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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

When You Get Buckled Over Do You Get Up And Give It A Go Again?

PERSEVERE: to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counter-influences, opposition, or discouragement.

ENDURE: to undergo (as a hardship) especially without giving in; to remain firm under suffering or misfortune without yielding

STEADFAST: firm in belief, determination, or adherence; firmly fixed in place.

James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

To give you a little perspective before I go any further, the three words above and their definitions aren't naturally friendly to me. I've had to learn to coexist with ADD. At times, I've been bewildered by its effects on my ability to concentrate, manage impulse, and stay the course with just about all of life's disciplines. Other times, I've found ways to ameliorate it's chaos; I've learned to manage (somewhat) my natural bent toward easy distraction. Perhaps it's more accurate to say I can recognize it (somewhat) and reign myself in (sometimes) when I'm flitting from one thing to the next. While ADD works well with my natural motivation to explore and go beyond,  it wreaks havoc in tasks requiring discipline and focus.

So when I look at the words persevere, endure, and steadfast, I don't recognize a natural habitat. These disciplines for the mature highlight a substantial measure of persisting toward a destination, gutting it out through rough seas, and walking resolutely under trials with fortitude, even joy. while carrying a heavy load.

While not natural to my ilk, they do intrigue me. They're of weight and substance, even gravitas, therefore of great worth.


Since coming to Northampton, I've certainly met "trials of various kinds." They come in all shapes and forms, and in varying intensities, including overwhelming, even frightening. Some I've never faced before until we moved here; others are just part of the territory if one is a Christ-follower. A few I still face and see no end in sight.

What I don't see very much in me are attitudes such as counting my training trials as "all joy." I have neither the maturity nor fortitude, nor the sense of perspective for that character quality. I'm not saying I'll never, because God won't leave or forsake me in the task of producing steadfastness, as I keep trying to embrace the cross I've been fitted to carry. Faith tested repeatedly is faith perfected and ready for a life crown, i'e., complete, with no deficit for those who love him.

But sometimes I have to ask myself if I love him enough to willingly endure my frequent and continual testing. Does he matter enough that I'll gladly withstand them with good cheer. I think I do, but I get discouraged and can book a pity party. Or, I'll let my old nemesis depression sit a spell with me. He likes to pin failure notes near my heart and dim hope's brightening gaze.

I do love Jesus, but I feel I've wasted the promise we came here with. I've let him down. I'm embarrassed, even ashamed sometimes. I get wilted when I survey the last 5 years. Much of our vision is undeveloped and can feel like a mirage to me. Yet, some lives have been changed. We've faced all sorts of resistance (demonic and human); some of it well-meaning (human), and some of it just plain mean-spirited (human and demonic). But alongside, some people have been healed and released to freedom. imagine/Northampton has become their community. More often these days than before, the burden and strain of our struggle can just buckle me over. Those are the times when I ask, "What's it all about Alfie?" Then, I remember my love for Jesus and the shining magnificence of his Gospel and Kingdom; the cost he paid for me and the world, and his ennobling call to follow him. I remain moved by that because I love him.

This morning I wrote a prayer request to imagine people committed to praying for all of us and I noted I'm weary spiritually, emotionally, relationally and physically. I haven't felt this way on all four counts very much, but it's true right now .It doesn't feel like I'm enduring well. There are discernible cracks in my steadfastness. Persevering looks a tall order. I'd like to have Paul's perspective of "light and momentary troubles" to settle into my heart. God'll have to do that. I'm just not there these days.

I imagine I'll "get up and give it a go again" until he says stop, or I just can't go another foot. Don't know if or when that will be. He does. I just need a breather and perhaps a sip of that joy James was writing about.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Single Day's Divine "Coincidences" Might Sometimes Point the Way.

Over the years Tricia and I have prayerwalked in Northampton as I've written about. It gives us the feel of grabbing hold of and connecting God's Kingdom values with the spiritual landscape of this unique, small city. I experience his Presence when I pray this way.

