We found the van window shattered when we went out to use it earlier this year. I think this was in April. A van window broken. Again. Somebody must have thrown a rock through the window this time. My good friend Sunny told me years ago, “People are stupid.” I called 911 to report it. Nobody showed up from the four seven.
"So love them anyway."
Ben’s bike was stolen last winter. We found it several weeks later, chained to a No Parking sign down on Adee Avenue near the Eastchester Deli. The police never responded to that 911 call, either. The homeless guy, "Face," who chained it there came riding up on a red Huffy bike. He agreed to open up the chain and give the bike to me, but he denied stealing it. “Yo dude, I found it on the sidewalk. The tire was broken.” I told him the red Huffy that he was riding was mine as well, but he can have it. He did not even deny that the red Huffy was ours. People can be annoying.
“Love them anyway, Rich.”
Our friends on E. 224th Street asked if I can help them hang blinds in the back bedroom a few weeks ago. Apparently the two girls saw the shadow of a man creeping around in the backyard at night, trying to look in. What a weirdo. People do the strangest things.
“Rich, I have been telling you. Love them anyway.”
Two days later, our other friends stopped by to hang out for a while. They live on E. 224th Street adjacent to the house of the ones who asked for help to install the blinds.. We found out from them that the previous week, the 12 year old boy had been in his room, lying awake on his bed at night. The back window was open, but the window bars were in place. A man’s long arm reached into this boy’s room, and the boy screamed and screamed. His mother called 911, and the boy told everyone that would listen, “It was a man hand! It was a man hand reached in through the window!” That is just plain freaky. What is this man doing reaching in the window? Doesn’t he have anything better to do? Earthlings, humanoids, strange random creatures floating on the whims and feelings of the untethered self.
“They are created in my image, Rich. I love these people. Please, as you have received my love, love them anyway.”
In September, a weirdo opens our back door in the middle of the night. This guy walks into our house, through the basement bedroom, up the stairs, and then assaults our nineteen year old daughter in the house. Thankfully she screams loud and fights him off, so he runs away. I get down from upstairs just in time to find out that a man has been in the house and run off. This guy must be some piece of work. Crazy, man. If people keep doing these kind of things, what in the world are we to do? How do we love our neighbors well, with open hearts, if there are crazy people out there? The detectives tell us that the night after the incident they booked a man for a separate offense who has been charged previously with seven burglaries. The detectives are certain this man is the one who entered our house, but they cannot pin this one on him unless a witness can identify him or unless they match fingerprints. People may be strange, but that does not give them any right to come uninvited into my house and assault my daughter.
“I am your God, Rich. Do not fear men. No person can separate you from my love. Remember, Rich, you have been an unlovable chap many times in your life, but I have always loved you. You have been given much. There is much to be given. Love them anyway.”
When a friend bails out of a long term rehab program because “The guy was pushing my buttons,” I want to grab him by the hair and shake some sense into him. How is that people think they are autonomous creatures of choice, but as soon as someone around them does something wrong they blame their own poor choices on the people around them. Mark this. As soon as you place the responsibility of all your choices on those around you, you self-destruct your value as a person of creative, meaningful choice. And you give all that power to those around you. That’s a lot of power to give people. Especially crazy people.
“They’re crazy? Love them anyway. You’re a little nuts sometimes yourself, and I love you.”
Thanks, Lord. I needed that. And yes, since You love me so well, how can I not love them anyway? Apart from you I can do nothing. Give me your love. Your kindness leads me to greater running-over infilling of your love and repentance. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
We had a traumatic early morning at the Schwartz house on Sunday, 9/8/2019. Sandy and I awakened to piercing, incessant, screams. Wave upon wave, on and on. I jumped out of bed and out the bedroom door before identifying the screamer as Bri. My mind whirling, I dashed down the steps, trying to pinpoint the reason for the screams. Had she seen a cockroach? A mouse? Had she had a bad dream?
Bri had been sleeping on the couch in the living room. Earlier that morning, I had awakened around 3:00 a.m., gone down and ate a clementine from the fridge, turned off the dining room light, turned on the kitchen light, and gone back to bed and dreamland. Sandy had gone down a few minutes later to get a bottle for the little girl living with us, and had turned off the kitchen light and kept on the stove light.
Pounding down the steps, I arrived at the bottom and found Bri screaming, shaking, and yelling “There was a guy in the house! He just went running down the basement stairs!"
Adrenalin rush. A wave of blood sweeping through my system. We had four little children sleeping upstairs. We are friends of these children and of their mother, and they had been staying with us on alternating weeks for a season. Our other five children were sleeping in the basement!
