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Sunday, January 31, 2010

On the Primacy of Listening to God

Last Wednesday, I met for an early breakfast with a dear old friend. He a man of God in the truest sense of the term. He is also a man of prayer and has been for the 20 years I have known. Prayer is his way of life.

He is also a man who listens to God as one of the key ways he relates to him. We have shared retreat ministry for years around helping people learn how to listen as a mode of prayer. We see it as an essential mode. All communication if it is true communication involves listening, especially the ability to listen well. Prayer is listening too.

In the course of our warm-spirited catch up conversation he spoke of struggling over Christmas time to connect with Jesus in prayer. He was not hearing him and wondering why. As I listened, the Spirit began to remind me of how I had largely abandoned listening prayer almost completely since I moved to Massachusetts. Yesterday, he exhorted me to "return to my strength." I know he was talking about listening to him. My entire ministry at the Center For Renewal/Klesis grew and flowed from the frequent practice of this spiritual discipline. It guided all we did.

I had abandoned my strength in favor of tackling the avalanche of minutiae attending launching a church. Really foolish. Really, really foolish!

So beginning yesterday morning, I returned to the Well to listen in the Scriptures and to the still, small voice of the Spirit. My life depends on it. I little noticed the riches of what I had forsaken. Living in this dark city without being spiritually tethered was desiccating my spirit and dimming my hope little by little. I was wandering in the wilderness of my own making.

Even after just two mornings, here's what I have been shown upon returning to the well-worn path:

1. Without listening I am largely wandering around on my own.

2. Without listening I defer quickly to my motivation for exploring without a clear design.

3. Without listening, I focus on trifles and spend my resources on what matters little, but looks promising.

4. Without listening, I stumble more easily into sin, errant passions, and foolish pursuits.

5. Without listening, I have little discernment about spiritual matters and the lying spirits who seek to entangle me in dangerous traps.

6. Without listening, I am spiritually impotent and frighteningly self-absorbed with little of true Kingdom consequence.

7. With listening, my love for Jesus and desire for his glory grows and centers me.

8. With listening, I locate his will and way; I am more able to obey and produce fruit that lasts.

9. With listening, I am more allied to my deeply spiritual wife ad partner in ministry; we are more in sync in everything.

10. With listening, wonder grows from apprehending the greatness, beauty, holiness and majesty of God.

11. With listening, I have the greatest chance of being effective in launching imagine/Northampton.

12. With listening, I am more able to love and connect my broken humanity with the broken humanuty of everyone around me.

In other words, it is my lifeline. I am a fool to neglect, much less abandon it.

Jesus, may you keep me on a short leash to help me stay near you with open ears, a soft heart, quickened mind, and a deepening love for you and those you love. Please let me never stray again from my strength and my LIFE.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Developing the Missionary Mindset Redux: Question 4: Did I Go Out Of My Comfort Zone to Connect With a Person I Normally Wouldn't?

On December 6, 2009 I published on this blog a post entitled: To Help Us Grow a Missionary Mindset. The post came from a simple tool I created to help folks on our team think and act as missionaries in Northampton. If you read it you would have seen the 8 questions I invited team members to measure their weekly progress against. It was designed to help us all really become missional rather than talk about it. Talking about it is easy to do and weirdly emotionally satisfying. It can take the place of actually doing it. I know, I am quite brilliant at giving lip service.

From looking at the tool lately I have decided to put some flesh on each of the questions I outlined. I will do so in 8 posts detailing one question at a time. I hope you all find it helpful in your own missional development. Remember it is about gradually developing a missionary mindset, i.e., way of life.

This question is a tough one because it exposes our fears and besetting prejudices. Most of us are squeamish around certain people or certain types of people. Maybe they smell bad. They are dirty. Then there are the loud and obnoxious. Sometimes they represent values or a lifestyle we abhor, even judge readily. Maybe they are unpredictable or threatening in some way. Perhaps they are awkward and  hard to talk to. Most people have a hard tine knowing how to relate to street alcoholics and addicts. A few are just crazy.

So, why would I want to talk to "one of them?" Most of us shy away from people in our personal "one of them" categories. After awhile we don't give them a second thought.

I'm pretty sure God finds such attitudes repugnant.

