviously,  He was preparing me for an agency even more despised, the IRS, who contacted me just before Thanksgiving.  ‘We are auditing your taxes’, was the message in brief, and almost forgetting the lessons learned through the DMV I began to battle,

IRS sign

Why? We’ve done nothing wrong.  We’ve worked and paid taxes all our life!

But underneath this fleshly response, my heart acknowledged, perhaps the Lord, who owns my life, has a godly reason for bringing me to the IRS. 

“We need certain documents” they claimed and the agent I contacted added, “you can bring an attorney.”  An attorney?  Why would I need an attorney?  “Oh, no reason, I’m just stating your rights…”  Rights?  What’s next, Miranda?  I took the earliest available appointment, confident that those documents were easily obtained and this matter would be resolved.  In fact, I mused, this might be an open door to share the Gospel with an IRS agent…who knows God’s purpose!

“We can fax them to you within an hour” the company claimed.  I have no fax but thankfully, my sister in MA did and I was there to cook a big Thanksgiving dinner.  An hourI can spare an hour…just sit by the fax machine and all is well.  After this I’ll review my returns and be all set….hour goes by, hour and half….”It’s on it’s way!” they insisted.   I haven’t used fax in a long time but I do recall that the process is fairly instantaneous.   After two hours and huffy conversation with a supervisor who claimed, “It’s been sent” I quit.  Agh, I didn’t have two hours to waste!   

I let steam rise within, even as my heart recalled Watchman Nee’s teaching on Satan’s ‘bestirring of the saints’…

“Stop crying, and you will come into victory.  Do remember that Satan wants you to be stirred up…Satan does not seek for an explosion of your temper; he merely wants you to be agitated.  And thus will he win….Victory is when you are not stirred up…Victory means you pay no attention…Your calmness, aloofness and carelessness are rightfully called a letting go….If you let go, God will take over.”  (excerpt from The Life That Wins)

My sister commandeered the turkeys and all went well.   Bob and I planned to leave MA on Saturday to avoid Sunday holiday traffic so we packed the trunk, Becky the cat and kissed my parents bye.  “I wish you could stay longer…” my 89 year old mother said sadly as we hugged.  Watching her wave from the door as we drove away weighed heavy on my heart.

I assuaged my sadness with the ‘traffic rationale’, yet after 20 miles cars started piling up.  “Just a slow patch” I tried to believe while fighting the temptation to go back home to mom.  Meanwhile,  Feral Becky in the back began her wailing marathon, “WAH! WAH! WAH!”

Why was every car in the universe traveling my way?  After 3 hours, agitation began to churn.  My husband offered, “Want me to drive?”  No.  “Want to listen to some music?”  No.  “Want to hear a sermon message?” No.

After 5 hours I was stewing,  nothing could interfere with this rising tide of angst within me….the IRS, my aging parents – unreconciled with God…my aching back…regrets and disappointments erupted – and why did the door close on that mission trip, my heart was so set to go…”WAH! WAH!”

As I succumbed to discouragement,  guilt also churned as I know full well murmuring and complaining is an offensive to God.  I could have cauterized it with an ‘about-face’ to the Lord but no…I chose to wallow as I drove until –

BOOF!

How can your tire blow out while doing 15 mph on the parkway? (Ok, there was a slight swerve, dip and bump) With no shoulder we hobbled through traffic to a grassy area.  The ‘encouraging husband’ was now more than ‘bestirred’ himself!  However for me, the blowout was a slap in the face from God, shutting down the spew of unfaithful brooding and bringing me into the peace from repentance.

In the cold wind we were a site for rubber-neckers as Bob threw luggage and stuff from the trunk to get to the ‘donut’.   I prayed for Bob as he struggled in the cold wind.  We agreed – only God enabled him to complete that task!

Through 2 more hours of traffic, Becky wailing, and my back was aching I was fine, my heart was reset, depending on the Lord, grateful for His discipline and believing Him to bring us home safe, ‘donut’ and all.

