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Friday, December 31, 2010

Taking Stock in 2010; "Ordinary" Things That Mattered Greatly.

Soon, I'll be writing imagine/Northampton's Year-End Letter to honor God and celebrate the wonderful things he's done through its people, everyone who supported us, and those we encountered in our mission. I know it's important and enlightening to do so. But I also think it's beneficial and right to be thankful for the little or seeming ordinary things (riches really to most people in the world), along the way, the "commonplace" details of the missional tapestry God was creating this year.

For instance:

1. The idea to use a tall glass and brightly -colored marbles to represent and celebrate his many answers to our prayers.
2. Being small so we can still worship in a circle if we want.
3. Folding chairs to sit on and put away if we need to.
4. A bright office space with carpeting, gallery lighting, heat and air-conditioning, running water, a bathroom with a working toilet . . .
5. Large windows overlooking Main Street so we can see the people everyday and pray for them.
6. Bibles we don't have to hide for fear of persecution, arrest or death.
7. A parking space we can walk to in 2 minutes.
8. Hospitality from team members enabling us to share meals, good talk and laughs together.
9. Getting to walk to work - just down two short flights of stairs.
10. Computers connecting us to the world and resources beyond our wildest dreams just 25 years ago.
11. Surprise encouragement, written or spoken from people all over, including people who are not Jesus-followers.
12. Getting to pray anytime we want.
13. Getting to be pushed from, our cherished comfort zones and being around people on the street who reveal our complacency, pride and fear.
14.Places in town where we can meet and share coffee and conversation over important things.
15. Being able to write a blog.
16. Other people acting as if imagine really does exist and it matters.
17. Time to do what God has summoned us to.
18. The ability to get out of bed each day, and think straight.
19. People who show up when they said they would.

I am grateful for the lavish commonplace because it too reflects the magnificent generosity of God and the support imagine/Northampton has to maybe do something that mattered on our watch.

Thank you Jesus for paper clips, pencils, cups, lights, copiers, desks, stick pads, tape, decanters, Legos, toilet paper, file folders, envelopes, soap, white boards, wastepaper baskets, mini-fridges, toner, paper and plastic bags, felt pens, plates, etc., etc.!!!

It's all been grace; all grace; all grace!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What Might Jesus-following Maturity Look Like?

Someone I know sent a query very recently on Facebook asking for input on the essence of maturity. I responded with the following and realized I wanted to say more about the essence of spiritual maturity recognizing it's not easily quantified like a batting average or measured by how many achievements or honors a person has gathered in a lifetime. Jesus-following maturity is existentially organic and sometimes quite subtle, best noticed by others who can see Christ-like motives and actions in us. The following list is not meant to be authoritative or exhaustive, just food for thought:

1. Wisdom From Above:

All wisdom is from God (Proverbs 2:6), including that which demonstrates anything true in the natural order (Jeremiah 10:12). Wisdom is the ability to see reality in all its forms, i.e., what is and what is not. Wisdom from above is spiritual acuity, the ability to see and know true wisdom from man-made knowledge or demonic counterfeits. It is precious beyond measure, (Proverbs 8:11); to possess wisdom is to know the way to true life and eternal meaning. The Holy Spirit is the Bringer of all wisdom, knowledge and understanding from above. He authenticates in real-time what God has ordained before the foundation of the world. God freely gives wisdom to anyone who earnestly asks for it (James 1:5). Through spiritual wisdom God desires us to see him, completely surrender our hearts (the sooner the better), and serve him to show the world his Glory.

  • Mature Jesus-followers are characterized by a love of wisdom grounding them in the reality of God with us, and the call to shoulder the work of this Kingdom in all of life for such a time as this.

2. Gracious Selflessness (in the mode of Jesus): Nehemiah (9:17b) and Isaiah (30:18) show God as, by nature, full of grace which he gives even when we do not deserve it or perhaps even look for it. Embodied in graciousness are freely-given qualities of generosity and goodwill, unforced favor or blessing, and favor which freely overlooks offense. To anyone saved by the finished work of Christ, it is the astounding work of grace, a gift freely given, never earned. In Jesus, we see the summum bonum (highest good) of God's grace in that he willingly, in unity with his Father, gave his life for the world. The King of Kings became "despised and rejected . . . a man of sorrows . . . stricken, crushed, oppressed and afflicted . . .a lamb to the slaughter . . . cut off from the land of the living" (Isaiah 53). Jesus left unimaginable riches, became poor and surrendered all of himself that we might find true, unfettered self by doing what he did and becoming graciously selfless, thus opening the world to his Glory as we serve those who can't see him.