 Yesterday, I ran across a video of Tempe church planter Jay Moore. It's entitled Prayer Walking for Ordinary Christians Living Missional Lives: Naturally, I was interested in what he had to say. In it he addressed the key reality of spiritual warfare especially in the context of entering into enemy territory and asking him to reveal demonic presences and tear down strongholds which hold people captive.

Smack dab in the middle of watching the video I heard someone coming up the stairs. I put it on pause, got up and greeted Hilary (not her real name). She was very forthright and shook my hand with a grip stronger than many mens' I've shaken. Hillary is an artist. She's also had a tough life. She does pencil sketches, and wanted to invite me to a show she was a part of in Northampton next week in the hopes she could have one at our gallery. She admitted she was really excited by the drawings she'd done, especially those of the Hindu gods (when she said it my mind actually flashed to the imagine Art Gallery filled with portraits of Hindu deities...what?). Then she exclaimed, "They really saved my life!!!" Her voice was filled with passion and sincerity. She seemed nervous; our interaction lasted on a few minutes.

I told her I would go see her work and I will. But after, I wondered what was the chance that when I was looking at a video on prayerwalking and spiritual warfare that a woman would come into our gallery and praise the Hindu gods in her life? A divine "coincidence?" God pointing and saying: "See where I'm taking you?" I had one of those God moment feelings we all get from time to time. Something's up.

Then, it happened again last night.

I was at my Friday night post hosting the gallery when four folks came in, parents in their 60's with their daughter-in-law and son. The parents were visiting from Cleveland. They began to tour the gallery when mom knocked on my office door. She praised the gallery, mentioned it had this amazingly peaceful vibe (it does and I know why) and told me she was a therapist. She mentioned she was Jewish when I told her of the TWiNE exhibit we'll host in May. Some the weavers are Jewish, and one in particular, has a tapestry memorializing the Holocaust. Then, she asked me if I knew where there was a store where she could purchase statues of gods for a friend - there is. I asked if she meant "like Hindu gods," and she said "yes!" She also was aware we are a church with a gallery. I'd mentioned it to her when she asked why we were here. She thought it was cool. Her spirituality was characterized as a belief in the universe, God or "whatever" as she put it. We fit there somewhere.

For the second time in the day I was talking someone relating closely to other gods. They came to me because of the gallery. Again, I wondered what was the chance I'd have a conversation about other gods on the same day? Both women talked as though they had tapped into divine reality. It made them happy. I thought of deceit and strongholds destroying lives. You might think that a bit strong. I don't and I have no malice toward the people; I don't have hatred for the false gods, however. I see their handiwork.

Twenty minutes later, I was in the office when two women came into the gallery. I did not hear them actually walk through. They were very quiet. The music may have covered their presence. They knocked on my open office door to inquire about the gallery. They loved the space. I mentioned it was an expression of imagine/Northampton, a church. She responded, "I know, but what kind?" I told her we were Christians, followers of Christ, but not affiliated with any denomination. The imagine Art Gallery was our effort to connect with the arts community in Northampton. They thanked me again and left. Not sure what they were thinking.

While the third conversation didn't lead to a discussion of other gods, it was clear the Holy Spirit was inviting me to pray in a very specific way. Northampton has a plethora of spiritualities all welcome, while Christianity is tolerated best if it behaves. While they might seem benign on the surface they are demonic strongholds all dressed up, likely guided by deceiving angels of light. Some might think my view judgmental, but the Scriptures don't. The Kingdom of God in the Old and New Testaments presents YHWH and His Son, Jesus Christ, as warriors overcoming the demonic forces of great darkness and death by proclaiming the truth, setting the captives free, giving sight to the blind, battling injustice and oppression, healing the sick, and giving dignity to the wretched and despised of the earth; the voiceless, unwanted, marginalized and weak.

My day began with a video about how to pray for others that the Kingdom might come in a particular place, and ended with folks who do not know Christ, crossing our threshold and revealing opportunity.  

Therefore, my conclusion from yesterday is fourfold:

1. I need to pray with a more laser-beam sagacity about what God is revealing and confronting in this place with his tearing down and healing love. Divine love sears evil and consumes idols as if they're kindling. Discernment is paramount; without it we're nice, well-meaning people chasing our tails.

