Passing God The Baton

Junctures, crossroads, and detours come in the course of many fiery trials.  Believers, followers of the Lord Jesus, have access to God’s strength, wisdom, and leadership to forge ahead.  However, God can lead even His sheep to what seems to be a dead end.

Previous posts such as  Defeat and Confusion – Lord, Press On!, Waiting on God, Praying for my Enemies, Time to Quit or Go Deeper,   ‘Defeated’ but Refocused and Refreshed describe the ongoing battle in our neighborhood to save Haven Avenue from Columbia University’s plan to close it.  Under the guise of a ‘pedestrian plaza’ they are aggressively forging through our neighborhood to expand their campus.  At the same time outside developers won their conquest to rezone an adjacent neighborhood, with the sure result of gentrification and displacement.

But the defeat of our street, Haven Avenue stung the deepest.  Over the past year, our neighbors strongly rallied together, petitioned, canvassed, and presented to the Community Board not only our opposition but the inevitable hazard and hardship street closure would bring. While we understood ‘backroom deals’, what was most grievous was the forefront of corruption, in our face.  Betrayal and deceit and finally total dismissal of the community – live streamed and undeterred!

Even worse, all this at the behest of ‘an elite institute of higher learning’, one that even quotes Biblical scripture in their mottos.  The expressions of triumph as they defeated us – their neighbors – revealed the lowest of morality.

SO, we conferred as a group and committed to take legal action, an appeal with the State Supreme Court as procedure allows.  I myself poured into this, researching and writing, to present the case pro se.  There were definite grounds to appeal.  I started with such gusto, but found myself trudging through wet cement.  It became evident that,  without an attorney, at $15,000+,  we were surely jumping into a pool of sharks.  Their team of lawyers would happily eat us for lunch.

I have now conceded that it’s over…at least my part.  I believe I’ve come to a dead end. 

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Even deflated and defeated, “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.  With your help, I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.”

The Lord answered our prayers for our neighbors – we now know them enough to share our faith and pray for them.  He led us into a battle and girded us to stand and present the truth, exposing shameful and corrupt tactics, calling us to pray – not just for our victory but moreso for the depraved morality of those before us.

I believe we have run as far as we are able under God’s guidance.  Like King Jehoshaphat we cry, “O our God, will you not judge them?  For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us.  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”

runner passing baton

The battle is totally in His hands. 

The ‘next step’ is sometimes the hardest….”Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord.”

Yes Lord, keep my lamp burning…..

 

‘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.

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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….

 

Waiting on God, Praying for my Enemies

We’re waiting on the Lord to reveal His will in this battle, remembering that, with God, the ‘thing at hand isn’t always the thing He’s after’.

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God is not concerned about the asphalt and tar but the souls upon Haven Avenue.

The reporter from the NY Times that interviewed us, story here, is a Rhodes Scholar, here in NYC from Oxford, perhaps just for the summer.  Was this a divine appointment?  Will his report come forth with passion – come forth at all?

As believers in our community group, we fervently pray to share and demonstrate faith in God and worthiness of trusting Him.  May the Lord be exalted apart from every fleshly effort and plan!

But we are also strongly praying for our ‘enemies’, the executives of Columbia University who have forged a trail of expansion through NYC, currently staking more claim upon our street, Haven Avenue.  We’re praying for our Community Board members – those who turned their face from the outcry of the residents to align themselves with a power source.   And, we’re praying for our City Councilman who betrayed his constituents while sitting amongst the executives of CU,  championing their conquest in our neighborhood.

What is my outcry to heaven for my enemies?  It is for their souls.  “Lord, bring them to a place of shame, to their knees in godly sorrow, quicken their conscience and take away their false peace.  Lead them to true repentance, the doors of life.  (not sure if this qualifies for ‘loving my enemies’ but hopefully my heart is moving in the right direction!)

I am not a Bible teacher, but today while reading II Kings 6:8-23, I saw a true display of godliness toward ‘enemies’.  As the King of Aram dispatched an army to capture Elisha, I am reminded and refreshed by the revelation that God dispatches His own army (as given in Hebrews 1) to defend and protect His people.  Elisha’s prayer for his servant is akin to mine for my neighbors,  “Open their eyes Lord, let them see”.

