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Monday, March 31, 2014

When The Knock Out Punch Seems Delivered, The Cross and Resurrection of Christ Prevail.

Yesterday I had the privilege of bringing the message to a community of Christ-followers a few miles north of us. We've come know some of the people there and were looking forward to seeing a couple we'd gotten to know pretty well who'd recently been through a devastating attack to their homestead and farm. God gave me a message I knew would be a comfort to them and anyone else going through the unthinkable. I wanted to refresh and encourage them that El Roi, (the God Who Sees Me) in Genesis 16:13, was going to walk with them through this.

Early last Wednesday Bob and Lisa were awakened in the middle of the night by a loud bang and a vehicle leaving quickly. Something wasn't right. Upon going outside to see what was happening they were assaulted by the terrible sight of one of their two barns being engulfed in flames. The fire was roaring leaving no chance to extinguish it. Soon, the second barn would be destroyed too.Worse still, it had been deliberately set by the hand of a family member.

Added to their horror, was the reality that in one barn they'd housed all the tools Bob collected over the years and used in his business. In the other barn was furniture, personal records, and family stuff they were storing until a new home was built beginning in a few weeks. They'd been temporarily residing in a modular home across the street. In other words, they lost almost everything in a few minutes. You can imagine what it must to have been like to stand there knowing what was happening. And their realization that one of their own kin did this deliberate act of violence and contempt, could have been a knock-out punch.

But it wasn't. These folks are resilient, hardworking, do-what-it-takes-to-get-it-done people. They shed tears and felt the shock of what was happening for sure, but the very next day, they took one of the most beautiful actions I've ever heard of.

They decided the evil one would not succeed in trying to destroy them. Bob told me, as his barns were burning down, he said directly to the devil he could go ahead and take all his tools and furniture, but God would restore it seven to ten-fold. In other words, "you will not destroy us because we belong to Christ!"
Then the very next day, he and Lisa found two very large pieces of wood, and decided they'd put together a cross. They thought the best place to put it would be right in the middle of the scorched earth where the barns had been.

So they dug a hole, built the cross together --which turned out to be 16 feet tall and very heavy -- and drug it slowly across the road where it stands today as a testimony to the reality of Christ in the midst of devastating attack.

The Cross and Resurrection of Christ Prevail!

They said yesterday because the barns were built in the 19th century, and had been told of the very real possibility of being placed on the National Historic Register, they would do everything they could to rebuild them just as they were.

The Cross and Resurrection of Christ Prevail!

They also testified to the goodness of God in that the fire came right up to where their berry bushes were, and damaged none of them.These folks are gradually building a farming business too. They would've had to start from scratch and miss out on needed income from this growing season. Bob also told me he had more work for his business to do than he could handle and had to add new employees last week. He also said friends in the business offered him the use of their tools as well.

The Cross and Resurrection of Christ Prevail!

Because these people are followers of Jesus and know forgiveness is the life they are called to, they  must come to grips with forgiving this person in their family. Both of them acknowledged it will take awhile, but they want to do what Jesus has called them to as forgiven people.

 The Cross and Resurrection of Christ Prevail!

I have to say my own load was lightened yesterday by their courage in the midst of sorrow, pain, and loss. I could see through their example a way I should view the trials and challenges we are currently facing. While our trying circumstances are different, we have felt in the last 6 weeks as if Satan's was attempting a knock-out punch for the McDermott's. But Jesus showed me through the words of these two not-gonna-quit followers of his that because the cross and resurrection of Christ prevails, I must do the same in attitude and action as them. The fight goes on and my Lord has overcome the world, including my world.

Talking to them was an unexpected gift. Their spirit and grit left me feeling hopeful, even refreshed a little. I told them we'd love to help in the clean-up or anything else they need. I hope they let us. For now, their church has gathered around them, and will fight side by side through love, giving and service until God is glorified. They will show forth generosity in all manner of ways, and I suspect Christ will marshal His followers who hear the story of the cross planted where two barns burned to the ground

The Cross and Resurrection of Christ Prevail!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Gratitude: The Spiritual Discipline of Training The Heart And Steering The Mind Toward Grace and Goodness.

