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Friday, April 30, 2010

My Sermon Topic for Sunday: The Church Has a Kingdom Heart

I'm up to the sermon plate for the first time since we've been meeting. A little scary to be honest.

We are doing a 12-week series called: The Dangerous Church: Exploring the Edge of Risk So We Can Be the Church to Serve the World.

My talk focuses on the notion: The Church Has a Kingdom Heart. I will be using two texts: Matthew 6:10 from the Lord's Prayer, and Mark 12:29-31 where Jesus responds in answer to a scribe about what are the greatest commandments. these two texts encapsulate what I want to say.

I also will use a passage from Shane Claiborne's book Jesus for President:

We need conversion in the best sense of the word - people who are marked by the renewing of their minds and imaginations, who no longer conform to the pattern that is destroying our world. Otherwise, we have only believers, not converts. And believers are a dime a dozen nowadays. What the world needs is people who believe so much in another world that they cannot help but enact it.
He gets at the core of what it means to have a kingdom heart, I think: our deepest longing ends in "your kingdom come, your will be done here as it is in heaven." And our way of life is to love God with all we are and love everyone else as ourselves.

So our primary identity is that of a Jesus follower, surrendering to and becoming enculturated in the ways of God; they become our deepest longings and what we give our best and most to. Our hearts incline toward his and we "incarnate" the kingdom here and now through loving and serving the world. We see it begin to come into view, not completely, but hints of the better world linger as we love and serve.

The dangerous church heads toward the edge of risk. It has to. The community of Jesus followers in the world must enter the sheer mess of humanity, loving God more than even life itself, and a bewildering array of people who don't share the same inclination of the heart, even violently so sometimes.  Being willing to absorb rejection, mockery, disappointment, fear, indifference, unabated sacrifice, and hopelessness involves costly risk. But sharing the mess anyway, and stubbornly offering the hope we have in us that a better day and kingdom is coming reveals the essence of the Kingdom heart.

Join us: 3-5PM, 70 Main Street, 2nd Floor, Northampton, MA.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Abiding and Obeying: Two Reasons for the Kingdom/Church.

"John 15:7-10: If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments. and abide in his love."

Jesus abides in the Father's love.

We are summoned to abide in Jesus.

We are summoned to abide in his love.

We are summoned to let his words abide in us.

We are summoned to keep his commandments.

Jesus kept his Father's commandments.

The Church/Kingdom operates on our side of the veil from abiding in God's love, letting his words linger and root in us, and obeying the Father's commandments as a response. Sure, grace makes it all possible, but the summons to the Church - you and me, his ragamuffin disciples - remains to abide and obey.

In all this abiding: Jesus in the Father's love and we in his love and the commandments we keep because his words abide in us, Jesus says we are free to ask anything and it will be granted to us. The kinds of requests we ask will flow from staying in his love and doing what he commands. The end result is the Father is glorified in the equation because in our asking and abiding we bear abundant Kingdom fruit, and the Father is revealed in all his magnificent majesty, power, wisdom, beauty, holiness, greatness and perfection.

Therefore, the deepest meaning of abiding in the love and will of God is to show forth his nature in the Kingdom he is establishing on earth which eventually heals the cosmos.

The Church exists to manifest the love and will of God in a way the world can see. If we abide and obey, the Kingdom becomes an oasis of life in a wasteland of death. Abiding in God's love frees, heals and focuses Jesus-followers to follow what he commands and thus participate in revealing the Kingdom and heart of God to all. Abiding teaches us enter into the human condition with its horrors, cynicism and despair because we are convinced we are loved and allow the love of God to move us into the ugly mess of life where people are trapped and suffocated.

Doing what he commands is the means by which the Kingdom/Church embodies the will of God in real time, thus incarnating what he says is authentic and truly enlivening. God's will establishes freedom, order, creative ennobling, gradually manifesting cultures full of industry, justice and peace. Culture becomes an expression of God's bright values and people become more human reflecting the goodness of the God who made them even if they are unawares.

