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)

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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)