Of course I know Philippians 2:14, “Do everything without complaining…shine like stars in the universe…” But I also know I Corinthians 10:10 as Paul admonished believers and referred to the Israelites, “And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel.”

Unsurrendered heartache, discouragement, and disappointment are launching pads for total aggravation.  But God in His faithfulness uses ‘total aggravation’ to reveal our weakness and immaturity as well as underlying issues so we may repent, grow and ‘reset’ to press forward.  He is refining us, not only for eternity, but for here and now,

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  (Ephesians 2:10)

Oh Lord, let me hear and know Your calling and rise up in faith to fulfill those ‘good works’ that You prepared in advance for me to do!

“Turkey Guilty of Genocide!”

As an Armenian I must have heard that cry “1.5 million” times and yet it has never lost its piercing anguish.  I had to join alongside the Kurds with other Armenians, Greeks, and Syrians yesterday at the White House as President Trump met with Turkish President Talaat Pasha Erdogan.

 

Why cry out?  Doesn’t President Trump know he’s meeting with a despot?  Will gathering together bring about any real change?  Compelled to go, these sad questions loomed in my heart.  Those are irrelevant questions for a believer.  The follower of Christ need only resolve:  what is God doing?  how is He leading my heart, my life?  is this emotion within or truly a burdening from the heart of God?

When we are born again and indwelled with the Holy Spirit, the resources of our lives – even brokenness, anguish, and grief – are not wasted but serve the Kingdom of God.  It is by design, not ‘coincidence’ that my surviving relatives of the Armenian Genocide testified of Kurds saving lives. It is not coincidence that my grandparents survived Turkish death march into Syria and settled there,  living in Der Zor then moving to Aleppo.

Scan0098 (2)

A stone memorial in Der Zor, built by my grandfather Antranig Stepanian with a relative and caring Arab man

(My grandfather was a truck driver and, during one of his trips he discovered a massive site of death in Der Zor where thousands of Armenians perished, left unburied. He and others collected as many bones as they could, transporting then on his truck, to be buried at a location upon which a large Armenian Church and memorial were built)

Just this week an Armenian priest and his elderly father were killed by ISIS – they were on their way to Der Zor to repair the memorial honoring those who perished.

Whether the world knows or cares to know, Turkish military is trampling the Kurds, Armenians, Arab and Yazidis in a conquest of ethnic cleansing toward the ultimate goal to revive the Ottoman Empire.  Erdogan’s mission to revive Ottoman Empire  is not a kept secret.  That Erdogan claimed in his meeting with Trump that he would protect Christians and rebuild churches defies reality.  The reality is, Christianity in Turkey suffers a bloody downward spiral – from 20-25 percent in 1914 to presently 0.2 percent – near extinction!   Erdogan is cited often for his role, such as Turkey Turns on its Christians  and  Persecution of Christians close to genocide.   Pastor Andrew Brunson’s testimony still resounds.

Since Turkey incarcerates more journalists than any country in the world, who there will report governmental oppression, even crimes against humanity?

On the Greyhound bus back to NYC I lamented, “What’s the point and purpose delving into this legacy of suffering?  Why go to Washington or anywhere else when rulers of this dark world don’t relent?”

I had shared of myself with Soma from Kurdistan…

protestmeandSoma

“We are cousins” she said as she lovingly hugged me.

Yes I believe in the call to “Speak up” and “Rescue” those in grievous suffering and even facing death, Proverbs 24:11 and 31:8.  But our personal call to live out the Scriptures comes from the Holy Spirit within.  He opens our eyes, stirs our hearts with a brokenness and love that burdens us to act.   

Yes dear Soma, as Armenians and Kurds we are ‘cousins’ but my heart so much more hopes that we would be ‘sisters’ – in Christ.   My heart is stirred Lord, for the Kurds.  Thank you for bringing me alongside themLet me join in Your work amongst the Kurds, not that they may finally establish a country of their own but that they may establish a place in Your Kingdom forever.   Amen.  

