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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Experiencing Communitas.

Last night at imagine's inward/Outward Missional Formation Cohort, we began a conversation around what it means to experience communitas together. According to Alan Hirsch in The Forgotten Ways:

"...communitas describe[s] the dynamic of the Christian community inspired to overcome their instincts to huddle...and instead to form themselves around a common mission that calls them into a dangerous journey to unknown places--a mission that calls the church to shake off its collective securities and to plunge into the world of action where its members experience disorientation and marginalization, but also where they encounter God and one another in a new way."

Michael Frost in Exiles writes:

" a community infused with a grand sense of purpose, one that lies outside its internal reality and constitution. It's the kind of community that "happens" to people in actual pursuit of a common vision of what could be. It involves movement and it describes the experience of togetherness that only really happens among a group of people actually engaging in a mission outside itself."

Our discussion moved around what people experience in trying to be missional and helping others open to Christ. It was a good beginning. After everyone had left and I was reflecting on our conversation, the thought struck me that church for most people does not expose them to the depth and richness of communal experience formed around the challenging adventure of Kingdom mission, and how it forges a deep, shared identity, especially when the going is tough.

Many Christians have experienced small group fellowship where the support and relational interplay were rewarding and meaningful, but not particularly embodying a "grand sense of purpose."  Some have been involved in invigorating church-related projects. Others have been on Mission's trips that were profound, and opened them to the possibility of radical discipleship. But, for most, most of the time, church became rather quickly predictable, and routine, not the "pursuit of a common vision of what could be.". I've known very few Christians who's following of Jesus often involved, "a common mission that calls then into a dangerous journey to unknown places," or where they were "plunge[d] into the world of action where its members experience disorientation and marginalization, but also where they encounter God and one another in a new way."

Sadly, Church can end up being a heart-deadening institutional, programmatic obligation with little expectation of adventure or a vision worth dying for. If you don't believe me ask the Christian men you know how much Church inspires them to repeatedly follow Christ into the mess of people's lives or the pain of the world. Or, people settle for a satisfying experience far less than God invites them to join him in because they have an ample supply spiritual goods and services which keep them occupied: the worship is great, the preaching is edifying, the kids have a great children's ministry; there is all kinds of opportunity for Bible study, volunteering and fellowship. Church life is good.

Because communitas has been so little experienced, I think it feels utterly foreign to people, even unrealistic. I get a sense that most of us have little to relate to in the term because church we've lived has not been communitas. It also became very clear that "normal" life was hard enough, and people needed seasons of healing before they could even consider a more adventurous Christian way. That's not to be overlooked...a wounded heart needs ample time to heal and restore. But when it does, will the church inspire people to anything more than easy-does-it, American Christendom, and with a little sin management thrown in?

Where's the opportunity to live an heroic life together; one reflecting the unparalleled greatness and beauty of the Messiah we say we follow and serve. Where's the ennobling task which elevates the heart beyond safety and security? Who's offering the sustained opportunity to really live and die in the rigorous service of the Gospel and the Kingdom reign of God? Where's the compelling STORY which ignites passion and a do-whatever-it-takes communal ethos?

I have to say I long for, and have longed for since I was a teenager, this kind of authentic, give-it-all-you-got for-a-cause-which-elevates-the-human-spirit-and-reflects-the-heart-of-God focus. I also have to say I've only experienced glimmers of it, but I've truly tasted it, and want much more before my last breath.

I believe imagine/Northampton has the best shot God has offered me to realize Kingdom communitas around the most important mission in the universe: helping people discover and follow the God who is more than they imagine.The imagine/Northampton people I serve with are growing hearts for this Kingdom mission. They are serious about following Jesus this way.

I love that! It inspires me. As long as I have a say in it, we're gonna keep heading in this direction.

What about you?

