Hurricanes Strip but Jesus Covers

hurricane upheaval, tree

Upheavals expose the futility of man and often prepare the ground for seeds of true life.

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the one to whom we are accountable.  Hebrews 4:13

While tucked away under prevailing current events, the devastation of Hurricane Maria continues to impact the communities of Puerto Rico.  Reconstruction is slow, 40% of the island remains without power and the hearts of the people, especially in remote areas,  grow heavier with the passing days.

Maria whipped through an already failed economy with 45% of residents living at the poverty level before she struck.  While the island fades from the media the darkness grows deeper as murder rates soar and suicides increase.  Failing government flounders.  Massive sick-outs by overwhelmed law enforcement agents, unpaid due wages,  exacerbate crime rate and fear.

Storms expose the condition of our hearts, our homes, and our community.  When governments fail and hopelessness abounds it may well become fertile and tilled ground for the Body of Christ.  My husband saw this when working on the island as part of a mission team.  While planning to provide some reconstruction and repair, the team soon found that the greatest need and longing is restoration of the heart and soul.

The Lord moves His Body in place to answer the cries of brokenness.

While in a devastated area, going door to door with care packages and the love of God,  team members Chris, who also directs security at our church and Sarah, a psychiatric nurse worked together with a local pastor and shared this testimony…

At one point in our canvassing we found no one home but the way led to a park where we saw a woman, sitting alone, underneath a tree.  We approached her to ask about her needs, how we might help in any way.  The woman was obviously downcast and heavy hearted. 

“I’ve been praying for days, asking for God’s direction, what I should do” she shared. “Ten years ago I lived in New York City, I used to go to Times Square Church.  My husband lives in New York City but I don’t know what to do.  My mother lives here….I’m praying for direction, I’m asking God for a sign…”

Chris said, “We’re here from Times Square Church.” 

“Oh my God!” she exclaimed and looked up directly at Chris.  At 6’5″ with  memorable looks and physique, she added with amazement,  “I remember you, I used to see you at the front of the church!”  (a security post!)   

An emotional dam burst forth and this woman shared her brokenness and deep fears.  The team counseled her, ministered to her and prayed with her.  No provisions would ever compare to the ‘care package’ delivered by God – the Body of Christ whom she knew from a church she loved, finding her in a remote corner of an island, praying alone underneath a tree.   

There were many such testimonies, even from that same day.  My husband’s team found a woman who readily answered their call.  Inwardly desperate,  she is literally dying and described to the team her terminal condition and prognosis – less than three weeks to live.  Broken, she described her ‘backslidden’ condition, having known the Lord but turned away from Him.  Would He receive her again?  Could she be assured of eternal life?

My husband knows very well the downfall and despair from turning away from the Lord and also knows the true renewal and assurance awaiting those who repent.  He and the brother with him ministered to this woman, praying for her and with her, leading her to the assurance of eternal life.

God’s purpose in the storm, whether it is a personal trauma or natural catastrophe, may be to expose the roots of our condition and cause us to seek Him in a deeper way.  If we, as the Body of Christ, offer ourselves as a “living sacrifice” unto the Lord, He may maneuver us toward those broken people who are crying out for Him.

Please continue to pray for Puerto Rico, the work of God continues…

Is This Church?

The life of Christ dwelt within the heart of Haig but we missed it for many years.  Haigie was a mentally and physically disabled Armenian man, without family, who lived with the elderly at the Armenian Nursing Home.  Culturally vibrant and lively, this ‘nursing home’ was a beloved Armenian community for Haigie, even though he wasn’t elderly.  Since my husband and I live 200 miles away, our visits were infrequent and our attention was spread over several residents.

After many years there, Haigie was evaluated by the state for placement into a residential group home for the mentally and physically disabled.  Now in his sixties, leaving his aged Armenian community was a crushing blow, many tried to circumvent this move but in the end it was a ‘God move’, a tremendous blessing for us all.

My husband and I began visiting Haigie at the group home, which did not have 80 residents but under 10.  With Haigie our only focus, we grew closer and the Lord soon revealed his living faith in Jesus Christ.  As a brother in the Lord, visits with Haigie became times of scriptural sharing and worship, including Armenian and English hymns.

However, within two years, Haigie’s health begun to fail.

Bob and haigy

For his memorial I wrote, in part,

It was clear that Haigie had a living faith.  We hadn’t realized before, that in his broken body was a vibrant love for God…In spite of longsuffering, he was ready to worship and expressed his love for Jesus Christ.  Haigie was a true believer whose faith greatly encourages us.  It will be a joy to worship the Lord with Haigie one day in God’s Kingdom.

