The Bolder Kindness of the Gospel

There are times when our hearts are Weeping in the Passing Lane, having lost cherished relationships, fruitful careers and ministries – when we suffer the loss of how life used to be.  But in Christ, loss and suffering are never wasted but are often a painful avenue to another level of faith.  (I think this is only believable when you’re exiting the fiery furnace!)

As a State Parole Officer, I loved the ongoing opportunities to share the Gospel with felons, inmates, families in the communities and other officers.  When everything in my life was practically perfect, the Potter saw fit to squash the lump of clay and painfully remold the design.  While life may be stripped of venues, relationships, and resources, God still owns us and “gives us the desires of our heart” – in other words, He installs desires within us. 

The desire to share the Gospel, the burden to be a useful vessel in His Kingdom, still captures my heart.  While fervently praying for God to “send me”, “open doors”, and avail a ‘call’, the Lord showed me opportunities missed, even in one day, on my way downtown to the WTC Occulus…

Almost every train in NYC leads to the ‘Occulus’ – a humungous architectural design to commemorate the World Trade Center, housing upscale stores, restaurants, and waterfront sites.  Although a New Yorker, I had never been there and now, meeting a friend, I must have seemed lost to the concierge there.

“Can I help you?  You seem lost…”  Well, I wasn’t lost but her friendly overture engaged us as I waited for my friend.  Jolene* shared about being a concierge, how she came from Africa, and later, when my friend saw us, the three of us enjoyed a friendly chat.  Before heading for lunch I invited Jolene to visit our church but I knew in my heart, that’s not the same as sharing the Gospel…. 

After a lovely lunch and stroll by the waterfront, I headed back to the subway.  While adding money to my Metrocard, an elderly tourist couple approached me, “Could you please help us?”  Of course!  There’s such pleasure in helping the elderly and tourists!  After friendly overtures, I said, “There’s no need to figure out this machine.  Here, take my Metrocard.  It will take you to your destination…” I gave them some travel tips and said good bye to this grateful couple.  But as they walked away, hand in hand, I was so happy to show kindness but knew in my heart,  that’s not the same as sharing the Gospel….  

I proceeded to the A train and found as I boarded the only seat left – next to a woman with two Chihuahua puppies.  “I got the best seat!” I said as I sat.  This immediately engaged the woman and she happily shared the story of her pet life and puppies. The same age range as me, Vivian* shared some life struggles as well.  I surmised that the many tattoos on her arms were of various cultural witchcraft symbols especially when I asked, “What are the puppies’ names?”  “Oh,” she replied, “this one is Voodoo…”  We were both going all the way north Manhattan but my stop was before hers.  “Thank you for sharing your stories, I wish you the best with your pups!”  It was so nice talking to Vivian, but I knew in my heart, that’s not the same as sharing the Gospel….

Maybe there’s something of value in ‘relationship Gospel’, sharing God’s truth after building relationships or friendships but I don’t see that much in the Bible.  But this, however, exhorts my heart:   “Make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.”

I  truly believe that God moves His Body around, sovereignly ordains meetings, ‘coincidences’, and prepares hearts in unseen ways.  One word can make a mark in a soul that the Lord is calling.

The Lord is stirring my heart toward the venue of the world, however small the piece before me!  I am praying for a greater boldness with ‘strangers’ –  knowing that even a word that we share may be an answer to someone’s prayers.  To launch this boldness, I pray, Lord,  for a deeper burden and love for the souls before me.

subway moving

While I hate to miss a train, may the opportunity to share the Gospel not pass me by….

Kindness is good, but I pray for the fruit bearing kindness of sharing the Gospel truth.

 

Can God Use a Feral Cat?

There are several posts, contained in Maggie’s Corner, describing and remembering our beloved Maine Coon Maggie.  Few if any however mention Maggie’s kitten Becky whom we brought in with Maggie from the street.  Half feral, Becky was so unlike her mother, living under the bed for the first 3 years then gradually showing herself to us at a distance.  Becky was unsociable, aggressive at times, and fearful.  But we loved her (from a distance of course!)

After Maggie died last year, Becky became distinctly mournful.  She often roamed the apartment, surveying Maggie’s napping places and – believe it or not – wailing.  This was seriously pitiful and even disturbing as she would awaken at 2-3am crying and needy.  Our vet could not recommend a replacement companion as Becky is not sociable, nor did she recommend any medication.  Now 15 yrs old, Becky grew very close to me, finding comfort and calm through brushing and petting.   After avoiding my husband Bob all her life, Becky was even willing to sit near him.