If you are going to develop a missionary mindset, you are are going to have to blow your comfort zone to smithereens, and head hard into unfamiliar territory. The CZ is a suffocating barrier preventing you from learning to relate to the least and most difficult of God's people; the one's most everyone avoids. It steals opportunity for us to experience the mind-blowing power of God to transform the most unlikely people. You will never witness such miracles from the deadening confines of your comfort zone.

You will have to cross the DMZ, your individual no man's land, and extend a hand of friendship, however hesitatingly at first. You will have to take a risk and feel the unsurety.

4. Did I Go Out Of My Comfort Zone to Connect With a Person I Normally Wouldn't?

1. Ask God to give you his love for people you are often uncomfortable with. Ask him to soften your heart and open your eyes to these "image bearers." Ask him to let you see them as he does.

2. Ask him to make your comfort zone less comfortable concerning these people.

3. Pray for increased opportunities to encounter them and the courage to connect as you do.

4. Ask the Holy Spirit to "give you the words to speak" when you encounter someone he wants you to talk with.

5. When you do connect, let it be on their terms. For example, see how they respond and go only as far as they invite.

6. After you make a connect take time soon to reflect on what you were feeling, hoew you encountered God in the interaction and what you learned.

7. Thank him for letting you do this and invite him to continue opening opportunities.

Father, help all of us go beyond our comfort zones. In so doing, shatter our prejudices, overcome our fears, and let us see your incomparable power for transforming people we never thought possible because of our ignorance or blindness.


No tear dries alone . . . unnoticed.

I was thinking about the fact that the Scriptures it said the prayers of the saints go up to God as a sweet fragrance to him. So I began to wonder how the suffering and tears of the world go up to God?

This is what I heard: "The tears of my people in their suffering I mix with my tears for them, and for the suffering of the world. Your agony is my agony.

When you are wounded; I am wounded.

When you are abused; I am abused.

When you are forsaken; I am forsaken.

When you are oppressed; I am opressed.

When you are abandoned; I am abandoned.

When you are mocked; I am mocked.

When you are violated, I am violated.

When you are crushed; I am crushed.

Not one of your tears is forgotten by me. I know them all. All of them will be dried and turned to laughter.

Remember that the cross married your agony to mine and sealed the promise that soon I will bring everything to rights. The world will be healed. It's peoples will rejoice. The oppressor and abuser and murderer and tyrant will be exposed and  brought to justice. No injustice is forgotten. No tear dries alone . . .  unnoticed.

My blood, agony and tears are restoring Creation. The Laughter of Heaven will turn all the sorrows I have collected into the leaping of true Freedom and Joy.

Hold fast to all my promises. Carry my love with you as a bond of surety.

Never forget I know every tear. I have each, and I will never forget them or you.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Developing the Missionary Mindset Redux: Question 3: Did I Take the Initiative to Love and Serve Someone New to Me?

On December 6, 2009 I published on this blog a post entitled: To Help Us Grow a Missionary Mindset. The post came from a simple tool I created to help folks on our team think and act as missionaries in Northampton. If you read it you would have seen the 8 questions I invited team members to measure their weekly progress against. It was designed to help us all really become missional rather than talk about it. Talking about it is easy to do and weirdly emotionally satisfying. It can take the place of actually doing it. I know, I am quite brilliant at giving lip service.

From looking at the tool lately I have decided to put some flesh on each of the questions I outlined. I will do so in 8 posts detailing one question at a time. I hope you all find it helpful in your own missional development. Remember it is about gradually developing a missionary mindset, i.e., way of life.

This next question pokes at the heart of being a Jesus-follower. It is part B of the "The Great Commandment:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind . . .you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Mt. 22:37-9)

The question quickly leads me to: is my "neighbor" the stranger as well as someone I know and relate to already? Is it' akin to the notion of being my "brother's keeper." Who can I ignore or can I really ignore anyone in need or trouble? Am I supposed to be a servant of everyone? Is that the attitude Christ wants me to assume every day? Is it even possible today with "hurry-up" being our American way of life. You know . . . Alice in Wonderland's Mad Hatter exclaiming:

"I'm late! I'm late for a very important date! 
Hello! Goodbye! Goodbye! Hello! 
I'm late! I'm late! I'm late!"
At the very least. I have found trying to love and serve people I don't know as being damnably challenging. Self-absorption has found a favored place of refuge in me . . . most times anyway. And I'm an introvert so remember I have an air-tight alibi! I can't be expected to violate my nature, can I, hmmm?