I believe that ‘living faith’ doesn’t die.  

During our last visits with Haigie,  a woman wheeled herself into his bedroom as we were singing.  Mentally and physically disabled and mute, Adrienne somehow communicated to us that she was Armenian and friends with Haigie.  Another Armenian in this residence?  Adrienne joined us and we soon learned that she cared deeply for Haigie, his death would be a great loss to her.

SO following Haigie’s death we continued to visit this group home, Adrienne seemed to cherish this fellowship.  We sang songs and had scriptural reading in the ‘sun room’.  It was different.  But I soon saw the Lord doing a new thing.

One day Linda was in the ‘sun room’, her wheelchair parked by our sitting area as she worked on an art craft.  We hardly knew her but she seemed happy to have us there.  We socialized a bit with Adrienne then we opened up fellowship with singing (accompanied by much needed YouTube songs online!)  and Bible reading.  Although Adrienne is mute, Linda is not and we soon found that she had faith and something to say about it!

We came to know the other residents and the staff as well.

This Christmas our visit moved from the ‘sun room’ to the living room, the common social area.  A group seemed to form around us, including a Jewish resident!  The ball started rolling with Linda’s request for the all popular ‘Jingle Bell Rock’.  We sang out Christmas songs in every pitch and tone that perhaps only the Lord could love.  We even sang a Hanukkah song before sharing God’s word about Christ’s birth.  The story highlight became the shepherds and God’s choice to miraculously announce the Savior to simple folks huddled around sheep.

This is the best part…there was a time of prayer before leaving.  With joined hands and bowed heads I looked up, and saw residence staff come and join in!  

Was this church?  I think so!

 

Lord, speak to the heart of every resident and staff member in that home, water every seed of faith.  Open our eyes to value and seek the childlike faith of Matthew 18:3, humble and dependent upon you.  Press upon our hearts the kind of fellowship You desire, in the places that You ordain to make Yourself known.

I pray for each reader that visits this site, whet their appetite for more of You, Jesus.  Speak to their hearts and encourage them as they walk through each day, no matter how heavy the steps.  I pray for every writer that visits here, anoint them and inspire them with Your Holy Spirit.  Let Your seeds of living truth come to fruition through their work.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

When Angels Operate Elevators

“How then can evil overtake me or any plague come near?  For He orders His angels to protect you wherever you go.”  (Psalm 91:10-11)

There is another Parole testimony which lives in my heart as a constant reminder of the Lord’s presence and protection as we serve Him.  I covered two Harlem precincts as a Parole Officer, the 28 and the 32.  Within the 32nd Precinct stand the infamous Polo Grounds,  a huge concentration  of city housing projects built upon the former baseball field.

polo grounds II

Each one of these 4 buildings contains over 1600 apartments.  

These buildings are a hotbed for crime and gangs, ergo I had many assignments here.  It was a good thing for ‘one stop shopping’ – I could make many home visits and curfew checks in one location.  However, it was dangerous as well.  Over the years I came to know many of the parolees and their families here, had many ‘meet and greet’ moments on walkways and lobbies and often had open doors to share the Gospel.   However, during one early morning curfew check, the encounter was not friendly at all…

 

It was a bit past 5am, I hopped off the city bus and walked briskly down the project’s walkway.  The sun had not yet risen over the city high risers but it was not dark.  I passed by the park benches in the grassy area and took a mental photo of 5 youths sitting upon the bench and atop the bench back – five gang members who apparently ‘broke night’.  They clocked me as I walked past but did not move.  A warning pang struck me as I entered the building and pushed the elevator button – however, I was obviously alone.

When the elevator door opened I was still alone – I quickly stepped in but before I could press any button those 5 youths jumped in and the decrepit doors shut behind them.  

A powerful ‘oh crap’ moment struck me – bum-rush, disarm, rape and worse flashed in my mind.   “Lord!” was the cry in my heart, but before they could reach the floor buttons…

the elevator doors flew open for one secondI jumped out – the doors slammed shut! …the elevator quickly lifted away!

Those moments,  deeply etched in my heart, are a continual reminder to me of God’s presence as we walk in His will and His power to intervene.  I do believe that angels operated that elevator, confounding wicked plans.  (After thanking God and gaining composure, I actually did take another elevator and made the visit!)

