Search This Blog

Monday, December 29, 2008

My Hope for imagine/northampton in 2009.

I have always been a fan of hope. Married to faith and love, this powerhouse buoys the spirit and frees the heart to believe and live for more than 24/7 "easy does it." A Proverb says that "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." I add that hope abandoned sinks it into sleepwalking, or worse, cardiac arrest. Real hope rocks. Hope is a flat out way of life. I think it is "the normal Christian life," to be blunt.

The last few days, I have been thinking about my hope for imagine/northampton next year. What do I really desire? So I offer a few.

May Jesus help me live more and more as a catalyst of hope.

1. Jesus's Kingdom will be furthered in Northampton because we are faithful to his call to follow him here, no matter the size of the impact. He will be found and glorified by people who do not know him or are antagonistic to him.

2. The Team will be able finally to join us up here: houses will be sold and bought or rented; jobs will be secured; children's needs will be well met; relationships will be built, and its identity in the city will begin to solidify.

3. We will be given the funds to move forward with renting or leasing a space in the center of town to do worship, show art and host performance events. We will be able to procure sound and video equipment.

4. A gifted worship team (singers, players, dancers, tech people, videographers, actors, visual artists, writers, etc.), will form from people who love Jesus and worshiping him, but also see creativity and innovation in worship as viable means by which the Spirit opens people to wonder, gratitude and courageous faith.

5. Our Worship Design Team will expand to include creatives who are wise, playful and willing to work hard to make the atmosphere of worship fresh and life-changing week after week. Excellence will be central to our DNA.

6. God will identify and raise up other gifted leaders in our midst committed to imagine's vision and values -- people who will share the heavy lifting in launching the church, and help others find their roles in developing its mission.

7. We will build relationships with the poor, neglected, and broken in Northampton, finding new ways to love, serve and lift them toward freedom. May we never shy away from, or overlook them.

8. We will become a community where artists and performers feel welcome and respected. We will build relationships will culture-makers in Northampton. The way we live together will be compelling.

9. The Jesus-followers God calls to join us will share the same heart for mission, creativity and following Jesus that we do. Sacrificial love, faith, and service will characterize our community no matter our brokenness.

10. Our resolve will only grow stronger as we face resistance, challenges, attacks, or hardships. In the midst of these realities we will be characterized by a gracious spirit, good humor, and an infectious hope.

11. We will form strategic alliances with like-minded Jesus-followers in town to expand opportunities for Kingdom investing, and share resources to deepen its influence in Northampton.

12. Everyone involved with imagine/northampton will discover the God who is far more than they ever imagined and willingly surrender more of their hearts to him because they are convinced there is no better life.

13. We will be able to look back this time next year and express wonder at this God who turns our stumbling beginnings into a vibrant community of creativity, love, service, and healing freedom.

I honestly can't wait to see what he has in store for us. I believe that "it is for a time such as this," we are here, and even though the way ahead will include some rough stuff, my heart is settled to see Jesus known as he is by people who would never give him a second thought.

May our hope enlarge enough to fit what he has in store for imagine/northampton.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Addressing Some Concerns from Our Second Evening of Conversations

Last Friday evening after a challenging conversation around how we would do worship, it became readily apparent to me that we needed to clarify a few essentials. In this process of helping people locate themselves in the church we are launching in Northampton, we realized that the burden was on us to explain further issues that surfaced so that I will do.

The Centrality of Jesus:

Everyone on the imagine/northampton team is a Christ-follower. We know he is the way, the truth and the life, the Father is found only through him. The main reason we are in Northampton is to make him known through unexpected love and service to people far from him. Without Jesus and his completed work of salvation and redemption, we have nothing to offer anyone. Spiritual formation will be central to our life together, especially as it ignites our ability to love Jesus and people who do not yet know him. Therefore, those who join our missional community will be challenged in grace to know Jesus and surrender wholeheartedly to him, learning intimacy with God as a way of life.

He will be the sine qua non of everything we do.

The Scriptures Ground and Guide Us:

All of us on the Launch Team hold to the view that the Scriptures are uniquely foundational to the formation and life of all Christ-followers: inerrant, authoritative, and complete for salvation and sanctification. The Bible will be read, studied, preached and lived in the life of imagine/northampton. They and the vivifying Holy Spirit are our daily vitality. They focus, guide, chasten, inspire, and motivate us. Without the Scriptures in our hearts and minds we are impotent toward the Kingdom and the world. Therefore, those who join our missional community will have all sorts of opportunities to learn and live the Scriptures individually and together.