In reality, I understand our neighbors are many more people than we generally notice. We are used to being commanders of our own time and attention. We will notice what we prefer to. And it is exquisitely selective, allowing us to feel firmly in control of our time and energy (an illusion to be sure).

The deal is the Kingdom of God operates on love and service. We need to live this way as our "prime directive." We need to learn to think and act daily  like this no matter what we are doing. Such a mindset should be how we engage the world most times. We should have our radar up all the time looking for chances to express the love of God to people we do not know - whether they accept it as such or not. Serving can become one of our deepest joys and most transcendent pleasures as we become more aware and responsive.

Probably self-evident to most, I need to add that acts of loving and serving can be quite simple and small. They can be done without the person even noticing. They can a take a minute or a day in someone's life. They can be an expression of what you do well or just "being a warm body" in a task needing little skill. They can be the beginning of building a relationship (highly missional), or a one-time deal for a stranger you will never see again.

Yes, it might be just plain hard work, thankless at times, mundane, inconvenient, pushing our hair-trigger annoyance buttons, and nothing to add to our resumes. But is it our calling. It is to be the normal Christian life as defined by the Kingdom principles outlined in the Scriptures . . . the missionary mindset is the normal Christian life.

 So what are you living these days? Take a minute and take stock. Ask God to open your eyes. Ask the Holy Spirit to hive you "Performance Review" in this area.


The following points I hope will guide our growth toward loving and serving people we don't know or avoid. May the Father use them to free us into his purposes..

3. Did I Take the Initiative to Love and Serve Someone New to Me? 

  •  Praying for Opportunities: Ask the Holy Spirit to open them to you and make you able to respond.

  •  Paying Attention: Ask God to help keeping your eyes peeled for opportunities to help a stranger(s) he picks for you.

  • Getting the Word Out: tell people youknow will pray for you that you are working on this.

  • Keep a Journal of Encounters: Note the encounter, what you did to help, how God was present, and what he showed you in the experience about yourself or how the Kingdom operates.

  • Finding or Creating a Group: Get together with some people who want to develop a missional mindset and will help each other practice and stay accountable to growing together.

  • Always Be Looking for the Chance to Begin a Relationship: The deepest hope in this is that you will be able to grow a true relationship with someone you get to love and serve. Something real and life-giving, such that when it makes sense you can share the reason for the hope that is in you and help them be found by that same Hope.

  • Hold a Light Heart About This Experience: See that you and Jesus are doing it together. Let it have the feel of lightening someone's load, giving relief, showing someone she matters and is cared for, offering a cup of cold water or putting a smile on someone's face.

  • Thank God for Every Opportunity He Gives You to Do this in an Ordinary Day: Whether you think you responded well or think it made any kind of difference for someone, thank Jesus for the chance to serve him as you tried to love and serve the person.

  • Lift Your Failures to Jesus That He Might Redeem Them: When you blow it big-time (and you just might . .  and more than once), lift it to Jesus that he would overturn your failure toward the person's need and meet it in a way that brings them nearer to him anyway.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Developing the Missionary Mindset Redux: Question 2: Did I Make a Connection or Have a Conversation With Someone I Didn't Know This Week?

On December 6, 2009 I published on this blog a post entitled: To Help Us Grow a Missionary Mindset. The post came from a simple tool I created to help folks on our team think and act as missionaries in Northampton. If you read it you would have seen the 8 questions I invited team members to measure their weekly progress against. It was designed to help us all really become missional rather than talk about it. Talking about it is easy to do and weirdly emotionally satisfying. It can take the place of actually doing it. I know, I am quite brilliant at giving lip service.

From looking at the tool lately I have decided to put some flesh on each of the 8 questions I outlined. I will do so in 8 posts detailing one question at a time. I hope you all find it helpful in your own missional development.