The word of God describes many angelic interventions, there is no doubt of their endowed power, evidenced through the Old and New Testament.  While it is Biblical for believers to accept the presence of angels it is not Biblical or godly to engage angels or place our faith in these servants of God.  They are dispatched by God alone and exist to enact His commands and will.  We should be aware though, as demonic spirits influence and darken the world around us, our God has more powerful beings to launch on behalf of His beloved, us.  

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?    (Hebrews 1:14)

The essential truth that marks my heart from those memorable moments is this:  if we are walking in obedience to God’s will, if we are where He has placed us and busy at what He assigns, we are backed by heaven.  God will go before us, protect us, and sovereignly bring His plan to fruition.  

Thank you Lord for Your presence and intervention in our lives even if we don’t see it.  Let us walk in total assurance that our names are “engraved in the palm of Your hand” and, as the Lord promises, “no one will snatch them out of My hand.”   Help us to obey and trust in Your word, serving as You assign and plan our lives.  Amen.  

 

“Hey, I Remember YOU!”

dark city street

 

New York State Parole Officers are required to make many random home visits in their assigned precincts.  Many visits were ‘surprise’ visits during curfew hours, 9pm to 6am.  Unlike most of my fellow officers, I chose to work alone in the field and, moreover, walked through the neighborhoods block by block.  Although the Harlem precincts were quite rough at the time, I grew to know and love the community.

However rewarding my lone and lengthy excursions, there were also a few hairy moments to remember.

One early morning, a little past 5am….

It was a cold and dark winter morning, I hopped off the bus and started my scheduled visits, block by block.  Except for a few figures huddled inside doorways, either selling drugs or loitering for warmth, the streets and sidewalks were empty.  I walked into a side street, between two major avenues and, halfway in the block an eerie feeling came upon me.  I noticed a large hooded man across the street, picking up his pace, following me.  There was no once else to follow!

I looked ahead towards the avenue which was well lit.  “Lord, let me get there”.  However, this man sped up, crossed the street diagonally towards me.  A flashback of being jumped as a youth shot a warning inside me…As he walked between two parked cars to the sidewalk,  I neared the street light.  He slowed his pace and looked at me, his countenance clearly changing…

“Hey, I remember YOU!  You were my Parole Officer a long time ago!”

“Really?”  I did not remember him!

“Yeah!  I remember you, you invited me to your church!”

“Oh, well did you go?”  I asked this possible mugger.

“Actually, I did go once, a long time ago…but things just fell apart…”  his voice drifted.  No doubt that “things just fell apart” since he was roaming the streets for no good reason.  “Well, maybe you need to go back to the church, remember where it is?  51st and Broadway…Start praying, call out to the Lord.  He’s the only one that can change your life…”

“Yeah, I know…” with that he turned and walked away…and I, somewhat stunned,   headed towards the avenue, the sun now rising.

I call upon this memory often, it refreshes my trust in God’s protection and His “order to my steps”.  I am fairly certain of that ex-convict’s initial criminal intent as he eyed and followed me – but I believe the Lord had an appointment that morning.  At just the right moment, that man saw my face in the light and remembered me, and God stopped and redirected him.  Of all the scenarios that flew to mind, I did not imagine what God had in store.

That morning also brought life to the truth…”He who plants and he who waters are one in purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers…”  (I Corin 3:8-9)   If I indeed invited this former parolee to church it was after counseling him in the Lord and sensing a receptive heart to know God.  What happened during the subsequent years is unknown but serving God under His direction and calling is never futile – the Lord of the harvest will yield His intended fruit.  

I pray for Lord’s encouragement upon us all, may we seek and anticipate His possibilities everyday…appointments – even unlikely ones – where we might water the seed within someone’s heart or refresh someone’s damaged faith and even more, sense a unity with the Lord of the harvest as He causes the seeds to grow.

 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens
    and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
    producing seed for the farmer
    and bread for the hungry.
 It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”

(Isaiah 55:10-11)

I Prayed For My Neighbors, Look What Happened

Many of my neighbors have moved in and moved out over these past 30 years and, while I’ve prayed for them, most relationships remained superficial.  I really understand – at the end of the day, everyone wants privacy and rest after bustling through the city.  But at the same time, I believe that “the times and places for man to live are ordained by God” and don’t want to neglect any opportunity to show God’s love.

Showing some kindness isn’t hard – helping carry bundles (we have no elevator), being a listening ear when someone needs to unburden, or even an occasional hospital visit.  But I kept praying, was there more?

