Most of you familiar with imagine/Northampton know our byline is: Helping people discover the God who is far more than they imagine. We think it crucial for a vigorous and vibrant following of Jesus. Always peering into and discovering the vast riches of relationship with the Living God is the normal, biblical Christian life in our estimation.
Conversely, allowing one's following to sink gradually into mere habit and routine is numbing anathema. The ravishing God who conceived, created, sustains and redeems his universal masterpiece must be the centerpiece of our daily being. The posture of open, expectant looking to discover more of God and more of what he desires our days to be about has no higher calling in my opinion.
Lately, I've been noticing since coming here how God is gradually re-shaping Tricia's and my life. He's doing far more than we imagined at this juncture of life and I suspect, similar to an iceberg, we only see 10% of it - probably God's mercy that we do!
Let me give you some examples.
1. Shifting my Christian self-concept:
Prior to coming to Northampton, I was in ministry, but almost exclusively with Christians who came to Tricia or me for help, whether inner healing, marriage/family counseling, spiritual direction or Listening in Christ retreats. They came to the Center For Renewal, or we were invited to their place of ministry and work. At that time, my sense of self was about being receptive rather than proactive. I was there if you called on me. Now, I must go out and engage people, often strangers with substantially different life experiences from me, and most aren't Christian. While we have folks who come to imagine for what we do in-house, God is reshaping my ministry focus in ways I never imagined 5 years ago. It's been both a bewildering challenge and an intriguing, inspiring adventure. I understand my being a Jesus follower differently now as being out amongst rather than in amongst. I'm going, not staying put.
2. Transitioning from suburbia to being in the middle of a small city:
We lived in Simsbury, CT at the retreat center for 20 years. The 40-acre church property was converted from a dairy farm. It has open fields bordered by forest, a stream called Hopbrook where a baptismal had been dug. There is an outdoor worship area hugging a hill next to Hopbrook, paths to walk, stone walls, gardens, wooden benches to rest or reflect on, an in-the-woods Prayer Gazebo, and all manner of wildlife just passing through, including bear. It sits in the middle of suburbia like a park.
The rhythm of life was slower with quiet, especially at night. We lived in a house of prayer.
Now, we live in a European-style apartment, and work in a small bustling city on Main Street at a crossroads. There are people everywhere, all the time. It's noisy, spiritual, energy-packed, weird, fun, artsy, full of itself, and exasperating at times. God put us right, smack dab in the center of it all on Main Street. The rhythm of life is wildly ramped up, especially on the weekends and holidays. In reality, we're getting used to people on the street, the parade of people heading uphill in life and heading downhill. While living at the retreat center was bucolic and pastoral, living in Northampton is often like a carnival or relic of the 60's. Routine living takes more effort than it did in Simsbury.
In this context, God is reshaping my sensibilities and fitting me to serve here. I'm becoming a part of the life of this vibrant place. I am pacing with the rhythms and flow of urban culture and fins I love some of it. The time for retreat space living ended; the time for city space living is now enfolds my life.
3. Being church as opposed to para-church:
God called us to be a key part of planting a church, something we'd never done before. Taking on such responsibility feels different from when I started Klesis. It was ministry, but related specifically to just what Tricia and I did. We were members of a church, not looking to plant one. Neither were we looking for people to join our ministry as their church. The point was not to be a church, but to draw alongside and serve the Church by healing and teaching people intimacy with Christ.
But now in Northampton, we have a passion to establish a missional church to love and serve the people here that they might see and follow Jesus. Our time is spent on those activities needed to do our parts in the task. We want imagine to be a missional community. We want people who come on board to share our core values and engage others to help open them to Jesus. It is no longer merely about Tricia's and my individual ministries. We're part of a team and know that someday imagine/Northampton (if it pleases God), will move forward without us.
God changed the shape of our lives regarding ministry focus and format. I suspect Klesis and all we did at the Barn in Simsbury was a necessary precursor to prepare us for such a time as this.
4. Faith needing to be deepened:
If you and I were to have a conversation about life and mission in Northampton, you'd hear me tell you this is the hardest thing I've ever done in ministry and the most captivating. I'd make sure to mention the fierce spiritual warfare we routinely experience, and the relentlessness of which I've never experienced, and I've experienced plenty before. I'd also tell you of the vigor, maturity and tenacity of faith required to plant imagine is like nothing I've had to muster before, especially what is needed daily to not be filled with fear or overwhelmed by discouragement and impotence in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.
Being here to live the Gospel is not for posers, flashes in the pan, or the faint of heart. You have to decide each day to fight the fight of faith and not look back. Keeping your eyes on Jesus is a real lifeline. The battle for the mind and heart greets you in the morning, wakes you in the deep of night, confronts you on the street, and in the most routine of tasks. The fact is, Northampton is occupied territory which can and does spiritually exhaust people who long to see Christ as Lord here especially when it comes to freeing the captive, giving sight to the blind, binding up the broken-hearted, and bearing loving truth in the face of existential confusion, lies and counterfeits which captivate so many, young and old.
God has granted faith beyond what I exercised before. The way I pray, think and act has a level of faith well past what was the norm for me. God is shaping my faith-life commensurate to what he requires of me here. Without such faith I'd never have a chance. Now I do, by his grace, power and creative brilliance for changing lives and drawing people into authentic, missional Kingdom communities.
I honestly never imagined much of what I'm doing here, even as modest as it still is. He's already done far more than I imagined, and we're just getting the hang of this deal from our end. My prayer has been he'd grant me the days to see imagine/Northampton settled in as an extravagantly courageous and creative community of loving, healing and freeing, especially in the lives of people who've no idea who he is, or currently want nothing to do with him or us.
For now, I put one foot in front of the other each day looking continually for him to use me to open a life of someone way beyond what they thought possible because Jesus did not have a place in their life.
Lord, keep reshaping my heart and my days to do what my imagination can't currently see.