  • Mature Jesus-followers reflect a consistent selflessness eagerly offering grace as a way of life, even when it is not noticed or returned. Selflessness is not an attainment, but an unself-aware way of life.

3. Living to Glorify God as One's Prime Identity and Life Motive: Jesus said he came to do the Father's will (John 6:38), and if you've seen him, you've seen the Father (John 14:8-11). All manner of allegiances invite us to make them our primary identities: our race, country of origin, family name, political affiliation, calling and work, etc. Jesus-followers are summoned to embrace wholeheartedly a lifetime of working to bring glory to God by serving him with all they are, and loving others as themselves including, by the way, proclaiming the Gospel to those who haven't heard it as we go about our business. Any lesser identity and life motive does not bring glory to God or reflect a heart given first to his redemptive interests.

  • Mature Jesus-followers then can also be recognized by where they give their best; what they seem most passionate about, how they spend most their time, and what values are reflected in their words and actions. A life devoted to God's glory will be evident.

4. Sacrificial Love: John 3:16-7 proclaims that God gave Jesus to save the world from destruction because of spiritual deadness and hardness of heart due to sin. God sacrificed and Jesus sacrificed for love. Love motivates sacrifice for the Beloved if it is authentic love. Love by its nature gives, asking little or nothing in return. Sacrificial love reveals its essence: to lay down one's life for the other. The "me" in each of us finds it's deepest meaning when its focus is others. We are our brother's and sister's keepers. Paul tells us to "follow the way of love" (1Corinthians 14:1). Love costing us much mirrors the love of God for the world; such love reflects his heart the most closely because it reveals his nature. Love which "never fails" (1Corinthians 13:8), "keeps no record of wrongs" (1Corinthians 13:5), and "always perseveres" (1Corinthians 13:7).

  •  Mature Jesus-followers live lives showing forth consistent growth in the ability to love without condition. Such people have picked up their crosses and see dying to self as a privilege, and a cost worth paying to be able to reflect God's love in this dark world.

5. Consistently Serving the Poor (including the poor in spirit):

Very close to the heart of God are the poor: Luke says the poor are blessed because they have the Kingdom of God (6:20). He provides for them (Psalm 68:10). He secures justice for them (Psalm 140:12). He raises them from the dust (Psalm 113:7). James says God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith and inherit the Kingdom (2:5). Jesus is anointed to preach the Good News of the Kingdom to the poor (Luke 4:18). Jesus though he was rich became poor that his poverty would enrich the faithful in the treasures of the Kingdom (2Corinthians 8:9). If a person is committed to following Jesus, he or she will be where he is (John 12:26), in the midst of the poor of the world whenever possible. Jesus-followers love who God loves, including the poor and broken in the world. It will mean a lifestyle change for sure, especially in America, but serving the poor will become a non-negotiable.

  • Mature Jesus-followers will find meaning and joy in helping the materially and spiritually least fortunate in their midst and around the world. They will see what they've been given as opportunity for giving, not taking or hoarding to maintain comfort and ease of life. Sharing will be a common occurrence. They will see the poor as people made in the image of God and precious in his sight. Spiritual maturity gives people eyes to see one's most "insignificant" brothers and sisters and draw alongside with help.

6. Humility, Gentleness and Mercy:

Jesus says he is "Gentle and humble in heart" (Matthew 11:29). God is by nature merciful (Deuteronomy 4:31). His followers are called to be merciful (Luke 6:36). Humility, gentleness and mercy are strong towers in that they represent a depth of freedom from using power to gain one's way or advantage. This freedom is counter-intuitive in the eyes of most, but reflects a substantial reliance on the power and care of God rather than forcing one's way over others. The world operates as such, not the Kingdom.

Humility reveals a prudent understanding of one's true nature apart from God because everything good we are and everything we've been given comes from his hand. Humility teaches us to see ourselves rightly in relation to God and others. In fact, it notes God's incomparable greatness and others better than oneself. Humility finds no joy in the ridiculous foolishness of boasting.

