‘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……

 

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.     

 

Restricting God – Let Me Count the Ways…

Many of us are frequently stirred and humbled by the testimonies of missionaries and servants of God. From Biblical times to present day, men and women proclaim the power of God as He leads them to hidden places of suffering. Surrendered vessels who seem totally insignificant become agents of Most High God, affecting lives for eternity.

And we want that too! Who wouldn’t want their temporary life here to matter in God’s Kingdom? Who, knowing the Lord, wouldn’t want all His purposes and intentions come to fruition? And so we too cry out, perhaps at an altar, perhaps in our private prayer….

“Lord, use me, send me! I want my life to matter, to count…”

isaiah1

THEN our flesh speaks ‘sense’ into our cry,

“BUT Lord…”
….don’t send me any place hot, you know how I hate the heat. I would be miserable
….you know I couldn’t go very far, you know my limits, I have responsibilities…
….don’t send me to blah-blah, I could never eat that food, and the bugs are ginormous. Agh, Lord send someone else there
….send me to truly needy people, not to those blah-blah; they’re always trying to rip off the system
….I would serve in a hospital ministry but the germs… and who really knows if those comatose people can even hear the Gospel?
….prisons are, well, dangerous. I’m too old….I’m too young
….please don’t call me to serve in my own neighborhood,  that’s too boring!
….if I go there, if I do that – wouldn’t I lose everything?

By the time we’re finished we’re no longer stirred…we’re discouraged!

Underneath is unbelief  which doesn’t really restrict God but restricts us from grasping His best for our lives.

American Christianity may have a foundational flaw embedded from our culture of ‘rugged individualism’ and ‘opportunity’ and ‘freedom’. We defend the rights to excel, possess, invest and express.  True Christianity smashes that self-reliant lifestyle. No one naturally wants to die to ‘self’ but when we resist complete surrender, resist the cross of Christ, we risk missing His perfect call upon our lives.

“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.”  Jonah 2:8

I for one am not at the place of total surrender. I want to be though, especially in these last days where prophecy points to the soon return of our Lord. I hope for a deeper burden for the lost, not stoked by fleeting and temporal emotions, but one birthed by the Holy Spirit which defies my emotions and intellect.

Would anyone join me in prayer?

“Lord, thank you for saving me and abiding within me. I believe that, no matter what failures mark my life, no matter how ordinary or limited I perceive my life, You are not limited and You can never fail. I pray for a calling, a heavenly burden that will overshadow and nullify every fear and obstacle. Help me to trust You, Lord. Don’t let me imagine remote and ‘fantastic’ things while missing the ‘woman at the well’. Loosen my grip on the things of this world and help me to walk with a view of eternity. In Jesus name, Amen.”

“God promises not just to save us but to give us a full and meaningful life.”  

“We are called to be a testimony to the world that God is alive.”

(Pastor Carter Conlon, Times Square Church)

 

 

Diving Back Into Life Giving Waters

hot springs in armenia

Hot Springs in Armenia – medicinal but not life giving!

When I was five my mother taught me the 23rd Psalm. She told me to repeat it in bed whenever I had bad dreams. Perhaps ongoing repetitions lulled me back to sleep; I doubt I knew about “shepherds” or how they “maketh me lie down in green pastures”.
Now, many years later, I am finding ongoing treasures in this Psalm, different in life seasons. This week, during a time of emotional heaviness, I read, as if for the first time, the 3rd verse,

“He restores my soul”

Other versions read:

“He refreshes my soul”
“He renews my strength”
“He revives my life”
“He brings back my soul”

I began praying for the Lord to restore and heal my soul and believe in His promise to do it.

Intellectual memorizing and reciting scripture is often the death blow to the life giving power of God’s words. This foundational practice of formal religions effectively squelches the Holy Spirit. The “Lord’s Prayer”, often spoken and sung as one long sentence, grants a feeling of piety but hardly ‘connects’ with the Lord. How many people ‘pray’ that prayer and really expect an answer?

Evangelicals also limit the freedom of the Holy Spirit by endlessly using one verse, John 3:16, as if that alone is all that need be said. But we serve a personal God that reaches every person differently. Jesus never repeated the same words verbatim to everyone He met yet His words were healing, provoking, convicting and powerful – delivered differently, depending on who He was addressing and what was needed to be said!

Any verse can become a ‘mantra’. I’m asking today for a newness in scripture reading, where I’m not predicting the next verse from memory but prayerfully opening my heart to a newness from the Holy Spirit. I want His word to actually be for me…

“…living and active. Sharper than any two edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit….”

“Lord, shake our hearts in these last days. Let every ‘formula’ in our prayer to and sharing of You fall to the ground. Today as we open Your word, let us see it as “living and active” and personal. Inspire us and refresh us with a personal word for others that they may hunger to know You as well.  Lead us, Lord, to joyously dig beyond the surface….”

“For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:17)

“Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation.  Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.”   (Isaiah 12:2-3)

 

(Springs: “a place where water wells up from an underground, unseen source”)