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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Give Recognition to Such Men: Gifts of Refreshing in the Buckling Over Times.

I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such men.
1Corinthians 16:17-8

Yesterday I had two wonderful "hang in there's" from God. One was expected (not the refreshing, but the meeting), the other was a surprise. I desperately needed both. I was weighed down after a weary Christmas, and sorely needed refreshing.

The first one came in the morning as I met with an old friend and Board member. He is a man of wisdom, a Jesus-follower with great integrity and godly influence. He is a Barnabas to me. Over breakfast, we talked of the many rigors and frustrations of church planting in New England, battling discouragement and financial pressure, dealing with meager returns despite great effort, and the need for discernment in the face of great challenge. His willingness to listen in support, and offer generous words of refreshing lifted my spirit. He made a difference.

Later in the afternoon as I was at my office working, I received a surprise call from another old friend and Church Planter. He was in the parking lot and had come to Northampton on an unrelated errand. He thought maybe we could catch up for a minute or two. He is a bona fide Jesus-follower, and another man of full of wisdom and grace. He has been an encourager and counselor to me from the beginning. We also talked of many things around what it is like to plant churches in New England. In the process, he refreshed me with gracious insight, laced with his signature wit. When he left I was lifted further.

Men such as these brothers (women too, of course), are inestimable gifts sent by God at such times of desolation and spiritual fatigue. They are like ministering angels, responding to a prompt from God to bring refreshment. In their presence it feels as if God is saying, " I know what you are bearing up under. I know your shoulders are bent, your knees hurt, and your back is weary. But take heart. You are in the company of friends who love you. And I love you. Don't give in or turn back. It is but a little while until I will bless you for trusting me and making the sacrifice to bring the Kingdom to a people wandering in darkness and death."

I so needed what they gave and God gave through me them.

Thanks guys. Thank you, Jesus.

May you receive such unexpected refreshing in your times of buckling over, even this day.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

NOTICE . . .

Keep your eyes wide open and your heart soft toward God and people today. Don't get numbed by the sturm und drang of the last minute Christmas shopping/preparation frenzy all about you. God's invites you and me this fresh day to:

Notice His whispers (sometimes shouts) of grace all around you, his gifts to open your life in him.

Notice the subtle trace of his image in the faces of people around you, those you know and those you will pass by.

Notice his invitation to be unselfish and meet a need that will bring Christmas into someone's life even if unawares.

Notice God's laughter in the unexpected, (thanks, Jen).

Notice the weariness and stress of those near you so you might be a bringer of light and rest, even for just a moment.

Notice how God desires to free you from self-absorption today; lift up your head . . . listen.

Notice how his love for you can be wrapped in the simple, unadorned and unlikely.

Notice his invitation to smile and pray and sing in your heart.

Notice Jesus, adore him in your own way.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Following Jesus the Liberator Is Our Primary Identity.

Last Sunday I was set to give the message for imagine/Northampton's Very First Christmas Celebration. But due to the threat of the heavy snow we were supposed to get (which turned out to be only a dusting even though the radar showed it snowing over Northampton for 24 hours), we canceled Sunday's celebration on Saturday. Oh well.

Anyway, I thought I would share briefly what I was going to say.

Some background, first (I know this is not a complete sentence, by the way). Over the last
several months due to my reading of Ken Bailey, N.T. Wright, and John Howard Yoder, as well as Shane Claiborne and Jim Wallis earlier, I am being changed in how I view what Jesus came to do and how the Kingdom of God is to operate in my life and the lives of others. Almost 100% of my ministry before coming to Northampton was to Christians, teaching them to hear God and helping them heal. It was about liberation, but the focus was on people who already acknowledge Christ. All of it good stuff.

My change has come in two forms.

First, I realize increasingly Christ's liberating revolution was as much about overthrowing and neutralizing the universal Powers (Satanic rebellion, sin-infected cultural institutions, social conventions and traditions) that crush people, lull them into trifles, or destroy their lives as much as it is about my personal salvation as a sinner in need of the liberation of the cross. I have zero doubts I need Jesus's substitutionary atoning for me. But it isn't merely about my personal need as desperate as that is. I am just one tiny part of an astounding Creation-freeing Story, the likes of which is beyond our imagining in its scope and import.

So the collective witness and work of Christians demonstrates that the stranglehold of the Powers can be defused without violence or anarchic rebellion. We can live differently and demonstrate a freedom from oppression no matter how enticing. Our Holy Spirit infused values can transform what the Powers commandeered:

Love undermines fear.

