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Monday, January 31, 2011

imagine's First Monthly Pot of Grace Community Meal!

I'd been anticipating this first community meal together as part of our Sunday gathering. Establishing and deepening missional communitas has become increasingly important to me. Not only do I enjoy being around these people, but I see it essential to building the level of unified relationships for internalizing the mission together - what in his latest book, Alan Hirsch calls going from being friends or associates to becoming heart-tethered comrades in our Kingdom efforts together. I long for such camaraderie and see it as essential and biblical.

I have to say the only downside was Tricia, because of her illness couldn't be with us (big sigh), nor could Karen B., Nate, Ash, Mike, Amy P., or Matt and Karen P.

Nevertheless, a few notables stood out to me:

1. Tricia, because of her gifting and vast experience with such food-related events usually pulls the logistics together, but couldn't, so Jenn ably stepped in and did a bang-up job getting everything ready. She's a gifted, can-do kind of person able to take care of what is needed.

2. Amy and Jon stepped in to do the Good Shepherd program for the kids. They also are gifted and have can-do attitudes, initiating gracious "what can I do's" frequently. 

3. Once the service was over, everyone pitched in to re-arrange our worship space and turn it into a Pot of Grace Community Meal space. Everyone brought delicious food to share and there was plenty of it. Watching the team go to work and set up the stuff we do together always feels like shalom to me, gracious order asserts its rightful presence and people are blessed.

4. Watching conversations occur, people getting to know each other better, sharing laughter, and talking about important things is just a pleasure. I see it subtly building imagine's identity as a community gathered around a specific summoning We have a long way to go, but meals and conversations settle people into mission, sometimes without them being aware. May we eat and talk together more and may it help transform us into fire-hearted, Jesus centered, Kingdom-drenched brothers and sisters.

5. Perhaps the most delightful aspect of yesterday (a DELIGHT among delights), was having Steve with us. I will write more about him later, but Steve is a man who lives his life on the streets. I've been building a relationship with him for months. This week, I asked a couple of times if he'd join us for dinner after church. He said "yes," but I've learned from being around these folks for a while now, it doesn't necessarily mean they'll show up.

Well, Steve did. Maureen, as she was coming to the gathering, walked by and reminded him! Maureen gets it and has since the beginning.

Everyone was wonderful to him. He loved the food and hung around. After and hour or so, he had to leave to get back on the street and "do his job," as he put it, to make some money. Amazingly, he asked spontaneously for my card and when we meet for worship. He said even if we have "meetings"during the week, he'd like to come. He meant it. I didn't expect him to ask.

Steve is the first homeless person to share a meal with us. We want to open our meals and everything we do to folks like him.

I'd also asked Pyro, another homeless guy I've been praying for and talking to, but he was not at his usual spot. As we were waiting to sit down, Matt B. asked if I'd talked to Pyro about the meal. I told him I had earlier in the week. Matt offered to invite him again if he was around, and went out to find him. Matt asked also if we could make a plate for him in the event Pyro didn't want to come up -- something we've done before during the week when we have extra food. Pyro wasn't there, but I was heartened by Matt's missional "impulse" to invite him. It affirms we are internalizing the Kingdom work we've been summoned to. I'll never tire of that!

6. Last but not least, Brad and Deb Davis joined us for the gathering and the meal. We always love being around them. They're gifted friends we've been praying God would summon to imagine/Northampton's mission as well. They live in CT. This year, maybe???

The day went well and all were enlivened, I think. Holy enlivening is good. And when communitas takes root over time, redemptive miracles happen. May Jesus show us favor with communitas, and may Northampton's least of His brethren discover this God who is far more than they've ever imagined because of it. He's the miracle this small city needs.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The F-Bomb Man in the Bus-Stop Across the Street.

I heard him over a month ago. It was somewhere between 2-3AM. I couldn't sleep so I was up, lying on the Chaise lounge in the living room overlooking the streets hoping not to awaken Tricia with my fitful tossing. I've said before where we live we can hear all manner of people talking no matter the hour of the day. Most days don't pass without someone bellowing or screaming about something. And there seems to be many angry folks in Northampton. Friday and Saturday nights seem to lace the streets with people who've had way too much of the drink. So, for the most, part I filter out much of the street sound unless I hear something unusual such as the crunch of metal in a car accident, or the desperate screaming of someone in dire straits.

The F-Bomb man, as I've named him, was one of those unusual sounds I noticed. First, he was yelling a conversation to a phantom someone from inside the bus-stop.  His words were many, even coming in a torrent at times. Second, he was ticked. The anger was obvious. Somebody or something had done him wrong. He was giving them the "what-for" as they used to say. Third, the F-bombs accompanied and were gernrously sprinkled in almost every sentence. He was creative in their placement. It felt to me he used the F-bomb to make damn-sure everyone knew he was "not gonna take it anymore!" Lastly, he was drinking. I could see the streetlight-illumined flash of a bottle as he put it to his mouth and often. What he was drinking clearly fueled his vitriol.