2. I mustn't fall into a sleepwalk with the imagine/Northampton routine I live. Church culture can easily become an end in and of itself, including our missional church culture. Efforts such the gallery, and the Open Table, the imagine Community Garden are in the right direction. There is more though...much more.

3. The spiritual people we meet here - there are many - are leery of us when they suspect we'll promote Christianity as the way, the truth, and the life if they get near us. And we must, but through the door of unbinding grace and love, the kind that demolishes fear because we live the courage of our liberty to love beyond first perceptions.

4. God must grant me the grace to struggle for a true manifestation of the Kingdom of the Almighty that will  break though illusion, evil and pretense in this historic place of awakening and quickening of the Spirit. Without it, I'll remain merely a clattering cymbal. Not good.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Eddie and His Early Morning Anger.

Early yesterday morning as I was a couple of minutes into my before sun-up constitutional, I stopped to mention something to "Eddie" who was having cigarette in front of Dunkin Donuts on Main Street. He's often there at that time to warm up, get coffee or food, and sometimes doze-off for a few minutes before business picks up.

Eddie is one of the street veterans who prefer being on the street no matter the weather. I've known him since we moved to Northampton. He's a tough guy; a man who worked the construction trades before life went awry. He's not an addict or a panhandler. He's highly opinionated, sarcastic at times, and he knows Jesus. I think he thinks most people are idiots all dressed up. He does go to church, referring to it as "My church." Eddie is always coherent, never psychotic or delusional.

Often I ,or Tricia and I will walk by and wave since he's planted at his same spot in Dunkin at the same time everyday. Tuesday, he was outside and I wanted to mention something to him. I knew I was taking a risk by so doing because he's an irascible cuss, and not easily swayed. His mind is set about much.

I began by asking how he was, and he reported he was fine. He'll let you know if he's not. After a little more small talk the thought occurred to me to mention The Open Table project we're working to launch. I was about a minute into explaining it and suggesting it might be something beneficial for him when he stopped me abruptly protesting vehemently that the reason he was on the street was only because of the injustice and betrayal of others against him. They put him there. he said he'd been a working guy who needed a job. He also said he did not want to participate in another church. I reassured him being the recipient of this ministry would not be a backdoor way of getting him to attend imagine/Northampton. He reiterated he had a church, and if they betrayed him he would abandon religion completely.

His voice was raising in agitation, almost righteous indignation. He now used words laced with expletives. I'd touched a nerve, but he was not out of control, just very angry. He said he needed no help from anyone, but God. God was the only one he'd trust. God had gotten him this far and it would be God who'd bring justice on those who ruined his life.God knew what he was having to endure, he just had to wait until God did something about it. He would hear no gentle questioning of mine of his theology. He never has in the years I've engaged him.

Our conversation lasted 4-5 minutes. I realized he had to have experienced some substantial injustice somewhere, sometime. He could've provoked it, but his life-upsetting was vividly real to him. He's also never changed his story. Standing before me was a man who believed he was holding fast to the principle that he'd never give in to what they'd done to him until it was set to right. I've heard his story before. There is authentic pain and loss to it, including job, family and integrity. My error was in assuming, given how the Open Table works, that he might be willing to try.

All I did was rile him up. I apologized, and he was gracious. He generally is to me and Tricia.

I felt a little rattled as I headed for the Smith College track. My takeaway was I need to get better at discerning who is ready to face life and change, and who just isn't. Sometimes my desire to help clouds my judgment. Genuine motives don't accurately predict fruitful outcomes.

Pray for Eddie. He's just a guy who is trying to live from the courage of his convictions, rightly or not. He's willing to stay the course until justice in his eyes is done, and he's been paying a steep price for holding the line. I respect that, but I'm saddened by what I still think is blinded stubbornness.

Just pray for him.