Gentleness flies in the face of fear. It abhors harshness and dominance over others. Gentleness sees fear-mongering for what it is: cowardice. Gentleness is humane, able to connect with the broken and bruised humanity of others without a sense of superiority. It has no sense of guile or advantage. Gentleness is open-hearted by conviction.

Mercy holds no grudges and drops the charges by choice. It reflects God's will to show mercy to a sin-riddled world and shower blessing on the merciful walking by his ways. Mercy surprises and liberates all those who receive while expecting the boom to be lowered. Mercy is also counter-intuitive. Fallen human nature loves the blood-lust of revenge. It prizes the right to hit back. Mercy short-circuits the murderous revenge cycle and opens the only sure path to healing: unexpected forgiveness.

  • Mature Jesus-followers have come to cherish humility and see it as a gracious, undeserved gift of God's unmerited favor. They know gentleness to be a healing gesture, one that shames and defuses aggression. Such people understand mercy to be very near the center of God's heart, and want to stay near there because then they are in their rightful place as followers.
7. Willingness to Suffer For Christ:

Peter tells us if we've suffered for doing what is right we are blessed (1Peter 3:14). He goes on to say it's better to suffer if it's God's will for doing good than doing evil (1Peter 3:17).In chapter 4, Peter says since Christ suffered in his body that his followers should "arm themselves with the same attitude." Later in Chapter 4, he says," Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed." He closes the chapter by counseling, "Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good." Paul writes, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2Timothy 3:11-3).

To truly follow Christ in this world is to incur suffering whether it be from the adversary and his minions, from enemies of the Gospel, from family, other Christians or strangers. The Scriptures allude to the fact that the closer we get to being like Christ and serving his interests in the world with courage, we will have trials, setbacks, and even persecution. I think we are often surprised when we go through a prolonged or intense period of affliction or loss. Most of us believe we are supposed to be pretty much protected from the bad stuff in life. I've known people who've abandoned Jesus because of that. The truth remains while he promises to be with us through it all, (Matthew 28:30) he also warns that the rain will fall on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45).

  • Mature Jesus-followers have resigned themselves to the fact that following Christ will more than likely expose them to all manner of suffering at varying levels of intensity. Some have embraced they may even die for him because of experience and reflection on what they've come to recognize as the reality of the struggle for the Gospel and Kingdom in this world. They identify with it and go into the fray anyway. They are not heroes; they've simply decided to follow Jesus no matter the cost. They know the reward and see their obedience as life to the full, and wouldn't have it any other way.

8. The Persisting Attitude of Joy Because of Hope:

I tell people all the time attitude spells the difference between those who work out their problems and those who don't. Attitude gives proper perspective and fuels virtues. Grace-infused attitude sets people's feet advancing toward healing, freedom, life and holiness. Persistence gives attitude time to materialize and mature toward its desired ends. Without persistence most people are easily blown off course by immaturity, impatient distraction or obstacles allowed by God to strengthen resolve.

A persisting attitude of joy is a resilient mindset of joy. A person valuing wisdom chooses to learn existential joy from God. The Holy Spirit is a master at teaching joy, but sadly, many never ask him to. Most people assume joy is a feeling. We do have joyous feelings, thank God, but they are highly contextualized and fleeting for the most part. Biblical joy at its most profound is a perceiving and grasping of the stunning beauty, pleasure, freedom and life waiting just beyond the veil for all who follow Jesus faithfully. Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2). He knew what his death and resurrection would create and ignite in the universe locked in slavery by the fall. Such joy is the inheritance of all persevering believers in Christ.

  • Mature Jesus-followers have asked often for the mindset of joy. They want to live in the anticipation of delight unimaginable right now. They want to taste a little bit of it and hold onto joy when plenty of life will throw temptation, frustration, loss, sorrow and confusion at them all along the journey home. At the same time, they have decided long ago to learn, and put on the attitude of joy even in the valley of the shadow of death. Joy is a grace-filled antidote to life that upends and piles on.
When its all said and done and the roll is called up yonder will people of the late 20th and early 21st centuries be known as believers who embraced Jesus-following maturity and spread the Gospel as never before. Or will it be sadly noted we were a passive, comfortable generation of nice people who strove to live the good life as promoted lavishly by our western culture? The verdict is still out. What does your life say?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


(This was written by my wife, Tricia)

When we look at the first two chapters of Luke we see the story of Jesus’ birth introducing us to people who are waiting: Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon and Anna.

