Love Thy New York Neighbor

The Lord’s famous ‘Good Samaritan’ story often stirs my heart.  Sometimes I wonder, why did He use the term ‘neighbor’ when the needy person in the story did not “live next door or near the person in question”?  Two ‘neighbor’ stories always come to mind, one near and one far….

A few years ago a Mormon couple moved into the apt next door.  They were a bit overly friendly and even baked cookies to leave at everyone’s door.  (But no one I know would eat food left at their door)  Soon after, invites to Mormon services were given and, not surprisingly, the flyers looked very ‘mainstream Christian’.   I wondered, was this ‘loving your neighbor’?

The second story is far away and long ago when my father lived in Aleppo.  As a youth he worked for an Arab in a small shop around a cluster of stores.  One day there was an Islamic uprising against the Jewish community, Jews were beaten and shops were vandalized.  When club wielding, menacing men came to the Jewish shop next to my father, the Arab dashed out and stood in front of the Jewish shop.  He spread his arms wide across the doorway and boomed, “You must kill me first to get to them.  They are my neighbors!”

Born in the rough and tumultuous Middle East, Jesus’ concept of ‘neighbor’ defies most superficial ones of today.

I try to uphold ‘neighborly love’, sometimes incidentally, carrying groceries for elderly, visiting someone sick, getting mail.  Sometimes, it is a commitment of friendship such as with ‘Hilda’ in Juanita’s Joy and Making The Last Seconds Count.  But the truth is, I was hungry for more – more love to flow in and through me.

If God “determined the times set (for men) and the exact places where they should live” it would seem that one’s ‘neighbors’ are assigned as well – whether they are near or not.   While my heart was burdened for the Kurds oppressed and under fire in Syria and I was drawn to the ministries of Kurdistan, the Lord made His will clear…

I was disappointed that my heart was so kindled but not by God.  Shortly after the Kurdistan kibosh though, God opened the door of my neighbor’s life and ushered me in.  Joanna*, a single working parent with a chronic illness, always seemed okay and self-sufficient.  But when her life unraveled through illness and loss and without family or support she was greatly needing an outpour of “oil and wine”.

When the Lord kindles the love, the ‘oil and wine’ begin to flow.   Coming alongside her with childcare, practical resources and emotional support seems supernatural in that it is not ‘taking away’ but ‘adding to’ my life…friendship, pleasures of giving and mentoring, and the joy caring for a cheerful toddler…

Moreover, Joanna spoke of a church life some time ago.  The Holy Spirit is stirring a living faith and I believe she will grasp the Gospel and find the new life promised through our Savior Jesus.

May we always have the faith to thank God when the crossing bar lowers on our path, pausing us, redirecting us or just stopping us from pursuing our own desires.  And may He order our steps and infill our hearts with the “oil and wine” ready to flow toward that “neighbor” along our path!

 

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.

 

“Lord, Give me an Apt Word”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tanya daniel wedding

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

 

 

 

 

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…