OK, I’m Not Going to Iraqi Kurdistan

The Kurds hold a special place in my heart, but not just culturally, as many of them rescued and aided perishing Armenians during the Armenian Genocide by the Turks.  In recent years their courage and diligence in fighting diabolical ISIS impressed my soul and led me to pray consistently for their salvation.  While they long for a country of their own, I pray even more that they will “long for a better country – a heavenly one” the eternal Kingdom of God.

Aligning with them in Washington D.C. “Turkey Guilty of Genocide!” enlarged my heart.  We supported the mission work in Syria through Frontier Alliance International (https://www.faimission.org/) but that didn’t seem enough.  I learned in October of their planned trip to Iraqi Kurdistan, “that’s for me!” my heart exclaimed.  It would be difficult and expensive for Bob and I to go but if God is calling us it will be fine and affordable.

But was God calling us or was my heart convincing me?  Strong emotions can shroud spiritual direction.  Did I sense a ‘check in my soul’ because it would give my elderly mother a giant anxiety attack or because it was not God’s will?  Bob and I prayed during the month of November.

I believe in the headship of the husband and tried not to influence him too much, “You may not know this Bob, but Erbil is actually a tourist destination….a lot of people go there!”  When I do sense the Lord leading, nothing can stop me, my heart is fixed and there is a glad expectation.  I did not sense this but believed it would come.  I had the itinerary and suitcase mentally packed but seemed to wait at a starting gate where the ‘starter pistol’ never blasted.  Bob prayed but kept reporting, “I don’t sense the Lord leading us…”

Unraveling my emotional fervor, I submitted to the ‘check’ in my own heart and unpacked my mental suitcase.

Within weeks of this decision, General Soleimani was killed in Iraq and all Americans were called home. Missiles hit the Kurdistan capital of Erbil, blowing up any remaining itinerary in my heart.

If God wasn’t calling me to Iraqi Kurdistan, did He have another call for me?  When we realize what God is not doing, perhaps our focus can turn to what He is actually doing.   My fellowship with young women, as mentioned in Fruits of Surrendered Aggravation has deepened with meaningful ways to serve, including personal and spiritual counsel, childcare, Bible study and practical resources.

God knows I would go to Kurdistan but He never waved me on.  Instead I stand local, engaging and mentoring younger women as the Lord leads.  God’s will may not seem like the ‘fantastic’ choice but His call is supernatural – never ordinary.   When He calls He leads and He fills to overflow upon others, and that is the high call worth it all.

 

Fruits of Surrendered Aggravation

According to the famous Strongs Bible Concordance, “aggravation” is not in the Bible.  As part of our flesh nature, I’m sure it’s there.  Irritation, agitation, annoyance, anger, aggravation arose up in some beloved saints and others.   Naaman the Syrian traveled far to reach Elisha but, aggravated, left with a demonstrative huff, almost forfeiting his infamous healing.    After receiving God’s call and chastisement, then witnessing the Lord’s mercy upon Nineveh, Jonah is stewing in aggravation by chapter 4.

Was Moses aggravated, when he disobeyed God, striking the Rock?  This fleshly outburst woefully cost him entry into the treasured promised land.

But examples of godly longsuffering patience abound and stand tall upon spiritual pedestals.   Joseph, Daniel, the Apostle Paul…God’s people harassed, provoked, deprived and mocked while faithfully enduring with patience, longsuffering and trust in the Sovereign God.

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The Lord can bring us to a breaking point, revealing what’s in us and lead us to grow. All that He may fill us in greater measure with His Holy Spirit.

Nothing ever ‘just happened’ to Jesus while He walked on this earth, everything was according to our Father’s sovereign will.  This is true for us, Christ’s Body.  Walking with the Lord assures that He oversees, allows, and also orchestrates events – missed buses, lost keys, harassing street people, flat tires, crashed computers, achy backs, irritating relatives, noisy neighbors….everything.

After Revelation through Total Aggravation a number of annoyances finally led to the ‘aggravation jacket’.  That comes about when you are already irritated, annoyed, late, carrying too many things and your nearly new winter jacket zipper gets jammed while in an elevator.  Pull, tug, twist, pull, tug then YANK – just rend the jacket open and let the zipper slider fly off!  That very second I was humbled…again.

I stopped by my dry cleaners and spoke with the tailor.  Tsk, tsk….no, this can’t be fixed.  This zipper is too difficult to remove and replace.  You need a new jacket!  Well, I resolved, I am not getting a new jacket.  If I have to chain link this one closed, I will wear this ‘aggravation jacket’ and let the chill remind me of patience and longsuffering.

I believe there are fruits already from repentance.  Just this week….

1.  Church for us is an all day event, 8am to 5pm, as we attend service and serve in ministry.  This past Sunday we opted to keep our parking space, leave our car and take the train.  On the way home we went to the MTA station and found it was closed for repairs.  Instead of walking 8 blocks to the next station, we decided to take a cab.  At first the driver seemed oddly boisterous but it wasn’t until he went the wrong way and slurred his words did we realize he was drunk.  We had to get out ASAP, which meant pulling over on the parkway.

We had to walk from the parkway to the nearest train station, many blocks away which included creepy deserted streets.  Blustery cold and tired, I was not even aggravated!!!

2.  Two days later I am at the post office, a Christmas gift I ordered 4 weeks ago finally arrived.  Consistently voted the worst post office in the USA, this place is a shoo-in for aggravation.  The package window was closed, a different one opened, there was one line but should have been two.  I helped an elderly woman who was confused, pointing her to the correct window.

As this octogenarian pushed an envelope through the thick Plexiglas opening a huge man came out of the wrong line and began ranting profanities, actually directed to me.  “HEY, I was f****g here before her!  You didn’t *** see me?!?  That’s right!  I was….”  He then took on the whole post office.  By the time poor granny got her postage, this Philistine was challenging the clerk and calling him out to “beat the *** out of him”.

WELL, after all that, they couldn’t find my package!  AND, I was genuinely pleasant, not even aggravated!

The Lord truly is answering my prayers to serve Him and fulfill those ‘good works which God prepared in advance’ for me to do.  While I continue fellowship with Rhonda* Can God Use a Feral Cat? the Lord has brought other young believers and new ministry members to me to mentor.   One I meet regularly for coffee or lunch while another recently added after a long conversation, “you’re like a mother to me!”  Ha, I keep forgetting how old I am!

A sister approached me on Sunday, “I was wondering if you had some time, could I talk to you about something?”  Of course!

Just recently I invited a neighbor to a Christmas concert.  When I called to confirm she cried, “I am in the biggest sh**storm of my life!”  A working single mom, with chronic illness and no local relatives, God opened the door for me to share resources and commit to daily morning babysitting her two year old.  (I knew there was a reason I joined the gym last year!)

The Lord mercifully hammers out my fleshly flaws as they would dishonor Him and hinder the Holy Spirit.  He prepares us not only to serve Him here, but ultimately to be with Him forever.

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The Lord breaks us, convicts us, renews and infills us, that we may shine and stand as the Body of Christ in this dark world 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.

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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…

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“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… 

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

 

 

 

 

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?

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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)…

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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)