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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.