Truth and Love:

We believe that all truth comes from God. Most importantly, revealed truth from God gives all of life meaning. Without God's truth we are blind, deluded, and lame. We also believe that the truth is best lived and most expresses God's heart through sacrificial love to one another and to everyone/anyone who crosses our paths and lives in our lives. Imagine/northampton will work to exist within the revealed truth of God and manifest that truth through loving service.

Truth and love anchor us.

Truth and love guide us.

Truth and love tether us.

Truth and love free us.

Therefore, those who join our missional community will be invited constantly to think about the truth so that love rules their thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and actions with increasing maturity.

The Arts have a Unique Role in Revealing Truth and Beauty that Provokes the Mind and Captivates the Heart:

We believe the arts have an unmatched ability to see deep into the reality and mystery of life, people and God. Through the imagination, doors into the ineffable and the real are possible. Art and story open truth that can be felt and understood. We will use the arts in worship, teaching and outreach to express the heart of the Gospel and capture the exquisite joys and crushing sorrows of the human condition in a fallen but beautiful world. The cries of the heart, the play of the imagination and the searching of the mind for truth will find an ally through the arts at imagine.

Therefore, those who join our missional community will have ample opportunity to know and be artists in service of Jesus and Northampton.

We Will be a Missional Church:

One of our deepest desires in imagine is to love and serve the community of Northampton. We believe the best way forward is to incarnate the Kingdom through relationship building, loving and helping. We want to do so in a way that will be unexpected, outrageous for the context, out of the ordinary. We want to challenge the antagonism that people have toward Christ-followers by doing what they least expect and doing it selflessly.

So our life together will be about reaching "those guys out there." It will be in our DNA, at the core, a focus of our reason for being. On the other hand, don't misunderstand that we will care little for the community of Christ-followers within imagine/northampton. We will care much for people God sends us, but not as the sole end of the church. If we are going to be Christ-followers we think it means following him in the Kingdom work he is doing in Northampton. Helping each other heal, grow, strengthen and be freed will be in order to follow him with abandon outside our walls, not merely to enhance our imagine's community.

We are here for them out there....

Therefore, those who join our missional community will be cared for well so that they might take every opportunity to follow Jesus and love those he loves who are far from him.


Christ-followers we admire and respect believe that where there is creativity in the church there is the Spirit. The Scripture says that where there is freedom there is the Spirit also. Creativity thrives in freedom. Therefore imagine/northampton will be a welcoming, freeing estuary of creativity, imagination and innovation that glorifies God and enlivens people. We are not afraid of change that comes when creativity challenges our human traditions, best-laid plans security, presuppositions or sacred cows. As long as it seeks to tell the truth, ennoble people and point, however nuanced, toward the wonder and unparalleled magnificence of Jesus, we will strive to catalyze it in ourselves and others.

Therefore, those who join our missional community will be exposed to creativity, be challenged to create and encouraged to unleash creativity in others.

So....we love Jesus, period.

We stand on the Scriptures in their entirety, period.

We are humbly fierce for the truth and will try to express it through love as God helps us.

We will use the arts repeatedly toward truth and beauty.

We will be outwardly missional to the core.

We will invite creativity everywhere.

While I know there is much more to say on the ideas above and other equally important subjects, I hope what I have written helps people locate imagine/northampton's heart a little bit easier and perhaps themselves within it. If not, tell me. We'll talk.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


Old men, especially old Christ-following men who have tried to live the life for years, recognize that spiritual battle is the normal Christian life. No one who claims the name of Jesus gets out of being a target from time to time. Especially true, when what he or she does pushes back the darkness and challenges the rulership of the adversary. It just comes with the territory.

Sometimes spiritual attacks take on a particular viciousness designed malevolently to destroy faith, kill resolve, and enmesh someone in confusion with countless enervating obstructions. Ultimately they seek to enshroud people in crushing despair. All of it is aimed at turning aside the Christ-follower who is pushing back the kingdom of darkness and establishing the Kingdom of God in its place.

Many times, these attacks target weakness because of besetting sin or vulnerability, the result of spiritual immaturity. They seek to enslave people in sin and shame, neutralizing them for vigorously following Jesus. There are times, however, when they seem to come out of the blue like being slammed from the blindside with great ferocity. They mean business. They are big league and not for the spiritually squeamish or naive.