Sadly, I realize we don't see much of this abiding, obeying Kingdom/Church life because much of the time we don't abide and obey: we visit and do what is right in our own eyes. We are content to skim the surface even when we think we are going deep. We like the spiritual benefits of abiding and obeying, but not so much the cost - surrendering our cherished self-determination i.e., giving up the right to our lives.

Understand that as the people of God seek and learn to abide and obey, the Church whispers the Kingdom's on the way. God's will is made plainer. The Church moves closer toward fulfilling its reason for being and the Kingdom is hastened.

What can you do to abide longer and more closely today?

What can you do to obey God more freely today?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Da Move, Yo.

As some of you are aware from following imagine/Northampton on Facebook, we moved yesterday into our Intergalactic HQ at 70 Main Street. Three members of the team, super-ninjas all, Matt Bayne, Mike Dubuque and Matt Pascuale,  mustered at 0900 to get it done. Tricia with Karen Bayne and Karen Pascuale mustered on Friday to move a few things as well.

The move logistically was simple: clean out 3 small offices at 16 Armory Street, literally just around the block, transport and deposit the stuff in our new offices. When we returned the van later in the afternoon the guy said we traveled a mere 16 miles (we had to go also to our storage space in Hadley to fetch a couch). We used two vans and it took just 4 trips.

The only real challenges we faced were: a rainy day, having to negotiate a substantial set of stairs at the Main Street office, moving six rather heavy pieces of furniture, and having to partially block a right-turn lane on a busy Saturday Main Street. All of them were handled with aplomb, I might add.

Also, our landlord, a good guy in general,  is extremely persnickety about not leaving marks on the walls or floors so we were careful about not banging into things. We left a couple of small dings which were easily repaired. And we did break a leg on one of our antique tables, but I think it can be repaired fairly easily as well.

After moving, we went back to the crib for a feast of lasagna, salad, Italian bread, fruit and brownies. Everybody had worked up an appetite so the food was welcome. Thanks to Tricia and Karen B for providing it.

After dinner, Karen went over to the Armory Street offices while we returned the van and cleaned it for inspection on Monday. We always try to leave wherever we reside or work in better shape than how we found it. I think we accomplished it.

Moving, as most would agree, is stressful, sometimes incredibly so. While I felt some unease as I began the day yesterday, I have to say it went very smoothly. Everybody was in good spirits. We worked hard and got it done with few hitches. We are now in our new space. The only thing left to do is put everything back together and we are good to go. I will do that tomorrow.

Matt B. reminded me yesterday how excited we were to actually have our first offices on Armory Street. We were so close to Main Street. God was making real what was just a dream. Now, we are on Main Street. The space is bigger and feels more in line with what we are trying to do. We can actually worship there! God has taken us to the next step.

With each step, we take more risk requiring deeper faith and trust. I see this move as an opportunity to grow in believing God for more than we can ask or imagine. Doing so is not easy for me, but I am grateful God blesses me all the time with the chance to do so.

May the Lord use this new space to bring more glory to His Name.

May it be a place where the captives are freed, the blind see and the brokenhearted are healed.

May it be place where the Gospel is proclaimed and lived in a way that makes a substantial difference to people far from Jesus.

May it grow us in faith, love and fruitfulness for the sake of his kingdom.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Something For You to Carry With You Today.

Romans 12:12: "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer."
Have joy in your hoping, stick with patience as you walk through suffering, pray all the the time. I so appreciate this little trinity of wisdom from Paul. He opens me to substance I can use with words of life written centuries ago.

REJOICE IN HOPE: Let the joy of what you hope for - the complete salvation of your soul unto eternity - flood you with hope. Hope lets a person abide toward a better future. A new day is coming when God will put all things to rights. Rejoice in the certainty of that day because God says it is coming. Your tears will be wiped from your reddened eyes. Your sorrows will finally end. Your frustrations and disappointments will fade from your memory. Pain will disappear as if a bad dream. And hope will finish its mission.

BE PATIENT IN TRIBULATION: Jesus avers you will have troubles in the world. Creation groans in travail and your life has known "sorrowful days." Life is full of troubles of every kind; troubles that bewilder, frustrate, bedevil and corner you, sometimes it seems at every turn. Paul says, "Yeah, I know, be patient anyway." You see, patience is a settler and a leveler. It opens perspective and stiffens resolve. It calms the storm and keeps your feet on the ground, moving forward or waiting for discernment. Patience is a weapon cutting through to peace of mind, and persevering in the face of overwhelming odds. Being patient in a situation gives faith and grace room to work.