Although we took Becky everywhere, she would be unable to travel outside the country and thus, at one point, we had to find the right cat sitter (our previous wonderful one moved away).  We take seriously what God entrusts to us so we interviewed some candidates and prayed about a choice.  We could not enjoy our trip if Becky would be depressed, crying, not eating, etc.

One sitter stood out, Rhonda*, a “professional cat sitter” who was knowledgeable, engaging, and lived walking distance.  It was just a right fit.  We opted for overnight stays, a bit indulgent but worth the peace of mind.  Although Rhonda was very confident, I encouraged her, “Don’t feel bad at all if you don’t see Becky, she always hides and can be very timid and unsociable.”

Soon after arriving at our destination I began receiving text photos:

We were impressed.  Family members on our trip were amazed!  (Although they are animal lovers, Becky always hisses at their friendly overtures!)

Soon I found that this was more than God-given cat care.  After several overnights in our home, Rhonda called me with an observation and question, “I noticed that you have college degrees, that you’re an educated person.  I also can tell from the things in your home and your books that you have faith.  Being educated, do you really believe the Bible, all those stories…?”  Of course!

Rhonda asked if she could visit sometime and talk about this.  Of course!

Our visits together rooted a friendship and fellowship, grounded in personal and spiritual sharing.  The Lord was stirring in these coffee klatches.  Soon Rhonda called me and asked, “Do you think we can study the Bible together?”  Of course!

God is pushing back layers of darkness in this precious woman’s life and preparing her heart for the true Gospel.  What a glorious spot for me, to be part of what God is doing!

We began meeting once a week but Rhonda smiled and mentioned, “I can meet more often you know….”  Really?  How about tomorrow?  “I’ll be here!”

Many brethren are waiting on God to move them into ministry, open doors to evangelize and utilize their ‘God given gifts’.  May the Lord shift our thinking away from the natural realm, where strobe lights and orchestrated mood music moves multitudes.  Instead of corralling hundreds of sheep, the Lord may be seeking that one lost sheep.  We might not preach to the crowd but, by putting our hand to the plow and moving forward, we may be doing the invisible work of tilling the ground for another to plant the seeds.

I am encouraged and grateful for this precious soul before me, even amazed how God used a needy troubled cat to bring Rhonda into my home.

Becky, used by God?

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Who would have thought!

P.S.  the tomato was a gift from Rhonda!

 

“…you despicable reprobate.”

This is a partial quote from a comment I made on a social media page under a photo of a triumphant hunter gloating over a killed magnificent elephant.   Wanton animal cruelty and desecration of God’s creation provoke intense emotions (in me anyway) however, even as I wrote that comment I sensed it was my flesh arising, not the Spirit of God within.

While this was still stirring in my heart, I read today David Ettinger’s post, The Gold Standard of Christian Behavior .  His focus points to the angry and provocative political comments posted by many believers in social media.  Through scriptural reference David rightly contends that it is unbiblical and ungodly, challenging readers:

“What possible good does such behavior accomplish in sharing the love of Christ with a lost and dying world? …Does posting hateful political messages…do anything for the cause of Christ?  Would an unbeliever really want to hear what you would have to say about Jesus?”

What would I say if I passed by such a ‘hunter’?  Can I, at all, change my focus from his prideful killing and imagine his eternal fate before the Creator?  Or, more to the point, can I look at my own past sinful deeds and call myself a ‘despicable reprobate’?

There are so many reasons to justify emotional fervor but only one reason for believers to resist – the word of God calls us much higher.  Investing our heart into political, social, environmental, animal welfare causes etc will always lead us into a fleshly battle where we’re fighting those lost in darkness.  It’s no threat at all to the works of Satan and sadly, no gain at all for the Kingdom of God!

Is there any place for righteous anger?