I know afresh about such attacks. I experienced another one this week. There had been broadsides fired over the last few weeks, but I would take the hit and rebound fairly quickly. The attacks this week came in waves seeking to discourage and hamstring me in fear, self-condemnation and anger. Like a large wave that works to knock you off your feet, they sought to knock me off my feet emotionally and get me to surrender to despair. It was hard. I felt slammed and pummeled.

Ephesians 6:10-18 reminded me to locate these as "schemes of the devil," and to follow the command to "be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might." Regrettably, I did not "take up the whole armor of God," in the midst of the waves so I could withstand and repel them. The flaming darts of the evil one pierced and hindered me far too easily this time and way too long. I was not strong.

What made them vicious to me was they sought repeatedly to cut at the value of the Kingdom work I have tried to do for over 20 years, and they slandered my character unfairly. I know I am broken and in utter need of the finished work of Christ everyday, no one needs to remind me of that, but I also know I am not a profligate ne'er-do-well. The vicious insinuations schemed to cut at the value of my call, and the fact that Jesus mercifully took someone as broken and lost as me, and actually let me serve his Kingdom interests.

I suffered a wounding because of the meanness of the attack, but it seems to be healing. On the bright side, the scar from it will make me all the more strong for the launch and building of imagine/northampton if I stay the course with Jesus and not look or listen back. I also know there will be more attacks as we move nearer actually helping people in Northampton find Jesus. It's part of the deal. His cause is worth the struggle and the wounding that might come again. I am pretty sure everyone who serves the Risen Lord wholeheartedly is covered with scars when they finally go home.

Thinking about this last week, I find it helpful and bracing when Peter reminds me in his first letter, chapter 4, that I should not be surprised by "the fiery trial when it comes to test me," but rather that if it represents me sharing in Christ's sufferings then I should "rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed." I hope the vicious attacks I experienced from the adversary represent this kind of suffering and lead to his glory. It means what I'm experiencing counts for the Kingdom.

That's what I'm here for.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

These Early Days Living with a Virtual Church.

I wrote in an earlier blog concerning some of the weirdness I was experiencing launching imagine/northampton after living in Simsbury. I've noticed another kind of weirdness I am experiencing. It shows up when I have conversations about our church most of which does not yet exist in space and time. Imagine is a compelling idea for us, a hope, a God-sized dream, but not a reality beyond the thought, and I am not just referring to having a building.

I wonder if this weirdness is most centered in the talking about something that isn’t as if it is. Such talking feels a bit like living in a parallel universe. I am fully beside something that I can “see,” and conceive. It exists for me, but in a world of its own with no temporal location. I refer to it, and describe it with passion and conviction. But imagine still a could-be entity that may very likely turn out quite differently from how I envision it now.

This weirdness is marked for me when it takes on a life of its own. When I hear other people refer to imagine it strikes me odd, like “oh yeah, someone else is relating to it in a way I don’t.” They have their own conception sans any real-time experience of it as a community or place. How peculiar. We are connecting through a phantom of sorts, a shared idea without a shared experience. Maybe it’s a shared hope connecting longing with possibility – a “what if” that matters to people.

Compounding my experience are the many challenges we face in seeing imagine take concrete form. We have a ways to go before it does. Sometimes imagine feels absurdly beyond our reach. How will God do it? Is he really going to? Who do we think we are to actually pull this off? Did we get it all wrong and now we run a mad dash for nowhere? After all, most of the team is in Simsbury still with no end in sight. The money we have available remains piddling. Everyone is stretched by workloads, the economy, family, looking for jobs, crunched time . . . . on and on it goes.

But the deal is: we are infected. This virtual church and the God who breathed and lovingly animates it even in its virtual state have captivated our hearts . . . . hands down. We’re in, period. In fact, I love talking about it to people. I get jacked when I do. The longing is overwhelming sometimes. Its like, “Look at this! See it? Come along!”

Weirdness aside, it has become my church and I want it to be the church of anyone God has his eye on or his hands around. The team, Tricia, and I have decided to follow Jesus and bring it into being with him. We may not know every jot and tittle of being this church, but we have made ourselves available to Jesus and imagine -- his idea waiting the full unfolding of its kairos.

Someday very soon, the weirdness will subside and I think wonder and gratitude will takes its place. At least, I want it to. To see people of all kinds gathered together, discovering the God who is exquisitely more than they ever imagined, loving him with deep hearts, and loving all/everyone he loves will be more than I could hope for in this last leg of my journey with him.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I guess....sure, whatever.

