Yes, “His Eye is on the Sparrow” But…

Coming out of our basement laundry room last week, a baby sparrow sped by me, running in fear with his wing dragging on the pavement. “Poor thing!”, I thought, but as I climbed the stairs my heart recited that song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow” and, I wondered, as “He watches over me”, what does the Lord want me to do about this sparrow apparently in His view?

I plopped down my laundry and realized, I could not leave that injured bird there, unable to fly, amid possible rat attacks and other terrors. I contacted the Wild Bird Fund downtown, known for their devoted care for injured birds of all kinds. “Try and catch him and bring him to us!” Ok, I thought, how hard can that be?

I returned to the trash area where my super was putzing around. “Hey,” I said with gloved hands, “I’m just looking for a little injured bird…” He immediately engaged in this search and within seconds we were chasing the poor thing in and out of every corner and cranny. “Got him!” I announced with delight. I had never held a bird and he was precious!

Time for me to scurry down to the Wild Bird Fund!

I contacted them in a day, two days…surely the baby bird would soon fly to Central Park! Finally, this week, I received the report…

I am very sorry to tell you that the house sparrow you brought to us was too injured to recover. The main problem was to do with his wing, as you suspected; his left radius and ulna were nearly severed, his humerus was very swollen, and his right elbow was fractured. While we can treat some wing injuries, these ones were not survivable. Fractures in birds that are close to the joint, such as the elbow, do not heal well. As the bone calluses, it fuses the bone and the joint together, leading to permanent paralysis, so that the bird is unable to move his wing. This means he could never fly again, and in turn could never return to the wild. Because his prognosis was extremely poor, we made the decision to humanely euthanize him and prevent further suffering.
I know this is not the outcome you were hoping for, but please know that by bringing him to us, you saved him from a great deal of future distress and discomfort. In cases like this, the kindest and most humane thing we can do is allow the bird to pass in peace and without pain.” 

What? That tiny bird had all that?

You’re right, Care Team, that was not the outcome I was hoping for! Lord, Your eye was upon him, You put this baby in my hand and…why?

I thought of the greater ‘whys’ charged up to heaven, filled with grief from untimely death and loss. Brethren who seem to be at the peak of their ministry, raising their family, a joy to parents…dreams crushed. My brother’s death was such a loss, leading me to question and challenge God. One of our beloved pastors often tells of the grievous late night knock, “We’re sorry to inform you…there was an accident…” Burying their only daughter, he cried out, “Why!”

God is not fragile. He can take our anguish and anger – the honest cry from His children and, moreover, He will answer that cry.

I couldn’t possibly see the sparrow’s pervasive injuries uncovered by diligent diagnostic care and medical equipment. Neither can I see into the spiritual realm of God’s view and providence. He is undoubtedly sovereign and certainly owns us, we belong to Him. Then why untimely death of His beloveds? Why, when the ‘outcome is not what we hoped for’ but what we actually dreaded most?

At 38 yrs old, a husband and a father to two toddlers, my brother Paul was at the peak of his faith. He bravely suffered through harrowing medical treatments and admitted towards the end, “I have no regrets. Having cancer brought me closer to the Lord in so many ways – I would not have known Him so deeply without it.” Paul’s faith was a testimony to doctors and patients in oncology – and to us as well.

“I know full well that my life is in the hands of the Lord. He has the keys to the car, and I am going along for His ride…” Paul Stepanian

Pastor Ben Crandall shared similarly from the pulpit, “At 25, my daughter was full of faith, had her whole life ahead of her. I cried out over her grave, why, why did You take her from us!” The pastor shared what he later received from the Lord, ‘I saw her spiritual future and took her before she fell’.

Long ago I jotted this quote in my Bible,

“The believer’s life on earth is his only arena for change and fruitfulness…the nature of eternity is changeless. Therefore, the time to become like Jesus, being conformed to His likeness, is during this earthly Christian experience of trial and faith.” “You and I will never be any closer to Christ, throughout eternity, than we are when He comes. That’s the point of Judgment.” (Dr. Lovett)

The nature of eternity is changeless…” We see untimely death as missing 30, 40 or 50 years of life – God sees our lives entering into eternity in the likeness His Son – enjoying His close presence forever.

