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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Just Rehearsing . . . Relax.

As I stand on the cusp of crunch week crammed with all manner of logistical details we need to address in order to get ready for imagine/northampton's "very first-ever worship," I am reminded what a pastor-friend said to me recently. He offered wise counsel recognizing we would be caught up with the pressure of getting everything done and having a spectacular "very first-ever" corporate worship next Sunday.

He said it would be helpful to think of our "very-first ever worship," as a rehearsal. "There is always next week," he said, or in our case, next month (until January when we go weekly). Some things will go well and some things will not. We are just taking our first steps, after all. There will be kinks to work out, but it will not be the end of the world - or the end of imagine/northampton - if everything doesn't go according to Hoyle. He also referred to Rick Warren's statement that all our worship is just a rehearsal for the true worship we will be caught up with in heaven.

In other words, it was one big "I know how you feel because I've been there, but really, take it easy." I think he also meant I should enjoy the ride. God is at the helm. God called imagine into being and God will be there this week and next Sunday where the focus is really Him and not us. I know all that, but for some reason this imagine/northampton mission feels there is so much riding on it and I don't want to screw up anything, especially worship.

So I will try to hold crunch week loosely, and I will try to center into Christ each day. And I know there will be all sorts of jangling voices yelling at us to take care of this or that "must get done." Nevertheless, the true life in the week will be him, and oh yeah, he knows the way forward.

If you think of it, pray that all of us on the team will not be overwhelmed, but rather staid on him.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Back to the Drummer in the Tollbooth

Since I last saw my comrade in sticks manning a tollbooth on the Mass Pike a few weeks ago I have not been able to forget him. I keep thinking about his tenacity. He sits for a number of hours handing out tickets which means that during certain periods of his shift he is interrupted constantly by people needing one, and yet, he keeps practicing in the lulls. Drumming is his larger purpose. Staying fit for the art, no matter. Hmmm.

So I have also been thinking about this old man planting a church. How does he (I) stay fit so as to be tenacious in a difficult mission? My interruptions, obstacles and flitterings are many. What does this drummer have to teach me?

First, I think it means never taking my eye off the goal to which I have dedicated myself. "Dedicated" is an important word here. I have decided to give my best to this Kingdom mission, whatever it takes. The goal of planting imagine/northampton is one to which I am dedicating precious years and resources. I must not lose sight of it when the going gets tough, the fear is substantial and discouragement comes for an unwelcome visit. No room for faltering if I am dedicated. My eye must stay fixed on where God is bidding me.

For imagine/northampton to take root, my dedication needs to be fierce and tough. Planting churches is not for the faint of heart or the lightly committed. I am learning such dedication. God help me!

Secondly, I must remain flexible in how I maintain the necessary fitness required. More often than not it will not be convenient to maintain the disciplines and activities best suited to keeping me on course: prayer, routine administration, damage control, making new relationships, studying, searching, listening, writing, ministering, creating concepts, etc. I will have to find my own "tollbooths" to keep "practicing." Sometimes the most unlikely places and situations will be my only option to keep after what is needed. Being flexible opens me to opportunity I would likely overlook because I only saw an obstacle or setback.

Planting imagine/northampton requires I learn a freedom of flexibility uncommon to me. I am not rigid, but God still has work to do in "loosening" me for the mission. I want him to complete this in me. God help me!

Thirdly, I must let my love for God, people, and his glorious Kingdom fuel the drive to stay fit and ready to act regardless. Love sheds self-absorption, laziness and cowardice. Love motivates courage and invention. Love says "yes" when I'd rather say "no, not now." Love gets my butt in the chair, or my feet on the street to engage and work rather than wander in the garden of lesser delights. Love gathers passion toward worthy pursuits. Love also keeps my eye toward eternity and what is needful to be ready for it.

For imagine/northampton to take root I will need such depth of love. All of us on the team will. I want to be that loving. God help me!

Lastly, the drummer in the tollbooth reminded me that a "long obedience in the same direction," should be the prime directive of my heart and will. A will fixed on obeying God gets the job done no matter. I know grace is necessary in all of it, but I can choose to give my will to a myriad of glittering things. A will fixed on obeying what God desires opens the way for serving what matters most. When obeying is proven over a long time, God's Kingdom reign is planted in my life and the lives of others he gives me to serve.