Monday, April 22, 2013

You Always Bring With You Where You Come From.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to bring the message at The Barn for their Sunday Worship services. I've not done that since 2008, or 2009 when we moved up here. More importantly, I was able to catch-up and reconnect with folks I'd not seen in a while. As I was speaking, and when I had the chance to talk with folks before and after each service, I experienced the always curious feeling of "we shared so much life together," in varying degrees of familiarity, closeness, and intensity. The kaleidoscope of relationships Tricia and I had there were quite complex, from the most spiritually intimate to just seeing one another at Sunday Service. Given the fact Tricia and I counseled many of these people, or led them on retreat, we also touched their lives deeply and they ours. Some were mentors. Some were partners in ministry. Some were folks we shared projects with, worked with on ministry teams, or leadership responsibilities together. Some were as close as family.

So, as I was thinking about it early this morning, I was playing with the reality that we always do bring with us where we came from. The experiences, struggles, sensibilities, conversations, prayers and accomplishments which flow from 20 years of living and working with many of the same folks remain with you. In such remaining, as you move into a new environment with a different culture, and differing sensibilities you find yourself bringing and mixing the past with the new present.

For instance, one of the sensibilities Tricia and I bring to imagine/Northampton is contemplative spirituality, especially, listening to God, learning to discern His Presence in daily life, or encouraging reflection on what it means to live in a spiritually intimate relationship with Jesus as a broken, but deeply loved and known disciple. We do it all the time, whether it's spiritual direction, the inward/OUTWARD Missional Formation Workshop and Cohort, or just in sharing life together.

Reality is, we learned or matured at The Barn much of what we do here. The church has always had a commitment to prayer. They are a praying people with many spiritually mature leaders who model and teach that to others. They had a retreat ministry before we came and took the helm. They assumed Jesus was alive and present with His people, so intimacy was (and still is) the normal Christian life. The Holy Spirit was a loving, teaching Presence to draw near. Even a large portion of the property is set up to facilitate a deeper spiritual life with Him who abides.

Life at The Barn was never lived perfectly, of course, but we were welcomed with our contemplative practices. Tricia had been listening to God and knew a profound intimacy with Jesus since she was a teenager. I learned later, and we learned together how to do Listening in Christ Retreats by being thrown into the deep end of the pool and just doing them as we were led by the Holy Spirit. Our spiritual sensibilities blended well with the spiritual culture of the Barn.

I wonder what my church planting experience would've been like for me had I not brought the way I live with Jesus to how I serve His Kingdom mission in Northampton? I'm rather sure I'd not be very attuned to how intimacy with Christ and the redemptive Kingdom mission the Church has been given are supposed to work together. I'd probably be more technique-oriented, more driven by a model than the Spirit in the moment. The fact I was so shaped by Christ, the relationships I had with His people at The Barn with their complementary Christian spirituality, and the spiritual ministry we were able to have there for 20 years planted in me a perspective which colors all my efforts here.

My environment, focus, and location changed for sure. I went from serene and pastoral (the church is called The Barn because it is housed on a 40 acre, dairy farm), to small-city urban and culturally diverse on Main Street. Nevertheless, I still bring with me where I came from. But having lived here for almost 5 years, I know I'm also acquiring sensibilities which are shaping my spiritual life with Jesus and the people now in my life. The experiences, struggles, sensibilities, conversations, prayers and accomplishments I'm living with folks now add to what I might bring if or when the next major chapter of my journey opens. It accumulates.

Perhaps I'm writing this because I noticed that even though almost 5 years had passed, yesterday I felt simply still connected with and a part of these folks, as if I just walked over from the Center For Renewal Retreat House. And I realize the people I'm now connected to in Northampton are influencing me in ways I might not be able to see or appreciate until I find myself in a new setting with more new folks. I'll "bring with me" the imagine/Northampton community, and others living in this unique place who intersected and shaped my life.

That's a lovely thought to me and I'll close with the following invitation:

Give yourself  a spiritual pause for the next few minutes, and ask Jesus to show you where the relationships and community you're living in now will be the "where you come from, " to bring to the other relationships or another community you might be  headed toward.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sometimes I just Wish Kingdom Would Come.

I wish there was less hatred these days. Vitriol burns and scars the heart.