The second question is one particularly challenging for me. I am an introvert, not extremely so, but an introvert nonetheless. Going up to strangers has always been a struggle for me. When I was first a Christian the thought of witnessing to people I didn't know was singularly terrifying. Now that I am in Northampton and planting a church I am learning to do what is essential to this mission. I am facing my fear.

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

We can breeze through a typical week and not have a single conversation with a stranger. Sure, we might give a perfunctory nod or hello to someone, or engage in small talk at the check-out line. We might even take a minute to comment on an event of the day while waiting to get our coffee at Starbucks, but how many of us set our spiritual radar to high alert looking and listening for Holy Spirit nudges to engage someone new when we out and about? How intentional are we to connect?

So perhaps the following will help you to get started:

1. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a compelling love for strangers and a persistent curiosity to know them. Offer yourself to him to be used as it pleases him.

2. Ask him to open your eyes to the abundant opportunities you have in most ordinary days to connect with someone new or different.

3, Ask him to teach you how to engage a new person, to take the initiative in a way that is true to your personality and sensibilities.

4. Ask him to bless you with uncommon courage, discernment and wisdom in engaging strangers. Ask him to give you the words to speak and the way to begin with someone.

5. Ask him to "poke" you when you return to sleepwalking or falling back into your old ways.

6. Resolve to begin "practicing" TODAY. Ask God to give you more than one opportunity.

7. Ask at least 3 people you know who pray regularly, to pray for you as you begin working at this.

8. Recognize it will likely feel quite awkward at first. You will hesitate at times. You could feel very inept and maybe you are. You will fail to connect more than once because everyone will not want to talk with you.

9. See this exercise as being able to learn a skill that God deeply desires for you to learn and be effective with.

10. Allow yourself 6 weeks to establish this as a way of life. Do it every day. Be hopeful. Have fun with it, really.

Being mssional in mindset is always about love and seeing the Kingdom established in the lives of people who are in desperate need of hope, healing, purpose and care (even if they are unaware of that). It all matters more than we realize.

You are a called-out player in the most astounding Reality in the universe, and while you are here, you have the chance to open it to others. Such works (encounters) have been prepared in advance for you to accomplish.

So get after it!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Developing the Missionary Mindset Redux: Part 1.

On December 6,2009 I published on this blog a post entitled: To Help Us Grow a Missionary Mindset. The post came from a simple tool I created to help folks on our team think and act as missionaries in Northampton. If you read it you would have seen the seven questions I invited team members to measure their weekly progress against. It was designed to help us all really become missional rather than talk about it. Talking about it is easy to do and weirdly emotionally satisfying. It can take the place of actually doing it. I know I am quite brilliant at giving lip service.

From looking at the tool lately I have decided to put some flesh on each of the 8 questions I outlined. I will do so in 8 posts detailing one question at a time. I hope you all find it helpful in your own missional development.

QUESTION: Am I praying for people around me who don't know Jesus?

This first question would evoke a "yes" from many people especially in prayer for family members who have yet to follow him. For the most part, we want those we love to come to know him, and have spent time praying as such for them, even considerable time. Perhaps most of us would say we have prayed for colleagues, neighbors, our kids' teachers, someone on the TV, or even strangers we might encounter who seem in great distress or need. We have all gotten heart-wrenching pleas through e-mail about someone we don't know who is in desperate straits and prayed for them. The horrors in Haiti come to mind right now.

I am actually not posing the question in regard to those prayers. Rather, I am suggesting a fundamental shift in how we approach praying so it flows from a deepening missional mindset of persisting prayer that can unlock a person who can't see Jesus, or can open our eyes spiritually to see a stranger's need for the healing, salvific love of Jesus for him or her.

This kind of  praying comes from a fervent, consistent longing to see people freed into Christ. Such prayer has a prevailing sense to it. The heart fully longs for salvation and redemption as if one's own life depended on it. Sometimes it will feel like pleading with God. It will come with many tears, and anguished crying for the person - a kind of groaning in the Spirit from a deep place in the heart. Other times, it will be simple, and matter-of-fact.

The desire to free the captive is real and focused whether or not it is accompanied by emotion. A longing for the person's liberty persists nonetheless.

This sort of prayer becomes a way of life for the person, not an occasional focus. The missional person focusses his or her life from redemptive Kingdom interests. Praying for someone who does not know Jesus is a natural and energizing outflow of those interests.

