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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Plastic Bag Full Of Winter Caps From A Generous Capmaker.

Ten days ago today as Tricia and I were returning in the afternoon from a day-off outing, we came up the stairs to the second-floor landing and there leaning against our office door was a large, white garbage bag stuffed to the full with what looked like clothing. Recently someone in our church had generously given a large amount of clothing to a homeless women we know and help. Those clothes were in a large garbage bag. When I saw another bag, I thought, "oh man, where are we going to put it?" We have very little storage space.

But when we took a look at the contents, they turned out to be all hand-knit, brightly colored winter caps! When I saw them, my mind turned quickly to a group of wonderful women at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Enfield, CT who've blessed us with well-made and brightly-colored knit caps and scarves for the last couple of years. So I contacted Kathy, the contact person, and asked if they did this lovely thing? She wrote back and said it wasn't them, but a friend of a friend who'd blessed us with such loving bounty.

I have to say, we were moved by the thoughtfulness of a stranger. Although I don't know how it all came about, this person felt it important to help clothe the homeless and poor in our town. Maybe she does this sort of thing as a ministry. Maybe someone in the knitting group at Calvary mentioned imagine/Northampton and she was moved by God to give her gift. The reason is not important. Her generosity and skill blessed our Monday, and reminded us of the love Christians give anonymously, and without fanfare.

So last Sunday I had the bag upfront as I was giving announcements at the end of our gathering. I told the story and asked the folks there to sign a card of gratitude to the generous capmaker. I wanted her to know we remember, and are filled with delight for her gift. Our gratitude hits also close to home. One of our regulars lives on the street with her adult son. She proudly and gratefully wears one as the days and nights are turning the corner toward fall and winter.

In December, we'll hand them out when we do our annual Christmas Gift Bag Giveaway to the street folks. I imagine we'll likely give away a few before as we're made aware of the need. It will be our pleasure and privilege.

So thank you capmaker!

Thank you Jesus for creating folks who give without big to-do's being made over what they've donated.

Thank you Giver of all good gifts that we get to deliver such blessing to others.

If you think of it, pray an unexpected blessing today on this thoughtful woman. May all who are like her around the world thrive in the exquisite freedom of generosity.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Talking On Our Corner To A Young Man With a Cause.

If you come into Northampton fairly regularly, you've noticed various folks handing out flyers for all sorts of causes and events, or with clipboards in hand asking if they can have a "minute of your time." For the last number of months, Planned Parenthood volunteers have been doing that very thing.

They're usually young, friendly, trained in how to have such a conversation, and supportive of the cause they're representing. I've never heard one get into an argument with anyone while engaging the person. Their purpose is not to debate; it's to get support for the cause.

On Sunday after church, I ventured out to help Tricia carry her bags to the car so she could spend an overnight in Farmington caring for her mother. As I walked out our front door a young man in front of the light post on the corner asked if he could talk to me about something? I said, in passing him, I wasn't interested and went to the car. I did make brief eye contact though.

When I returned shortly after, we looked at each other, and he asked in a pleasant way how I was doing? I said I was well and returned the question. He was well also. Then, he asked if he could talk with me. I walked toward him and he asked if I knew of Planned Parenthood. I asked for his name and he told me. I told him mine and shook his hand.

Almost immediately, I said I don't support the work of Planned Parenthood, especially when it involves abortion. I explained I'd never supported it even in the 60's when I first became aware of it. He quickly responded something like, with all the unwanted pregnancies of young girls, couldn't I see that it helped them before they were ready to be a mother. I said with no rancor, I'm a follower of Jesus and because I am, I see every person as having a soul loved by God, including the unborn child. God loves them. They, and then I looked him in the eye, and you, have more value to him than any of us can imagine. So, I could never support the aborting of these children.

I added, I know you believe in what you're representing, but I just as much believe what I hold to be true. With that we looked at other. He smiled and nodded. We shook hands and I went back into the building.
By the way, no voices were raised.

I write about this because, it has been many, many years since I would say something like that publicly. I'm an introvert tending to listen to others in public and only ask simple questions, if I know them. But on my early morning prayerwalks I've been asking God to speak healing into those parts of me which irrationally hold back my voice, especially in public situations as I encountered. And he's gradually doing it! It's amazing to me.

Along with slowly healing my voice, I want, and are praying for a gracious, gentle fierceness to open the Gospel to people who don't "see" Jesus. That's what I came for, but its been a struggle which seems to be loosening its hold on me because of God's grace and healing. I want to engage more questions of faith and life with strangers and friends who don't profess Christ. Such conversations are life and truth.