God does not spell out everything like the Wild Bird Fund. But our faith need be strong enough to stand upon His word and His sovereignty and trust Him when ‘the outcome is not what we hoped for’. Those devoted to my little sparrow assured –

I know this is not the outcome you were hoping for, but please know that by bringing him to us, you saved him from a great deal of future distress and discomfort

Doctors determine outcomes through X-rays, CAT scans and tests. God sees through everything, and into eternity.

His eye was on the sparrow. But more than ‘His eye’ is upon us – His life is within us and He orders our steps as a sovereign Father in heaven. Whether our ‘wing is broken’ or our heart is broken or ‘the outcome is not what we hoped for’, we can trust the Lord to walk us through, and with a view of eternity.

Death, Devastation, and God

f2afa1eb-a47e-49cf-ae3b-db89fc586ebc_w1024_q10_s

Those close to the plight of Armenians in Karabakh deeply lament with yesterday’s surrender, 11/9/2020 at 5pm EST. There is plenty to grieve. The onslaught of radical Islam jars open the storehouse of anguish in every Armenian.

War crimes and terrorism launched against Karabakh – Artsakh for Armenians – ignited and unified hearts around the globe. Campaigns, rallies, protests, and prayer meetings rang through every country with desperate cries for intervention, justice, mercy and outright miracles.

Miracles needed indeed for a small volunteer army against the military wealth of Turkey and Azerbaijan and the endless supply of hired mercenaries from numerous Islamic countries. I beseeched God, day and night, fasting and crying out the battle cries of David for Armenia…

‘Rescue them O Lord, from evil men; protect them from men of violence, who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up war every day…Keep them O Lord from the hands of the wicked…Hear O Lord, our cry for mercy. O Sovereign Lord, our strong deliverer, who shields our head in the day of battle, do not grant the wicked their desires…do not let their plans succeed…

But zeal and faith were not enough to overcome the vast enemy nor the inner battles of raging COVID, dysentery, and growing despair amongst the soldiers that fought without a break.

I had planned all night prayer last night, postponing today’s Bible fellowship with a precious new believer Raquel. With Armenia’s surrender however, all night prayer canceled. Somehow I slept well and awoke with the Lord’s words strongly pressed upon my heart,

“My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight…”

I texted Raquel and asked if she wanted to fellowship – “sure!”. I shared with her how the situation turned out in Armenia,

“I am heartbroken for the destruction, bloodshed and death of so many and the rejoicing of evil people”

Raquel replied,

“We can only do what Jesus said, pray and do not give up and trust in the Lord.”

“Evil people will always rejoice in this world because Satan rules this world. Jesus already tells us that many will die in His name. The Armenian Christians that have been slain will be risen again by the Lord when the time has come and we will win this fight and reclaim the Earth that Father God made for us.”

Remarkably, for a new believer, she went on…

“I know you are heartbroken. Our deaths and suffering are inevitable. We all have a date reserved for each one of us to die. Sadly, many of those Armenians have met the last day of their flesh life. Remember though, they will live in eternity and they will no longer suffer. They are already with Jesus. Remember He said to the convicted man who believed in Him, crucified next to Him, that he would be with Him today. And as are the Armenian Christians who died in His name. He has wiped every tear from their eyes….”

I had not considered Armenia’s defeat, losing Karabakh. I had truly believed that the Lord God would move as He did against evil armies like the Moabites, the Ammonites, and Assyrians. One angel, at His command, could change the battle. I was sure, certain that I would travel to Armenia in the spring, hear the church bells ring at Sushi and burst with rejoicing.

I know this world is passing away. Darker days are coming for us all. I had such zealous hope though for the Armenians to stand and prevail after years of massacres, genocide, and persecution.