I wish there was less bitterness these days. Acid never heals a wound.

I wish there was less jealousy these days. Humility is a gift.

I wish killing wasn't an increasing option for working out hard problems. Murder kills 8 year-olds just waiting for their dads to finish the race, turning young men into pariahs.

I wish people thought more deeply and were less influenced by self-absorbed political posturing, and inane partisan punditry. Those who know what it cost others for them to live free are not easily taken in by sound bites and vacuous celebrity.

I wish people thought more about what actually has substance - the deep and enduring ideas which make us human, even wise and loving. Minds left to wither becomes easily lured and controlled by lies.

I wish having a good time, getting wasted, and seeing how much sex you can have with as many people as possible wasn't such a civil religion. Where did real life go, the kind that honors, cherishes and protects the other?

I wish the Church (you and me) cared more for people wandering in the dark toward death than filling Sunday Worship with a kickin' band and amazing speakers. Picking up our crosses, dying deep to self, and following Jesus no matter the cost doesn't glitter very much.

I wish bombing the innocent was not seen as act of heroism anywhere in the world. Honorable bravery for a just cause never kills the weak and small.

I wish civility returned to our national discourse and everyday interchanges. Kind words heal and generous words build bridges. Wise words win a hearing. Listening well creates relationships.

I wish the pursuit of wealth was also a pursuit of helping others overcome their obstacles and make a life as well. Helping the least of Christ's brethren opens us to the heart of the Gospel and Kingdom.

I wish religious hatred withered because people reached across the table and began to really talk about what faith means to them and why. Learning to listen to the hearts of others seeking after God is a noble thing and an opening.

I wish those working to create division between races and cultures would see their blindness and be ashamed. There is a common humanity beating in the hearts of all people God has made.

I wish my children and grandchildren could live in a world where people turned their swords into plowshares and celebrated war no more. Peace on earth and good will toward all people ...

I wish for the day when all the crying eyes will have their tears dried, all broken hearts will be healed, everything will be set to right, and love annihilates hatred and death.

I wish the deceived young bomber who will not give himself up in Watertown right now will be spared find a Savior full of forgiveness, grace and mercy.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

ADDENDUM: Lest You Think From My Last Post We Play Fast and Loose With God's Call To Holiness.

Because we put so much emphasis on grace, and the freedom to work out brokenness and sin in the community of the broken and sinful deeply loved by God, some people might think we have a low view of holiness ... an "anything goes and it ain't nobody's business if it does" worldliness.

We don't.

We see being a Jesus-follower as a totality, all of one's life surrendered to him for his use and glory. In the process of learning to let go and trust him to be Lord over our lives: we stumble, get wounded, blow hot and cold, work through fears, losses and confusion; deal with the pain of our own and others sin, labor under life's pressures and stresses of work, family, and finances; struggle to live the spiritual disciplines with some semblance of  maturity, and pursue the missional life from the heart. All of us realize we wrestle with sin. Sometimes it can be serious.

It's just we don't have a "1 whopper-sin and you're out," rule. Christians are well-known by non-believers for "shooting their chronically wounded." Some can be very mean-spirited, but always with a smile. We deeply deplore legalism, and hyper-religious Pharisaism because spiritual pride can rot a church from the inside like cancer, all the while appearing proper. Christians can and do flirt all too easily with "I'd never do that," arrogance. Our gossip can be drenched with a blind self-righteousness more than we'd ever to admit. In some communities of faith, they've lost most of what it means to be a gracious, kind, compassionate and forgiving Church of Jesus Christ. They've become something unrecognizable as such.

You see, I've worked with the Christian wounded and spiritually abused for a long time. I've seen the fear, pain, sorrow, and bewilderment on the faces and in the hearts of folks who got viciously beat up and shunned by brethren who held their heads high while throwing stones. Many of the victims quit the church; some leave Christianity all together. They found themselves on the hurting side of hypocrisy and blindness.