I ran down the basement stairs. Avery and Ben were up. They looked dazed and disturbed… Yes Dad, there was a man who just ran through our bedroom and through the family room and out the back door! I ran through the basement and outside. Nobody there. Avery came out and I told him to get his electric scooter and go around the block to see if he can see anyone. I then ran around the back alley towards Givan Avenue. Nobody.
When I came back inside I went upstairs and Bri was with Sandy. Through the gracious hand of God, Bri had been awakened by a dream just before the incident. It was a bad dream, a dream in which someone was coming in the house and she was yelling at the guy. So she woke up and lay there on the couch. Wait. There is a guy walking up the basement steps. The guy came up the steps and stepped into the living room. At first she thought it was Avery. When she realized it was not Avery she started screaming. The guy ran over and tried to hold her mouth shut and put his hands on her. It was terrible. She yelled and fought him off, so the guy ran to the basement door, down the stairs, and out the back door, leaving Bri with some cuts on her face and a bloody lip. Avery and Ben both saw the guy run through their bedroom on the way to the back door. They had just been awakened by Bri’s screams, and this guy came running through their room.
A burglary is one thing. Having a man come into my house and put his hands on my daughter is another thing altogether. No no no. This cannot be. How can this be? This is bad. Real bad.
I called 911 and within minutes the police and ambulance were there, and we had a parade of over twelve police officers come through over the next four hours. One police officer advised we get a security system. Another police officer gave a strong recommendation to buy a dog. He said that’s the best security system. We don’t have a security system for two reasons: 1. God is our security; 2. Rich is too cheap. I’m rethinking this, though. And we hope to get a dog if we can find one suitable and reasonably priced.
Yes, we thank God for giving Bri a dream that made her wake up. She starts up and is awake, and then this man comes up the steps. She has the adrenalin and strength to scream and to fight him off. That's a gift from God.
Practically speaking, I wish God would have kept the dude from coming into our house in the first place. Is that too much to ask? During the twenty-four hours after the incident, I told myself that we need to receive this experience as an opportunity to trust God with everything. But man, everywhere I went I would think “Was this the guy? Was that the guy?” It’s tough to care for people when everyone looks like a potential burglar. Over the course of the next week, God gently softened my heart.
The night after the incident
The night after the incident I slept downstairs in the family room. I figured if the dude tries coming in again he’s going to have to get by my umbrella first. I locked the boy’s room from their side, so I could not get into the boys room unless I would go outside, up the exterior steps, and enter the dining room. Well I woke up sometime around 3:30 p.m. to a loud moaning/groaning sound, and what I thought was a “3...2...1!” countdown from Avery, like he had the moaning guy in a chokehold. “Avery must have tackled this guy. I need to go help out!” I thought to myself. So I ran outside, up the steps, and entered into the dining room. I then waited and listened, but did not hear anything. I came back down and quietly entered the back door and stood there, listening.
I heard the front door open upstairs.
Running back outside, I ran up the outside steps two at a time and barreled into the dining room.
There was Avery, standing by the front door with a yellow broom in his hand, eyes wide. “Dad, you heard it too?” I heard the door open!”
“Yes, I heard the front door open. Was that you?” I asked.
“Yeah, I opened the front door, but I heard the back door just open. Who did that?” Avery asked.
“I opened the back door," I told him.
We looked at each other, relieved and a little sheepish at this round of scaring ourselves.
We had scheduled more than a month prior to this event to take a four day vacation on the Jersey shore in Wildwood Crest, NJ, so we were there from Monday through Thursday. It was a very timely getaway.
And God is working through the prayers of His people to restore trust in Him, and to be able to feel love towards people.
Last night, Bri called me at 11:45 p.m. from her bedroom. She had heard a noise in the kitchen. I came downstairs and found it empty. Nobody was on the back porch. So I walked down the basement steps to the boys room. Avery and Ben were awake, eating a frozen fruit salad. “Ben, I told you that you were too loud going up to the kitchen to get the spoons,” Avery said to Ben as they both looked at me from their midnight snack. I guess they got late night hunger pangs and Ben was commissioned to get the food and the spoons.
We are all still a little jumpy around here. Maybe a dog will help.
Animal Crackers and Prayer
Sandy was shopping at the Boston Road supermarket two blocks from our house when she witnessed a young mother yelling angrily at her young son. This went on and on, until Sandy felt led to approach the woman. “Hi, you seem to be dealing with a lot of stress. Do you mind if I pray for you?”
The woman said she would love to be prayed for. She was about to be evicted from her apartment. After Sandy prayed, the young woman told her “You pray different than I have ever heard before.” The little son yelled “Do it again!” So Sandy said, “Sure, I’ll pray for you again,” and knelt down and put her arms around the boy and prayed again. When she finished, the little boy yelled “That felt so good!”