Moreover, Elisha’s prayer for his enemies, “Strike these people with blindness” was not at all to conquer or crush them but rather, to steer them in an unexpected direction, away from their wicked path.  Once blinded and led before the king of Israel, they were helpless captives, easily positioned to die.  But God’s prophet Elisha prepared a great feast for them!…and “Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory”.

And so I pray for my enemies.  May the Lord disarm them, lead them to His Kingdom where they may eat and drink, and go forth surrendered to His will.

Please pray for my neighbors and my enemies!  May the Lord forge ahead through your trials and battles as well.

 

Defeat and Confusion – Lord, Press On!

This is my fifth article reporting God’s answer to our prayers for our neighbors.  First was,  I Prayed For My Neighbors, Look What Happened  then, I Prayed For My Neighbors….Part II    thirdly, When God Allows Defeat  and fourth – When God Allows Defeat…and Confusion.   Yes, our hopes were totally deflated on June 26th, when enough of our neighborhood representatives betrayed us and stood by Columbia University to expand their campus.  The large community opposition – working folks, seniors, single parents and youths, shuffled out of the forum, battle worn.

While CU calls it a ‘pedestrian plaza for the community’ (even though the community doesn’t want it) their reputation of trampling into neighborhoods and seizing land goes before them.  Shutting down part of our street, gnarling traffic, adding to our parking crisis – enlarging their ‘footprint’ –  is not good for us, it’s good for them!   Their actual plan was uncovered,

 

Columbia's real plaza plan

This is their private rendition of our street.  Notice, no cars…and no residents!  But the Lord, “catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away.”  (Job 5:13)

Our core group kept digging, finding more devious political connections and power exerted by Columbia University.  My husband and I kept praying.  Was this over?

Two days after the June 26th defeat, I was doing my laundry in the basement, lamenting a bit until a fire got in my bones, “Hey, maybe we did lose, but I’m writing to the newspapers!” Folding the last sock, I dashed up to my computer and tapped out this letter:

Dear Editor,

Columbia University once again triumphed over the residents of NYC. After demolishing apartment buildings and evicting small businesses on Haven Avenue, this week they claimed victory in their fight to close blocks of our street. Their campus expansion, described in their Columbia Medicine Journal, morphed into a ‘pedestrian plaza’ to somehow make it palatable.

The residents in this Washington Heights neighborhood are not fooled. They fought Columbia’s self-enlarging plan in Nov and Dec last year. Due to public outrage and the detriment of street closure, the Community Board voted against it in December 2017. However, in May and June this year, somehow this plan mysteriously appeared for another vote.

That Columbia paid for their own ‘traffic study’ is the fox pointing to his tail, “Here is my witness”!

Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, a lame duck beholden to Columbia, strongly championed this campus expansion and did so right in front of his outraged constituents. Paid lobbyists circulated through these meetings to secure the final vote. The public was essentially disavowed.

We invite anyone to see how closing blocks of Haven Avenue for “students to sit and have a cup of coffee” is a traffic and parking nightmare in this congested medical and residential neighborhood.

Shame on you Councilman Rodriguez for betraying your community! Shame on the many Community Board members who turned their face from their neighbors!  Shame on you, Columbia, my alma mater, and all your mega donors who compete to get their names on your conquests!

Well, that went out to all the NYC papers.  Even defeated and deflated, I sensed a real unction to somehow go forward. Within one day I heard from a large community newspaper – they contacted our core group and sent a reporter out!

On July 1st the NY Daily News printed an edited version of my letter.  On July 11th The Manhattan Times printed a 3 page article with photos!  At first this was fabulous until we took a closer look….no mention of community betrayal or Columbia’s conquests – no mention of the big picture plan that would consume more of our neighborhood.  It was a ‘safe’ article, stepping on no one’s toes…

THEN this week one in our group got a call from the New York Times!  After interviewing us by phone,  the reporter and photographer came up to Haven Avenue for full scale walking/talking tour.   He gave us over two hours of attention – seemingly familiar with Columbia’s West Harlem takeover several years ago.

That was yesterday. 

My heart recalled Pastor Dave Wilkerson’s preaching on ‘death of a promise’.   He taught that, when God promises or plans something, He often ‘puts it to death’ – eliminating the possibility of man claiming victory.  Abraham’s promise of a son was ‘put to death’ as they were incapable of bearing children – God alone brought it to pass.  Moses’ 40 year exile,  Joseph in prison…all circumstances of ‘defeat’ awaiting the hand of God.