The Lord did not “strike the enemy with fear, panic and confusion” and sadly, He did not “bring Erdogan to shame.” But soldiers were baptized on the battlefield. Zoom prayer meetings joined me with Armenian believers whom I never met, to cry out for Armenians and pray for the enemy as well.

In my despair, the Lord’s very words gripped my heart with the truth I wasn’t reaching for and uplifted my heart through the new believer I am mentoring.

“My Kingdom is not of this world”

“…pray and do not give up and trust in the Lord.”

Pressing on….

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. 

 

Favorite Quotes From Favorite Folks

The gifts of godly men and women leave us timeless truths that speak life into our journey with the Lord.   Here are just a few quotes from wonderful brethren….

“If I really want to please my Lord – then I cannot fight my circumstances.  I will hold on and never quit.  Nothing on this earth can give me what I get from God’s Spirit every day in my trial.”  Pastor Dave Wilkerson, God is Faithful

“Ambition is a gilded misery, a secret poison, a hidden plague, the engineer of deceit, the mother of hypocrisy, the parent of envy, the original of vices, the moth of holiness, the blinder of hearts, turning medicines into maladies and remedies into diseases.”   Puritan Thomas Brooks

“Where the battle rages there the loyalty of he soldier is proved.”  Martin Luther

“…what have you and I to do with maintaining our influence and position at the expense of truth?  It is never right to do a little wrong to obtain the greatest possible good…Your duty is to do the right; consequences are with God”.  Charles H. Spurgeon, 1868, Sermon at Metropolitan Tabernacle

“Zeal is a mixed affection, a compound of love and anger…True zeal will encounter the greatest difficulties.  When the world holds out danger to discourage us, zeal casts out fear.  It is quickened by opposition, and will march in the face of death.”  Thomas Watson, A Godly Man is a Zealous Man

“The church being called a lampstand indicates that, in God’s eyes, its primary function is to give light…The light that every church should hold forth is God’s Word, which alone is a light for our path in this dark world…No lampstand ever complains that the surroundings are too dark for it to shine in.  The brightness of a lampstand has nothing to do with its surroundings.  Is light depends solely on the amount of oil it contains.”  Zac Poonen, The Final Triumph, A verse by verse study of the book of Revelation

“Much of our problem in continuing fellowship with a holy God is that many Christians repent only for what they do, rather than for what they are…What should happen in genuine conversion?  What should a man or woman feel in the transaction of the new birth?  There ought to be that real and genuine cry of pain…”   A.W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship? 

“Genuine worship is a response to divine truth.  It is passionate because it arises out of our love for God.  But to be true worship it must also arise out of a correct understand of His law, His righteousness, His mercy, and His Being.  Real worship acknowledges God as He has revealed Himself in His Word.”  John MacArthur, WORSHIP, The Ultimate Priority

“Politics, education, literature, science, art, law, commerce, music…we have to acknowledge marked progress in each of these departments.  The question, however, is:  What is the ultimate goal of all this development?  At the end, John tells us, antichrist will arise and will set up his own kingdom in the world (I John 2:18…) That is the direction of the world’s advance.  Watchman Nee, Love Not The World

“But when we surrender ourselves to the Lord, learning day by day to treat all that comes to us with peace of soul and firm conviction that His will governs all, He will see to our growth in grace.  He will so govern the events in our lives, down to the smallest detail….”  Elisabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering

May the Lord continue to inspire and encourage us through His living word and the exhortations of His servants.

 

Making The Last Seconds Count

Remember my elderly friend Hilda,  from Juanita’s Joy?

I had just visited Hilda the end of January, before leaving on a family trip.  She was in rehab, suffering from a respitary ailment, weakened and less responsive.  As usual, I shared neighborhood news and friendly regards from the few she could remember.

“I’ll see you when I get back from my trip!”

I turned to leave but felt a restraint.  Turning back to her wheelchair, I put my hand upon her shoulder and spoke loud enough for her to hear without her hearing aids,

“Hilda, consider Jesus as your Messiah!  Turn to Him for forgiveness of sins.  Be ready for the moment you meet God!”