 

“Lord, Give me an Apt Word”

This was my prayer for the upcoming big family wedding where all my elderly relatives and unsaved family members would gather.  The burden for their salvation weighing heavy, I fasted with this cry before the Lord, certain that He would prepare hearts and ‘give me an apt word’ for many.  “Surely“, I thought, “there will be several ‘appointed’ social encounters where I might share the Gospel!”

After the wedding party had rehearsal, family gathered together for dinner where the groom approached me, “Oh, Aunty Lisa, I hope you don’t mind.  The priest needs someone to read scriptures at the ceremony….he has lengthy passages picked out…I said you would do it…”

Agh, how I don’t like speaking in front of so many people!  No time to prepare!  What passages?  Oh, they’ll be the rote ‘love’, ‘wife/husband’ chapters…everybody knows these Lord, I wanted to share the Gospel, repentance, eternal life…

Sure, I’m happy to read at your wedding!”  I began to pray that night and the next morning:  “Lord, don’t let this be a dead word as it so often is at weddings….Your word is ‘alive and active’, let it come forth as a living word…be exalted through this reading…only You can do this…”

The priest, whom I had never met, brought me to the big Bible and chapters to read, giving me my ‘cue’ as the large Armenian Church began to fill with guests.  Midway into the ceremony came my cue…I stepped up to the big Bible, ready to recite familiar verses…

At the first two words my eyes widened.  I have never seen this translation before – the wording is totally new to me!  I had to articulate every word and phrase, at the same time I sensed the Lord’s presence.  It was not rote, it was fresh!

Off to the reception where my visions of sharing ‘an apt word’ would come to fruition!

The country club was elegant, cocktail hour began…lobster crostini, shrimp cocktail, lamb lollipops and more…And in this, was a surprising phenomenon.  One by one, relatives and strangers alike, approached me…

“I just want to say, I was very moved by the words you read in church…”

“When you were reading, something stirred in my heart…”

“Your Bible reading was wonderful, I had never heard that before…”

What?  I was baffled by ongoing accolades.  At the end of this ‘cocktail hour’, my husband came to me and said, “The priest wants to see you.”  Really?  I found the ‘Der Hayr’ and was about to compliment him on the ceremony when he said, “I want you to know, you can come to my church and read the scriptures anytime!”

God confounded and exceeded my own expectations, I felt such an honor being part of Christ’s Body and proclaiming His word.  I am so grateful… 

tanya daniel wedding

…thank you Lord, for more than “an apt word” at their celebration!

 

 

 

 

The Bolder Kindness of the Gospel

There are times when our hearts are Weeping in the Passing Lane, having lost cherished relationships, fruitful careers and ministries – when we suffer the loss of how life used to be.  But in Christ, loss and suffering are never wasted but are often a painful avenue to another level of faith.  (I think this is only believable when you’re exiting the fiery furnace!)

As a State Parole Officer, I loved the ongoing opportunities to share the Gospel with felons, inmates, families in the communities and other officers.  When everything in my life was practically perfect, the Potter saw fit to squash the lump of clay and painfully remold the design.  While life may be stripped of venues, relationships, and resources, God still owns us and “gives us the desires of our heart” – in other words, He installs desires within us. 

The desire to share the Gospel, the burden to be a useful vessel in His Kingdom, still captures my heart.  While fervently praying for God to “send me”, “open doors”, and avail a ‘call’, the Lord showed me opportunities missed, even in one day, on my way downtown to the WTC Occulus…

Almost every train in NYC leads to the ‘Occulus’ – a humungous architectural design to commemorate the World Trade Center, housing upscale stores, restaurants, and waterfront sites.  Although a New Yorker, I had never been there and now, meeting a friend, I must have seemed lost to the concierge there.

“Can I help you?  You seem lost…”  Well, I wasn’t lost but her friendly overture engaged us as I waited for my friend.  Jolene* shared about being a concierge, how she came from Africa, and later, when my friend saw us, the three of us enjoyed a friendly chat.  Before heading for lunch I invited Jolene to visit our church but I knew in my heart, that’s not the same as sharing the Gospel…. 