The young woman told Sandy she remembers meeting her last year while we were house hunting, but Sandy does not remember that meeting. Anyway, while they were talking another shopper came up and asked the young woman if she knows where the animal crackers are. Sandy had this quick thought “I should pray for that woman, too,” but the opportunity passed and her new young friend told the hunter of animal crackers where she thought she could find animal crackers.
Sandy bought her groceries was standing just inside the grocery store door, nearly ready to leave, when the hunter of animal crackers approached her: “Excuse me, do you know where I could find a big box of animal crackers?” It was almost like this woman was stalking her. So Sandy said “Well, I don’t know where you could find animal crackers here, but you could check Aldi… By the way, would you mind if I pray for you?”
The woman said “Yes, I would like that,” so Sandy stood there praying for the woman, tears coming down her face, while the woman was holding her hands up in the air, receiving the prayer.
The Scripture that came to Sandy on the way home was from Isaiah 61, the passage that Jesus read in Luke 4…“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind…”
Your Kingdom come, your will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6
Sandy says “Prayer is such a powerful gift! Use it to minister to someone today!”
I prayed over a brick house.
I try to take a daily morning prayer walk along Corsa Avenue. It is about 0.5 miles between Burke and Hicks; three long city blocks, so the prayer walk ends up being around one mile. Back in January or February, every time I would turn around by Hicks Street and head south on Corsa Avenue, I would feel this urge to stop at a brick house on the west sidewalk. I would stop, look at the house, and pray for the people in it. I had never met them, but I would talk to God about this house and its occupants, asking for the Spirit of God to draw them to Himself.
About five weeks ago, I was walking towards Hicks Street along Corsa Avenue and saw a well-dressed man standing in front of this brick house. I quickly crossed the street, introduced myself, and said that we moved in last fall and I have been praying along Corsa Avenue most mornings. I explained that there must be a special call that God has upon the people in that house, because for a while I could not pass it without praying specifically for the occupants. The guy, (we’ll call him Sam), told me that he lives there. Sam is about my age. Sam grew up in church. He was baptized as a teenager. He is the son of a pastor. He knows that God wants him to come back, but he has walked away from God, from the faith, and from the church. “My Dad prays for me every day,” Sam said.
I asked Sam if I could pray for him, and he readily agreed. Something is happening in Sam’s heart, it seems.
Last Monday, my brother Ike and I were walking along Corsa Avenue. We spoke with a few people and had the opportunity to pray for three of them. Divine appointments. As we neared Hicks Street I said, “Hey Ike, let’s ring that bell over there and see if Sam is home.” We rang the bell to this brick house, and the first person to answer the door was… you guessed it, Sam. He said if we had rung the bell five minutes later he would have been on his way to Yonkers. We spoke with Sam for maybe 30 minutes and at the end we prayed for him, and he prayed in Spanish.
Sam told us something like this, and I paraphrase…“I know I need to come back to God, but I don’t want to come back and disappoint God by not following him wholeheartedly, so I’m asking him for a sign.”
We suggested that, perhaps, if God was prompting me to pray for that brick house multiple days in a row that might be a sign. Just maybe, right?
God is using others to answer the prayers of a pastor who is praying for his son. I wonder how many different people are involved in this master plan of God’s to point Sam’s heart back to His Heavenly Father. As I was writing this little update I called Sam, and he invited me to meet up with him this Friday. May the Spirit of God draw Sam to the Father, through Jesus.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
What happened?! You were stabbed?!
Most Friday mornings Stan and I go to the train station to preach the gospel. Actually, one of us preaches on one side of the track to the Manhattan-bound travelers waiting for the train, and the other one tries to smile at each traveler as they near the top of the 49-step ascent to the platform. A smile, a “Good morning” and an offer of a gospel tract sometimes receives a smile in return, sometimes gets rejected, but is always worth doing in the name of Jesus.
We have about a five minute window to preach before the northbound or southbound train comes through. Last Friday morning my short five-minute message began with “Good morning to my friends across the track, my name is Rich, and I want to tell you this morning that You are called to have life to the full, to live completely free, and to be filled with joy.” This was the day after the 4th of July, so I mentioned the “we hold these truths to be self-evident” statement that outlines our “inalienable rights” and then talked about the Kingdom of God that calls us to deeper life, gives us freedom to serve, and provides fullness of joy.
After my second message, the northbound train pulled up to the platform. I moved back and talked with God a little: “Thank you, Father, for giving me the chance to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. I was made for this.”
A man staggered off the train holding his side, moaning a little, his shirt all bloody.