Sacrificial service subverts pride.

Grace deflates hatred.

Generosity shames selfishness.

Jesus's revolution seeded at his birth, created at the cross, launched at the Resurrection and spread at Pentecost irrevocably severed the root of "the sickness unto death" in the universe. It is finished at the heart. It is the Story of all stories without which would make all of life "sound and fury; the tale told by a fool, signifying nothing." Jesus liberated the universe and his revolution is well underway.

Secondly, the Church, you and me, has been given the divine mandate to spread this subversive liberation. We are to head out all the time and work patiently to make disciples. We are to love and serve the world, witnessing to the transforming power of Jesus to free the captive and overturn the Powers. By our ordinary and simple lives we gain a foothold and establish life in midst of death.

Your primary (first order) identity as a Jesus-follower is that of a liberator and revolutionary. What? I know that might sound over-blown, but is it? What other primary identity could possibly trump it for the Christian: being an American or other nationality, your profession, the local church you go to, who you voted for in the national election, your ethnicity, financial or social status, what town or neighborhood you live in, or whether you are a Yankees or Red Sox fan? Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 25:31-40 that our primary identity centers on incarnating the his life-giving love to the least of our brethren. and anyone else he puts in our path. We are to spend the rest of our days so doing. We are servants (actually bond-servants, if you will). Nothing we do or can do is more important. Matters of eternity command our closest attention and our deepest daily loyalty, do they not?

Jesus liberated and sanctioned us to go about every last one of our days bringing the kingdom into the lives of people we meet, care for, work with and live around. Each day affords us the opportunity to unlock someone with a word, gesture or act of service that opens them just a little to the Gospel. How we do so does not have to be spectacular or clever. It will be merely the expression of a person who has been undone by the loving liberation of Jesus, and desires the same for everyone else who will listen and see.

Do you see yourself this way? Are you paying attention? Are you holding back? Is it your primary identity truth be told?

I have a long way to go in being really useful to his revolution, but I want to be.

I ask him to sovereignly make it so. I am more of a mess than I like to admit or show publicly, but history testifies he uses messes like me way beyond what they could have imagined.

May what he started in me years ago in Boston be completed such that his revolution is more and more my way of living and that of the McDermott household.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Witnessing History Being Made

There are times in every person's life where if we are paying attention at all, we will realize we are witness to something monumental unfolding in history. It can happen on the world stage or it can happen in our own "backyard."

I and 6 other members of the imagine Team were privy on Wednesday to an extraordinary event with far-reaching implications we all can merely glimpse now. We were invited by Stan Mattson, Founder and Chairman of the C.S. Lewis Foundation to attend the Press Release, Reception and Dinner celebrating the launch of the first C.S Lewis College in history right here in New England. The Foundation with the help of Hobby Lobby, a large retail chain of stores in the Midwest, was able to purchase the lovely Northfield-Mt. Hermon Academy, a school D.L Moody founded to train and send young men and women to be missionaries all over the world.

We spent a good part of the day there mingling with old friends and others gathered for the auspicious occasion. All of us there were struck, I think, by the importance of what was happening, that God was doing something which would have far-reaching consequences for the Kingdom, not only in New England, but beyond. Remarkable too was the amount of prayer that had gone into making it all happen. People have been praying for revival in Western New England for decades, including Christians in Korea. There is a persistent longing among Christians in these parts to see God move in the Pioneer Valley as he did when Jonathan Edwards was here.

We have been told that imagine/Northampton has a part to play in all of what God seems to be doing these days as well. It is no coincidence that we are here. It's hard to see it now because we are so small and just finding our way, but oh that we might play a role in bringing the Kingdom along with our brothers and sisters who have labored here for many years.

The day ended with a lovely dinner together at the home of the Woods who live on campus. The conversation (especially being able to chat with a wonderful Korean Pastor named Chung Ha who has been dedicated to revival here for many years), and food were wonderful. The night ended with a mini-concert by Michael Kelly Blanchard, an old friend, and I got to play a tune with him we had recorded many years ago. It was utterly unexpected!

We finished the evening with Stan telling us of the incredible journey of faith it has been for him and the team to finally arrive at this point. God was glorified in his telling. I was heartened and inspired to hear it because of the challenge it has been to work in Northampton.

I am grateful to have witnessed what transpired on Wednesday and hope it is just the first days of Kingdom marvels to come!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

When a Simple Conversation Freshens the Journey.