So a person who prays this way makes it a habit of asking for God's discernment as he or she moves amongst strangers: at the supermarket, a school concert, at the mall or the movies, going for a walk in the neighborhood, at the gas pump, the doctor's office or the video store. Being out and about is viewed as an opportunity to "pray in the Kingdom," in someone's life.

Such prayer becomes a lever opening a way for Kingdom leverage in the other person's life.

Such prayer becomes a seed planted unawares.

Such prayer becomes a subversive penetration breaching the adversary's claims and territory.

Such prayer becomes a softener breaking up steel-hard ground in the soul of the person being prayed for.

Such prayer becomes a declaration of the Sovereign Ownership of God over the person.

Such prayer becomes a kiss of grace given freely in hope.

Developing a missional mindset means you must begin practicing this type of prayer everyday. That's the key. Every once in awhile won't cut it. Ask God to bring it to mind each time you encounter a stranger, or someone you know who has no relationship with Jesus. Fill your days with such prayer and become more and more aware of how God desires to reveal something of the person's state of soul as you come into their presence. Ask him to open your heart and deepen your compassion for people who do not have the hope you do. Ask for the "gift of tears," so you can see into the anguish, hopelessness, loneliness and fear hidden in plain sight all around you.

Most importantly ask God to make your's the heart of a missionary from now on. Ask him to grant such favor and to teach your this spiritually rich way of Kingsom life.

Write me what happened and what you are learning from time to time. It helps me too.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Monday Morning After Worship: A Tribute to imagine's Volunteers.

It's early Monday. I have already been out with the dog at 4:45. Heavy wet snow falls. Now at my computer, I have to express what I was feeling after worship yesterday as Tricia and I debriefed over dinner at Cafe Paradiso in Northampton.

Gratitude filled my thoughts as we processed what happened. As many of you are aware imagine/Northampton's worship events are like a traveling roadshow in the sense that we have to set up and take down everything we use for each worship. We load up vehicles, transport the stuff to the Northampton Center for the Arts, set up tables and chairs, musical instruments, the imagine/Kids room, the food tables, projector and screen, and put out signs. We then take it all down and leave the space ready for the next occupants. It's a load of work. Our Sunday begins at sun-up and ends in the early evening.

My point is I need to convey a recurring sense of wonder I have when people step up and help shoulder the burden each time. I have been in ministry for many years and worked with volunteers for our retreats and the big productions we have done for worship, but I never get over the generosity and servant-spirit people always exhibit in helping.

People sacrifice time to help us. I think about the folks on our Leadership Team who have pulled up stakes and moved from Connecticut at great cost to launch imagine/Northampton. Their sojourn here has been filled with challenges and difficulties. I think about the talented folks who have gathered since late August to develop and serve on our Worship team. They have given time (weekly rehearsals and worship events), and resources (a place to rehearse, for instance), to make it happen.

Amazing to me.

I think about the gifted young couple from Connecticut who show up to our stuff, pray all the time for us, help out, and are working their tails off to finish school and get up here next summer.

Amazing to me.

Then there are a number of people from other churches who show up early or hang around after worship to help do the grunt work. They are cheerful. They pitch in without being asked. They lighten the load. Thy are wonderful.

Amazing to me.

These folks show up, again and again. They are Jesus-followers with big, generous hearts. They serve because they love him, and they support what he has called us to do in Northampton. We love them.

They are simply amazing to me.

So, I guess I will never get over seeing people of Christ offering their time and talent to imagine. I am glad I will never get over it. I must never get over it. And I must never stop being grateful to him.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Dream of a Church Where . . .

Yesterday, I posted this on Ben Dubow's blog: Faith Autopsy.