Friday, March 9, 2012

12 Markers You're Growing in Intimacy With God.

1.   You have found the freedom to call the Father “Abba,” with a simple warmth and affection. He has become more than a distant Creator and Sustainer; a stern taskmaster, who except for what Jesus did on the cross in your place, is pretty much ticked with, or disappointed by you most of the time.
2.   You're growing comfortable with the thought that God is deeply fond of you, especially with "somebody like you" who is too much this, and not enough that; who still struggles with sin, and sees so much left in your life to clean-up.
3.   You realize you see time alone with Jesus as the best part of the day, and want more. You've come to value the oasis of quiet, peace, prayer and learning; it is life-giving and sustaining.
4.   You recognize you are gradually noticing His presence in the course of a normal day. It's mostly subtle: a gracious response from someone, a problem-solved, a spiritual opportunity you'd not seen before, freedom where there was hesitation , a sense of being loved and accepted.
5.   You're hearing Him speak to you in your heart and through others. You are becoming able to distinguish the "still, small voice" of the Spirit, from your thoughts, or the sly lies and insinuations of the adversary. Listening prayer has become a valued way of connecting to God in your life.
6.   Worship has a growing importance and meaning to you. You've come to know worship as a way of life - presenting yourself to God for his use is a deep longing in your heart. Singing and praising God are a wonderland and joyous release.
7.   You are finding it easier to forgive people, and sooner. Something is softening and changing in your heart so "dropping the charges" against others is a prized spiritual discipline and practice of your will.
8.   You are more and more open to seeing people as treasures, and have a greater desire to love them, especially those who offend or repulse you.  Compassion, goodwill, and mercy are quietly taking root as your way of life.
9.  You want to know the Bible to come closer to Jesus. A hunger for truth revealing God's heart, will, and ways draws you to spend substantial time with the Scriptures.  A love for the beauty and wisdom of the Word takes a firm hold.
10. You find yourself enticed by God's mission to open others to the Gospel and His Kingdom here and now in the Church and also to come at the end of the Age. You are opening to see yourself as a missionary in your world, and it just feels necessary to do so.
11. You grieve over your sin, and are more open to gracious and prudent correction. You are learning to hate the sin that so easily deceives and entangles; and desire the freedom that comes from walking in the light as He is in the light
12. You've learned to laugh at your foibles and blind-spots without feeling humiliated or condemned. You've come to view your redeemed brokenness not as a hideous thing to hide away, but a door through which you can connect with others who are bruised, bent over and weighed down by their brokenness, so they might find healing and hope.

All of the above are the work of a grace-lavishing God who has set you free, is
setting you free, and will set you free completely. The list is not meant to be
exhaustive, but to be spiritual markers by which you can examine whether you are
growing in intimacy with God, busily treading water; or in fact, living comfortably 
quite far from his heart.

May they bring you wisdom, refreshment and liberty in your relationship with God,
and with those he situates your life.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Celebrating My Mentors and Companions Along the Way.

A few nights ago, I had a brief conversation with two great friends, who I consider to be two of the most tried and true servants of the Most High I've had the undeserved blessing of knowing in my life. Earlier my friend sent an email inquiring if we wanted to transfer our membership from Covenant Presbyterian Church in Simsbury to imagine/Northampton since, obviously, we'd planted the church, and were fully invested members (although we do not have a formal membership process at imagine, nor do we make the distinction between members and non-members).

After we hung up, I got to thinking how important was my time at The Barn (CPC's nickname for decades, as it was planted on a dairy farm in the 60's) in my spiritual formation. I was truly equipped there over 20+ years to do much of what I do today. More importantly, I think it is wise and good to acknowledge those key people God sends into our lives to form us for the work to which he summons us. I have been rich man in that regard. Spiritual mentors and companions make us able to become the grace of God to others. Without them we'd spend most of our lives as spiritual spectators, consumers and infants.

I need to say also I know I will probably miss some folks as I list people. I regret that more than you might realize, but find solace in knowing God knows who they are and smiles. So do I -- the smiling , that is.

So here goes:

1. My fascinating, lion-hearted wife, Tricia: I wrote earlier in this blog about the beautiful treasure she is to me, but I must acknowledge she was the very first person who told me about relationship with Jesus. Her love for him was palpable and authentic. I'd never seen that before. I was intimidated, but intrigued. That was just the beginning. For the last 40 years, her gracious, steadfast example of love, courage, wisdom and tenacious faith has mentored me as no other in my life. Her faithful companionship has steeled my resolve to keep going when I was often ready to quit. She's given me exponentially more than I'll ever be able to repay (not that's she's ever expected me to). She's a Proverbs 31 wife and then some.