Yesterday I had a phone conversation with a friend and someone I have had the privilege of being a Spiritual Director to over the years. I have watched her grow in depth of faith, and love for Jesus and his Kingdom. She has come far in her journey with him.

The phone call was one of those check-in-with-one-another varieties. In the course of so doing our friend began to talk about how what she was doing was "wrecking her" with regard to the way she has been living the Christian life. Jesus is "radicalizing" her understanding of what it means to follow him wholeheartedly She related her life will never be the same. She knows she can't go back to the old ways of being Christian. This awareness both scares and inspires her. Indeed.

In the course of the conversation she also related how what we are doing in Northampton through imagine has been pulling at her of late. She has followed our journey here since its inception and now God seems to be whispering to her about more than following from afar. It is still a whisper to be sure, but clearly something is up.

After our exchange, I noticed I was pleasantly bouyed and refreshed for a bit. The day had been what I referred to on Twitter as "crazy-quilt" with all sorts of interruptions from every which way, and no real sense of momentum materializing. I was a little unnerved at times. And frustrated.

What I realized when I thought about it was how refreshed and motivated I become when talking about imagine/Northampton with someone who is getting it: the dream, the vision, the struggle and challenge of trying to plant it in this tough town. When I get to do so the enterprise feels real and substantial. When others respond with interest more than "Wow! That's cool," I get excited because perhaps they are going to get into the fray, and help shoulder forward the mission. Now we're getting somewhere.

I am also heartened when I see God percolating in them the same desire he percolated in me and Tricia, Jim, Karin, Matt and Karen back in Simsbury a few years ago. He is at work behind the scenes birthing this mission. Such awareness braces me.

So thank you, Father, and thank you, Ms. Smith, for the conversation.

May it be a piece of the gloriously redemptive Kingdom of God taking deeper hold in us, and in Northampton, Massachusetts!

Maranatha for real!

Monday, December 14, 2009

What Writing Seven Blogs in Seven Days Taught Me.

Most people who write consistently recognize that doing so gets words on the page: the more you write . . . the more you write. It's a truism. Writing solely from inspiration or waiting for "the magic the to happen" slows the writing process. That's what I was doing prior to the Seven Days initiative.

Last week I noticed a particular dynamic at work. Writing daily opened me to paying more attention to how an ordinary day is packed with intriguing stuff to write about. Every day is full of interesting ideas, encounters with people, creative opportunities lying in wait for expressing, natural wonders and weird confluences of events, thoughts and experiences just showing up.

In the process, I also realized my "noticing apparatus" was dulled and needed tuning.

It became clear to me that when you have to write to be read, you start to look for what might be interesting. You become more mindful of the treasures lying camouflaged in the mundane and ordinary. I realized this noticing is similar to the way visual artists see light and shadow. They look at a scene and notice what is there in a nuanced way well beyond what the untrained eye sees. Similarly, musicians hear sounds and rhythms in daily life the untrained ear never notices. It is a matter of paying attention and learning what to notice.

I started to notice more because I had to. It was stimulating and refreshing.

Secondly. I am becoming more in touch with my writing "voice," more at home with it. I am noticing I have something to say and a way to say it. I like watching the words unfold on the page in a design that says something. I notice how I use words and structure ideas. I love being surprised when I stumble into a turn of phrase or way of thinking about something fresh to me. I love the creativity of it: empty page, then full page. And seeing my patterns of thought centers me. Having ADD, I need such focussing.

Lastly, I am always heartened when someone reads what I wrote, connects, is challenged or encouraged. Connecting and making an impact which moves people beyond where they are is how I am wired. It is deeply fulfilling when my words mingle beneficially with another person's life experience. Man . . .

So I am going to keep writing frequently and let the discipline shape me. May Jesus guide the process. May Jesus shape me for his use in it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

There Are Times When the Kingdom Just Needs to Kick Your Butt.

I have been reading Ken Bailey's Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. I am slowly being changed by the book. Bailey does a bang-up job giving the reader a birds-eye view of the religious and political culture in which Jesus inaugurated his Father's redemptive Kingdom.

Most impacting is how his examination of the ministry of Jesus has opened me afresh to the confrontive nature of his brief 3 years of ministry, and the how the Kingdom is designed actually to operate in the world. Jesus and the Kingdom are far more gritty and demanding than I think many churches teach.