I dream of a church where:

1. Jesus is followed and related to as if he really is God with us: fully alive, fully active, fully redeeming.
2. People live first for the doing of his will and the establishing of his kingdom, then the meeting of their own needs and pursuing of their own dreams.
3. Generosity is in all matters, compassion is with no strings and love is so fierce it melts the division between people and peoples.
4. Truth is so longed for it aches and practiced that the captives are set free.
5. Tears come easily from warm hearts, and laughter bubbles without hesitation every ordinary day together.
6. Art and music are constantly created from a wellspring of courage and a stubborn freedom to express the exquisite, sometimes unbearable Beauty of God.
7. The least of these his brethren are the most honored among us.
8. No one slips away from our community without notice.
9. Silence, reverence, awe, and holiness have a home.
10. The community around it is glad the church is in its midst.
11. Young and old find favor with each other and spend time learning from one another.
12. Its giving always outstrips its taking.
13. God will never be ashamed to call us his people.
14. Worship is not a service, it is a way of being with God constantly.
15. Because of its capacity to love all people it goes out to all people near and far.
16. Everyone helps; everyone serves; everyone lightens life's load..
17. Healing is freely offered and freely sought in our life together.
18. People who challenge us to think hard and love well are welcomed.
19. Grace is practiced as if our life together depended on it.
20. The Scriptures are loved and respected enough to be studied for a lifetime.

Encountering Robert

I get up before the sun most days to take Tiger for his morning lavatory and constitutional. There are people out, both driving and walking - especially runners, other folks with dogs, street-people, cops, Pedal People, street-cleaners, and others getting coffee at Brueggers a few doors down from us. It  is really kind of busy in a quiet sort of way.

Early today as I was suiting up to go out into the chill, (I look like Nanuck of the North!), I noticed the strong odor of cigarette smoke in the hall just leading into our apartment. Since we moved here in July that smell has not greeted me in the morning. As I moved closer to the top of the landing I could hear a voice, especially a woman's voice. It was not conversational, but sounded rather like a newscaster. No one was responding to her voice. I wondered if perhaps someone was at work earlier than normal in the offices below, or in the adjacent building and they were listening to the news.

So I put Tiger on his leash and headed down the stairs to the door into our apartment. As I did, the woman's voice got louder and the smell of cigarette smoke was heavy in the air. I was a little apprehensive because I suspected what I actually encountered when I opened the door. While I have never been threatened or accosted by a homeless person or addict since moving here things do happen from time to time in Northampton.

Sitting at the top of the landing to our apartment was Robert. He was sitting on his haunches, dressed in a heavy military-style coat, gloves, a hood and a knit cap atop his head. On the floor next to him was a battery-powered radio and a can that housed cigarette butts. The landing reeked of cigarettes and the chill had reached the top of the stairs into the building. He had the worn and grizzled face of a veteran of the streets. I had seen him a few days earlier near the dumpsters with another homeless man behind La Fiorentina on Kirkland Avenue (the covered walk-through between Pleasant Street and the parking lots near the parking garage. He was loud and drunk, and I have to say a little threatening as he was looking at me and swearing. I am not sure the swearing was aimed at me, but I was a little unnerved.

He turned to me looking a little startled and said quickly "Hey man, I don't want any trouble. I just came in to get warm, I have not trashed the place. I spent the night sleeping on cardboard and needed to get warm. I will leave in 45 minutes when the sun comes up. He reiterated he wanted no trouble and meant no harm. He also really was taken with Tiger.

He also lied and said he was not smoking. You could have cut the air with a knife.

I told him to take as much time as he needed to warm up. I did not mind him being there. He thanked me. I headed out so Tiger could do his business. I was close by because I wanted to get back quickly. Tricia was still sleeping in the apartment and I needed to be wary. When I returned in a few minutes, he thanked me again and said he would be leaving soon. I offered twice to bring him coffee so he could warm up. He graciously refused adding that he was really chilled - not sure what he was trying convey with that remark. We parted ways.

As I thought about what happened I realized how different my life has become from our days at the Center For Renewal in Simsbury. I had no encounters with people like Robert. I would have been very uncomfortable if I had. Just ignorance really.

Being here, I have found a curious barrier in evidence when interacting with someone Robert's of Northampton. At least, I experience it that way. Our lives don't intersect normally. We don't trust each other because we make assumptions to size up and categorize the other person quickly to maintain a safe distance. There is no discernible door to enter when we run across each other in our separate comings and goings. We are true strangers at multiple levels.