Is the Lord moving here, rising up to confound the unbelievers – and believers as well?  I  steadfastly pray for those who betrayed and disavowed us – may the Lord quicken their conscience and convict their hearts – take away their false peace – and lead them to repentance!

Praying that the Lord be high and exalted, may our neighbors see that He is living hope, even when all seems lost.  May our group truly say, “only God could have done this!”, and acknowledge Him.

There is a truth, not quite a Bible verse, but demonstrated throughout scriptures, which I keep pressed in my heart.  Of the Lord,

“He takes personally every act of dishonor as well as every act of kindness done to His disciples.”   (from Safely Home, by Randy Alcorn)

 This should grant us great assurance – and pity for our enemies.

Please pray for a New York Times article!  Thank you!

 

When God Allows Defeat…and Confusion

Will this be the last of these articles, I Prayed For My Neighbors, Look What HappenedI Prayed For My Neighbors….Part II  and When God Allows Defeat ?

After a lengthy time of praying for our neighbors, my husband and I stepped into a neighborhood battle as Columbia University fought to close down blocks of our street for their campus expansion.  United with neighbors, whom we had never before met, we fought to keep our street open and, in December 2017, we won!

However, with unlimited wealth and political power, somehow CU’s plan resurfaced for another Community Board vote.  This time, the public was disallowed to speak.  Moreover, ‘temporary changes’ were made to this subcommittee….On June 4th this subcommittee approved CU’s plan.  On June 26th, it would be voted on by the whole Community Board.   Scan0082

My husband and I once again worked diligently with our neighbors to organize and reach out to the neighborhood and Community Board members.  We were able to share our faith and, honestly, I truly hoped that a victory would be opportunity to openly praise God!  At one point, we learned that a high appointed city official is a brother in the Lord.  He assisted and encouraged us greatly.   When this became known within our group, the leader said, “Although you and I don’t share the same faith, I have to agree, this is a divine appointment!”

We were ready to exalt the Lord upon our victory on June 26th!

On that date, I gave a presentation to the Board and before community members, as did several others, highlighting again the indisputable issues against closing our street.   However, in the end, our city Councilman rose up and championed the plan of CU.  I did not know that this councilman appoints half of these Board members and determines their ongoing service!  CU lobbyists also circulated to ensure votes.

No matter!  If God intervenes, victory is ours!

But we lost.  Our elected official betrayed his constituents…as a ‘lame duck’ he is undoubted beholden to CU for some position.  Not all, but enough Community Board members turned their face away and approved CU’s plan.

Defeat….and confusion.

Entering this battle was not an impulsive act, we prayed and continued to pray throughout the process.  While we are not called to ‘fight the world’, we are called to love our neighbor.  Truthfully, we never knew these neighbors, only working alongside them did we come to have love for them.

Defeated?  “Defeated” was prematurely written over Joseph’s prison cell, Daniel’s lion’s den, over all of Paul’s life threatening attacks…..“Defeated” could have been posted over Christ’s tomb!  But GOD holds the victory for His people for His glory – how He chooses to establish that victory is His divine providence.

Confused?  God does allow confusion and upheaval….disappointments and loss.  None of us are exempt, even beloved spiritual hero John the Baptist asked Jesus from his cell,  “Are you the One who was to come…?”  Confusion brought me to my knees,  crying out to the Lord, for His supernatural peace and clarity.

I deeply lamented after that vote – but not for my street!  To literally witness bold betrayal of officials and grassroots representatives dismissing their oaths to serve – caused me to weep.  Many of them gathered around CU executives with smiles….as the residents put away their signs and hung their heads.  So shameful! When did their conscience drop dead?

Our group leader came up to me and my husband, “One good thing came out of this – I came to know you!”

Some are already rising up to pursue opposition to the Board’s vote.  There are ways, but my husband and I agree – we will not continue without God’s leading.  If there is no eternal value within this work, “Lord, count me out”.

All I know is this:  We prayed for our neighbors – even though we hardly knew them!  God engaged us in a battle, we came to know them and develop a true concern and love.