Redemption is not nice or polite. It is a flesh and blood confrontation of life against death in all its insidious manifestations. It is not pretty, or politically correct. It fiercely crosses boundaries, exposes sacred cows and vigorously upends dead traditions. It flies in the face of prejudices and undermines cherished conventions that insulate people from getting into the mess of making things right in people's lives.

And it confronts leaders who help people stay in soul-smothering safety and security.

So, I'm having my butt kicked by the Jesus I am seeing in the book. It has been revealing that the cross he fitted for me to carry often stays in the closet, out of sight and less threatening. Bonhoeffer's dictum that Jesus and the cross bid "a man (and woman), to come and die has never translated into radical steadfastness in my life. For me, it have been more like, " I'll really pick it up one of these days. And I'll know where to find it."

I hedge. I procrastinate.

I distract. I get fascinated with trifles.

I hesitate and hide: "Tomorrow, Lord . . . no, really, tomorrow. Yup."

Through Bailey's keen cultural examination of the life and words of Jesus I am continually exposed and confronted with how much fear and wanting to be likable infect me. I'm a proud son of a gun. But sadly, I am of little use to God if I will not be graciously (not politely) bold and assertive in confronting the death and blindness enslaving so many in Northampton and in the world. Merely going about and being nice just sucks. Ugh!

You see there is an "in your face" urgency to the ministry of Jesus, Peter and Paul. What crushed/stole life from the poor, defenseless, voiceless and powerless required truth-telling which offended the Roman occupying Empire, and religious establishment of the Pharisees and Sanhedrin. It wasn't about being obnoxious or rude. It was not full of fleshly pride or lust for dominance. It was about the Kingdom truth that looses chains and leads people toward forgiveness and freedom. It was about confronting the powers that be and throwing them down. The virile, loving truth they all lived subverted and overturned the dominion of death, and began the Reign of God through the Church . . . then and now.

Last night, I caught the last half hour of CNN's special Homegrown Terror. While deeply troubling on a number of levels, I was struck by the depth of dedication - maniacal and evil though it is - of the young men (some only teenagers), willing to give everything for their beliefs: single-minded dedication, even fanaticism. They follow their leaders as if these men are speaking the very words of God. They know the teachings under which they have been indoctrinated, and are completely about the business of violently changing the world according to them.

Their misguided example summoned me to think: "Shouldn't the Kingdom of God and the example and teaching of Jesus compel me(us) to the same degree of loyalty?" Isn't the urgency of the hour worth me speaking boldly with people about the truth no matter? Shouldn't my love be uncompromising and changing the world on my heart all the time? Shouldn't fearless serving be what I spend most my days doing, especially toward people far from the Kingdom, even antagonistic to it? Shouldn't I be willing to suffer whenever asked by my Lord for this most precious Treasure?


It is the normal, biblical Christian life. Anything less is counterfeit ersatz, and pointless no matter how good it feels or important it appears. Jesus-followers are to be about just this: constantly following Jesus, incarnating his values and example as he continues his redemptive work through you and me in our neighborhoods, workplaces, homes, towns, and cities.

I more and more want it to be so in me, and in the life of imagine/Northampton. Anything less is bilge-water compromise in my opinion.

So if you think about it when you finish this, pray for yourself and then pray that I would begin today to bold in Northampton. No compromise; only following.

Jesus give me the grace to should my cross with joy and affection. Let my life be characterized by love for you so strong that the cost does not matter. Grace me with single-hearted devotion to you, and for your Kingdom. Fill me with the joy set before me that I might endure whatever lies ahead in your service. Let people see you in me because I am emptied of me. Give a boldness that changes lives, gives sight to the blind, frees the captives and proclaims the Year of the Lord's favor in Northampton.

I have no idea how many days I have left, but make them be the most redemptively fruitful they have ever been.

Make it so as you desire.

Soli Deo Gloria!

And, oh, yeah . . . Maranatha!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I Experienced Conviviality Last Night

Late Latin convvilis, from Latin convvium, banquet : com-, com- + vvere, to live; see gwei- in Indo-European roots.]

I love this word, although, I rarely hear anyone use it. In a nutshell, it means festive or merry. Someone who is convivial has a fondness for festive social occasions. I also love the Latin root "to live the banquet," to experience full merriment and festivity. I think most people enjoy a festive occasion with friends and family. Even people with social anxiety have a longing to be able to participate in fun occasions when they get the anxiety under control. We are made for joy and being intertwined. Especially pleasurable is when everyone has a great time in the process.