BE CONSTANT IN PRAYER: Pray without ceasing, all the the time, every waking minute, and even when you are sleeping (ask God to give you the ability to do that). Don't be fooled into stopping . . . ever. Pray like your life depends on it; sometimes it does. The truth is praying connects you to the heart, mind and will of God. It summons you to his preferred future in your troubling or needy present. Praying constantly, brings peace to turmoil, life into death in all its forms, and courage into cowardice. Prayer also says, " I have something to say about how it's going to go down or turn out." To pray is to invest in treasures: life, liberty, healing, peace, joy,  and creating what does not yet exist. Praying keeps us in the Game of all games.

Something for you to carry with you today.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Two Old Men: An Early Morning Encounter of the Alone.

I have seen both of them before, one many times over the last year (he takes walks often during a typical day and never makes eye-contact with anyone), and one in the last few weeks. One is short, a tad grizzled, and bearded; the other is tall and clean-shaven. One dresses in a non-descript way, but mostly appropriate to the season, although shabbily. The other wears too-short, checked pajama bottoms with various shirts or a rumpled, tan overcoat. He has black shoes and no socks. One walks staring forward always. The other stops and looks around a bit, then moves on. Both seem to shuffle with an awkward gait.

Both go about their business daily and alone, at least on the streets.

This morning as I sat alone with Jesus, looking out my kitchen window and up North Main Street, I noticed the tall gentleman ambling up the street past Veracruzana and Lucky's Tattoo Shop. He is on the same mission I see him on daily. He searches the black hookah-looking, cigarette butt receptacles scattered around downtown. He's looking for a smoke.

Today is his lucky day. He finds one and lights up. Then, he turns around with one hand on his hip and gazes up North Main Street, leisurely puffing on his prize. Just a minute or so later, the smaller gentleman comes into view and is walking slowly toward him, eyes fixed on the sidewalk. As he passes, the taller man extends his cigarette to him in a gesture of sharing. I couldn't see if he says anything to him. In any event, the shorter man walks right by not even looking at the taller man. He never turns his head to acknowledge the neighborly gesture. The man with the cigarette holds it out to him until he is well past - a show of kindness ignored.

Utterly poignant to me was the way the tall man held out the cigarette to the short man; how he persisted. He was trying to connect. His was a grand gesture, albeit awkward, as if he wasn't sure what to do exactly, but did it just the same.

The gesture of the tall man showed me his humanity; he held out his hand. He tried to give something. The other man didn't respond or maybe just never noticed. Their aloneness to one another was apparent at that moment.

I realize I saw a tiny thing, but it had an elegant beauty to it. He might be mentally ill, who knows, but for a moment I was there to notice his quiet gesture of kindness and sharing.

I bet God did too.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday Morning Reflection, April 12, 2010: Hebrews 3:13,17-8.

"Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in meekness of wisdom."
"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy, and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."
Interesting how the writer tethers wisdom to good conduct and works. Such wisdom is characterized by purity, a peaceful bearing, gentleness, reasonableness, mercy, impartiality and sincerity. It produces good fruits in abundance and a harvest of righteousness is the yield because wisdom makes peace.

So wisdom is not merely intellectual acuity or prowess. Being smart or an analytical thinker may or may not produce wisdom. Wisdom as characterized here has little commerce with pride. Winning the argument or demonstrating superiority is the antithesis of this wisdom. It does not puff up or seek to humiliate others. Rather it seeks produce a life characterized by true understanding which leads to righteousness and good fruits.

Wisdom doesn't pursue contention and strife for their own sakes. Riling up people is not its greatest pleasure. True wisdom seeks to be peaceable because it is impartial and open to reason, sound judgment, playing fair and be willing to listen in earnest and humility. Wisdom desires truth which frees people and demonstrates the greatness of God. It listens with respect, then explains with care and diligence, seeking to be understood even if not agreed with. It does not force its way for the sake of being right. It wants conversations which build bridges and tear down division or emnity.