2. Our kids, Daniel, Eslie and Alyn: I have to confess I was not the greatest father in the world. I had a load of immaturity, all sorts fears (some crippling at times), blind-spots and selfish attitudes. God in his wisdom knowing I needed extra help, graced me with a woman who was, and is still, an extraordinarily passionate, dedicated and gifted mother (grandmother too). I was amazed at her resourcefulness and creativity with loving and teaching our kids. Our kids, each with their own personality and individual set of needs showed me how small-hearted I was. Wrestling with how to be a dad revealed soon into it how I lacked gentleness and wisdom and patience. I was self-absorbed, and although I know I tried to grow into the role, and I loved them, I was still a boy emotionally. As I've had the gift of watching them grow into talented and courageous adults who have, or are overcoming their own wounds, I've been grateful for God's faithfulness and kindness. They are becoming what any father longs for: people of substance who are striving for a life well-lived. Because of them, I had to grow up and learn how to love from out of my brokenness. They've enriched my life beyond what they realize.

3. Ralph Mattson: Tricia brought me to this brilliant teacher and mentor to countless men and women. He is one of a kind. When she introduced me to him, I was fascinated, because he knew and loved art; his intellect and wealth of understanding relating to human nature and all things Christian was astonishing to me. I'd never known anybody like him. He explained the Gospel one Saturday that tipped me into the Kingdom. Over the next 10 years, he'd keep extending his spiritual friendship by countless discussions over dinner about deep things. He gave me work to do when I was in transition (The Master's School, People Management and DOMA). He revealed, and affirmed my motivational gifts. He even gave me my first leadership role in a small group of Christians and artists - me, a leader??? He saw things in me I couldn't; essential spiritual foundations were set in place through him.

4. Father Earle Fox: In my mid-30's God decided it was the appointed time for me to receive life-changing inner healing.  Through a series of "coincidences," Father Fox came into my life and for a year, I was unbound from the effects of wounds which distorted how I understood my worth and power as a man. He was another brilliant man God summoned into my life to spiritually mentor me toward freedom. His manner was gentle, but resolute in helping unlock my heart. Afterwards, through his teaching, Earle set Tricia and I on a path to becoming counselors and Spiritual Directors. We experienced inner healing through him, received training, and have had the privilege of working along side of Jesus in unlocking hundreds of other hearts through inner healing.

5. Bob and Barbara Japenga: We met the Japenga's through a mutual friend when we first moved to CT, and reconnected later in a class we were teaching on Listening Prayer at The Barn. Soon, we realized we were kindred spirits regarding the Christian spiritual life especially, They are teachers, retreat leaders, spiritual directors and disciplers; people of prayer and service; mature leaders in the Church with a deep heart for Jesus and his flock. As long as I've known them, they've taught me much about grace, love, integrity,  service, kindness, and generosity of all sorts. They saw me at my weakest and worst, and loved me anyway. They've been faithful friends, ministry companions (CFR Retreat Ministry which they now ably lead) and prayer warriors. Bob and Barbara modeled the Christian life for me and I'm not the same because of their gracious hearts.

6. Reverend Don Haas: I met Don in a class on the Theology of Work I was team teaching at The Barn with a friend. I did not attend the church at the time. Don was in the class. After, we got to know each other and when it seemed right to the Holy and CPC, Tricia and I were invited to take leadership of the CFR Retreat Ministry. In the next 20 years, Don became a friend. He was on the Klesis Board (Klesis was our 501(c)3 ministry through which we did counseling to support ourselves). He would frequently call me into mediation meetings with congregants. He hired me and Tricia as part-time staff. He encouraged me to become an Elder on Session. He was always supportive of our ministry at The Barn; sometimes even defending what we were doing. Through Don, I learned what pastoral care looked like from the heart. He exuded grace, humility, dignity and a deep love for Christian intellectual integrity and truth. He was a man of principle. Pastor Don provided us with a place and the means to grow individually, and through the ministry of healing and spiritual formation God gave us. Without his vote of confidence years ago, I don't know that we'd be here in Northampton.