I think that happened last night at our Christmas Party. There were 15 of us: 12 adults and 3 kids. We planned an evening of relaxed hanging out: sharing food, offering Christmas memories and traditions, and having an informal conversation about what helps us connect to the Christmas story.

We got to know each other better, I think. For some, faces and names became people with shared experiences.

At one point in the party, I looked into the living room from the kitchen and heard people actively "living the banquet" with each other. They were talking and laughing, paying attention, and connecting lightheartedly. There was palpable energy flowing from the room. If you saw the scene you would have felt these folks liked being around each other. It sure looked and sounded like they did.

It was sure a pleasure for Tricia and me to see and be a part of.

The thought occurred to me this morning that conviviality is a gracious gift of God for the journey which can be outrageously taxing at times. To make merry with friends at a festive occasion or celebration takes the edge off. Such occasions are like oases where people can set aside the pressures and strains of life for a few hours to just enjoy a nice time together over food, drink, music and lively conversation. We all celebrate too little these days.

It also occurred to me that convivial occasions are a foretaste of not only the astounding Wedding Feast of the Lamb, a banquet beyond what we can imagine, but the atmosphere and culture of heaven where the general mood will be that of joy and creativity. Laughter will be viral and being together will be an easy preference. The New Jerusalem will be abuzz with culture and gatherings and celebrating in the midst of work which enlivens and blesses everyone everyday.

As I alluded, we had a little taste of that last night with really wonderful people.

I think I can say for the team we hope that imagine/Northampton will be characterized as a church where the atmosphere and culture of relaxed conviviality will be the "way we roll."

Friday, December 11, 2009

It Will Always Be MERRY CHRISTMAS For Me

My post is a simple declaration:

You will never hear "Happy Holidays" coming out of my soul patch-bedecked mouth. It ain't gonna happen. There is no reason for it, political correctness notwithstanding. It is insipid and impotent. Blah!

At this time every year the McDermott's celebrate Christmas along with the Church in the world and those who have gone before us in heaven. It is a Creation-wide event transcending human tradition or cultural innovation. It marks the astounding beginning of the redemption of all Creation through Jesus, the Christ. A deeper, more profound REAL trumps popular cultural sensitivities around what is correct to say at this time of year.

Even the phrase "Merry Christmas" is richer and more evocative than the plain-jane (no offense to all the "Jane's" who might read this), "Happy Holidays" we are supposed to mouth sheepishly to everyone. Making merry is about light-hearted celebration over Emmanuel (God has come to be with us) and transcendent joy. "Happy Holidays" is vague. What exactly are we supposed to be happy about: having a vacation, getting new stuff to add to our bloated menageries of things, not having to work for a few days? Really, that's it?

Now, it is well-known that depression heightens during this season. It is the very antithesis of happiness and making merry. Great expectations over warm family times, reconnecting with friends, experiencing joy and having wonderful Hallmark moments for many are never met. The complete superiority of Christmas over Holiday is that Christmas promises new beginnings, the reality of redemption , the invitation to be glad because help is on the way, and everything will be made right someday and someday soon. The Christ around whom we should be merry is with us. He has been born to us, a son has been given. We are not alone or left out. Christ is cause for merriment.

Holiday schmoliday, I say!

It is and will remain "Merry Christmas" for me. I will not be silenced by the pressure of merely fitting in.

After all, saying "Merry Christmas" extends a blessing to people I want to offer them. It says God is very near you. Take a minute to be glad.

So, the Merriest Christmas to you all and to those you love. Do me a favor and give a "Merry Christmas" blessing to someone today. Ask Jesus to show you someone who could use it. You are blessing them even if they don't realize it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

When God Calls You Out

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of talking with an old friend who has been a partner in ministry and a spiritual directee. He lives in another state, but from time to time we get to check in with each other. He is the real deal in terms of being a Jesus follower, a man who has given his life to him and his Kingdom interests. I have always known my friend to be fierce about Christian spirituality, maturity and mission.

A few years ago God began to unsettle him. He was deeply involved in leading a local church and serving the city in which it's located. The unsettling started with a persistent desire to be more authentic and connected to the Spirit in his ministry. As long as I have known him, he has wanted more of Jesus. He was struggling with the endless minutiae of running an organization and trying to turn it toward deeper Kingdom relevance. He was game for the struggle, but sensed God wanted to take him into new territory as a disciple. He wanted to be more and more out amongst the people who did not have much idea of Jesus, but needed to.