Biblical wisdom always reflects the heart and mind of God. It signifies his nature and ways, summoning people to truth and a life of love. Impartiality, gentleness and mercy characterize the way of godly wisdom. Good conduct can result as we yield to the wisdom God invites us to. He trains us in this way as we struggle to surrender our hearts and learn to follow him.

In this way, orthodoxy does lead to orthopraxy:  right thinking (humbly reflecting unto wisdom) does produce right practice (living unto God and reflecting his nature to the world). Ultimately, I think, our understanding then should produce servant hearts in us. We yield to wisdom; we do not manufacture it.

But I wonder how hungry we are for God's wisdom? Are we desperate enough for the understanding which sows a harvest of righteousness in peace. Or do we tire of the struggle to be "good?" And how many of us see true wisdom as largely unattainable, the enterprise of scholars, teachers, pastors and "really smart people?"

Nevertheless, may you yield this moment to God's call to live from a place of such goodness that increasingly good conduct shows your works in "meekness of wisdom." I know only grace can accomplish this in you and me, but pray that such "meekness of wisdom" would more and more reflect your life.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I Went to "Church" Last Night and Have Some Questions.

A few weeks ago my friend, Mike, invited me to Narcotics Anonymous meeting. I went last night. I was to be a part of celebrating his 1-year clean and sober anniversary. He invited a number of us from imagine/Northampton. We all wanted to support and rejoice with his accomplishment. He has worked hard to get there. I know because I walked with him through some of his darkest, most frightening days.

It wasn't the first time I had been to a Recovery Group meeting. While not an addict myself, I had attended for various reasons prior. I have always found them deeply moving  and utterly, refreshingly real. The human story is represented profoundly at these meetings all over the world.

Last night I realized, once again, that much of what occurs in these gatherings is what should occur when the church gathers, at least in terms of how people would do well relate frequently. I understand all of our life together is not to be a laboratory where we spend most of our time dissecting our failures together, but much of our shared life is actually pretty superficial, in my experience. For instance, you might be surprised how many husbands and wives have no idea at all how the other experiences Jesus from one day to the next. They live together! Such superficiality is compounded in most churches, I think it would be safe to say.

So last night the first thing I noticed was there is an obvious unity and connection in the room because everyone is going through, or has had the same battle with addiction. The way people talk about their struggle and the obvious joy people express clearly when someone reports fighting the good fight or even succeeding at the moment shows forth  understanding and identification. People nod their heads when someone talks of what they are experiencing or what they are learning. They hoop and holler when someone reports progress or even that after a relapse they are back to get help. They love newcomers and venerate people who have stayed the course, sometimes for decades.

I wonder though, if we Jesus-followers experience a similar unity and connection when we gather with our brethren? Shouldn't we?  We all are works in progress and gather around Jesus who ties us together in one family no matter our particular distinctions or backgrounds. Shouldn't the church be the community where we share the joys and sorrows of life most openly. Do we extend that invitation when we gather in small and large groups. Do we invite revealing our brokenness, shame, fear and guilt to one another? Or do we send subtle messages about "there might be a time and a place for that, but not at this service or bible study or program." I wonder.

I used to experience such connection regularly when we led Listening in Christ retreats and people would open up, even in the company of strangers. They seemed to feel it safe to do so, and it created bonds. People felt safe enough to risk being vulnerable.

That leads to my second observation. I witnessed a raw honesty in the room whether people were talking about self-hatred because of guilt and shame, or about how much they value being able to be "in the room," period There appeared no pretense or affectation . . . no posing or posturing. The rules of engagement fiercely promoted being yourself, warts and all. I got a sense of "we are all in the same boat, brother - ain't no reason to hide." People appeared to recognize they were there in that life had been a disaster because of their addiction: everyone has a similar story in a sense so why try to dress it up?

