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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.
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