The long and the short of it is God called him out of where of he was. After a time of wrestling and discerning, he left his role with no clear roadmap of how God was going to fill in the picture for him, other than he needed to move away. So he did.

Since he left, he has been ushered deeper into life with the Spirit and life as a missionary to people who need to hear of Jesus. He is tent-making and spending time building relationships with folks. He also influences the believers around him to go deeper into life with Jesus. He is keeping his options open for where God will direct him next. He is more connected to the Spirit than I have ever known him to be.

After our conversation, I got to thinking about when God calls people out of the familiar. He did it with Abraham, Moses, Gideon, David, Nicodemus, Paul and Peter. He's done it with people from every corner of the world throughout the centuries. He did it with me and everyone on the imagine/Northampton team. He is doing it with people now gathering around imagine/Northampton. God calls people out.

Here are a few things I have noticed about when God calls us out:

1. He tends to create a restlessness in you, a "holy discontent," if you will, a frequent whisper of a new call, a nagging desire for something different, more or sometimes less. While it may not be a clear snapshot of anything concrete, the sense won't do way; something has to change.

2. Sometimes the familiar just seems to lose its sparkle. As people say today, they are "just not feelin' it," anymore. Other times, the scent of change is unmistakable, but unwelcome. Things are humming along nicely in your life, but something is up and it won't go away. Grrrr. Or, the longing for change is welcomed and eagerly cultivated when the inkling of change surfaces. How it happens wikk most likely be different for each person, but the call to change is in the air.

3. It seems the final destination - if there is one at all - has no discernible shape, at first. You just "know" something is percolating and your life must shift because of it. God is saying "pack your bags (literally or figuratively) and go," but he is not forwarding you an itinerary. He just wants you to go. The journey itself seems the reason for going at all.

4. If you respond to the new call, you will be taken deeper into relationship with God, and the opportunity to have a redemptive impact or make a difference becomes more substantial. The calling requires greater faith, trust, courage and freedom to respond to his promptings, but your world expands markedly.

5. When God calls you out, you become more who you are intended to be if you follow and trust him. Calling out is a maturing, refining, "aging" process. You get closer to your own person. The change will change you.

6. When God calls you out other people may or may not affirm it. They may be bewildered by it or threatened. They may be unbelievably supportive saying things like, "I wonder why it took you so long to see this," or "Man, you are made for what you are going to do!" Not everyone will get it or care. Some will be stunningly supportive.

7. When God calls you out, you may never see the ultimate reason why. You may even feel the call ended in failure or seemed, in the final tally, "much ado about very little." No matter. God calls you out for reasons envisioned before the founding of the world; your works were "created in advance for you to do." The point is you followed the Spirit's promptings or your "holy discontent." It is in obeying that the possibility of living a real life is found: life to the full, life well-lived and headed for a "Well done, good and faithful servant," from the mouth of God at the end of your days.

So I thought it might be helpful to ask you these questions?

  • Has God been whispering it is time to leave your Ur, or your Egypt and head for parts unknown? Are you listening for that?

  • Are you sleepwalking through most of your life content to be secure, predictable and happy?

  • Are you restless with God and don't know why? Are persistent thoughts like "What am I doing here?" or "Is this all there is for me?" showing up?

  • Have you felt discontent, but are too afraid to act on it? Have you ignored the Spirit's promptings because they feel too scary or impossible? Have you let the dream God gave you die?

  • Do you have your own story to tell about being called out? Have you ever told anyone? Why not?

May the Holy Spirit unsettle you as much as he needs to fulfill the Father's Kingdom initiatives in and through you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Grace and Gut-checks Paid a Visit Yesterday

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of meeting missionaries Peter Noonan and his wife, Rachel. A mutual friend from College Church - veteran missionary Don Lundgren - linked us up. As it turns out, Peter and I have a number of friends in common from the Barn and beyond. He and they were a part of a now-defunct church in Amherst called Agape Fellowship. As the saying goes "it's a small world."

Striking to me in meeting and talking with them was the fact they are missionaries to the Middle East: Egypt, Kuwait, and especially Iraq, their current post. I was fascinated to hear their stories of working in Muslim cultures, and living as Christians in a troubled part of the world (although Peter said more than once it appeared to him inner city ministry in the US is equal to or more dangerous than ministry in the Middle East). We talked much of the unique challenges they face in bringing the Gospel to people who can be killed for converting.