So isn't the church the place where raw honesty should be invited, honored as precious, and seen as a key element of the "normal Christian life?" Aren't we all radically broken sinners saved by grace? We were utterly lost before we were found? No one has arrived while still on the planet? Shouldn't we encourage honest  disclosure when, as Brennan Manning says as ragamuffins "our cheese keeps falling off our crackers?" So why the commonplace pretense when we gather that everything is fine, and if you are screwed up you better "get right with God, brother," or "go see pastor about it." People report to me and I have experienced we tend to have little patience for people whose lives often "become unmanageable." Shouldn't church be characterized by the freedom  to be raw and honest when life upends us and it is our fault.

Lastly, the community gathered last night seemed to understand that by being present, hope for a better life was possible. They voiced no romantic illusions about getting better quickly. Too many of them had  failed miserably at life and relationships, and responsibilities and giving or accepting real love. It felt people really saw each meeting they attended (some had been to more than one yesterday), was a lifeline and maybe over time, a true way out of the mess they were in. This was their community and at least for today, the hope of recovery was possible.

I think many of us have viewed church as a lifeline, especially in times of crisis, but I wonder as weeks turn into months and months into years, if we become complacent with the sustaining miracle we have experienced in being saved by Christ. We grow comfortable with the spiritual routines and church culture we experience, and it all settles into the predictable, thus losing the power to enchant and bring us to our knees in gratitude time and time again. The people I was with last night live on a knife's edge and know at any moment they can fall off and pursue chaos. Do we feel that way daily or are we much too at ease with following Jesus. He is safe, accepting and nice to us. We just need to do what we're already doing and everything will be fine. Really?

If you have never been, I exhort you to attend an AA, NA, OA or SA meeting as a supporter. You will see what I am talking about. Church happens there and it will change you. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On Turning 61 Today While Still Launching magine/Northampton.

Today is my 61st birthday. My body and I will now be exploring the state of being called 61. I'm not sure what it will look like exactly, but I bet it will be both the same and different from the state of being called 60. I say so because I notice, more than when I was a younger man, changes in how my body and mind respond to living: changes in strength, agility, resilience and acuity. Some of it I do not mind at all; some of it I rather dislike.

For instance, while my passion for living remains unabated, my body tires more easily and it takes longer to repair from injury. Stress takes a larger toll and requires more time to release. While I remain fierce about what I care for most, it is harder to stay focused. I also hesitate slightly in activities I never gave a thought to previously. My mortality has become more of a reality in my thinking than before. And for some reason, I like the hoary eccentricity of many old guys, and notice fondly their weirdness.

So here I am at 61 smack dab in the middle of launching imagine/Northampton almost 21 months in. What's it like being this age and taking on such a difficult task?

Well, it remains the hardest Kingdom thing I have ever done. As I have mentioned in a blog earlier, I've started projects my entire life, including Klesis Ministries, and the Listening in Christ retreat ministry at the Center For Renewal in Simsbury, CT (with Tricia). Ministry is never easy I have found. The stresses and strains are formidable to say the least. Launching a church at this or any age takes resolute courage, deep faith, and stubborn trust. I suspect doing so will never become easy at this late stage of redemptive history.

I notice 21 months in that we still have a ton to learn about how to do this thing at all. The lofty ideas and expectations we tossed back and forth as a new team sitting comfortably in our living room in Simsbury have had the penetrating light of reality shined on them. Words are cheap and reality it turns out is remarkably costly. We have learned a great deal, would all agree we are still "wet behind the ears" at this mission. It keeps you humble and completely dependent on God - a benefit to be sure.

At 61, I am tethered to an abiding urgency to what we are doing. I have less time left than I did as a younger or even middle-aged man. Such a reality has become a huge factor for me. I have a persistent longing to see it all come about. I want so much to do this for my King, to leave a vibrant community of passionate, creative Jesus-followers here in Northampton at the end of my race. While we are a long way from there, my desire stays strong.

I notice too that my love especially for my amazing wife of 37, and for the folks on the team grows. I really appreciate the gifts they have, the sacrifices they have made and the wonder they are as people. I want to see them blessed by this endeavor. I want then to be rewarded richly for their faith and courage. I owe them my best efforts with doing my part. I do not want to fail Jesus or them. They are precious treasures.