Slumped in her wheelchair, she didn’t wave me away this time but neither did she respond.  Who knows, I thought, it may be a word for the others around her too.

Yesterday, partaking in Jewish tradition,  I sadly shoveled dirt upon Hilda’s simple pine coffin.  The rabbi called this Gemilut Hasadim, “an act of kindness that can’t be repaid”.

God’s kindness to me though, was that moment of ‘restraint’ – an inner upstirring – that left my dear friend with words of eternal value.

The apostle Peter warned, “the end of all things is near”.   Beloved John wrote, “Dear children, this is the last hour…”  Agreeing with Bible teacher Zac Poonen, if, 2000 years ago was the last hour, we must surely be living in the last seconds before Christ’s return!

For true believers in Jesus Christ, those who strive to live as a branch connected to the Vine and a sheep pressing near to the Shepherd, I pray for a fresh awakening.  Before any other role or occupation, may we see ourselves as the Body of Christ in this world, interfacing with ordinary people, under ordinary circumstances yet availing ourselves to God’s upstirring, God’s leading and restraint.  We may not pass by fishermen or women by a well, but perhaps a stranger on a park bench, a mother in the grocery line, a student on the train.

We’re living in the last seconds, I pray we fulfill our ‘assignments’ and ‘appointments’ before the Lord returns!  Pray for unsaved family members…but be an answer to someone else’s prayer.  May the Lord break down every flimsy dam that blocks the Holy Spirit flow through us and let these last seconds count!

 

 

 

 

 

Juanita’s Joy

Hilda* was my neighbor for 30 years, living on the second floor while I live on the 5th.  She is a Holocaust survivor, in fact the only survivor from her family in Germany.  As a teen she escaped Nazi clutches while her whole family perished.  No one really knows how she made it to France but somehow she later immigrated to NYC, met her husband and moved into our building around 1955.

Hilda frequently invited me for tea and cookies, more often when her husband died.   I promised myself, ‘when I retire I’ll spend more time with Hilda’.   For the past five years, Hilda has lived in Assisted living nursing home – and there we enjoy cookies and tea often.

In recent two years, dementia has set in.  Now 97 years old, Hilda may like more frequent but shorter visits.  From week to week, month to month, Hilda is weaker, more frail, needier and possibly demanding.  She is, however, still the neighbor I love.

Last year Hilda was assigned to a small dining table with Juanita, an elderly African American woman.  I always scheduled my visits to start right after lunch so we would have tea and cookies as soon as she returned to her room.  But I often came to the community dining room first, to greet Hilda and also came to know Juanita.  In fact, although Hilda became less responsive, Juanita had a bright smile,  her eyes lit up when greeting me.  She was gracious and kind to Hilda.  In fact, Juanita was never less than joyful!

Her joy couldn’t possibly come from Hilda’s company, Hilda never spoke to her nor could she remember her name.  When I brought flowers to Hilda, I often brought a bunch to Juanita also – how elated she was!  During a holiday season I brought them plants.  Although Hilda continues to reject God, I asked Juanita,

“Do you believe in God, Juanita?  In Jesus who died for our sins?”

“Oh yes!  I believe!”

Needy for my attention, Hilda didn’t appreciate sharing my company, especially as I was one of the few people she remembers.  But I always thought, ‘someday I will come and find Juanita and have a good visit with her’.

Last month Hilda was not home, I found her in rehab where she would be for several weeks.  I called the residence manager,

“Hello Miss Lang*! I understand that Hilda is now in rehab but I’m calling about her lunch mate, Juanita.  I would love to come visit her, is she at the same table?”

“Juanita?  No, she moved out two weeks ago!”

Moved out – oh no!  Where did she go?”

“Some relatives from Massachusetts picked her up, she’s living with them.  She had no family, she had no one here in New York.  This is really good for her, she was all alone…”

“Oh, I’m happy for her….just so sorry I couldn’t say good-bye….”

At first I felt terrible, having missed some opportunity to fellowship with this elderly woman.  Perhaps indeed a believer, I could have encouraged her…..but the Lord brought me back to the manager’s words….