In our culture, waiting is often seen as a waste of time. When we find ourselves in the experience of waiting our restlessness pushes us to want to do something, get going, or try to make something happen. We question Why are we just sitting here waiting?

Waiting can be for some of us an isolated desert experience. We tend to keep our attentions confused between where we want to go and where we really are. We are restless and preoccupied and often find ourselves trying to do something to get out of waiting.

What fuels this unwillingness to wait often is fear. When we are fearful we have a hard time waiting because when afraid we want to get away from where we are. Yet, what do we see in the beginning of Luke’s gospel? We see people who hear the words “do not be afraid. I have something good to say to you.” What is established is the truth that they are waiting for something new and good to happen. These are people who trust and count on the word of God. They are able to wait and be attentive and expectant in their waiting.

What is the nature and practice of waiting?  How does God want us to understand the importance of waiting?
LUKE 1:13, 31 “Zechariah…your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son.” “Mary… Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son.” There is something happening here that is a key to understanding what waiting is all about. It is that they have received a promise that within them there is sense that something is at work. Waiting has to do with having what we are waiting for already begin in us.

We do not wait in a place that moves from nothing to nothing more. Rather, we move from something toward something more. In this place of waiting we see Zechariah, Mary and Elizabeth inspired to wait because of the seed of God’s promise planted in them. They are able to let this seed grow and nurture and feed them, to be birthed in them.                    

Waiting is not passive, but active. It often is seen as a hopeless state, but we see in scripture that waiting has to do with being alive and present to the moment at hand. The reality here is that something is happening where you are, and you want to be attentive to that moment. What is being birthed in you?

A waiting person is a patient person. The word patient means:  the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out in the realization that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.

An impatient person is always expecting the real thing to happen in some other place.

Mary and Elizabeth modeled what waiting is all about. They were able to pay attention, and be alert and patient in the waiting so they could hear the voice of the Lord. Even when they doubted at first, they waited to hear God's response.

Waiting is also where we need to give up control because it is often open-ended. We want definite, clear-cut, concrete answers. We cannot stay in the place of waiting because we get wrapped up in wishes instead of living in a place of hope. Wishes tend to have attached to them the need to control the future. We want to do the thing that will make the desired result take place. Our wishes also can be tied to our fears.

The difference with Mary, Elizabeth and Zechariah is they were not filled with wishes, but with HOPE.
Henry Nouwen describes hope this way: “Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according to the promises and not according to our wishes.

Mary was in the place of open-ended waiting. Her words “I am the handmaiden of the lord … let what you have said to me be done,” are words that speak of trusting good things will happen even when we don’t know what it all means. Our waiting, like Mary’s, should be open to all possibilities. For when we listen carefully, we can trust in letting God define our life according to His Love for us and not according to our fears.

Henry Nouwen defines spiritual life as, “a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction.”                                                            

In this season, we are reminded to wait for the one who is our hope. Not based in positive or negative thinking or as a matter of chance, Jesus is our hope and our hope in Him is based on the God who will be with us at all times, in all places, whatever happens.

When we wait where Jesus is our hope, we are in an active movement of God leading us.Mary was in a posture of actively waiting for God to fulfill what He promised her. It was letting God be God and letting the Lord speak forth life into her waiting.


Often we are unable to wait because we don’t know how God is showing us how to wait or where it will lead us, if we do manage to wait.

Truth be told, the Christmas star is an invitation to each of us to follow, a calling forth from God to go where He is. The star is God’s finger pointing to where we can find Him. The star points to Jesus, Jesus points to who and what God is; we can find Him in the midst of our searching and our waiting.

God is asking us to live in the movement of God leading us as we follow the star put before us. We are waiting for what is to come, but engaged in God leading, guiding us. We wait, listening to Him who is there with us in the waiting. Our waiting becomes more familiar and still, and we realize that who we are waiting for is with us, here to speak to us in the middle of the waiting into the silence of our hearts.