I heard and saw the F-Bomb man again this morning in the pre-dawn hours. I was out taking Tiger on his morning ritual, and heard him as I opened the front door. He was across the street, to my left. I recognized the sound and cadence of his voice right away before I saw him. He was sitting in the bus-stop F-bombing "someone" again. This time, I heard him mockingly say something about how alcoholics are treated. So maybe he had a real bone to pick with a real person. I don't know, but the anger was obvious. I left him to his F-Bombing rant. He also might have been the cause of the way he was being treated. I don't know.

I make note of him because I want you to think about such tormented or oppressed souls God has put in your life. He and they are folks Jesus-followers are called to help; the people whose "cheese falls continually off their cracker," as Brennan Manning noted in the Ragamuffin Gospel. They don't live lives "decently and in order," because of mental illness, their sins, and the sins of others which have violated and crushed them. Their lives careen repeatedly out of control. They can be outrageously annoying, belligerent and devious, sometimes all at once.They're street-presences we don't like eye-contact with. They interrupt our practiced shalom. They feel as foreigners to most of us; people who speak a different tongue, live a different set of values, and populate a world frightening to us.

The reality is they can feel quite menacing because of their unfamiliar ways and unpredictable behavior. There are plenty of stories about of people coming unglued in an instant, and hurting or even killing someone they didn't know. Drugs and alcohol don't help the matter and when mental illness enters the picture, chaos can be just one life-destroying, random act away. And they can be a bottom-less pit of need; the least of these his brethren often are.

Perhaps F-Bomb man's traumas and addictions have so emasculated him he has only this impotent venue to vent pain he clearly feels. I don't know, but he's caught my attention. Although, I wouldn't recognize him if he walked quietly past me in the daylight, I'm praying that God would ease his pain, or heal his mind, or reconcile the injustices of his life that he might know Jesus and find love-filled shalom.

If you remember, please pray for him too every once in a while. And find ways to be in the lives of people like him in your world. Get into the mess even if it just starts with persistent prayer. What if you are just the one Jesus is sending as a lifeline?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Two Unexpected Pleasures Because of People in imagine/Northampton.

Along with the challenges, problems obstacles and puzzles of planting a church come unexpected delights. Here are two and they are related:

Most of you who've begun an enterprise from scratch be it a band, an affinity group, or some sort of business might relate easily to what I experienced recently. Your effort starts as an inspiration, prayer or intriguing idea. You do all the work of conceptualizing what it might look like or achieve. You put together strategies and structures to define how it will operate. You gather resources and finally get the word out. Depending on your enterprise, people show up or you hire them.

For me, it's been imagine/Northampton.

Some wonderful folks who didn't move here from Simsbury have joined up with us. Lately, I've heard them refer to imagine as  "my" or "our church." To think that something which started as a tugging thought morphing into a series of conversations, then a call has become a valuable reality where others find meaning, identity and purpose is richly fulfilling. I used to wonder in Simsbury what it would feel like when people actually became a part this new church. To know God used me and the team to provide a community where others valued the mission enough to throw in their lot and commit, makes the struggles we've encountered very worthwhile.

I've begun things all my life, including ministries which affected many people, but imagine/Northampton stands out to me because it's a church captivated by a compelling mission to open the redemptive Kingdom of Jesus Christ to people who can't see him (from the heart) as its singular purpose. To end my days following this mission is, in my mind, the most important way I could spend my remaining days. That others want to take up the mission as well is simply amazing to me. I'm not overstating how I feel about it.

Secondly, I can't adequately describe the pleasure I have when I see the team or new people step up to do the work of being imagine/Northampton. I know it takes most everyone a while to get their bearings in a new group, but when they eventually say, "What can I do?" (especially taking responsibility for something), it never fails to ignite gratitude and a feeling of shalom, in the sense of "this is the way it's supposed to work." I never take it for granted when someone wants to help shoulder what we're doing. People stepping up and using their gifts without being coaxed or shamed into it inspires greater faith in me to dig in. I'm fueled to keep after the mission where I've taken responsibility.

I hope on my watch I'll be privy to a myriad of such pleasures as others use their gifts to glorify Jesus in the mission we've all been summoned to. One secret longing I have is, down the road, God will raise up spiritually stalwart individuals and couples in our midst to plant imagine/Brattleboro's, imagine/Portsmouth's, or imagine/Santa Fe's, or imagine/Asheville's, or even imagine/Prague's. Maybe God's opening us to help Native Americans (a largely forgotten people to most of us), would lead to an indigenous imagine/Pine Ridge or imagine/Tesuque. I don't know, but God does. Wouldn't it be amazing to see people get involved in those pursuits helping people discover the God who is more than they imagined because a thought and conversation took place in Simsbury almost 4 years ago?