I recently read of someone who was not a Christian complain about Christians that if they really believed what Jesus said, who he was, and what he did, they would courageously and sacrificially live their lives publicly as if it was true and not be silent about it with anyone. The opposite,"covert" Christianity which I practiced by default is pleasant and respectable to insiders, irrelevant to outsiders, but sheer impotence for Kingdom mission. It's spiritual lunacy if Jesus is really Jesus and wasn't kidding when he said he is "the way the truth and the life" so his followers are to: "go and make disciples, teaching them to obey what I commanded you." He said he'd be with us as we go.

I'm grateful for the gradual freeing "vocal" training I'm getting. I hope it doesn't stop. Just this morning, I told Tricia I want to see the Kingdom manifest with the same salvific power as it did in the New Testament era, and it does now more often in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America. I know such Kingdom life can be costly if actually embraced, but authenticity comes with sacrifice in the Way of Christ. Kingdom authenticity is worth it if we get to see how the Kingdom actually works in freeing the captives, giving sight to the blind, and proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor.

By the way, when I was speaking to the young man in Sunday it felt spiritually as if the Holy Spirit was aiming right at his heart, almost as a plea or invitation, but with authority.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Supporting Intervarsity's Ice Cream Social at Smith College.

A week ago last Friday evening, Tricia and I packed up 2 large canvas bags with homemade chocolate, caramel and fruit sauces, plus pecan chocolate chip, and granola cookies. We headed over to Smith College and set up shop in a room of the Campus Center. Some of the Ministry Team was there, including Liz Booher, the new IV Staff person.

The event we were supporting was the third InterVarsity Ice Cream Social we've volunteered to serve for. It gives us a chance to support the IV team as they connect with new students, for students to connect with who we are as imagine/Northampton.

The team lined up four tables in the event room where we'd be; folks from College Church and First Baptist would serve the ice cream as the girls came down the line. We'd serve the sauces and point/invite them to the sprinkles, Gummy Bears, whipped cream, walnuts, homemade cookies and maraschino cherries. Elizabeth had a sense there would be a large turnout because the team had sent a challenge to all the houses that whichever house had the most attendees at the social, they'd receive $100 gift certificate to Herrell's Ice Cream in Northampton. If you've been to Herrell's you know it's worth the effort to try and win.

When hearing of the challenge before things got underway, we were a little concerned we'd run out of homemade sauces, but understood we were there to support the IV Team first, and then let people know we were representing imagine/Northampton to connect with some who might be interested in finding a church. It wasn't about plenteous sauce; it was about what Jesus is doing through IV at Smith that night.

Right about 7PM, a line started to form of Smithies ready for free ice cream. The energy elevated. I was excited to see the potential for IV. So for the next hour and a half, Tricia ladled sauces, and I directed the girls to the toppings, and replenished whipped cream cans, and cookies. Women from freshman to seniors showed up. It was fun listening to them get excited about sprinkles, homemade chocolate and caramel sauce, Gummy Bears, homemade cookies and whipped cream. Some "complained" they were crazy for even eating this stuff at all, and others where like kids on Christmas morning. Many of them thanked us for being there and doing this and voiced their delight in having such a treat. Some picked up our contact information.

At the end of the night, Elizabeth told me they went beyond what they thought they'd have even knowing the plausibility have a large turnout. She mentioned a number of the women signed interest cards and would be followed up with. The point of the night was to create trust. I think she and the team did just that.

For Tricia and I, it was another opportunity to support what God is doing at Smith through these wonderful young women who see such Kingdom potential, and reach out to open hearts. We've had the privilege of knowing the IV Staff person at Smith, first Crystal Fryer, now Liz Booher almost since our first year here. And we've have Smith students coming to imagine for 4 of our 5 years. If we can play a part in supporting God's initiatives at Smith we will with hearts full in.

Please pray for Elizabeth and the team as they open the way for women to know and trust him, and pray we will care well for the Smithies who are sharing their journey with us. May Jesus be very visible on the Smith Campus, at imagine/Northampton, and on Main Street!

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Industrious Can Collector.

I've seen him for that last two. He's a black man in his 50's. He usually wears a cap, and sometimes a kerchief tied around his neck. I've had the opportunity to talk with him briefly a few times. He's warm and affable with an easy smile or chuckle. He's intelligent and looks you in the eye. And he's mentioned the Lord as if he knows him.

I see him all over the downtown, and the closely surrounding neighborhoods -- often in the early morning, but it can a bit later.With him he pulls a large grocery carts crammed to the hilt with returnable cans and bottles. Hung heavily on the cart are large trash bags full of the same treasure. I've seen him search dumpsters and garbage cans behind the businesses on Main Street, but he also searches garbage cans on the adjacent  streets. It must take a number of hours to make all his rounds on foot and get the thing loaded. Knowing Northampton, I suspect people leave returnables for him as he makes his rounds. If you saw him when his cart is chocked full and putting in the effort he's making, you realize it's a cumbersome and heavy beast, especially navigating street-crossing when the traffic is busy, or pulling the unwieldy thing up over curbs. He's earning every bit of his "paycheck."