Lastly, while sometimes I despair of succeeding - the sometimes province of many a church planter over the centuries - I will not give up unless I am taken out. While I'm not a young man, I still have the fire-heart of a young man. I am committed to this mission even if it costs me everything including my life. Pursuing and establishing the Kingdom as much as I'm enabled to do remains my prime directive in these autumn years of life.

To give my life to anything less would be to shamefully waste the time and effort of people who have come with us to do this in Northampton.

To give my life to anything less would be coast into the finish line of my race, a disgrace in my mind.

To give my life to anything less would be to miss a big part of what I was made for.

To give my life to anything less would be to squander the time I still have to finish the mission.

And besides all that, I just don't look good in lime green pants and white shoes!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Morning, April 4, 2010


Plain day,
fog tries to hide the east:


life opens shrouded eyes, early.
Easter Day, one more time.

Life roared through,
Death was stung itself.

A plain day made the biggest promise. 


Thursday, April 1, 2010

In the Midst of the Chaos I Almost Forgot Imagine's Big News!

I realized many years ago when illness or injury would overtake our family that normal routines would have to stop, or at very the least adjusted to make room for helping. Care-giving and recuperating necessarily took center stage in the household. When a family member lies stricken, family life just has to re-orient, at least for a bit.

Well wouldn't you know, Tricia's surprise illness came in with such a roar I paid little attention to getting out imagine/Northampton's big news - I know, you are probably thinking: "well, duuh!" I agree.

But while things are settling down some, here is what I was going to tell you:

Imagine/Northampton will soon have a new home right on Main Street. We are relocating our offices from 16 Armory Street, just around the corner to 70 Main Street where we live. We are moving into the offices on the second floor below us!

A number of reasons influenced our decision. First, we want to have a presence as a church right on Main Street as we prayed years ago. God opened the way to live on Main Street, now we can work there as well.

The offices give us more space. We have been worshiping at our crib for 5 weeks, but when we get near 20 in our living room, people have to climb over each other to find a seat - not good. We have no room to grow and it already is uncomfortably crowded. With downstairs not only will we have office space for counseling, and spiritual direction, but we also have a reception area, small kitchenette and bathroom.

The coolest feature is the front room overlooking Main Street. It has gallery lighting and enough space to house the imagine/Band and 35-40 people. We can do worship there as well as art showings, or teaching on other nights during the week. The kids can be in the reception area, and we can even use our apartment upstairs for teens when we have them.

We will not have to schlep equipment or set up and take down the room every time like we did at the Northampton Center for the Arts. We will not have to pay for a separate worship space, which became prohibitive when we went weekly.We will be located and contained in one space. Imagine/Northampton will have its own identity and we will get our crib back on Sundays.

Most importantly, we think that as a church we will have a place. Yea., I know the building is not the church. I have gotten that for a long time, But a location just creates a sense of permanence and identity. Also, in the original vision God gave we have a very distinctive place which captures what we are about in serving the city.

Not having a space has given us the curious feel of being displaced and impermanent, as if we are not really an actual church. We are something, but not a church. Funny thing is, other people have not been able to see us as a church either. That will change with this space. We will still do what we do to serve the city, but from a central location part of the time.

I need to add we are taking somewhat of a risk to move. The space is more expensive, but when you factor in having to rent to worship space and also keep our offices on Armory Street, the increase is doable. This will especially be the case as we grow.

Our lease ends at the Armory Street offices on April 15th, so we will need to hustle in the next two weeks.

So here is what we ask you to do:

1. Pray God would bless and show us favor in this move, that he would grow our redemptive influence in Northampton because of it and grow our numbers.
2. Consider sending $35/month for a year to help offset the increased costs. You can use PayPal on our website:, or send us a check: c/o imagine/Northampton, P.O. Box 268, Northampton, MA. Your gifts are fully tax deductible.
3. Help us with our move on or about April 15th.
4. Ask what we need to furnish the space, especially the worship space. Consider donating that stuff.
5. Come to one of our worships after we move in.

Needless to say, we are excited by what God has opened to us. May it be the beginning of the next leg of our missional journey here. We all feel hopeful it will mark a substantial move forward.

It feels right to us and the Holy Spirit.

May such a simple move make a huge difference in the lives of many here.

May God establish his Kingdom work through our hands and be glorified.