The Scripture says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." Persistent disappointment, dashed expectations and seeing no end in sight to a struggle create apathy. Hope deferred sooner or later can sink listlessly into hope abandoned like a spent goldmine.. Apathy settles in for a long, cruel winter and resignation freezes everything to deadness. Apathy sucks.

Over the years as I struggled to find what it means to follow Jesus and help others do the same, I battled apathy, my own and theirs. And I do mean battled. It is a subtle, but obstinate foe. I have also seen it infect a church culture, muting its soul, inviting a "don't get your hopes up too much," to be a way of life. Apathy always looks for a way in and must be fought many times in the journey home.

I bet you have heard the disillusioned vernacular of apathy many times, including phrases like:

"They already tried that. It doesn't work."

"Oh, I've heard stuff like that before. Great idea, but not very realistic."

"I'm not sure you know what you're getting yourself into."

And my favorite:

"I guess .... sure, whatever."

Oh, then then there is that "You poor sob" look that comes across folks' faces who who were frustrated by dreams stymied or crushed. Their pain is real and their vision has become jaundiced by too many roadblocks. They let them go and settled.

So I fear that apathy can subtly infect the mission of planting a church in a tough place. Others have gone before and failed. They had the same aspirations, energy and first. They didn't listen to the naysayers and went at it with courage, faith and even skill. So why would I think launching imagine/northampton will have a ghost of a chance in succeeding where others haven't?

It is a bit hard to explain really. But I have this abiding sense we have been prepared for this mission since the day Tricia and I married. We have been tempered and seasoned by struggle, pressures, setbacks, disappointments, and living where Jesus had to be the last line of defense before disaster overtook us. We have been trained in the melting forge of lay ministry for decades. We have pioneered and built. We have created and equipped. We have fought the lies and traps of the adversary. We have seen Jesus powerful in the midst of powerlessness and human foolishness and cowardice.

We have also been witness to the spiritually blind seeing, the spiritually dead awakened, the captive freed, and the beaten down restored.

Our Leadership Team is gifted, seasoned, strong and resourceful. We know how to teach, counsel, create, produce, care for others and start from scratch. We love Jesus and are willing to follow him in this place.

Without Jesus, we know we are goners. But Jesus has us here. This place is hard, for sure...hard doing everything. But he said "Come" and we said "Yes, Lord."

We will fight to not let apathy steal our resolve if this all takes a while. We will not let it drain our blood or silence our hearts. We owe it to the people centuries, decades, years and months before us who fought the good fight with all their hearts here in Northampton. To do less because it is hard lets apathy rule the day. It mustn't.

So pray that we be courageous, resilient, wise, humble and joyful no matter the obstacles.

Also, where has apathy cooled your heart and convinced you that following hard after Jesus no matter is not really possible, or worse...not worth it? Really? Why?

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Weird Interrupt.

As some of you know, even if you have not been reading my blog, Tricia and I have the role of forerunners or pioneers in launching imagine/northampton. Of the 5 families on the Launch Team, all from Connecticut, we moved to Northampton first. As it turns out, we are still the only ones living here from the team.

The reasons are simple: selling homes in this market, and, for some, finding work. The home selling issue seems the most stubborn so far. Given the state of the market and the time of year, it has been a pretty exasperating situation.

Although Tricia and I harness the mules and make the trek to Simsbury most Sundays to hang out with the team for prayer and conversation, and they do the same on Monday nights for the LT world summit, I have been experiencing this weird “interrupt.” I know it happens naturally when people live apart, have different cultural experience, but it feels very frustrating to me nonetheless.

To give you some background: Northampton is not Simsbury. The difference between the two is marked, especially in terms of cultural attitudes, expectations and behaviors. I see things in Northampton I never saw in Simsbury. Northampton is educated, arty, fiercely-liberal, overtly political, proudly diverse, independent, even peculiar at times. Simsbury is educated, traditional suburbia, staid, conservative, family-focused and respectable, not particularly peculiar.

So as I think about it, this weird interrupt turns out to be how different the weekly experience feels for Tricia and me here, and the rest of the team there. Obviously, there are some similarities, but it feels often like we live in another country from them. So when I try to describe what we are experiencing, I feel frustrated, not because they can’t get it – these are bright, savvy people – they do get much of it. But because they are not experiencing daily how different Northampton is, it feels something gets lost in translation. It’s sort of like: “You really have to be up here to fully grasp what I am talking about.” Being up here is just that different and hard, at least for me, to translate.