The truth is imagine/Northampton is just  little band of "we're working on it" broken, but loved folks who seek to follow Jesus in his missional Kingdom work all around us. We've worked hard to create that atmosphere. It hasn't been easy, and we don't always get it right, but it's not from want of trying, and then trying again. As a result, people say there is a tangible feeling of love in our life together.

Man, I hope that never leaves.

Monday, April 8, 2013

We're a "New Agey" Church...Really?

You ever wonder how people come to the conclusions they do, and be so far off from what the reality is? I bet I've done it many times, and I know others have as well.

Well, recently one of the imagine gang told me a person they knew from another church wanted to know why he and his family were going to a "new agey" church? Apparently, in their minds we were not a true Christian church, but some sort of  counterfeit spiritual group. Or at least, we did not match what the person understood to be the hallmarks of a true Christian church. The person asking the question had never been to imagine from what I understand.

So, I got to thinking about what the term actually described when I was first exposed to it in the 60's, in contrast to what we actually believe at imagine/Northampton (BTW: our core beliefs are all on our website:; click on the "imagine doc" link in the column to the right of the page. I also have written about them throughout my blog.).

So what are the tenets of New Age spirituality? According to Wikipedia:

The New Age movement is a Western spiritual movement that developed in the second half of the 20th century. Its central precepts have been described as "drawing on both Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical traditions and infusing them with influences from self-help and motivational psychology, holistic health, parapsychology, consciousness research and quantum physics".[2] The term New Age refers to the coming astrological Age of Aquarius.[1]

The New Age aims to create "a spirituality without borders or confining dogmas" that is inclusive and pluralistic.[3] It holds to "a holistic worldview",[4] emphasizing that the Mind, Body and Spirit are interrelated[1] and that there is a form of monism and unity throughout the universe.[5] It attempts to create "a worldview that includes both science and spirituality"[6] and embraces a number of forms of mainstream science as well as other forms of science that are considered fringe.

The New Age movement includes elements of older spiritual and religious traditions ranging from Monotheism through Pantheism, Pandeism, Panentheism, and Polytheism combined with Science and Gaia philosophy; particularly Archaeoastronomy, Astronomy, Ecology, Environmentalism, the Gaia hypothesis, UFO religions, Psychology, and Physics.

New Age practices and philosophies sometimes draw inspiration from major world religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Chinese folk religion, Christianity, Hinduism, Sufism, Judaism (especially Kabbalah), Sikhism; with strong influences from East Asian religions, Esotericism, Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Idealism, Neopaganism, New Thought, Spiritualism, Theosophy, Universalism, and Wisdom tradition.[9]

 Nothing we practice or believe draws on "both Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical traditions," nor do we work to "create a spirituality without borders or confining dogmas that is inclusive and pluralistic."

In short, if you were to hang around us for a while you would hear us talk much about Jesus as Savior, Lord and Friend. There ar no other gods above him.You'd come to know we have a high view of the Christian Scriptures, the astounding miracle of the Cross and Resurrection, substitutionary atonement, salvation by grace through faith, not works; forgiveness and healing, freedom in Christ , the missional Kingdom of God with its call to a sacrificial life of love and service toward everyone in the name of Christ, including those who don't know him or are viewed as outcasts; the vivifying presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the disciple; spiritual intimacy with Christ, the spiritual gifts, the spiritual disciplines of prayer (listening, talking to God, interceding), worship as a way of life, biblical and theological study, and faith- borne acts of kindness, compassion, and care.

Of course, you'd see how much we value creativity, the arts, and human expression which tells the truth about the human condition. We see creativity and art as a profound gift of God. So we have the imagineGALLERY. It's a way we connect with Northampton, breaking down barriers and working to build relationships with folks who are wary of Christians. We also encourage creative expression in our worship to open hearts and minds to the breathtaking wonder of the Gospel and Creation. Some of the greatest works of art ever created over the centuries were acts of devotion by followers of Christ. We want to ignite that.