Most fruitful was our conversation about the contextualizing of ministry to the people and place in which one lives. I am well aware of this principle, but hearing their experience of negotiating thew subtleties of Arab culture in the countries they lived was instructive. The Noonen's reinforced the reality that patience and perseverance are necessary for engaging people through the lens of their cultural norms. We have had to learn Northampton culture to even begin having any sort of impact on people here. We are still learning nuances and shadings.

My experience with them reminded me that I have always been humbled by Christians called to leave the easy familiarity of their own culture to minister in foreign lands. To a person, these folks demonstrate a humility and authenticity which marks them as followers of Jesus. They have sacrificed for the Kingdom often at great cost. And yet they have a vitality of faith and love for God quite winsome and charming. They seem cut from another cloth while they are also very much you and me in our ordinariness.

We talked for an hour and a half, after which I felt bouyed and encouraged about our challenging mission in Northampton. The Noonan's faith and vibrancy was a breath of fresh air.

Grace paid a visit yesterday.

As did some gut-checks: Am I willing to leave everything to serve Christ's redemptive Kingdom, sparing no cost and joyfully embracing sacrifice to bring the Gospel into the lives of the people here? Can I be single-hearted in devotion to making him known? Would I embrace death in order to do that? Am I all talk and all show, artifice enfleshed? Do I protect rules of engagement that preserve comfort and control? Or am I just a 60 year-old weenie satisfied with going about on the surface of this mission?

All good questions . . . They remind me:

Gut-checks are blessings.

Gut-checks reveal counterfeit loyalities.

Gut-checks show the true condition of the heart.

Gut-checks cut through posturing and lip-service.

Gut-checks make us spiritually naked pinpointing flab and flaws.

Gut-checks offer the best chance live past mediocrity and superficiality.

Gut-checks get us to the sobering truth of our deepest loyalties.

A simple conversation I didn't realize I would be having a few days prior refocused me a bit. It re-tethered me to why I am here in the first place. Their example became my missional GPS.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

When Discouragement Comes Calling

Someone very recently said to me that if I am feeling discouraged almost daily it is a true sign I am a church planter. His words, coming from someone who successfully planted one, were a great encouragement to me. I felt less alarmed and guilty about feeling discouraged in the often crazy-quilt experience of this work-the ups and down can come fast and furious more often than I like.

I realized that a big part my struggle with discouragement comes from expectations I place on myself and what I think others are placing on me, however innocently. When they ask with good intentions, "So how is the church going?" After I sheepishly tell them where we are in the mission, what I hear in my head is, "Really, that's all the further along you are? Um, what's wrong with you? Maybe you shouldn't even be doing this? In fact, maybe this was a fool's errand in the first place. What were you thinking . . . someone like you?" I want to slink into a hole and put out a sign saying "I am so sorry-really I am." Crazy, I know, but discouragement shows up quickly to reinforce the questions, and if I listen to what I am feeling at that moment, I get bushwhacked.

A part of me, truth be told, when I hear the progress and fruit of other planters wonders why we are not making "better" progress. I know we are under-resourced which creates a constant uphill battle. I realize we are learning how to do this as we go. It is true we are working in a tough place where obstacles are formidable. There are tangible reasons to work through. The problem is discouragement often blows past those reasons and wants to lure us into hopelessness. If it can gain a strong foothold we are effectively neutralized and rendered impotent for the task.

I have to admit, sometimes I get near the threshhold of hopelessness. I can see its dark ruins staining the distance and get a whiff of the death it represents. Not good.

But not the end of the story either.

Eventually, the Holy Spirit leans in and reminds me I am being fitted for a depth of trust and faith I have never experienced. I have been fitted similarly for the ministries God has invited us to shoulder, but not anywhere near this level. There is a very real "Will you believe and trust anyway even if things get bleak or the struggle never abates? Will you?" pervading each day in Northampton. God offers steel-jawed tenacity in this struggle, big-league faith and perseverance. Oddly enough, discouragement is necessary to achieve this degree of faithfulness. I don't like that to be honest, but I know it's necessary, even desirable (even if we fail ultimately in launching imagine/Northampton in the process, by the way).

I know discouragement will continue to come from time to time. It may even knock me off my feet once or twice. No matter, I want to know the depth of faith and trust God beckons me toward. Right now trying to launch imagine/Northampton is his vehicle for creating it in me. I am going to lose some days and I am going to break through into new territory some days. My hope is that imagine/Northampton will be planted and I will lay hold ofwhat God has been working to teach me.