I realize that slowly I am being changed by what I am living. I am loosening up in all sorts of ways. I am getting used to being among people who are cut from another cloth, counter-cultural, even radical in how they come at life -- people who before made me uncomfortable just being around because I was immersed in the suburbs near the “Insurance Capitol of the World.” I am learning a new language culturally, and having my assumptions rattled around a bit. What I say and how I say it is changing too.

For me, Northampton culture, before the astounding explosion of technology, feels much like who I was in the 60’s in New Mexico, and the early 70’s in Boston. There is a part of me still most at home in that creative cultural territory. Maybe it’s the jazzer and improviser part of my personality.

I know its my issue, but my weird interrupt with the team remains unsettling for me. I want them all up here soon so we can share in a common experience. I know they will be changed in their own ways when they finally live here. I look forward to walking that with them. Until then, some of the weird interrupt will linger, I suspect causing me to keep looking for ways to bring them into the world we now inhabit.

The Mystery of Persons

The Mystery of Persons.

I wrote earlier about the fact that I am praying about loving Northampton and the people of this city. I need Jesus to give me his heart in the matter. Jesus lamented over Jerusalem. He loved the city and its people. He gave his life for it and for all the nations of the world. He has put me in this city. I need his heart for it.

As I have prayed, something unexpected has been happening in me. I am not sure I can explain this adequately, but here goes. God is showing me sometimes as I look at people the deep mystery that is a person. I understand more clearly the reality that we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made.” I join David in exclaiming, “what is man that you are mindful of him?” We are a “royal priesthood,” “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world,” “sons of God through faith,” “heir(s) through God,” and “children of promise.” Our status is elevated beyond mere existing in the here and now.

Every person we see is an astonishing mystery: flesh, bone and spirit—temporal while eternal. Do we really grasp that? Most times, we just categorize and label people from what we see and assume about them to “get a handle,” on who they are, but we miss the gift, a chance to glimpse the unique and numinous living just below the surface. When we catch that glimpse, we “see” into them as God must, I think.

Here’s what’s been happening to me. I will be counseling someone or see them on the street, and suddenly I am briefly aware of the extraordinary being I am looking at…just for an instant. I don’t try to do it. When it happens my eyes will well with tears or I will see exquisite beauty beyond our physical idea of what that is. The glimpse lasts only for a few seconds, but the effect lingers. I am struck by the mystery of what is at the heart of being a person.

I am struck by the fact that persons are God’s creative idea, the exuberance of God’s love and astounding insight. We bear his image encloaked in flesh, personality, race, gender, imagination, will and mind. In him, we live and move and have our being…our person. In him, we are inextricably connected but free to choose as if it is all about us. We can even reject our Maker and pretend he is a fantasy.

We are the “crown of creation” able to destroy and create horror for others without mercy, or we can dry tears, bind wounds, free captives, feed the hungry and change the world. We are an enigma, a puzzle to each other and yet God breathes life every instant to each of us whether we are vicious tyrants, impenetrable narcissists or angels of mercy. What we do is this life for good or evil does not lessen the mystery. It remains until the end when we are revealed as we truly are.

From what I have seen, I know a little more clearly why God became one of us. He gets the mystery and wonder of who he has made. He has lived it, died for it and set us toward freedom, if we choose to see him. Jesus became one of us that we might become like him…the mystery is completed and perfected, or wasted and lost forever.

So God let me “see” behind the screen a few times and my heart softens. I find I cry more easily these days because of the sheer beauty of those I love, and the sadness of the world with its jangling hatreds that shred people with no remorse. I see the miracle of persons. It leads me to wonder more and more how I can motivate them to be found by this Jesus, the Author of this mystery of all persons. I know such finding will make the mystery of who they are luminous, “shining like stars” amidst the spiritually near-sighted who have no idea of who they are, or for some, gave up caring long ago.

Question: Do you “see” this mystery in you, and those around you? If not, ask Jesus to open your heart and your eyes to see what he sees. You won’t be the same after that.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I am having conversations these days with all sorts of Christ followers who have been in Northampton for varying lengths of time, some for many years. All of them, though, have grown fully aware of the thorny challenge of working through resistance, and sometimes a downright “we don’t like your kind” disdain. Some have used the word “hatred” regarding what they have experienced. It seems to have become for many a stymieing quandary.

For a new guy on the block what I have heard can feel chilling, like, “And exactly what were we thinking in coming here?” I hear the hookah-smoking caterpillar ask me what he asked Alice, “And who are you?” Indeed!