The star is the symbol to follow the light in the places of darkness. We may not know where, or how, or which way to go in the darkness, but the finger of God is pointing the way for us to follow.

 Reflect on the questions below. Listen for his response to you:

1. Lord, how do you want to best prepare my heart in this time of waiting?

2. Father, how do you want me to follow your light that points the way you set before me?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


The name "Immanuel" occurs in Isaiah's important prophecy (7:14-16). The name relates to the confirmation that the plans of Jerusalem's adversaries would fail because God's purposes are immutable (Isaiah 7:4-9). His presence ensures this. The great prophecy of chapter seven is followed by some important details about "Immanuel" in the next chapter. 
The key passage interpreting the meaning "Immanuel" is Isaiah 8:10 ("Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; Speak the word, but it will not stand, for God is with us"). This means that God's purposes stand no matter how strenuously evildoers oppose them. Note the similarity of Isaiah 7:7 and 8:10.

Regarding Matthew 1:23: "Immanuel," meaning "God with us" carries the implication that God is sovereignly working His purpose in the lives of His people to protect them and work through them. He will fulfill His promises no matter how earnestly men may oppose them (See Ro. 8:31 and following). The reference in Matt. 1:23 teaches that Jesus in His Person is truly God, but it also includes the idea that God’s plan of redemption is unstoppable and that our ultimate security and provision is in the Person of Christ. (©1998 Internet Biblical Resources)

In this season of Advent, you have the opportunity to consider afresh that you have been “born from above” (John 3:3), that the God of all Creation, Christ Pantocrator (Lord of the Universe) has called you into his life, or desires to. He has become Immanuel to you. God is with you, today and tomorrow and forever.  You are in him and he is in you (Galatians 2:20).

The spiritual implications of this truth are profound. Because you are his and he is with you, you have an open invitation to intimacy with him. You can know his heart and he knows yours – you are his idea. There is no need to feel separated from him. He will never leave nor forsake you, period. (Hebrews 3:5) In joys and sorrows he is there; he carries you. (Isaiah 46:4-3)

Immanuel means that in your struggles, afflictions and adversities, God is with you. He is your Helper and Deliverer. You no longer face your life by yourself, even if you feel alone, you are not. God is with you. You have a devoted Advocate, and Protector at work in your life. He will let nothing nor anyone tear you out of his hand. No power in heaven or on earth is capable of doing do.

Jesus is your Immanuel.

As you ponder this, let the following questions open you to what the One who is always with you wants to say to you through the still, small voice of the Spirit:

1. Jesus, where in my heart have I not let you be Immanuel?

2. Lord, show me where I let feeling alone prevent me from engaging life in Your Presence and with your help.

3. Father, how would have me know that your redemptive purposes this Christmas and into the next year will not be prevented in my life and for my life?

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Hole in Our Gospel: Inching Toward a Life of Sacrificial Love.

"There is much at stake. The world we live in is under siege - three billion are desperately poor, one billion hungry, millions are trafficked in human slavery, ten million children die needlessly each year, wars and conflicts are wreaking havoc, pandemic diseases are spreading, ethnic hatred is flaming, and terrorism is growing. Most of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the developing world live in grinding poverty. And in the midst of this stands the Church of Jesus Christ in America, with resources, knowledge, and tools unequaled in the history of Christendom. I believe we stand on the brink of a defining moment. We have a choice to make.

When historians look back in one hundred years, what will they write about this nation of 340,000 churches? What will they say of the Church's response to the great challenges of our time - AIDS, poverty, hunger, terrorism, war? Will they say that these authentic Christians rose up courageously and responded to the tide of human suffering, that they rushed to the front lines to comfort the afflicted and douse the flames of hatred?