After a lovely lunch and stroll by the waterfront, I headed back to the subway.  While adding money to my Metrocard, an elderly tourist couple approached me, “Could you please help us?”  Of course!  There’s such pleasure in helping the elderly and tourists!  After friendly overtures, I said, “There’s no need to figure out this machine.  Here, take my Metrocard.  It will take you to your destination…” I gave them some travel tips and said good bye to this grateful couple.  But as they walked away, hand in hand, I was so happy to show kindness but knew in my heart,  that’s not the same as sharing the Gospel….  

I proceeded to the A train and found as I boarded the only seat left – next to a woman with two Chihuahua puppies.  “I got the best seat!” I said as I sat.  This immediately engaged the woman and she happily shared the story of her pet life and puppies. The same age range as me, Vivian* shared some life struggles as well.  I surmised that the many tattoos on her arms were of various cultural witchcraft symbols especially when I asked, “What are the puppies’ names?”  “Oh,” she replied, “this one is Voodoo…”  We were both going all the way north Manhattan but my stop was before hers.  “Thank you for sharing your stories, I wish you the best with your pups!”  It was so nice talking to Vivian, but I knew in my heart, that’s not the same as sharing the Gospel….

Maybe there’s something of value in ‘relationship Gospel’, sharing God’s truth after building relationships or friendships but I don’t see that much in the Bible.  But this, however, exhorts my heart:   “Make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.”

I  truly believe that God moves His Body around, sovereignly ordains meetings, ‘coincidences’, and prepares hearts in unseen ways.  One word can make a mark in a soul that the Lord is calling.

The Lord is stirring my heart toward the venue of the world, however small the piece before me!  I am praying for a greater boldness with ‘strangers’ –  knowing that even a word that we share may be an answer to someone’s prayers.  To launch this boldness, I pray, Lord,  for a deeper burden and love for the souls before me.

subway moving

While I hate to miss a train, may the opportunity to share the Gospel not pass me by….

Kindness is good, but I pray for the fruit bearing kindness of sharing the Gospel truth.

 

Can God Use a Feral Cat?

There are several posts, contained in Maggie’s Corner, describing and remembering our beloved Maine Coon Maggie.  Few if any however mention Maggie’s kitten Becky whom we brought in with Maggie from the street.  Half feral, Becky was so unlike her mother, living under the bed for the first 3 years then gradually showing herself to us at a distance.  Becky was unsociable, aggressive at times, and fearful.  But we loved her (from a distance of course!)

After Maggie died last year, Becky became distinctly mournful.  She often roamed the apartment, surveying Maggie’s napping places and – believe it or not – wailing.  This was seriously pitiful and even disturbing as she would awaken at 2-3am crying and needy.  Our vet could not recommend a replacement companion as Becky is not sociable, nor did she recommend any medication.  Now 15 yrs old, Becky grew very close to me, finding comfort and calm through brushing and petting.   After avoiding my husband Bob all her life, Becky was even willing to sit near him.

Although we took Becky everywhere, she would be unable to travel outside the country and thus, at one point, we had to find the right cat sitter (our previous wonderful one moved away).  We take seriously what God entrusts to us so we interviewed some candidates and prayed about a choice.  We could not enjoy our trip if Becky would be depressed, crying, not eating, etc.

One sitter stood out, Rhonda*, a “professional cat sitter” who was knowledgeable, engaging, and lived walking distance.  It was just a right fit.  We opted for overnight stays, a bit indulgent but worth the peace of mind.  Although Rhonda was very confident, I encouraged her, “Don’t feel bad at all if you don’t see Becky, she always hides and can be very timid and unsociable.”

Soon after arriving at our destination I began receiving text photos:

We were impressed.  Family members on our trip were amazed!  (Although they are animal lovers, Becky always hisses at their friendly overtures!)

Soon I found that this was more than God-given cat care.  After several overnights in our home, Rhonda called me with an observation and question, “I noticed that you have college degrees, that you’re an educated person.  I also can tell from the things in your home and your books that you have faith.  Being educated, do you really believe the Bible, all those stories…?”  Of course!