At the same time, I am growing more convinced that this living Jesus is the salve to the wounds of people angry with anyone bearing the name Christian. Who he is; what he did; and what he does now hold the keys to calming the angry and lowering their hyper-guard. I grow more sure I must reveal Jesus in how I love and care for people who don’t like me because I say I am a follower. He is the way and the means through this.

Right now, I am irrelevant to most of the wounded angry ones around me on the streets of Northampton, a late middle-aged face in the crowd, ambling about with no cause for alarm. I pose no threat in my anonymity. Yet, I am watching and praying, looking for his invitation to open to him and them in Northampton. I don’t recognize the door with my name on it just yet, but I am getting closer. When I do, I will go in. And they will need to see Jesus. For that to happen, I will need to be humble and real for him to be seen. His love for them must be mine no matter their response to me. And I will need to persist in vulnerability for them to catch a glimpse of him. That glimpse could make all the difference.

I find I am also of the mind that seeing Jesus will face them with truth, because he is astounding Truth, unadulterated, unfettered, and staggering. No way around it. He can be gentle in truth-telling, but he is always fierce for freedom and true life, a searing, purging Fire for anyone who looks closely enough and sees his or her heart uncovered: bored, foolishly proud, limping, resentful, anxious, weary, scarred, scared or terminally distracted by chasing trifles unawares.

The thing is, there is really nowhere to hide when we come near Jesus. He sees it all and gets it all. And if people have the gumption to look long enough they will find the way to healing and real freedom, the kind that cuts through the crap and bathes the still-borne heart in light: revelation. . . . the sick are healed, the blind see and deaf hear, buckled-over captives are released, and refugees become cherished guests. Joy finds a way to overtake numbness and despair. Jesus does that. Jesus is that.

So I must learn to surrender and humanize enough to stay near him and what he loves so scoffers and the truly offended might find him in ragamuffin me. His redemptively subversive whispers and touch will have to be recognizable in what I say and do over and over again. Anything less and I sorely miss the point of being in Northampton at all. I do not want to be successful at missing the point. I know that tune only too well.

Jesus is all I have to offer. He is all that matters. Just him. Jesus. Only him. Jesus.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What a responsibility.

Last Friday night at the Friend's Meeting House in Northampton, our Launch Team hosted the first evening of Conversation: Discovering the Heart of imagine/northampton. The event was really the first true public meeting for the church. In a way, the mission was launched, even though we were not offering a worship service, prayer meeting or bible study. Nevertheless, there we were in front of a small gathering of curious folks -- 23 to be exact -- apparently open to finding out about us.

From our vantage point it was a pretty good first start: low key, but authentic, relaxed, but stimulating, honest, but trying to be sensitive in the best sense. We had met most of the folks, but not all of them. Some had heard from others about the event and came to see what might be happening. It felt we engaged many of them and they engaged us us.

Jim LaMontagne, our teaching catalyst, did a nice job of setting up the evening with thoughts on who we are and where we want to head through the Conversations. He set the stage well. I talked about our mission to help people engage God at a deep level of the heart, and then live in trusting surrender and in the freedom of loving what Jesus loves. I then led a conversation around what it means to have Jesus forming in their hearts. Tricia, our spiritual formation and creative arts catalyst, ably closed the evening with a reflection project. She brought in a whole bunch of items to spark contemplation around engaging what God wanted to say to the folks in their hearts after they returned home.

After the evening ended, I was struck by the sacred trust God places in people when he gives them the mission of launching a church. I looked into the faces of folks sitting in the room with us. Each person seemed to be desiring to experience God in a way that moves and frees them as they live the realities of their everyday. I saw a simple longing for connection even if they couldn't name the exact connecting point they desired. There was still hunger amidst real-life disappointment, tiredness, sadness, responsibility, and brokenness. Some that night wanted to hear something different or fresh, or they were curious about how we might move forward and what it would look like. Everyone was looking for something.

The evening has caused me to wonder how imagine will carry the responsibility God has given us with his people and his family in the days ahead? I wonder how we will enfold the folks who do not know him yet and see no reason to know him? I wonder if our words will outstrip ability to love and actually serve people?

And I wonder if I can do this at all sometimes. Maybe I am too selfish, too fearful and weak-kneed, maybe more enamored by the idea than the reality which will surely require depths of spirit and freedom I have not accessed.