Or will they look back and see a Church too comfortable, insulated from the pain of the rest of the world , empty of compassion, and devoid of deeds? Will they write about a people who stood by and watched while a hundred million died of AIDS and 50 million children were orphaned, of Christians who live in luxury and self-indulgence while millions died of food and water? Will schoolchildren read in disgust about a Church that had the wealth to build great sanctuaries but lacked the will to build schools, hospitals, and clinics? In short, will we be remembered as a the Church with a gaping hole in the Gospel." (p. 238)

 "The total income of American churchgoers is $5.2 trillion . . . it would take just a little over 1 percent of the income of American Christians to the lift the poorest one billion people in the world out of extreme poverty . . . American Christians, who make up about 5 percent of the Church worldwide, control about half the global wealth." (p.216)

I'm just about finished with Richard Stearns' (CEO of World Vision) book The Hole in Our Gospel. I  highlighted portions of the excerpts because they capture for me the seeming blindness of the American Church to the widespread pain and suffering of people's all over the world who for a wildly complex tangle of reasons don't have their basic needs met, and are chronic victims of war, disease, entrenched poverty and corruption. Adding insult to injury,  the American Church is the wealthiest in the history of the world, meaning we have the collective resources to alleviate much of the world's suffering. Another sad reality is we use most of it first for our own concerns. Ugh!

If Stearns is right, this sad state of affairs is a travesty and should "haunt" us all with the glaring need to pick up our crosses and change our lives to more "enflesh" the abundant generosity and love of God for the "least of these," his brethren. Take a moment to read the following passages in Isaiah and Matthew to refresh your memory of how serious God is about the issue: Is. 58:1-12; Matthew 25:31-46.

Reading the book falls at a time when God is challenging me consistently to a more earnest following of Jesus, one in which much of my time, talent, and resources are spent helping alleviate suffering and providing the ways and means for people to fight their way back into a life full of real living as God defines it. My heart is being pricked often these days to further leave my well-kept safety nets and comfort zones, the old paths of sheltered Christianity I spent decades diligently practicing.

All he's asking me to do is live authentically as his follower not merely as a believer. I can believe in him and still withhold my heart enough leaving ample room to pursue the comforts, pleasures, privileges, and powers of the world. I can be dedicated to going to services, giving, reading a gazillion Christian books, doing hours of Bible study, listening to Christian music, attending Christian conferences, serving on committees, leading retreats, preaching and teaching, playing on the Worship Team, and even planting a church, but if don't love Jesus enough to surrender all of my life to follow him sacrificially as my prime directive, I'm missing much of what he taught about truly being his disciple.

In short, I end up being a fan with benefits, a perpetual volunteer, a member of the booster club, but not a player in the game where blood, sweat, and tears requires my all.

The reality is, he's moving on me from more than one direction these days. First, he's deepening the urgency and vehemence of my prayer life. It's not that I'm praying for longer time, it's more that when I pray there is an earnest longing for the Kingdom to come to people through me and imagine. I want more of him, more faith, courage, and more resources to make a difference in Northampton and other parts of the world. I strain into God with passion, calling on him to open ways where there appear to be no ways. I want to see the power of the Kingdom manifested to the degree lives really are changed, especially for the marginalized, voiceless and oppressed.

I want him to punch a hole in the fabric of darkness enshrouding parts of this broken world so the light of love, peace, healing and truth can prevail.

He's also creating in me a persisting desire to give away what I don't need or use. I'm not real good at this yet because it tales a substantial mental shift, but I continue to be taken back my how many duplicates I have of things. Drawers and closets are crammed. The phrase I use is being materially bloated.We've moved 3 times in the last 2 3/4 years, tag-selling and giving away a substantial amount of stuff with each move. With each move we downsized our living quarters. We can give still more and have all we need to live. When I think of people all over the world who have just the clothes on their backs, have to walk miles more than once a day to get their daily water, or live in huts with dirt floors, eking out a bare existence, keeping stuff I don't need or use is a start at radical re-orientation.

I think radical re-orientation is a must for following hard after Jesus.

Of late as well, God is bringing situations and people into our lives far different from what we've encountered frequently before. We've been in ministry a long time. We've experienced people in deep trouble with serious needs. In Northampton, however, the level of brokenness seems more complex: long-term addiction, generational poverty, mental illness, chronic problems with the law, and a pervasive counter-culture ethos all combine to make it tough to connect with the Gospel. God is bringing them to our door and we have opportunities to show his love asking nothing in return.

It feels to me as if God is offering imagine/Northampton the opportunity to head into the heart of what it means to deny myself, take up my cross daily and follow him. (Luke 9:24-6). the implication of that Scriptures and others in the New Testament have always scared me, because I want to control the degree of sacrifice I want to make. I like the freedom to do what I want to do, when and how. These it feels God is giving me grace to move toward him in this regard. It's if he's bringing me opportunities which blow me out of my comfort zones, and he says, "Will you do this for me?" Accompanying the question is "And do it now, not hesitate or balk?"