THEN I happened to see a flyer posted, announcing a plan by Columbia University to build a ‘public plaza’ on our small residential street, eliminating two blocks and much needed residential parking.  They already demolished housing for a conference center – the flyer urged residents to get involved.

(After the city itself, Columbia University is the largest land owner in the City of New York.  They have displaced more residents and dismantled more neighborhoods than anyone else.)

I really felt a stirring but feelings can deceive….does the Lord really care about our street per se? Are these concerns worldly?  Temporal? Of no consequence in view of eternity?

But the stirring continued.  I attended this open meeting where C.U. presented their illustrious “plaza plan”.  But something was wrong, I sensed something devious and underhanded in their overture, “This is a plaza for you to enjoy!”

Their plan must be approved by the Community Board and that meeting would be held on November 5th.  My husband and I felt compelled to notify our neighbors over a two block radius.  We distributed flyers to many, especially to weary drivers, urging them to attend this meeting and stand up for their neighborhood.   I continued to pray, hoping that my zeal is from God and not my own unction.

On November 5th, during my morning prayer and devotion,  Deuteronomy 20:1-8 was the scripture topic twice!  One inspirational blog I read,  A Mountain of Faith, posted “Is Your Tank Full?”  (https://amountainoffaith.com/2017/11/05/is-your-faith-tank-full/)  I truly felt covered by God for this meeting, that no ‘chariots’ ‘horses’ or ‘armies’…even big businesses…can come against the purposes of God.

For the LORD your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies, and he will give you victory!’  Deuteronomy 20:4

There were many empty places as the meeting was about to begin.  However, shortly thereafter my husband and I turned around and saw behind us dozens of people who came from work and from their homes.  Standing room only!

C.U. presented a slide show of their ‘plaza plans’.  Their P.R. reps tried to present how this will ‘benefit’ the neighborhood,  a fancy but hollow attempt to patronize while ruining and taking our street.

My inward ‘stirring’ turned into a ‘churning’.  I stood and challenged C.U. with unexpected fervor…which passed the torch to others.  They thought their plan was a slam dunk in this Spanish speaking, working class neighborhood.  And why not?  They have never lost an endeavor, especially when displacing families, the elderly and small businesses…those with no clout.   They did not get approved on this night though, the board ended up divided and could not vote.

Digging into rumors uncovered the truth.  C.U. really needs this plaza in order to change the zoning law on our small residential street and proceed with building plans.  The plaza is their platform to build upon and expand their campus, architectural plans are are already established, waiting in the wings! 

I privately prayed more though for God’s guidance, “Lord, should I take this farther?  Should I see an Assemblyman or Councilman?”  Shortly afterwards my husband came and suggested, “Maybe you try and see our Congressman or Councilman…”

So I met with the City Councilman’s intermediary, who happens to be a pastor. He aligned with the neighborhood concern and added, “God bless you!”  He strongly urged me to contact the Chief of Staff…whose name is Jose Espiritusanto!  (which from Spanish translates Holy Spirit!)

This week my husband and I had opportunity to address a larger general meeting and present the truths behind the ‘plan’.  The next Community Board meeting is Dec 4th.

So far I testify:

  • God is “training my hands to battle” (Psalm 144:1) strengthening us toward a spiritual calling.  I never addressed a public gathering before, but the Lord is breaking new ground within me, teaching me that through Him I am able to do this.
  • After praying for my neighbors, we’re getting to know them, perhaps they’ll see we care.  Already some have shared personal struggles and know, “We’re praying for you!”  Might we remember each other when this battle is over, when hardships or calamities strike?
  • I believe that the Lord is revealing Himself, teaching us greater dependence upon Him and His unmatched sovereignty….strengths we will need for future spiritual battles.  

“No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.”  II Timothy 2:4

This is scripture to live by.  But somehow God has put us in the middle of a neighborhood issue and has stirred us within. Sometimes our prayers for people don’t supernaturally create home Bible studies and prayer meetings.  Sometimes God positions His Body alongside the lost and hopefully upon that road, fulfills divine appointments.

Would you pray for us?

 

 

 

When No One Else is Watching…

Everyone knows that God chose a shepherd boy to slay a giant, but why a shepherd?

God chose David and displayed His glory through David’s life, making unconditional covenant promises,  “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”  (II Samuel 7:16)  But why David?

David did not ‘score points’ with God by slaying Goliath or championing God’s honor in the face of scorners.  God was watching what David was doing when no one else was watching.  