Rhonda asked if she could visit sometime and talk about this.  Of course!

Our visits together rooted a friendship and fellowship, grounded in personal and spiritual sharing.  The Lord was stirring in these coffee klatches.  Soon Rhonda called me and asked, “Do you think we can study the Bible together?”  Of course!

God is pushing back layers of darkness in this precious woman’s life and preparing her heart for the true Gospel.  What a glorious spot for me, to be part of what God is doing!

We began meeting once a week but Rhonda smiled and mentioned, “I can meet more often you know….”  Really?  How about tomorrow?  “I’ll be here!”

Many brethren are waiting on God to move them into ministry, open doors to evangelize and utilize their ‘God given gifts’.  May the Lord shift our thinking away from the natural realm, where strobe lights and orchestrated mood music moves multitudes.  Instead of corralling hundreds of sheep, the Lord may be seeking that one lost sheep.  We might not preach to the crowd but, by putting our hand to the plow and moving forward, we may be doing the invisible work of tilling the ground for another to plant the seeds.

I am encouraged and grateful for this precious soul before me, even amazed how God used a needy troubled cat to bring Rhonda into my home.

Becky, used by God?

20181212_193916

Who would have thought!

P.S.  the tomato was a gift from Rhonda!

 

When Jesus Walks Through the DMV

I have often said of the DMV, the Department of Motor Vehicles, “I hate them.”  This sentiment could not ring truer than it did a month ago when I received a notice of a violation.  I exclaimed, like former Mayor Ed Koch did about so many things, “This is an outrage!”  Fortunately, I had the very documents needed to completely refute this charge and prepared and submitted my evidence for ‘hearing via mail’.

Family issues kept me out of town for a while but when I returned I saw the DMV envelope in my mail.  An uneasy feeling came over me and, sure enough, I opened it to see “Case adjourned for further evidence.”  W h a a t?  Impossible.  As a NYS Parole Officer, I prepared hundreds of administrative court hearings.  I knew standards of evidence and burdens of proof.  While even more outraged, I had to stop and search what the Lord was teaching me.

I know that our Father in Heaven is not only watching over big life issues but seeks to reveal Himself and grow us spiritually, step by step, through ‘ordinary’ events.  What we learn through the mundane can take root for critical trials and testing later.  (Although for me, being falsely accused then denied justice is never ‘mundane’!)

I prepared to present this case to a law judge, with irrefutable evidence, documents, and even a closing argument.   NYS had nothing but an erroneous allegation.  How could I lose?

I restrained my fleshly zeal however, and began to meditate upon possible spiritual life lessons from the Lord.  I believe that Jesus was not stirring me to be ‘F. Lee Bailey’ but working to conform me to His image.  That “image” includes being ‘falsely accused’ and ‘wrongly punished’.  One teacher summed so much of God’s word, “The path of glory is the path of unjust suffering.”   While not facing torture or prison at the DMV, this case revealed spiritual immaturity within me.

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord” (Prov 21:1)  declares the divine truth, exemplified in scripture, that Sovereign God can raise up powerful enemies to chastise His people or defeat powerful forces to reveal His mercy and justice.  Trusting and surrendering quelled my ‘outrage’ and my heart was ready to see the Lord’s outcome…even if I lost the case.

Today was the day!

I arrived at the DMV hearing office before the judge.   Oddly, everyone showed kindness to me.  The receptionist who assigned my case actually had a church bulletin tacked on the wall –  from my church!  This started an exciting conversation where she, not a church goer, was invited to church by someone who had awaited a hearing.  I was truly humbled that a Christian came prepared, not only to ‘win’ some case but to share the Gospel and invite DMV staff to church.  I encouraged this affable lady to seek the Lord and come to a service.  So far, I was enjoying the Department of Motor Vehicles.  (can’t even believe I wrote that!)