I'm learning to say "yes" and act then and there. As I do, he makes it happen. He blesses my obeying and stepping out by letting me give something which leaves a redemptive mark on someone. Jesus is laying groundwork and testing my resolve. He's teaching me a new level of trust and a willingness to sacrifice my introverted affection for spiritual monkdom. He wants me out there connecting and doing. He wants me where he is every day.

I can feel a shift both in me and our work in Northampton. It's subtle like a fleeting hint of things to come, but it's unmistakably there. While nothing looks much different outwardly something substantial has loosened or opened - a crack in the door, a tear in the fabric. I feel anticipation different from anything else since I moved here.

At the end of Stearns' book he includes a Franciscan benediction. He encourages is readers to pray and reflect on it, particularly regarding the hope it embodies. I encourage you to do the same:

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

 May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all they cherish. so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator, Jesus Christ the incarnate Word Who is our Brother and Savior, and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide, be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore. Amen.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Have you ever pondered what it would be like to be totally blind? We verify our location in space by seeing where we are. We recognize the familiar by seeing it repeatedly until our brains know the patterns of what we see and then recognize. With the familiar it happens in a split second. With the unfamiliar, we have to look closely to really “see” the critical characteristics of what we are focusing on. Visual focus depends on light. I’ve been to Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico. When they turn out the lights for a minute, you literally can focus on nothing - darkness enshrouds you completely. There is much to see, but you can’t because light is utterly absent.

When John tells us in his Gospel that “in [Christ] was life and that life was the light of men . . . the true light that gives life to every man . . .”(John 1:4-9) he describes a miracle. What was previously hidden from view, i.e., Jesus, the Savior and Redeemer of the world, has now been revealed. God has come to us and we see him in Jesus, who oddly enough looks like one of us - human. The light that led to life was the reality that Jesus came to sacrifice himself on a cross, atoning fully for our sin so we might receive his righteousness through grace by faith. Our sin was washed away so life to the full might commence in us now and grow to full bloom in eternity.

The sheer intensity of this Gospel light exposed the tyrannical dictatorship of sin and death over us. The more intense the light, the easier it is to see. Dim light makes it difficult to pick out detail, giving only faint shapes and blurry outlines. The law exposed our sin; it let us know we were in dire straits, but it couldn't “give life to every man.” It was not “bright” enough, and had to be kept lit by keeping all the law. Jesus, the redemptive God-man was the brilliant intensity strong enough to end death’s catastrophic reign over humanity living in darkness until his revealing. The Light of the world brought healing, peace with God, and the beginning of the entire Creation’s restoration someday.

All this might feel a bit abstract, “hard to see,” but it applies simply to your life. Because you believed in him and what he has done, or perhaps you're trying to work that out, you’ve been given “the right to become [a child] of God.” This birth is not of human origin, rather you have been “born of God.” (John 1:12-13). Your Father in heaven has given you a transcending light, thus opening “the eyes of your heart” so you recognize this Jesus. The light has come and a deep darkness is vanquished. You are able to see beyond the veil: Immanuel, God is with us.”

The light of God drew you at a point in your life to catch a glimpse, at first, of the faint outlines of Jesus coming toward you in your heart. He gradually came into clear view so you could see him as he is and be convinced he's the God of all, surrendering your life because your eyes comprehended stunning beauty and mercy and love and truth. The light dawned on your understanding and your life was revealed as part of a bigger LIFE animating the entire universe. 

God's light as revealed in Jesus made you see what wasn't there before.
The light healed your blindness and made your eyes to see . . .

Take a few minutes to let the Holy Spirit illuminate the following questions and open the eyes of your heart:

1. Jesus, where in this season of new life and birth are you beckoning me to see something of your nature more clearly?

2. Father, where do I still dwell in darkness concerning your love for me, the freedom you invite me to, or the purity of heart you want for me?

3. Abba, this Christmas, give me the ability to see my life more clearly in the light of Kingdom you’ve called me to live within and bring to others who can’t see you yet, or just don’t want to.