Most of us know that David was the youngest son of seven and given the lowly job of tending sheep out in the fields.  We’re familiar with his bravery, fighting lions and bears who attack the lambs.  Who doesn’t want that courage and strength?  I really believe though, that God’s eye was on much more…

David was outstanding in a job that nobody wanted.  A shepherd extraordinaire who:

  • never bragged or broadcasted his exploits.  No one in his family seemed to highly regard David – he was initially excluded when his brothers were presented to Samuel.  In fact, his father Jesse could say nothing about David except, “he is tending the sheep”.  David’s fierce courage only became known when he sought to convince King Saul that he could slay Goliath.
  • risked his life with no apparent motive for reward or acknowledgement or even possibility of promotion!  No sheep would celebrate when rescued, neither would David receive an award, trophy, or bonus.
  • worshiped God in the dark and lonely places, praising and exalting without audience or witness except God alone.   Although gifted, David did not perform, he worshiped.

I believe there are such ‘young Davids’ in the Body of Christ who may risk their lives as a servant extraordinaire for their Father.  They may also risk reputation, position, and livelihood and find themselves in lowly places but it doesn’t matter.  They have a task at hand and will excel even when no promotion is possible, no one acknowledges or esteems them and in fact, no one is even watching.   And out in that field they will worship, without choir, without musicians and without special effects.  

Perhaps we won’t meet these brethren until we get to heaven and even then they may be far closer to God’s throne!  There we may find caretakers to the infirm, single parents, elderly believers, disabled brethren…and some whose only ministry was to pray – and giants fell because of them!

Most everyone imagines being a hero, catching the applause, and receiving an award.  Only the Lord though, can change hearts to be like this David’s – fixed to excel at whatever task the Father entrusts,  a heart that worships the Lord with exuberance, just because He’s with us and worthy to be praised.  

God bestows gifts and talents to us all, perhaps they come forth and bear fruit through faithfulness in those lonely fields.  But this communion with God prepares us…when the giant looms overhead, when the enemy encroaches, when crisis arises we’ll know as David did: ‘victory is mine’!

“Don’t worry about this Philistine,” David told Saul. “I’ll go fight him!”

 “Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied. “There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.”

 But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep….”  

What a resume!  What God is fashioning and refining in us may be unseen to the whole world but He gives life to the given gifts within us…and He will be exalted through them, even if no one else is watching.  

Well, IS a Minute a Long Time?

 

stopwatch IIMiss Chafe, my 4th grade teacher, always gave an easy ‘bonus question’ at the end of every test, something impossible to get wrong.  To this day I remember this one, “Is a minute a long time?”  Who wouldn’t say ‘no’?…but the class was divided!

Well, is a minute a long time?

Unfortunately, our culture so highly values immediacy that any downtime or ‘waiting’ is seen as wasteful loss…inefficient and unacceptable.  Mental pop-ups condition us to cyber-check and multitask.  We wouldn’t dream of waiting a minute to hear from Google or any of the ‘answer gizmos’ of our day.   Fastest car, quickest download… instant camera and telegram = instagram.  

But God’s best – His strength, His revelation, His indwelling – only come to those who wait!

I remembered Miss Chafe’s question while praying.  Do I get up upon my last request and start my day?  Can I linger on, for one minute, and wait for the Lord to speak to me?  Can I pause, even a minute, during prayer time to allow the Holy Spirit to align my prayers with God’s will?

Can I meditate upon a verse for 60 seconds, allowing the Holy Spirit to bring it to life in my heart?

God awaits us and often draws us in through fiery trials, unmet needs, and challenging griefs.  But ‘suffering’ is not the designated time to wait upon God.  The Bible calls that designated time ‘Today’. 

Take the ‘minute challenge’ but with reverent trepidation…who brings a stop watch when meeting with a King?  Sixty seconds exposes what’s in our hearts, the importance of our agendas and priorities.

Could taking a minute before praying make all the difference?

“Once you are sure that you are talking to the One who loves you intensely and the One who has all power to do anything in this universe, i.e. once we see the greatness of God, the greatness of His power, and the greatness of His love, then we are ready to pray.”   Zac Poonen

Oh Lord, let one minute turn into two, into three…let us lose track of time in Your presence.   Lord, let us linger not for just ‘an answer’…but to to know You and fellowship with you.  What burdens Your heart?  “Speak Lord, Your servant is listening…”

cropped-oil_lamp2.jpg

“You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning…”