Not only was I the first case, but, after a friendly welcome,  the judge said, “You’re the only case on the calendar.”  I ‘solemnly affirmed to tell the truth’ and began presenting my case.  When I described and submitted my first document the judge declared, “This case is dismissed!”  I was so surprised that I added, “But I have even more evidence!” (btw, that is the wrong thing to say once you’ve won a case!)

I left DMV so elated…but humbled as well.  Instead of just preparing my case, my heart’s priority should have been, am I prepared to share the Gospel, to whom might I encounter?

I don’t believe the Lord was teaching me that I can win, I believe that He is training my heart to trust Him when I may be 100% right and still lose.  I do want to declare, as King David,  “Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.”  but also accept Peter’s call to, “…live as servants of God…if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” 

Exhorting believers to humble obedience, John writes, “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.”  Win or lose Lord, help me walk through it all like You. 

 

Inside Israel

We recently returned from a robust trip to Israel.  While our itinerary was jam packed, certainly every site we saw is a well tracked path.  So, I will not post pics of Masada, Jerusalem, the Western Wall, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea or even the Armenian Quarter  (ok, maybe one)…

20190619_123037                        20190608_171643

Yousef*, our Arab Christian tour guide, expounded a depth of spiritual and historical knowledge as a native with 20 years experience leading Americans through Israel and Palestine.  He introduced himself as a “true believer in Jesus Christ” and often taught scriptural truths as related to various historical sites. It was obvious that he had a love for all the people we encountered – Jews, Muslims, Bedouins, and Druze – rich or poor.

It is not only what Yousef shared of Israel that still stirs my heart but what he revealed about us.

Yousef challenged the group at every Christian/religious site, “Can anyone describe what happened here?” “How was this place significant to Jesus Christ?” “Who was Herod the Great?…”  Either most of the group was shy or had little Biblical foundation.  While traveling at great cost and distance to see religious sites, most of the group was either unwilling or unable to converse in Biblical truths.

Yousef shared his experience during the tumultuous ‘Second Intifada’, 2000-2005, a time of violent uprising between Palestinians and Israelis.  He left Israel during that time, traveling to USA to possibly relocate to relative’s homes.  Job opportunities were sparse for him but what he recalls to us is this:  “I visited their church and was sure they would be focused with concern and prayer for the crisis in Israel.  When I came to the meeting however, they were all talking about which pizza had the best cheese.”  I felt a collective inner shame for the sated Body of Christ, isolated and disinterested in the suffering of distant brethren.

Our tour ended with an exhortation and plea,  “When you go home, open your Bibles, read them!  Let all that you’ve seen bring the words to life.”  Referring back to his time in the United States Yousef opened his heart, “I left the States in 2005 – I missed the dirty, noisy streets of Jerusalem!  I love this country and had to return….but now I regret it.  There’s an undeniable stirring, an certain unrest and hostility.  I tell you for sure, it is not ‘if’ war breaks out here, but ‘when’.”

As elsewhere in the Middle East, particularly Syria, the Christian population is suffering and shrinking.  Once 20% in Palestine, now Christians are 1%, fewer than 10,000.  Many may be ‘nominal’ Christians but even still my heart was burdened.  With the nonstop traffic of tour buses from all over, I wonder how many of these sojourning Christians will seek and receive a burden for these brethren?  Multitudes flock to religious icons and shrines, but how many will align with the burden of Christ’s heart for His people?

If we will “open our Bibles and read them” we too will see, it is not ‘if’ but ‘when’.  If we take our salvation with certainty, we must take the prophecies of scripture with like conviction in our hearts.  A celebrated authority will arise, the charismatic Antichrist.  Betrayal, violence, and chaos are destined for Israel.  Yes, God Himself with be their victory and triumph, but what is our role as Christ’s Body in the world?

I loved every bit of Israel and my visits to Palestine.  I want though, more than any itinerary and tour, to realize what the Holy Spirit is showing me – Lord, align and press in my heart your truths and views of this great land.

Go to Israel while you can.  See everything, there’s so much!  But let the Holy Spirit be your inner tour guide and open your spiritual eyes with heaven’s view!

(*not his real name)