7. Jim LaMontagne: Jim and I met at The Barn as musicians on the Worship Team. We soon found we shared a mutual interest in creative music, especially that which is innovative - taking things to another level. We also would spend time talking about church in general. Both of us had a longing for something different; something which captured the heart of the Gospel and the Kingdom, especially for people loath to darken the door of a church. That led to conversations with others. A few months after that the Holy Spirit made it clear us, our spouses, and two other couples that we were to plant imagine in Northampton. We've been partners in ministry ever since. For me, Jim has modeled a passion for the Scriptures and skillfully teaching them to others in a way which is transforming. He's also serious about the missional way of following Jesus, and being creative in doing so. He's a true friend and brother who's walked through the imagine ups and downs with perseverance, faith and good humor.

8: Rick Schoenhardt: I've known Rick Schoenhardt since before our years at the BARN. With his wife, Lynne, he has taught me about diligence, faithfulness and duty to that which matters. Rick is one of those "man's men" to me. He's a gifted, creative and gentle man who also played rugby in his 50's. He loves Jesus and has devoted a good part of his life to serving, and being a leader in the church. Rick was always willing to help with what we were doing whether he was on the CFR Support Team, the Klesis Board, serving with Lynne on retreats or praying for us. He's a man of prayer. He was consistently generous with his time and resources. I had many opportunities to learn integrity, perseverance and strength with humility from Rick. When I grow up, I want to be like Rick.

9. All the Volunteers at The Center for Renewal: There have been so many. They showed up again and again; rolling up there sleeves, diving in to get the work done on countless retreats, workdays, events we created at church, meetings, dinners and conversations. They were cheerful, can-do people who believed in the ministry, had received its benefits and wanted to give back in some way. A few of them went well above and beyond the call of duty, and repeatedly. Their servant-hearts taught me the normal Christian life was a life of good-willed service without grumbling or expecting kudos. I learned how to serve from their quiet example, and how to be served, for that matter - something always hard for me. I also got to share companionship and camaraderie with salt-of-the-earth people who loved Jesus and showed it by diving in and helping out.

If you haven't before or recently, take a minute to remember those people God sent into your life to help you grow into the man or woman he intends, and thank him for his lavish love he's shown you through them.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Notes on the Human Heart Chronically Without Christ.

1. The human heart chronically without Christ is a fickle, restless and a voracious tyrant. It wants what it wants only as long as it wants it.

2. The human heart chronically without Christ is small because it serves a disastrously nearsighted master: self. Self is diseased to the degree it will eventually kill the heart's capacity to truly see and hold another person's heart as if it were it's own.

3. The human heart chronically without Christ plays endless, sometimes brilliantly subtle games to get others to feed it's lusts and treasured impulses.

4. The human heart chronically without Christ is cruel for it will subjugate other people to elevate itself and be glad it did, often hiding it's glee.

5. The human heart is chronically without Christ is deceitful to depths beyond knowing, habitually lying to itself and others to uphold the labyrinthine fantasies of fools.

6. The human heart chronically without Christ is never fully satisfied, so it is easily courted by users, posers, sycophants and flatterers - human or not.

7. The human heart chronically without Christ plays dangerous games in minefields littered with crushed dreams and shattered lives.

8. The human heart chronically without Christ sees Potemkin Villages as investment opportunities.

9. The human heart chronically without Christ can cherish any illusion which comforts it's own vanities, and celebrates its proud ego inflations.

10. The human heart chronically without Christ will be gradually hardened to the point where it's no longer human, and will never be again.

11. The human heart chronically without Christ might choose the way of death - whistling all the while or slowly accepting monstrosities as necessary.

12. The human heart chronically without Christ will most likely appear respectable, a model citizen, a "Hail fellow well-met," an agreeable, pleasant chap, but at it's core lives a parasite slowly eating.