What an unexpected pleasure that would be to me!

I hope to live to see it.

Please Lord.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sometimes the Insensitivity and Selfishness Wins the Moment.

I had a God-sent opportunity that turned into a Kit-failure last Tuesday morning. To be honest, I've been a little "haunted" by it since.

If you live in these parts you remember well Tuesday being the prelude day to the big snowstorm. About mid-morning, the temperature was decidedly cold and the wind was blowing a bit making it feel colder.

As is our practice, Tiger, our elderly dog, and I had trudged down the stairs from our apartment so he could relieve himself. Frankly, I was not in the best of moods being irritated by some such annoyance I don't now remember.  So I wanted to get the entire deal over with quickly and head back into the building. Almost immediately outside the door and heading to the tree where Tiger does his business during the day, I was aware of someone to my left near the bench across from GoBerry's. Mind you, there are always people walking up and down the street at that time of day so I'm generally aware of them as they walk right past me so they don't stumble over Tiger as walk outside the door.

My awareness of this person felt different. As Tiger was sniffing about and taking his sweet time, I looked to my left and noticed him. He was standing alone. Right away he didn't fit the conditions. He was wearing a light cap, and a very thin, gray jacket suitable for much warmer weather. It was open. His pants where old and thin, but not dirty. This man was not unkempt at all. He had no gloves.  He was holding a medium-sized cup I took to be coffee or tea given the coldness. For some reason it felt to me he might be waiting for someone.

Most importantly, his middle-aged face was mottled red, and he was visibly shivering, almost shaking. It was striking how out of place and in distress he looked - the inadequate way he was dressed and how he was  acting telegraphed the need for a kind response.

Here's where I think I failed miserably:

As I turned and looked at him briefly, he caught my eye. He looked tentative as if wanting to ask me something or talk to me. As soon as I felt that, I looked away quickly. I wanted nothing to do with him. I just wanted to get back in the building. After a half-minute perhaps, I looked again briefly, and he was starting to move toward me, but uncertainly, then he turned back. He was acting like so many who are out on the streets. If they can catch your eye they will make an ask almost always for money. I know the routine well and have responded many times.

I stopped looking at him, letting him know clearly I wasn't interested in engaging. As I did so, I felt a stab of shame, but resolutely turned back toward the building with Tiger who was finished. As we headed up the stairs remorse went to work and I remembered we still had two Christmas Giveaway bags for men with gloves, warm socks, and  a scarf among other things. I also thought I'd give him my jacket if he'd take it. I retrieved the bag and quickly headed back downstairs, Out the door I looked for him, but he was nowhere to be found.

I felt genuine sadness and regret. I missed an opportunity to share the love and concern of God with someone who looked clearly to be needing help. I was saddened as well by my selfishness and the insensitivity it reinforced in me.

Now perhaps you could say, "Well, maybe he was just waiting for his wife to come out of the office building,and had dashed out of the car for just a minute to meet her." Sure, that's possible, but the clear sense I had was he needed help. It was his tentativeness, and the way he moved toward me and backed off when I shut him down which said otherwise. Almost immediately as I headed back upstairs I realized God had granted me an opportunity and I just said, "No, not now." Even though I changed my mind the opportunity was gone.

It's happened a few times before out on the street. I've noticed God sometimes wants me to respond immediately when the Holy Spirit prompts. If I hesitate, the opportunity evaporates.

Clearly, I'm still in deep need of learning the radical freedom of what it means to serve at my King's  pleasure. My heart is not fully surrendered, I'm afraid. Insensitivity and selfishness still exert a guerrilla lordship over parts of it. Jesus needs destroy its subverting influence. I know I"ll never be perfected on this terrestrial ball, but I desire greater loyalty to Jesus and what he loves. Tuesday was a gift revealing that in the redemptive struggle of which I'm a part sometimes the insensitivity and selfishness in me wins the moment. The greater and most comforting reality when I fail to follow obediently is that, "he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, "(Php. 1:6) and in the daily working out of my salvation, "it is God who works in [me] to will and to act according to his good purpose." (Php. 2:12-3)

Turn my heart, O Lord,
Make it ever new.
Turn my heart, O Lord,
may I be like you.

Friday, January 14, 2011

God Punched a Hole in the Fabric

A few days before Christmas, as I recollect, I was sitting either in my office or in our crib upstairs when a picture popped into my head. The location of the image was Northampton. Overhead was something like a dark, heavy "fabric," almost vinyl in nature. I immediately took it to mean a spiritual blockade or stronghold of some kind. In the fabric a hole had been punched - similar to the picture above - and a brilliant shaft of light was steaming through.