Our Sunday morning gatherings for worship are relaxed and welcoming on purpose. We pray and testify to God's goodness. We sing together, and listen to songs which reflect reality. We give people time to talk publicly about the goodness of God to build our faith and acknowledge his beauty, faithfulness and love. We hear teaching that is Scripturally sound, and aimed toward helping people drop their guard, know God, spiritually mature, and follow him well in the life he has called them to live. Our teaching is full of grace and truth. We want people to move away from what limits their wholeheartedness toward Christ, but opens them to the courageous freedom of living a life full of love, service and grace. We share communion, pray and hang out with each other in and out of the church.

While our liturgy may look bit different, it is centered in the reality of the Gospel and Christ's call to worship with the whole of the person;s time, talents and resources through the week.

Therefore, to be honest, I'm not sure what the person is talking about when thinking we are "new agey." I suspect he or she has jumped to conclusions with no first-hand experience or evidence beyond hearsay. We all do it. But in this case, I bet this person might be quite embarrassed ti know how wrong he or she is when it comes to imagine/Northampton.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Faith Married to Will Stubbornly Says "Yes" in a World Crammed Full of "No"

 I've been thinking about faith often these days. Life leaves me doing so.

Some of it has to do with the unrelenting pressures and stresses we always face here. Some of it comes from noticing how I respond when I'm put to the test as to whether I will trust and believe we matter to God no matter the circumstances, gains or losses.

Here's some realities I've come to understand almost 5 years into this imagine/Northampton adventure:

1. Faith without a steely will to faith is a vapid and limp impostor.  Having faith as a religious gesture or duty has no more import than dressing up for church. The will to faith begins the knowing what faith actually is, how it works and what it does in the real world. A sanctified will extends the reach of faith.

2. Faith must be stretched to the breaking point before we really understand its power. To hang in believing anyway reveals the role of the will in choosing despite being at the precipice one step from falling. Willing to faith reveals it's potential for tenacity and courage. Both are very near to the heart of faith's essence.

3. Choosing to believe when the desert stretches as far as the eye can see, or when when a terrifying disaster looms, or when the storm won't abate, initiates all who get there into a freedom only gained by extreme testing. Without it, we can let our faith cool unawares, and assume things are fine and will remain as such. 

4. The will to faith unleashes a drive to pray with persisting fervor, and teaches the prayer how to pray from the deep heart. It's called supplication and it gets down to the bone. So much prayer can fall into routine and perfunctory listing things for God until something really needs to happen. Because there is pain or much riding on God's response, we choose to hold onto to him until he sends help or gives a definitive "Not this time." The will is locked like a laser and faith holds the line in step.

5. Faith aligned with a will committed to believing God is really God comes to know him who is worthy of seeking wholeheartedly even when life calms down or smooths out. I suspect what results from the will freely, intentionally allying with faith leads to a person taking on the active identity of a follower of Christ, a disciple on the Kingdom mission assigned to him or her. Volition and belief stir the heart to step it up in picking up our cross, dying to self and going into the mess with our Lord and King. The intensity of faith and will focused opens a door.

6. An engaged will turned toward Christ animates faith beyond being a spiritual position of a person being saved. Yes, we are saved through faith by grace, but that's just the first act of a life turning toward the things of God and away from the things of the passing-away world. It's admission into the fray. By faith, the will begins to see the truth and has a choice to follow or stand in place hoping for blessings, but light difficulties. When the will turns toward Christ and does not look back faith becomes a shield and a weapon. The person is activated to make a real difference with the whole of his or her life, not be a spiritual consumer and feckless spectator. The Kingdom has come and it beckons now.

7. Intimacy with Christ becomes an increasing possibility because faith perceives him ever clearer as it seeks to know his heart and take on his ways. Intimacy with Christ becomes a passion when the will desires to go far into life with him and what he is doing today. Faith apprehends his beauty; the will chooses to align with the example of his servant nature. Faith apprehends and trusts his goodness; the will responds by choosing to believe and act from that trust even if the way forward appears obscured. Faith apprehends Christ is God; the will assents and seeks to make it known in a world gone blind and deaf. 

The truth is: is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (He.11:1) And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (He.11:6) Faith married to will moves mountains, pushes back the darkness, and stubbornly says yes in a world full of no.