God allows “defeat” – but that’s never His last word!  He allows “confusion” – to draw us nearer to His heart, to receive His peace, His clarity. 

May the Lord encourage us all in these last days, to walk in His shadow and keep the faith – no matter how defeated and confusing our circumstance seems.

“When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them….For the Lord your God is the One who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”  Deuteronomy 20:1-4 excerpt

 

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When God Allows Defeat

I Prayed For My Neighbors, Look What Happened  and I Prayed For My Neighbors….Part II  describe how, after months of praying for my neighbors and our community, my husband and I were drawn into a calamity.  Columbia University, the largest private land owner in NYC, was pushing a plan to close down part of our street to expand their campus.  After demolishing apartment buildings across the street and erecting a huge conference center….

CU conference center

This gargantuan building looms over our small residential street!

…they want to expand their campus onto our street!

Although they are confident and shovel ready, CU could not proceed with campus expansion unless they obtained approval by the governing Community Board.

With Columbia’s ongoing pattern of displacing residents and shutting small businesses, our community was alarmed and, as we drew together, Bob and I came to know and more personally care about them.  We spoke out in public gatherings and united.

We won on 12/4/17, when the Community Board voted against CU.

But over the past 3 months, Board members changed and ‘temporary appointees’ strategically put in – suddenly CU pushed back on their agenda although they had no justification to appeal the last decision!

Once again, we canvassed and met with residents…petitions, signs, flyers…nothing left undone.  We prayed, especially to assure that we were in God’s will.   If “the nations are a drop in the bucket” to God,  could our little street have any significance to Him?  Is there anything of eternal value knitted into this issue?

Bob said, “I keep going back to Proverbs 31:8, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves..”  The NLT states, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.”

 

Columbia had a small cluster of executives…but in their midst was our City Councilman!

The entire community was prepared to speak, many had done research on vital traffic issues that would preclude CU’s plan.  There were strong procedural objections from community representatives.  Many, if not most, came to express their outrage of CU’s ongoing neighborhood take over.

While public input is protocol, the ‘interim’ chairperson said, “You are all welcome to stay but will not be acknowledged to speak.  We are voting on this issue without public input.”   BAMBOOZLED!!

The uproar and outcry could not be stopped.  Almost unbelievably, an elderly Hispanic man came up to my husband and asked, “Sir, could you speak for me?  I cannot speak for myself.”!  

Bob did speak and, while I truly seek to obey scripture (Submit to governing authorities), a deep lament welled up in me.  I did not speak on the material I had planned, but stood up and cried out,

“You’re betraying us!  You’re supposed to represent us!! You will nullify yourselves in this community – No one will trust you!!” 

They turned their faces from the public and voted, majority in favor of Columbia.

The cluster of executives walked away happy, in the company of our City Councilman!  The final step is approval by the General Board – CU does not look worried.

Should we press on to the General Board?  Are we totally defeated?

The only question that need be answered is this:  what is God’s will?  The Lord can lead us into what seems unwinnable – and we might be defeated!  But God is never defeated, never.  With Sovereign God, the ‘thing at hand’ isn’t always His focus.

Although pointing to our spiritual battles, this excerpt from Anchored in the Cross challenges us to endure in the battle….

“Great victories come from great warriors!  Great warriors are made from greatness of character!….Territory is always vital in war.  It’s a battle of turf and who will occupy the ground.  Has the enemy attempted to enter your home, children, family?…We must stand and defend the territory God has given us and not allow the enemy to overtake it…..

What does it require inside you in order to stand relentlessly?…God uses people in your life to build character that will make you a fighter for the Kingdom of God…

Outnumbered?…with God with you, you’re never outnumbered and have no need to retreat….It not only takes boldness to stand, but faith as well.  Numbers are irrelevant when God is with you.

Anchored in the Cross May 25th

We prayed for our neighbors,  met them and came alongside them into the battle.  I believe that boldness is strengthening my heart, enabling me to speak to strangers and in public forums with conviction.  If God is “training my hand for war; my fingers for battle” then I believe those skills will be used for God’s Kingdom.

Speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves?  Training my hands for war?  Go on to the General Board meeting?  Only God knows.  I pray that He will order our steps.  No matter what, His purposes will not be defeated, in His shadow we will  find victory.