I know for sure this responsibility will need Jesus to transform all of us where we are both piddling and assured. If he does not show up 24/7, our handling of what he has entrusted to us will be misguided fits and starts, rabbit-trails, and much ado about glittering trifles. Or as Gary Haugen refers to in a story from his book "Just Courage," maybe we will prefer to stay in the safe Visitors Center rather than make the demanding climb to the top of the mountain he invites us to. Don't know for sure yet. Hope not.

I really hope he teaches us bone-deep humility, true compassion, and tenacious Christ-hearted love...the kinds that turns a mission into a roaring fountain of life way beyond our best imaginings. He can. I suspect he wants to. I hope we all get to be a part of that in Northampton. I suspect he wants that for us also.

So, again, what a responsibility! Help me, Jesus!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What's a Spiritual Formation Catalyst Anyway?

While I have not been asked this question yet, I seem to enjoy answering questions no one is asking. That way I know I have things to say from time to time.

Here's one: why do I refer to myself as a Spiritual Formation Catalyst? Why not just Counselor, Counseling Pastor or Spiritual Director? Those titles have meaning readily attached to them for most people. Why be obtuse or weird about it?

Well. the title I chose for my work with imagine/northampton captures, I think, the essence of what I do with people God sends my way for help. It is more focused and defining in my mind.

Take the words "spiritual formation," for example. For the Christ-follower, it is the process of having the living heart and mind of Christ forming in his or her heart over a lifetime. In other words, gradually thinking like Jesus,having a heart surrendered to him and resonating with his concerns and convictions in everything. It means caring for what he cares for, and desiring that people "see" him in one's self. even if they would not necessarily characterize it that way.

To be formed in Christ is to be increasingly captivated by him, desiring to be fully transformed to his heart. In short, "Christ living in me," becomes the a person's passionate personal anthem: "For me to live is Christ," . . . . and "I have decided to follow Jesus," matures resolutely into "I will be mastered by nothing, save Christ."

If someone stays the course, by grace and persisting hard work (often in fits and starts), it slowly results in a person being able to say humbly, but with joy, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal.2:19-20) Ultimately, such deep forming ends in a person whose chief pursuit is the reflected glory of the risen Christ in all of life.

Secondly, the word "Catalyst" means "the igniting or accelerating of a change." Because a catalyst is involved, change occurs or occurs more rapidly.

I love that idea . . . . being used by God to ignite growth or transformation resulting in stubborn faith, hope, love and courage in people. I have a great passion for unfettering and freeing people into life as Jesus defines it. And to catalyze spiritual formation in someone is to be witness to a miracle only done by God. Such a miracle heals, enlivens, ennobles and creates life where before there was heart sickness, spiritual entombment, blindness and death. I am both spectator and helper.

When I have been able to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as a Spiritual Formation Catalyst (without that, what I accomplish is mostly gum-flapping), the people have been freed to follow Jesus as a way of life surrendering more and more of themselves. A door has opened to them previously hidden or obstructed. To witness such forming and freeing is a marvel that forms and frees me as I am party to the sheer and audacious goodness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is like living near a spring of wonder.

So, I am at home with the title I have chosen. It fits me. And I hope I will not miss a thing God has for me in my forming as I am catalyzed by him and those he brings with him to my office. Make it so, Jesus!

2 QUESTIONS FOR YOU: Where is Jesus asking you to surrender to him well-defended territory in your heart to become fully alive in him these days? What holds you back? Think about it and get back to me. I'd really like to know.

Monday, November 3, 2008

For a time like this

I recently mentioned to someone that I believed Tricia and I were made for what we are now doing in Northampton. There are all sorts of reasons why I think it true:

1. We have lived long enough to know something about the vicissitudes of life and their effects on the heart. Change is the way it is. We find ourselves in it.
2. We have been weathered by trials and storms of many kinds so that the fierce spiritual battles of launching in occupied territory do not come as a surprise, and we do not wear rose-colored glasses concerning the rigors of ministry life.
3. We have been in full-time ministry for 20 years working with broken people from all over. We know the chains that bind men and women, and how they can be freed.
4. We have been involved in the arts since our 20's and in creating the atmosphere that facilitates heart and mind surrender to God.
5. We are young-at-heart, especially about living with passion and making Jesus real because of his beauty and truth.
6. We are communicators who know how to challenge people to move beyond their fears, blindspots and comfort zones.
7. We are fully convinced that Jesus is the point of everything which matters and wants to be found by folks. We have always desired to reveal him.
8. We are crazy enough to believe that getting out of the boat and walking on the water for the Kingdom is the normal Christian life. Coming to Northampton has kept us on the pond! It's just normal.

