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.

 

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)

 

“…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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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…..

 

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….

 

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!