Being in Northampton and around such folks, serving them at the Interfaith Shelter, getting to know them has opened me to their humanity and changed my perception of them little by little. I know I am here to serve them and bring Jesus. I am glad I am learning how to relate to them. They bear the image of God and have a soul. They are the "least of these my brothers" to me. I want to make a difference in their lives and treat them with dignity because of the image they bear and because Jesus is especially fond of them. They need to know that even through a simple encounter with the likes of me.

So I will keep open to these folks, I hope. I want to be humanized by them, and humbled. I want to know the power of Jesus to transform their brokenness, or the sorrow of Jesus when they refuse his invitation to the bitter end.

I want to see the Kingdom of the Living God reclaim its own, especially those who live on my fringes and might slip away with me never noticing.

Robert blessed me today. I am pretty sure he has no idea of that.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

From the Slough of Despond to the Hills of Hope

Early this week I sent out a cry to people through an e-mail. It was in response to the financial hardship we had been bearing since the summer of of 2009. Being in ministry for 20 years Tricia and I had experienced many periods of having to trust Jesus as we navigated through quite lean times requiring stubborn faith. The severity of this trial, however, was unlike any other time that I remember. We had never been through anything quite like it. Fear and discouragement were settling in; there appeared no end in sight.

In desperation, I sent out a plea. I wrote from a raw and vulnerable place detailing where we were and what we needed.

I had no idea what it would achieve. I just had to do something.

Well, within 10-15 minutes of having sent the plea I received the first response, and it was a big one. Someone was sending a large gift. That was just the beginning. Over the next 24 hours, we would receive many smaller gifts. Then, someone else let us know that a similarly large gift was being sent. The next day, I got a phone call from a brother in ministry saying that he and his wife would pay our rent. We were a week late with no way to pay it much less our other bills. Other people let us know they were praying, some continually. We also received two bracing words from God affirming our call to Northampton, the severity of the spiritual resistance we were encountering, and the assurance that God would prevail in our call here.

In other words, help was on the way!

I was blown over by what God did through these faithful friends and comrades. I had never experienced the speed and degree of response in such a short time. God had decisively spoken into our situation and done something marvelous on our behalf. He acted with haste. There was no tarrying when I cried out.

The spiritual fall-out from his gracious response is we have been buoyed and uplifted in ways remarkable. Because of God's taking decisive action through his people, our passion and strength for ministry has been revived. He heard and sent relief to lift us from a deepening slough of despond. He summoned us to the Hills of Hope once again where we can see clearly, the air is fresh and our path inviting.

From where does my hope come? It comes from the Lord of Hosts.

What has this experience shown me afresh?

1. God can still surprise me with His ways. He is not limited by my conception of him. He is the God of limitless solutions, utterly unfettered by my tiny faith or puny faithfulness. He is far more than I can imagine. He commands and needs are met.

2. The Church Universal is filled with every gift necessary to meet every need for redemption humanity experiences. Through one another, we have everything necessary for life and liberty. God has provided riches to ease our poverty, spiritually and materially.

3. I need to tell people of my need, especially when I am nearing the end of my ability to responsibly act in accordance with hurdles or problems. I must humble myself and make the ask. Much I need will lie just beyond my reach if I do not ask.

4. I must not be mealy-mouthed or timid in asking or acting. God has called me to boldness repeatedly this week and challenged me to go well beyond my cherished comfort zones. "From the time of John the Baptizer until now, the Kingdom of God has been forcefully advancing and forceful men lay hold of it." (Mt. 11:12). I need to be forceful in acting and asking when Kingdom pursuits and interests are at stake . . . period.

5. I am being chastened and consecrated for the mission we have been given in this complex city of strongholds and counterfeits. Someone mentioned to me this week that Northampton has been called a "burial place of ministries." Strong faith, courage and sacrifice are required to sow the seeds of Kingdom hope and freedom here. Wimping and weaseling will never suffice.

6. Someone welcomed me to my "winter of discontent" this week. He said such stresses and rigors are a normal condition of planting a church in New England (he knows of which he speaks four times over). He reminded me I am running a marathon, so I had better settle the practical issues involved because our mission will likely involve years of patient perseverance.

7. 2010 is the year of truly launching imagine/Northampton. We are forming a real team to do so starting tomorrow. We will be more focused and established in our Kingdom imperative. God confirmed this week that he cares for the mission he has given and the people he has called to establish it. Our manifold dream is that by January next year we will be making a real difference in this place.