‘No family….no one here….all alone….’

Juanita spent days, weeks, months alone –  holidays alone – and sat with a meal mate everyday who never spoke to her.  But she had a joy that I confess I do not have.

While I initially felt a pang of guilt for not visiting Juanita earlier, I truly believe that the Lord had a lesson for me from her – Juanita’s life and joy truly ministered to me.  If  “….the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…” Juanita displayed them all – and I do not – although I have all the health, comfort and company Juanita lacked.

I saw the fruits of the Spirit and know I need them.

“In examining the fruits of the Holy Spirit – which express Christian witness – we shall readily see that they are none other than selfless acts.  What is love? Love is loving others without thinking of self.  What is joy?  It is looking at God in spite of self.  Patience is despising one’s own hardship.  Peace is disregarding one’s own loss.  Gentleness is overlooking one’s rights….The fruit of the Holy Spirit is determined by one principle alone:  the losing of self totally.”  (Excerpt from a quote I keep in my Bible, author unknown)

Lord, I continue to pray for Hilda’s soul, bring her heart to a saving faith in her Messiah.  And Lord, thank you for displaying for me the fruits of the Spirit through Juanita, encourage her wherever she is.  Guide us all through this new year, to have less of self and more of You!

*names changed for privacy

 

The Forgotten Door to Power, Position and Peace

We were created for a place of power, position, and peace and yet our quests for them often lead to futility and disappointment.

Rather than reset our compass,  we dig deeper in ourselves for inspiration, motivation, and self confidence, cheering ourselves on with words of “gusto” and “empowerment”.   Seeds of self promotion and self-actualization were sown long ago with a dark promise,  “…your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Satan’s design for man mirrored his own downfall –  exaltation of self – selfish ambition, self love, self importance and self reliance….separation from God.  

But the position God plans for us, the peace He promises, and the power He avails to us is far greater than any ‘self actualization’.   His personal love and plan for each of us will lead to places where He awaits, with a calling only He can fulfill.   

The life lived by faith in Christ is one with eternal value. 

The will of God is unique to each individual life. God has created each of us specially unique in that there is not, nor will there ever be anyone like you.  He has also placed you here on earth in this time and generation in the country and ethnicity for His own desire.  Your impact in this world is nothing without Christ; it’s all about surrendering our will unto His.   (Excerpt from Anchored in the Cross  3/15/18)  

Hollow and temporal achievements in this world can never compare to the work of the Holy Spirit through the life of a surrendered believer.  Sadly, today’s church has lost the power, the peace, and the position before God.  They are ‘safe’ places for personal sin, without conviction and without a loving challenge to pursue God’s holiness.

From ancient days to this present moment, through broken yet indwelt believers, and through His living word, God desperately calls us.  Fellowship, salvation and eternal promises come forth only through this forgotten door…

door with snow pinterest

“…we can boldly enter heaven’s most holy place because of the blood of Jesus. By His death, Jesus opened a new and life giving way…” (Hebrews 10:19-20)

Church agendas of ‘good works’, excellent music, special events –  campaigns against every social ill – can never reconcile us or anyone else to God.  Nothing at all in us can please or satisfy God.  In view of God’s holiness the Apostle Paul declared, “In me dwells no good thing.”    From this revelation opens the life giving truth:  The blood of Christ alone brings new life.  He restores us to God, and indwells our hearts.  (Read what God did while we were sinners…  in Romans 5) 

Our flesh and soul often suffer regret, remorse, and self condemnation leading to inconsolable emotional suffering.  But “godly sorrow”, as described in II Corinthians 7:9-11, is a blessed drawing of the Holy Spirit leading to true repentance.  There, at the foot of the cross, the door opens to the power of the cross:  forgiveness of sin and deliverance from the power of sin.

New power, through the life of Christ within us, new position – the right standing before His throne, and new peace, through Christ “which surpasses all understanding”…..God awaits us.  And Jesus declares,

“…I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”   

door with snow pinterest