So our seasoning in ministry and life has led us here. Jesus came to do his Father's will. He said that anyone who follows him will be where he is. We are Jesus-followers. He summoned us years ago to leave our "nets" and follow him. We did, and here we are. No time to turn back or look longingly toward Florida...although I am a killer in lime-green pants and white shoes!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Loving is the first order of business

The last 2 weeks I have been prayer-walking through the Main Street area of Northampton walking a circle from Smith College to the Post Office and back to our offices on Armory Street. As I walk, I have been trying to sense God's heart for the people and how he would have me pray for them and for the city as a whole. The walks have been inspiring and deepening. God lets me see into things as I walk.

First, I have been struck by how much Northampton is an "occupied city" spiritually. It is as if the city is enshrouded and fraudulently commandeered by unseen minions of darkness, oppression and death. If you linger and look carefully this sense is palpable. My daughter, Eslie, referred to it by saying, "It is as if there is beauty underneath, but it has been covered and suppressed." I am also unnerved by the realization that most people there live unaware that a tyrannical alien army has infiltrated the city, and stolen its true Heart. A tragedy really.

The second more disturbing awareness I have as I walk is that I do not really love this city or its people. My heart is not consistently broken by their bondage and blindness. Yeah, sometimes I feel it, starting as a sadness for what could be, and then becoming a welling anger at the one who came to kill and destroy. This feeling is almost a flash of holy rage.

What I know would be better for my heart is that it be overtaken by compassion which won't leave and unsettles me to loving service and spending my best time doing good for these people. I want to, but I am still in my head most of the time. I want eyes that see and a heart that takes selfless action almost as an instinct. Their pain and oppression needs to be mine -- their despair and brokenness my passion -- their blindness and fear my call. I need to be about their freedom and life through the One who has it always near His heart and asks me to share it.

So superficial caring will not do. Its insulting and barbaric. I know I need grace and a heart of flesh if I am going to leave anything good behind in this place after my watch. Jesus has to make this real or I will be easily satisfied with my puny idea of helping. Have mercy on me, Lord.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


With all of the important activities to be attended to in launching a church, I find the most life-giving to be meeting young creatives. I relate to their exuberance, brashness, and fire for what they are doing. They are thinkers and doers, connecting to and being connected by what they are making.

If imagine/northampton is going to converse with the artistic community of Northampton, we are going to need to spend all sorts of time with these visionaries and culture-makers. They will fuel our fires and deepen our understanding of the human drive to create. We will appreciate God more and sharpen our focus.

We know we want our mission and where we do it to be arts saturated: art that provokes, invites, challenges, emancipates and ennobles the spirit and the mind. Light, color , movement, sound and fury need to fill our space and fill our serving. We have much to learn from artists, including the conversation they will have with our own artistic expressions.

We will need to be listeners, humble and aware of our blindspots and theirs. We will need to look and feel and think with and through them. We will have to look for truth even in unfamiliar expressions. Truth that penetrates, reveals and convicts toward real life and fullness. There is much to find and much to leave in Northampton.

What a time to be alive in the Kingdom!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Am I too old for this?

Never thought I would be helping launch a church at the ripe old age of 59, nor did Tricia, my wife. But here we are. Northampton MA is not an easy place to do so either. Naming it imagine/northampton adds to the challenge. What kind of church has such a name? Is it a cult? Is it a joke? Where is Jesus in this?

And I am something called a spiritual formation catalyst to boot. What the heck is that? Why aren't I a pastor or reverend, something easy to recognize like that? Why do I have to be so obtuse. so different, so weird?

Also, 59 is not 29, or even 39. Church planting is for young men and women who can handle the myriad pressures and challenges. Old guys need to just be old guys: over the hill, geriatric, addled and preoccupied with old guy specialties like prostates and nose hair.

But old guys can and do plant churches. We have a vision that retirement can't touch. We hear Jesus say "will you go?" And we go, maybe a little slower and having to check our notes to make sure we don't forget stuff, but we go. To not go would be to settle for a lesser life and a sagging faith. Old guys like me are not happy with the spiritual status quo, the "easy does it," lifestyle. We want to finish our race running as hard as gray guys can for the prize of prizes. We want to see Jesus and say: "Pappy, I ran the best could."

So I'm in Northampton planting imagine convinced it will make a difference in a way nothing else I could do these days. In the latter days old men will dream dreams and follow them as best they best I can. See you in Northampton . . . .