Heartbreak in the Heights

We happen to live in Washington Heights, venue for the popular movie, “In The Heights”. I moved here 40 years ago as a student in the 80’s. It was, at the time, the cocaine capital of the east coast and the Marielitos prevailed in vicious crime sprees. Two blocks over from my building is Armory which, at that time, sheltered 800 homeless men who often spilled out onto building doorsteps. None of this bothered me in fact, it was a renters delight at the time and perfect venue for a social work student.

While I have never seen Dominicans singing and dancing in the street, I have a love for my neighbors and community and appreciate enduring with them over the years. My husband and I remained active in our downtown church for over 20 years, but also hoped to find a church in the neighborhood. While the Lord graciously opened a small Bible study in our home for a year, my heart yearns for more, to worship and share the Gospel within the community. Is it just me or the Lord charging my heart?

We learned of a church gathering in the park just 3 blocks from us. Their website had some solid foundational tenets although with some contemporary ‘buzz words’, but we were open to whatever the Lord would show us, outside in a park on a summer morning. I love the idea of praising God, in English and Spanish, out in the park – may others hear and hearts stir!

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Everyone was kind and welcoming. After a time of praise, the pastor spoke with a simple message from John chapter 3, ok. It was good to be with neighborhood folks, most I have never met. However, after the service we met with the pastor to flesh out the beliefs, mission, and teachings of the church. He was excited about youth outreaches, invites to athletics and games and gauging the needs of the community. From there he spoke with vigor of his Genesis Bible study, expounding on things that most people, including myself, don’t know and never heard of…”the first tabernacle was really in the Garden of Eden…..” He quoted a central author in this discovery whose name he mentioned several times but I can’t remember.

He explained at length how violations of “Social Justice” is the central issue behind of Israelites’ exile, founding the church mission of social justice. We could barely wedgeway into his mount of scriptural justifications – my head couldn’t digest his perspectives. Back to Genesis I honed in to ask point blank, “Do you believe in the Biblical account of creation, that God made all in six days?”

A two second hesitation here is all I need but he fueled up more fervor to explain how he was ‘freed’ from the conventional Biblical account through elaborate studies in sophisticated theology, history, and Egyptian culture. I will not even elude to at or hint at what he shared; unraveling the supernatural demonstrations of God’s power and His magnificence is just devilish.

At the end I restated, “I believe in the Bible’s account, it is the foremost introduction to God’s greatness and awesomeness. To diminish that, questions all of His supernatural power and the miracles throughout the Bible…”

As though speaking down to the ‘unenlightened’ he replied, “Yeah, my father still believes that” (I immediately thought, does he have a church? Where is it?) he added, “…and about 30-40% of our attendees at the church still believe that” (Until, I thought, they take your Genesis course and the truth is scrubbed out of their hearts!)

We left with my head swirling with ‘deep’ religious explanations I had never imagined but, moreover, I was heartbroken for the lack of holiness, brokeness for the lost and a fear of God.

God can surely call us to a place that is imperfect, incomplete – even chaotic. But never where truth is disdained and error is taught with fervor. Not sure how long we’ll still be in the Heights but my heart is still searching for God’s presence here and perhaps some sheep to join in worship, who love God and His precious unchanging word, and have a heart for the lost.

I will “keep on asking, seeking, and knocking”, praying for the Lord to order the steps of my feet and my heart. May He lead us to where He is working that we may co-labor with Him in the fields for the harvest.

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.

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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.

 

Resolutions? Maggie Knows The Best!

In fact, there is no need to wait for a calendar change or ‘ball drop’ to start these….

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”  (Hebrews 11:6)

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                                               “I will seek Him with all my heart…”

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior;  my God will hear me”.  Micah 7:7

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                                                     “I will wait upon the Lord”

“I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”  Psalm 4:8

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“I will rest on His promises”

I pray that we find the Lord in greater measure.  And that God’s word encourage us as we wait upon Him through trial and storm, finding rest through the Holy Spirit.  

May the Lord order our steps into the New Year.  God bless you!