So almost a week later I rejoice in what God has done. I really do. Yeah, we are not out of the woods or on easy street; there will be more financial stresses and strains, but God came to our rescue and showed himself powerful on our behalf and that of imagine/Northampton. We feel loved by Him and by His people.

That's sufficient for now.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Do Introverts Make Good Church Planters? Well Yeah . . .

Yesterday I half-jokingly posted a "Happy Introverts Day" on my Facebook page. I really mean "half-jokingly" because those of you who know me well know I am a card-carrying introvert. I recharge alone rather than in a crowd. I hole up in my "cave" and spend time just being. If I don't, I will become irritable, overwhelmed and distracted (my ADD kicks into overdrive and I spend all kinds of time chasing my tail). Not pretty at all  . . . and frustrating.

So why does this old man think he can help plant a church? Aren't church planters by definition extroverts out and about with the people all the time, getting jazzed from multiple and frequent contact, and never tiring of hanging out? Well yeah that's the model, and it makes sense because much of church planting is building relationships with strangers. If you shy away from doing so the entire enterprise will likely be painful.

So what business have I in trying to do this? Well, some days I really wonder. I have those days when the dissonance inside me from having to go out and meet people, or introduce myself to strangers is deafening. I want to avoid going out there like the plague. Procrastination becomes a trusted ally: I just need to get this last thing done before I head out. That last thing takes the rest of the day. Well played, cowboy.

I know I have to come to grips with the reality of my introversion. It is part of the "factory-installed" equipment, not merely an accessory. Truth be told, I will church plant the way an introvert has to church plant. God understood that when he called me to the task. God sees what isn't as though it were.

So what does an introverted old man planting churches require to have a ghost of a chance of actually planting one?

1. The necessity of balance: I will need the alone times. On the other hand, I will need to balance them with frequent people times. My personality has to have both for me to get done any fruitful planting. So balance can mean spending an entire day or weekend "holed up," followed by spending an entire day or weekend engaged with others. Or it can mean days sprinkled with both. Balance is required no matter its configuration.

2. A penchant for flexibility: I can't be rigid in how I spend my time. I need to be able to react when an opportunity presents itself to connect with someone new. I also need to have the freedom to let it all go when I have to recharge for a day. It is not selfish to do so.

3. Obeying the priority of getting out there no matter how I feel: Obedience to the call should never be ruled by how I feel from one day to the next. I have been sent here to plant a church, and I best be getting after to it one way or the other. Feelings can overwhelm me so I have keep the "prime directive" ever before me when the feelings intrude. Obeying God makes things of worth happen.

4. Grace finds and makes the way:  Even though I am an introvert in a role most attuned to extroverts, I have to rely on grace to make the way ahead right and fruitful. Without grace I will be neutered and impotent no matter how hard I work or clever I am. God's grace creates the opportunity, gives the ability to explore it, and produces any Kingdom result lying hidden within. Grace is an exquisite lubricant and ice cutter.

5. The Holy Spirit guides and enables: Working by the rich means of grace, the Holy Spirit makes alive what is merely latent. The Spirit can take any introvert and make him or her efficacious for the task. It is the Spirit who ultimately makes a way where there appears no way forward, or I am just up to my eyeballs in me and can't do anything.

6. God will use my interiority to his advantage: Introverts tend to think about stuff, even ponder continually the essentials of what he or she is doing. God takes thought and turns it to his use when a person's true heart desires his glory first and foremost. Such desire demands action. While it may be a challenge to leave the place of thought and dreams, the power of God trumps my penchant for living there. He has done so since the beginning of the imagine/Northampton adventure.

Lastly, I realize my introversion will remain in tact until I breathe my last breath. I will need frequent and substantial times-out for the duration. I also understand I have been called to plant this wild-hair dream called imagine/Northampton. There will be all sorts of new people still to engage and draw in. I will feel the dissonance of my introversion often, but I will also feel the Spirit's promptings to go anyway and be of use to the reason I was sent.

My introverted nature "is what it is," as they say. But God is the Master at taking  it" and turning it into" it has become what no one would have imagined."

Introverts get to be a part of such wonders too.

I know because I am a witness.