I refer to him as industrious because he's consistent and works very hard. Whatever misfortune has befallen him, he's making the best of it by working every day to make money so he can eat, maybe even have a room somewhere. He shows up each morning and is at the task, sometimes even a bit before sunrise. He's different from the folks who've chosen to sit and ask for money from passers-by each day. He takes whatever we throw out or cast aside, gathers it and tries to earn his daily bread. He's not looking for a hand out beyond what we throw out. Maybe he gets state or federal assistance, but he doesn't leave it at that because he's working like everyone else who gets up and heads to their place of employment.

I respect him very much for his attitude, his diligence, and work ethic. As I mentioned, when I've had a minute or two to talk with him he's humble, with a cheerfulness which belies a hard life, although I'll bet he has a story, like so many of these folks on the street which was anything but happy. It may have even have been horrific.

As far as I can see, he's working like everyone who's trying to make a living. I don't know how he actually feels about his lot in life, but by watching him, he's not feeling sorry for himself or giving up.

More opportunity to him, and may the Lord magnificently bless all his industry beyond anything he ever imagined.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Two Brief Interactions This Morning On My Prayerwalk in Northampton.

I was out early as usual, before sun-up. I walked to the same place as usual; at the same pace as usual. I was alone. Tricia is in Ventnor closing up the house for the fall.

My first interaction was with a couple we've seen who come to Smith Athletic fields to exercise and play tennis. She looks younger than he. I don't know if they're married. They come to the fields most days we're there, and at about the same time. I'd just finished the first half of some very earnest praying and was walking over the bridge heading away from the fields when I saw they were heading down to cross the bridge.

Now before I go further, I have to let you know my praying is changing. It's becoming more bold, focused, and vehement. I won't go into why that's so for now, but something really good is up with my praying. Anyway, I've also noticed with these latest prayerwalks I'm much more open to engage the folks I encounter. There's a greater freedom in me. To be fair, both Tricia and I say, "Good Morning" to most everyone we walk by. We see it as a blessing; the wishing of all good; God's manifest blessing for the people we pass whether they know him of not. But we really don't encounter a chance to stop and talk with folks much.

So when I was within earshot of this I blurted: "Who's winning?" We often see them playing tennis. I think he's been teaching her. She, with a bright smile from ear to ear, immediately exclaimed, "I AM!!!" He, laughing, shouted out: "NO, YOU'RE NOT! LIAR!!!" I responded, "Oh, I seeeee ..." We all laughed as we passed by each other, and went our ways. Why I write of this is we've been running into them often in the morning. They're a friendly couple which means perhaps an opportunity will arise for us to get to know each other, maybe even become friends. They are quite a bit younger, but who knows. Also, normally I wouldn't have said something like that to them, but after praying I'm taking more risks.

So on I went continuing my earnest praying. Fifteen minutes into it on State Street. I had my second encounter. About 25 yards in front of me and heading my way was a short elderly woman in her 80's. She had a walker and was stopped in the middle of the sidewalk I was on just staring at me. I wasn't particularly friendly. As I got within15 yards, I thought, "I'll walk in the street near the curb so she can pass by and not have to wait. To do so, I had to walk around a parked car on my right. As I got around the car, I looked up, and with a stern gaze and pointing finger, she commanded, "You get back on this sidewalk!" I did so immediately, saying "Yes, ma'am," (not sarcastically, by the way). She wasn't kidding. She then scolded, "The roads are not safe with all the cars today." So just before I passed her, I said, "Thank you that's very kind. I was just showing you respect." At that, her faced softened, and she gave a me lovely smile, while also with her hand, made one of those, "Oh, go on ..." gestures. She was still smiling so I touched her shoulder lightly as I passed.

She reminded me of my mother and grandmother with the advice she gave. I have to say, I loved the smile I put on her face and the gesture of respect she heard I showed her sincerely. I don't know if she gets much of that in her life, or if she feels the reason to smile a great deal. But God granted two opportunities within 15 minutes to bless people so they laughed or smiled at the beginning of the day.

I'm telling you, God is up to something in the way he's helping me pray on these walks. I don't know how long it'll last, but I want more of it. I want to see his power manifest because of how he's helping me pray. I also want to see him recognized and glorified in the results of such prayer. Admittedly, I do want the people blessed because of my praying on their behalf, but I want the Most High seen for being set apart as he is, and worthy of our heartfelt praise.