In Living As Jesus Lived, Zac Poonen presents the divine attributes of Jesus as our only standard – His purpose, His holiness, His power, His love.  In Christ’s holiness is also “His zeal for the purity of God’s house.”     Brother Zac further expounds:

“The Bible commands us to be angry without sinning. (Eph 4:26).  When the Roman soldiers beat Jesus and whipped Him in Pilate’s hall, He patiently bore it all.  He was never once angry where it concerned His own person.  Such anger would have been sin.  But where it concerned the purity of God’s house, it was different.  There, to refrain from anger would have been sin.”  (emphasis Zac Poonen)

The  apostle Paul expressed such zeal as he founded the first churches:

“But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside.  “Expel the wicked man from among you”.”    (I Corinthians 5:11-12)

To our discredit, much of our ‘righteousness’ as believers comes from judging unbelievers – we’re not as bad as those ‘despicable reprobates’.  But our claim to follow Christ mandates aspiring to a higher, separated standard.  Judging those in the world, who live in darkness, ‘captivated by sin’ is futile and ungodly.  But upholding God’s standards within the Body of Christ is mandated – we are His ‘ambassadors’, representing a holy God before a dark world.

How can we refrain from judging ‘despicable reprobates’ in the world?  How can we have the boldness to uphold God’s standards in the church?  Only God can ignite a grief in our heart for the lost and unlovable.  And only the Lord can raise up a godly zeal and impassion us toward holiness in the Body that claims to be His in this world.

Help me Lord, to walk in your ways!

Addendum:  I’ve received some verbal comments from some who are familiar with these ‘trophy hunters’.  They rightfully assert that the acts desecrating God’s creation is ‘despicable’.   I agree.  And, I would add, we are never called to redefine or diminish sin.  But, I clarified, when we judge the sinner, there’s no room to warn him that “the wages of sin is death”.   We can preach the Gospel and call people to repent, pray that the Holy Spirit brings them to “godly sorrow that leads to repentance”, but the gavel at the end belongs to the Judge.

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

What I Learned From a Bunch of Rats

Yes, seriously.  And I’m not talking about those Community Board traitors who sold out our neighborhood.   Real rats….

Apparently, after months of street excavation replacing water mains, a colony of rats relocated in our building grounds to be “fruitful and multiply”.  While I had seen one or two over the past few weeks, early this morning, on a mission to wash clothes,  I had to cross the battle lines.   Four rats jumped out of an open trash can, others ran past me as I forged ahead to the laundry room – very determined but with trepidation!

I called an expert in building maintenance (my husband!) already gone to work.  He was upset for me but advised, “Rats are very smart!!  They know when you’re afraid!  Don’t back down, make a lot of noise, let them fear you!”  Well, I already failed at that since I was standing on a chair.

All of a sudden, my Bible studies rose up in my heart.  I was determined to complete the task at hand and without fear.  I believe in sovereignty and purpose in all that a believer encounters so, tossing clothes into machines, I lent my mind to godly thinking.

“…make a lot of noise”… a metal rod was at hand and a lot of noise was made at regular intervals!  Any passer by would have greatly wondered….

“They know when you’re afraid!  Don’t back down….let them fear you!”  Now this was a living message for my soul.  I immediately thought of fearful and intimidating thoughts that attack me and challenge my faith.  Yesterday for example, a situation arose jeopardizing my husband’s job.

If the devil “...prowls around like a roaring lion...” then, my friend, his demons are the rats that scurry around to inflict fear and intimidate.  And they know when you fear them…our fear emboldens them to draw near and will bite if possible!

Metal rod in hand, I clanged through my laundry with ease.  But this I realized and planted in my heart:  “Let them fear you!”  The true believer in Christ lives with the indwelling Holy Spirit.  We are the temple of God, He dwells within us.  Standing in Christ, we need not fear the devil, let him fear us as we claim God’s word like a rod in our hand!

Amen.

 

 

 

‘Defeated’ but Refocused and Refreshed

In Time to Quit or Go Deeper , a looming social and political threat hung over our neighborhood at large.  The same villainous City Councilman who championed Columbia University’s takeover of our street, now spearheaded a major rezoning of the neighborhood at large, opening floodgates of opportunities to big developers and real estate moguls.  Without exception, ‘rezoning’ = ‘gentrification’ in NYC, always resulting in the eventual displacement of thousands.

protest sign

We were, indeed, sold out!

Yesterday, August 8th, I joined a large gathering at City Hall, planning to attend this fateful public vote but found we were all shut out.  Nonetheless we stayed and voiced our opposition on the steps of City Hall.

The City Council was well aware of the residents’ vehement objection to this pervasive plan.  None the less, they voted  43-1 in favor.  Even Councilmen who previously expressed objection changed their vote. 

