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Monday, June 13, 2011

Putting Fresh Meat on imagine/Northampton's Byline.

A few years back when imagine was still a hope and a dream, we settled on the following byline to capture the spirit of our vision and mission:

Helping People Discover the God Who Is Far More Than They Imagine. 

As with any byline, it can tend to get threadbare and lose meaning with overuse, so I thought I'd do some refreshing. I think our statement of desire is filled with rich meaning and wonderful implications if you look at it closely.

1. Helping: Properly translated in imaginese helping really refers to drawing alongside of someone to build an authentic, mutually meaningful relationship where opportunity for heart-to-heart conversation gradually can become part of the fabric. Through earnest loving and serving a person, a person might give you the chance to explain the "hope that is in" you because of what Jesus has done, and who he really is. Thus, helping in this way is more than merely evangelizing, winning souls, or "sharing our testimony." It's rather more like "because I genuinely love you, and have shown it in a way you've come to trust, may I open you to what has brought such life, healing, or (you fill in the blank) to me? Telling your Jesus story (1Peter 3:15) then becomes giving your greatest treasure to someone who really matters to you. If they choose to explore, then it is also our privileged responsibility to lovingly help them through whatever wrestling may take place for however long it takes.

BTW: I hope it goes without saying that even if they say "thanks, but no thanks," you stay being their friend.

2. People: That means everyone regardless of prior belief, age, race/ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, culture, or even where they fall on the dreaded Yankee/Red Sox divide. Every person bears the image of God and is more than worthy of we loving and serving them, even if they function as an enemy or irritant to us. People are the focus of our helping, especially those God has put in our midst, and in whom he is already at work. Being gracious to all should be the "way we roll." This gets interesting when God wants us to start relating to folks far different from us. We can feel uncomfortable even anxious, but God wants us to learn how to love and serve them in spite of initial awkwardness or substantial unfamiliarity. They may never respond, but not for lack of our being willing.

3. Discover: (def: bringing to light something previously unknown.) If we do the work God has given imagine we will help people become aware of the God we've come to know and follow. While it is his work and his alone to change a heart or regenerate a person, it's our task to do everything we can in helping someone apprehend the possibility of him, to perhaps perceive who he is intuitively, or grasp intellectually the ontological reality of such a God. To do that we must listen well, both to the Holy Spirit and the person. We must be gracious, humble and patient, always looking for creative ways to help people make a connection with Jesus without being ham-fisted or argumentative. We need to prove nothing. He will make his case in their hearts. We merely make the effort to help them see him through our story, and how try to we live. We ultimately desire discovery to be "come and see," but it must never be forced, scripted or manipulated. 

I'm also assuming we should spend substantial time praying for the person(s) God has led us to. We will be entreating the Father to draw this person to the Son (John 6:44) Prayer opens the way. It is a mysterious and powerful interaction with God which brings the life of the Kingdom into our present reality.

4. The God Who Is: At imagine, we understand this God as the singularly Most High God of the Old and New Testaments. In the OT, he is known as Yahweh Elohim, the all-powerful "I Am That I Am, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the NT, he is known as the Trinitarian Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is seen as the Messiah, King of Kings and Lord of Lords who "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men." (John 1:1-4) Our God who is, according to John, is "the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son  from the Father, full of grace and truth. It is him we follow, serve and work to help others discover with the guidance of the Holy Spirit in us. It is through this Most High God Who became flesh and dwelt among the first believers, by his Most High God Who became flesh and dwells by His Spirit among us, and for this Most High God in Whom we live and move and have our being such that imagine/Northampton exists at all.

He is our beginning and our end, our sine qua non and highest aspiration.

5. Far More Than: This Creator and Redeemer God cannot be contained in our conception of him. The only reason anyone in this world comes to know him whatsoever is because he reveals it to them. Our minds cannot fully apprehend his glory, majesty, beauty, or power. And yet, because Jesus became one of us, through the Holy Spirit we can come to know him, and thus receiving his love and forgiveness. Nonetheless, he cannot be contained in a book or a painting or a theology or a mystical experience. Nothing we can experience or apprehend through our mind or senses can move past scratching the surface of who he is on this side of heaven. We have nothing to compare him to beyond the glimpses he has gives through his Spirit. At imagine, we want people who follow gods of this world or no god at all to journey toward this God with us, and experience being loved by him who fashioned them and put his image on them.