At the same time as I saw the mental image, I had a clear, persisting sense that God had punched a hole through it and a shift had occurred. I took it to mean the darkness had been penetrated and thus, imagine/Northampton and all who bore Christ's name here would begin to see fruit from our labors, especially regarding changed lives, people opening to Jesus and joining our work. Remarkable was the quiet assurance of, "The fact of the matter is a Kingdom shift has taken place and God has breached the resistance." Things will begin to be different.

Now you need to know, I'm not often privy to this sort of thing. I tend to be cautious about triumphalist pronouncements from dreams, visions, senses and feelings. I do not deny God will and does communicate this way, but I've seen people bellow declarations with great fervor that never seem to materialize. So I take such stuff with a grain of salt without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I err on the side of caution, I guess.

I know our longing for the immediate victory of God over troubling predicaments or horrific occurrences can be extremely powerful. We want to see his Kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We long for relief, justice and freedom, and for it to be set to rights. My prayers have, indeed,  been more fervent since I moved to the Paradise City. There is a "how long" element to them for sure.

Be that as it may, the image I saw and sense I experienced will remain with me for a while. I'll look for evidence and celebrate God's goodness if and when it confirms the picture. I will encourage others to do the same.

Recently, I've mentioned my experience to a few others and curiously enough they've confirmed having a similar sense. In one instance, the person initiated the topic before I said anything.

So have you experienced something like what I did in the last few months? Does it seem God is taking initiative to bless your faithful efforts to bring him glory in a new way?

I'd love to hear about it.

I think it well to end with since I became a Jesus-follower in 1972 the present days do seem a portend of the end of the Age in a way I've not been aware. I'm a student of history so I'm fully aware the world has gone through other turbulent periods when people felt the end of was near. I don't know it's near. Nor am I jumping to facile conclusions . . . just noticing and praying in different way. Trying to stay vigilant and "read the signs of the times," so I'm not caught unawares.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What Does 2011 Hold For imagine/Northampton?

As everyone on the planet, imagine/Northampton just entered through the New Year's portal into 2011. We've been attending to this church planting mission since the summer of 2008, almost two and a half years. It's been a memorable ride for all sorts of reasons; some of them wonderful and others very unpleasant. Not much of what I've experienced has been what I expected when we drove out of the long driveway of the Center For Renewal in Simsbury and headed north.

In the pre-dawn of this fresh January day, the thought popped into my head: "I wonder what 2011 holds for imagine/northampton?" I'd been looking to return to writing this blog and voilĂ  I had an idea for my first post.

Questions surfaced:
  • What will God do in our midst for his glory?
  • Will he add to our numbers?
  • Will he change our mission or direction?
  • Will he establish our work with the people on the street?
  • Will he bring a gifted, creative, "out-of-the-box" thinking worship leader?
  • Will he create relationships with people in town we did not expect?
  • Will he expand our borders and influence?
  • How will he use us in the arts community here?
  • Will he bring the people and gifts we need to move forward?
  • What surprises will he bring;what challenges and problems will he allow?

In short, I think God desires imagine/Northampton to be faithful: to love him more freely and affectionately, to love others with wise abandon, and to go wherever he sends us incarnating the love of Christ to people who can't see him or don't want to.
    I also thought about what do I hope for imagine/Northampton in 2011? I hope:

    God adds to our numbers with folks who have a strong desire to be about the Kingdom, not merely find a church that better fits their wants or has more spiritual "stuff" for them.

    He will relieve the financial strain we and other members of our team have labored under since coming here.

    Abba keeps all of the imagineers safe from harm, including all the kids.

    The Holy Spirit deepens our passion for Jesus and for what he loves most in this place and beyond. I hope all of us at imagine grow far into helping people discover the God who is more than they imagine.

    God helps us all live more and more from a sacrificial love, a hunger to serve the least of his brethren, and be able to shun the basest or most self-serving of our culture's lusts and idolatries even if they appear innocent on the surface.

    Jesus opens the way for some of us who are ready to serve this year in another part of the country or the world so we begin to learn how God wants us to bring hope and a future to people living another life experience.

    The Holy Spirit would open a way for folks we've praying for to move here and become imagineers.

    God grants mercy to Mark, Steve, Pyro, Walter and Ben that they would come to know and follow him this year.

    He would re-form a gifted and skilled worship team for us.

    He would bring a few gifted folks to our Leadership Team.

    He would grant Tricia and I more time/resources to rest or take leave for needed refreshment

    God will help us accomplish what he's established for imagine/Northampton; we would miss nothing he has summoned us to do this year.

    Father, may the hopes on my list and what I've failed to include reflect your heart, and be our fervent occupation in 2010. Make it so for your singular glory in and through each of us!