If pressing in with the Lord, going deeper, results in such a devastating defeat, why bother?  Because the ‘issue at hand’ is usually not God’s focus.  I prayed for my neighbors, whom I hardly knew and found myself alongside them in battle.  Personally, I do not subscribe to the ‘social gospel’ or ‘felt needs gospel’ and never believe, ‘together we can change the world!’  But as our hearts were charged with the issues at hand, the Lord did a work that eluded me for all these years living here.  I came to know and love my neighbors, enabling me to care and truly pray for them.   

Going deeper into fellowship with the Lord, through worship, prayer and His word, will not guarantee any worldly victory.  But a sincere heart, determined to meet with sovereign God, will hear from Him.  All else becomes inconsequential in His presence as His word brings clarity, light, and understanding.  Moreover, as we present ‘our heart’s desires’ to Him,  the Lord may refocus and redirect us to His desires, His focus, and His plan.  He is, after all, our Commanding Officer.

Amid the earthly defeat – and there will be many more and worse in these last days – there is one sign that I will never stop ‘carrying’.  I posted it in my young brother’s hospital room.  Soon, nurses and attendants were taking photos of it to share with those who suffer.

My brother died in that room, but the sign is still here…

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May we, as the Body of Christ, lock arms and go deeper – not into the world but into His presence.

Still praying for my neighbors……

 

Time to Quit or Go Deeper

Many of you know that, after several months of praying for our neighbors, a battle arose in which we actually came to know our neighbors, care sincerely for them, and join along side them.  In the past posts, the saga of Columbia University’s take over of Haven Avenue covered our victory and subsequent defeat.  In Defeat and Confusion – Lord, Press On!  I described hope arising with in a New York Times reporter who interviewed us extensively.  We prayed for a ‘Watergate breakthrough’…. That was four weeks ago!  The reporter told us last week that it’s coming a-n-y day now.

As Columbia gets set to launch their campus expansion, another development arose, championed by the same Councilman, Ydanis Rodriguez!  After selling out the residents of Haven Avenue,  he spearheaded a major plan by outside developers to rezone Inwood, the northern part of our neighborhood.  This plan would open the gates to commercial and luxury development, zoning out much of the affordable housing and small businesses.

I will not post details or sources, but there is a lot of money shuffling under the table.

I am all for renewal and upgrade but in NYC, rezoning results in gentrification and displacement of working class families.  The Councilman in Williamsburg, for example, pointed out that rezoning displaced 30,000 Hispanics from his catchment area.  Inwood is 71% Hispanic.

I totally understand that, as this world spins into the last days and coming judgment, these issues may count for nothing.  Admittedly, we are not facing famine, human trafficking, or persecution.  But the Lord doesn’t require desperate and dire need to care and intervene.  When He fed over 5,000, described in Matthew 14, they weren’t starving to death.  They weren’t even asking Him for food!  But Jesus had compassion for their present need.

Will blocks of Haven Avenue soon close and morph into a campus?  Will the ax fall on Inwood, final vote for rezoning on Wednesday, August 8th?  It certainly looks that way!

It’s time to either quit or go deeper.  

bob and protest sign  

There is a protest march this evening in Inwood, calling for the City Council to vote against the rezoning.  Rodriguez, a lame duck in his current office, refuses the outcry of his constituents.  The grapevine describes his sites upon the office of Public Advocate.  Laugh/cry moment here!

How does a believer go deeper when the battle seems lost? 

The only way to go deeper into the battle is shutting in with the Lord.  While the world turns with backroom deals, the Kingdom of God advances through faith.  Going deeper will test you and cost you.

My neighbors will be marching this evening…it just so happens my husband and I cannot make it.  But even better, we can forge ahead with all night prayer.  I believe prayer deserves appointment and schedule, as though one were meeting with a president, a prime minister, a King!

I do not sense a call to quit but to go deeper, not only for the speck on earth called Haven Avenue and Inwood, but for my neighbors to see the Lord.   May the Lord alone be exalted even as all other hope and options flush away.

It is not shocking to find a corrupt politician or greedy opportunists.  But if the Lord puts them before you, He may be drawing you to cry out for their souls, that they come to godly sorrow and repentance. 

By the time many of you read this, my all night prayer meeting will be over.  While it may end up with only me and the Holy Spirit, I invite anyone online to join in and ask the Lord to intervene.

If your heart is burdened, if heaven seems silent, if the battle seems totally lost – even worsening – commit to go deeper.  As always, with the Lord the thing at hand is not always His focus.  He can churn a storm to bring out one Jonah.

Let’s see what the Lord will do….