“What happened?” I asked, walking up to him quickly. “Do you need help?”
“I got stabbed, man. I need to get to my sister’s house and get to the hospital,” he managed to get out between gasps.
“What!? You got stabbed!? Hey, let me run get my car and I’ll drive you to your sister’s house so we can then get you to the E.R.” I ran down the steps, ran to get my car, and pulled up to the train station. He wasn’t there. “Oh know,” I thought to myself. “He probably fell down those stairs!” Thankfully I found him leaning up against a post near the other exit, so I drove over and helped him into the car. He began to explain where he lived and told me where to go, but then he couldn’t remember the name of his street. “It’s 3300….3300…man, I’m losing it. I can’t remember the name of my street.” I’m thinking to myself this guy is going to pass out in my car, I don’t know who he is, and I don’t know where he lives.
We made it to his sister’s house, where he changed his shirt. Four stab wounds in all. I took him to Montefiore Hospital with his cousin, and dropped them off at the E.R.
The man (we’ll call him Dan) showed me his stitches and staples the next day when I stopped in to visit, and thanked me for taking him to the hospital. The next day, Sunday, I invited Dan to come to church, not thinking through it that he’s probably in a lot of pain yet. He actually walked the 0.4 miles to church and joined us for the service. The message was on “Walking in the Spirit” from Romans 7, and Dan said later that Stan’s message spoke to him. Ike took him home early because his wounds were hurting him.
The Word of God was sharper than a two-edged sword. Or maybe that’s not such a good analogy for someone who has just endured four stab wounds.
God is on the move.
Rejoicing in heaven.
Ike and I have begun to try to schedule a weekly walk along Corsa Avenue on Mondays during the mid-morning, looking for opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ. After “Dan” came to church on Sunday, we decided to stop in to visit him. He was very happy to see us and sat outside on the patio on a chair while Ike told of what God has done in his life. I shared some of what God has been doing in my life. We then both told Dan that we believe God preserved his life on Friday for something bigger.
Dan told us that he can think back to a time before dawn on Friday when he went to get some beers and, as he was coming back, he had a choice between two paths to the place he was heading. He actually started down the one path, but it was like he was moved to change his course and go down the other path. That “other path” is where he met the four guys who started trying to beat him up, and the one began using a knife. The time that he changed his course and went down the “other path” sounds very close to the time that Ike, Stan, and I were praying at the church building for those who would receive the gospel tracts and hear the gospel message at the train station. Would God have listened to our prayers and moved a man in downtown Manhattan to change his course so he could get stabbed and so that people would ignore him on the train so that he could come off the train just as I was preaching? We do not know the mind of God, now do we?
Now is the day of salvation, we told Dan. We asked Dan what keeps him from giving his life to the Lord Jesus. Dan said that there is no reason for him to wait, and he would like to do that right now. So I prayed for him, he prayed and asked Jesus to forgive him for his sins, and to be Lord of His life, tears streaming down his face. And then Ike prayed.
So we gave Dan a Bible, gave him some reading assignments, and Stan had a follow-up visit with him Wednesday. I’m hoping to meet with Dan again tomorrow.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. ” (Matthew 13:45-46).
Go all in.
The Kingdom of Heaven is worth dying for.
Speaking of rejoicing in heaven, Sandy and Sharon have been hosting a ladies’ Bible/book study on Thursday evenings in our house. Stan and I, and either Whitney or Brianna, babysit a round of little ones either at the church building or the Miller residence, while between 5-9 women sit around our kitchen table and read the Word, talk, laugh, eat, and pray together.
Four weeks ago a young, single mom of four children prayed and asked Jesus to be Lord of her life. She had been brought to the Bible study by another Christian woman we know.
I’ll call this woman Mary. If you get a chance to meet her, ask her to tell you what God has been doing in her life. It is incredible, really, hearing of all she has been through, and witnessing these transformative days where, day by day, God keeps moving in her life.
She brought her four little children to our church on Sunday for the first time. She gave a quotable at the end, while we were eating and fellowshiping. “You know what, going to church and reading the Word of God is better than Facebook and smoking weed!”
The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. A man found it, and he concealed it. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44).
God allows each of us to walk through seasons of life when tough times seem to outweigh the good times. Sure, we’ve had tough times, too. But these are great times of encouragement, witnessing up close and personal how God’s great love for people, through the good news of Jesus Christ, transforms the repentant sinner from glory to glory. I like seeing this in the mirror, when God changes me. But it’s also very encouraging to witness new birth in other people.
We are praying that the soil will remain tilled up and malleable, so that the seed that has been planted will grow into strong plants that produce the Fruit of the Spirit, to the glory of God.