The right perspective in this struggle I suspect is that in all of it, God is fitting me for the "weight of glory." The endgame defines and focuses my struggle toward eternity.

I like that.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Prayerwalking and Church Planting

Since coming to Northampton to help plant imagine/Northampton I have grown to see the value of prayerwalking on the streets of this city. I am finding there is a clear correlation between how connected I am (both in feeling and action) to this city, and how much I prayerwalk. Here is what I have discovered so far:

1. By walking around the city as I pray and observing its people, rhythms, visual artifacts (signs, grafitti, etc.), and eccentricities, I am able to better understand how Northampton sees itself and then pray with alacrity and wisdom.

2. As I walk, God talks to me about how to pray for a certain neighborhood, business or person I walk by. Sometimes he is very specific; always he desires to be "found. "It is for freedom" that he desires to free Northampton.

3. As I take more prayerwalks, I better sense how God wants to transform this city and its diverse people through the Kingdom and its redemptive values. I understand how much he loves Northampton and longs to see it "open the eyes of its heart."

4. As I walk, I become more and more aware of the hard spiritual darkness that subtly enshrouds the city in oppression, and blindness. I notice the cruel effects of sin, addiction, mental illness and spiritual depression in the eyes of people I look at. Many are trapped and have given up. They have a liberator or champion, but don't know it at all.

5. As I walk, I feel less distant from the people around me-less disconnected from my neighbors and the people I walk by and live amongst, less afraid of them. They have become more human, less a face and more a person with a heart and soul like me - with dreams and hopes, pain and promise.

6. Through my prayerwalks I am changing: I long more and more to make a real difference here. I want people to know and surrender to this God who is immeasurably more than their deepest hopes and strongest longings. I want to know how near he is to them, how forgiven they are, and how much he treasures them. I want them to see Jesus and be captivated.

7. As I pray and walk my love for God grows because I see the goodness of his heart and the greatness of his promise. I see the grandeur of his Kingdom where the lost are found, the broken are healed, and the forgotten ones are given a true place of belonging.

8. My prayerwalks are where I feel the most hope that real Kingdom change can happen in Northampton in my lifetime. Praying keeps me focused on the mission and the potential. It makes the "not-yet," feel "but soon, maybe even today."

Anyway, I hope you who read this blogpost will be inspired to get out and prayerwalk your own neighborhoods, towns and cities. Maybe commit to once a week for 6 months and get others in your family, small group or church to do the same. You will not regret it.

Then let me know how things are going. I really want to hear from you about this. It always encourages me when you respond:

Call or text: 860.729.2549.
Make a comment on the blog.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

To Help Us Grow Into the Missionary Mindset

Being here in Northampton working to plant a church has taught me many lessons, some of them pleasant and some of them very challenging. A prime one has been that it is one thing to talk about being a missional church, or being a missionary trying to plant a church. It is quite another to actually live as a missionary everyday. I have found I need to keep a missional mindset at the forefront each day or it slips into the ether and I go about lesser things.

In order to help me and others in the imagineGroup become more aware of what it means to be a missionary each day, I have created a series of questions we will reflect on beginning today, and discuss weekly when we meet with one another. I hope it will ignite us in our mission to extend Jesus's redemptive impact on the folks of Northampton who do not know him.

I am including the questions here to help you do your own reflection and perhaps become more missional than you are currently. You might even form a group of like-minded folks around this spiritual exercise and use the questions to encourage a more missionary lifestyle in your spheres of redemptive influence. Tailor them to your challenges and needs.


1. Am I praying daily for people around me who don't know Jesus?

2. Did I make a connection or have a conversation with someone I didn't know this week?

3. Did I take the initiative to love and serve someone new to me?

4. Did I leave my comfort zone to connect with a person normally I wouldn't?

5. Am I building a relationship with someone who doesn't know Jesus?

6. Did I invite anyone to a small group or worship gathering I attend?

7. Am I seeking to get involved with a service organization in my town or city?

8. Where am I struggling with being a missionary? What weaknesses are being exposed by the Holy Spirit?

The goal of the questions is to allow God to develop your primary identity as a Jesus follower committed to his mission in the world. Such identity requires personal examination as to the actual allegiances of your heart. Is God's redemptive Kingdom and its realization your deepest longing, and the growing focus of your life: how you invest your time, talent, money and material resources?

I hope you undertake this exercise with someone else for 6 months. If you do, let me know what you discovered, how your life changed, and how God was glorified in the process.

Peace and soli Deo gloria.