Being made fit to plant imagine/northampton needs me obeying God consistently for days turning into months and flowing into years. I have a long way still to go with this level of obedience I'm afraid. But I desire it. God help me!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pruned to Carry the Weight

A number of years ago a friend with a giant green thumb gave us a Crown of Thorns plant. Those familiar with such plants know they can grow prolifically. Such is the case especially when they are pruned. If you have pruned one you know they "bleed" profusely and immediately a white, milky substance spills from the wound. Pruning necessitates intentional "wounding" to strengthen. and enliven the plant. You are also aware that when you prune them, they come back markedly more healthy and full than before. That's the point.

A few days ago as I was journaling with Jesus, he told me we must be "pruned to carry this (church planting) task or it will crush us." He said he is "making our faith able to carry the weight of this enormous mission." He added that if our "faith is not strong no matter the pressure, (we) will buckle under the weight of this work." I don't know about church planters 35 years younger, but what he said holds very true for us, even in the first year of our mission in Northampton.

Last week I also read an internet article about the "10 'T's' of Church Planting." One of the "T's" was "Trials." The author's point was that as with Paul's thorn suffered in the course of his planting churches around the Mediterranean, church planters will experience many trials, some of them severe. If fact, he said we should expect them, and perhaps for the duration. Hmmm.

Yesterday, I posted a new discussion topic on the imagine/northampton group Facebook page entitled, "How is God "Pruning" You These Days?" In it I listed a series of questions for people to reflect on and write about if they so chose. I think people should invite God's pruning to ensure they are fit for the weight of the mission He wants them to carry (by his grace, and with him, of course).

Here is how I answered two of them:

1. Where is he challenging you to grow especially in faith, trust and selfless love?

Jesus is continually challenging me to trust him with our financial well-being and whether our needs will be met. I am being sorely tested in this area. We have been in ministry for over 20 years, so we know the continual need to trust him here. What seems different is he is requiring a more tenacious trust as he has not provided deep financial resources to the church. Most church planting consultants would say we might be dangerously underfunded. Nevertheless, he has met our need as we have it, but not until it is required to be met.

Such tenacity requires a more vigorous and stubborn faith. He is challenging me there with "Will you believe I will care for you right up to the precipice where it all looks like it will be a disaster if something doesn't happen and right away?" Not easy, I will tell you and we are seasoned veterans. I still have more to learn here as well, especially about the freedom to keep stayed on him when the pressure rises and the fear tries to settle in.

Thirdly, God continues to show me the depth of my selfishness and attention to the unholy trinity: me, myself and I.
I relish inordinately the freedom to do as I please when I please. I can be a wanderer if I am not careful. I seem to like serving me. I am a repeat customer.

I need to shun self with a passion.

To the contrary, he wants me to be more available for his use no matter if it is inconvenient or indelicate. Loving people has a substantial cost because they will often define the terms for you. I need to be pruned to be agreeable to their terms and ready to take make the most of them for the Kingdom and thus their blessing.

The point is death to self is not a hobby for me to dabble in. From God's eyes, it is freedom that he can use. So he continues to invite me to a pruning.

2. Where is he gradually "nudging" you toward an area of persistent fear?

Jesus wants me to be more more "present" to talk to strangers about him in Northampton. He wants me to be more available for that purpose. I have always struggled with this essential Kingdom skill. My fear is irrational, but persistent. Where I live in the city Jesus "confronts" me everyday with such people. My flesh wants me to stay anonymous, independent, and invisible. My flesh is sinful and deceitful. I know His pruning will open my heart to people who need to experience him in me, even through something as simple as a conversation or small act of kindness.

I know that his pruning must continue as we move deeper into the imagine/northampton mission in the weeks and months ahead. It is necessary for us to be malleable enough in his hands to make any real Kingdom difference in Northampton. I want to be able to carry all the weight he wants to entrust me with, but I desperately need his enabling grace to be at all up to the task.

So may I submit to his pruning with courage.

May I be eager to be made fit.

May I not shrink back from his hand as he makes me able to carry the weight I must.