6. They Imagine: [from Latin imāginārī to fancy, picture mentally, from imāgō likeness] In our mission to help people discover him we want them to freshly imagine and wonder toward, dream about, create, and enflesh the Kingdom of this God who frees, heals and restores people to life. His Kingdom contains the way of true life and liberty because it's animated by unexpected grace and love. It upholds values like humility, goodness, gentleness, kindness and compassion. This Kingdom teaches a way of life counter-intuitive to what most people have come to accept as "the way it is" in our culture.

We also want to "see" what could be because of Jesus and his Kingdom. We want redemptive "what-if''s" to spill from hearts full of courage (enheartenment) to see good things come to be: enlivening and healing things, refreshing and soul-liberating things for so many bent over by the tremendous weight of their lives. We want God to stretch our imaginations so we can "come and see" well-past where we could imagine when we first came to Northampton.

A byline which animates the spirit and heart of a people carries within it the seeds of new life which can multiply way beyond their small beginnings because it has the potential to manifest remarkably what God wants from his summoning them in the first place.

May the same be said of ours...

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Simple Obedience at Steve's "Kiosk."

This morning I was up early descending the 3 flights of stairs from our apartment and heading out onto the street for an early morning walk. As I came out the front door, I looked to my left and saw Steve setting up what he slyly with a wink and smile calls his "kiosk," his normal spot to spend the day waiting for the financial kindness of strangers to fill his can.

He didn't see me, but I thought I'd catch him on the way back. For some curious reason, as I was walking to deposit garbage where we do, I remembered a conversation I'd had yesterday with Sherry, a homeless woman we've known for a year. She was standing in for Steve at his "kiosk" so he could attend to the bathroom or get something to eat. Almost immediately, as I recalled talking to her, I heard God say I should offer to "stand in" so Steve can take a break if he needed to. It seemed like a wonderful way to bless him - one I'd not thought of. He would not expect it.

Well wouldn't you know it, just as I headed up Pleasant Street retuning from my garbage run, there was Steve lighting up a used smoke 15 yards ahead of me. I greeted him and asked how he was doing. He told me he was in search of a can. Voila! That was my cue, so I asked him if he needed anyone to watch his stuff while he searched. His face lit up with a smile and asked "Really?" I said, "Yup!" He was delighted. Off he went and off I went.

I walked up to his spot in front of CVS on Main Street and immediately felt self-conscious, a sort of "What do I think I'm doing here?" I don't look homeless. Will people who are used to seeing Steve there - he's kind of a fixture- wonder what the heck I'm doing? So, I just stood sheepishly next to his stuff. God said, "Step right into where he usually stands." I hesitated liked a nimnul, inched half way in (seriously), and then the rest. Even though there was hardly anyone out and about, I still felt self-conscious. A few people were going into Brueggher's and CVS. They didn't seemed too concerned.  

Really??? I don't stand out like a sore thumb?

The thing is, in this simple way I was breaking new ground personally. So much of what God has been up to  in my life with him since moving up here has been about pushing me past my comfort. When I was living in CT, I never could've imagined me doing even such a simple gesture of kindness as watching a homeless man's gear for a few moments, but there I was. He's not thrown me into the deep end of the missional pool yet, but he might on of these days if I'm faithful in little things like what I did this morning, the hesitating and sheepishness notwithstanding.

Steve returned shortly and thanked me profusely. He's a kindhearted and humble man as I mentioned last month. He's one of the men I've been praying John 6:44 over. I went and got him a coffee, said goodbye, and headed out for my walk.

I was really tickled God had spoken to me and then provided immediately the opportunity to respond. I know it's a very small gesture of grace, but for me it represents progress in the direction I want to keep heading and never look back. I want to get better at obeying when God says to act in the moment, especially when it has something to do with showing forth the love of Jesus to his broken or forgotten ones.

My spirits were buoyant as I left him. I had a prayerwalk the likes of which I've not had in a while. My heart entreated the Father to open the Kingdom to Northampton. I prayed hard for everyone of imagine's people, all my family members, and the three men I'm asking the Father to draw to the Son. I was more focused and fervent than I've been in weeks. I don't know exactly, but obeying seemed to loosen something in me.

Perhaps a simple, unexpected obedience cracked open the door.