On March 26th, 2013, I wrote a blog entitled Do You have Wonder Deficit Disorder - . In it I wrote the following:

"Wonder requires a belief in the possibility of some sort of enticing MEANING or ORDER or MYSTERY behind all meaning, including what the senses apprehend as design or pattern. A mystery hides in the fact there is anything wonderful at all. People experience it, if they pay attention or give thought, moments of joy or delight or beauty which can transport them into a momentary lightness of being they want to repeat. Wonder is experiencing a deep pleasure of the heart and a magnificent delight to the senses, or the mind. The heart was made with a natural capacity for wonder, and enchantment and delight. The mind wants to "see" what it is and apprehend its meaning. That's not all the heart or mind were made for, but few of us cultivate their abilities to respond with wonder easily to all the miraculous populating our days.
Wonder Deficit Disorder keeps its victims from closely looking, deeply listening, richly tasting, exquisitely feeling, or pondering contemplatively. They live as surface dwellers unaware, creatures of habit caught in an affective sleepwalk - blind to much beyond the prurient, entertaining, or 'shocking'."

While I was writing about a "disorder" not clinically recognized, the post did highlight the notion we fly through our days often like Mad Hatters. Time for contemplation comes in short supply after a while. Contemplation, reflection and noticing take a back seat in a very long bus. But it is those three spiritual "tools" which make it possible to develop a way of life where gratitude becomes a wide lens through which we learn to appreciate the lavish beneficence of the One who called us by name. We are trained by it to see all the good God does for us each day. Spiritual disciplines serve to train us in

  • Knowing Christ.
  • Understanding what he has revealed to us.
  • Understanding to what he summons us .
  • Understanding how the Kingdom life is lived and what is priceless in his eyes. 

Their practice is for our freeing and deepening in following Jesus.

So what is gratitude exactly? Put simply, The Oxford Dictionary Online (American Version) defines it as: "the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness." I like the definition being put as a quality of being and a readiness to respond in kind. Living the way of thankfulness, appreciation and kindness seems to me to be at the heart of following Jesus. He reminds us that, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Learning from and letting the Holy Spirit train us in gratitude will enable us to see real treasures adorning our ordinary days, including some of the toughest days.

To help you, below is a simple way to practicing the spiritual discipline of gratitude. It's best to work on it daily, but every other day will be effective also. The goal is for it to become a way of seeing grace and goodness everywhere. It's a matter of being able to look for and notice much in the same way an artist sees the interplay of light, and shade or subtleties of form and texture, or a musician hears tonal textures and rhythmic subtleties. They've learned how to look and what to look for.


Noticing is the practice of paying attention rather than be on autopilot; it’s stopping to look so you can really see;  listen so you can really hear; linger so you can really taste; smell so you can really savor; touch so you can really feel what’s actually there. It's turning the attention to something intriguing, curious, or inviting. There is something more to the eye deserving a closer look or a more careful listening. In noticing, you pause to take in what has caught your attention; to examine it more closely. There seems more than a first glance warrants.

Noticing as a spiritual discipline is the act of deliberately stopping to examine, ponder or apprehend. Regarding grace and goodness, it's like combing through the thoughts, activities and relationships of the day to see where grace paid a visit or came in disguise; where goodness caused a smile, leaving your load lightened or something set to right. Someone or something pointed you to the love of God, and it was refreshing.

A helpful way to begin practicing the spiritual "tool" of noticing is to stop for a moment each evening and ask questions such as: What did I actually notice today? Did I overlook God's benevolent Presence and action toward me anywhere? What grace did I experience? Where was God good to me even if I deserved something far less? Where was my heart lifted to blessing and my mind pulled toward truth? Where did he challenge, chasten, or discipline me? Where did I fill my day with my most familiar and treasured distractions?

The ultimate goal of of step one in this spiritual discipline is to be able to notice the Presence and activity of God in and around you through the Holy Spirit who is always at work summoning us toward Christ and His Kingdom, and thus away from that which will never bring life or freedom however momentarily sparkly.


Savoring I find to be in short supply with many people most of the time. Our over-committed, over-scheduled, pixilated, hurry-up lives don't readily foster this next step very much. It also requires attending to grace and goodness, but with a steadier gaze.  Put simply it's the benign practice of gradually developing an ability to linger with and delight in something of great worth or substantial pleasure, to thus train the heart and steer the mind toward the grace and goodness we want to recognize.

Savoring can be defined as to enjoy or appreciate (something pleasant) completely, especially by dwelling on it (Oxford Online Dictionary - American Version). Taking the time to linger with what you've noticed or experienced so you can take in why is admirably true, exquisitely beautiful, or stunningly good. Dwelling in such an experience lends the time needed to really look at it to see it's goodness or cause for delight. It might be feeling deeply what you're experiencing as being wonderful or praiseworthy. Perhaps it's thinking long and hard on something yielding treasures of wisdom and truth. Maybe it's just enjoying ice cream, a crackling fire on cold day. Or it's the exhilaration of climbing to the peak of a mountain and being able to see for miles. Savoring causes you to pause and abide with what has captured your attention. Savoring also trains your heart to open you to the lavishness of God's creative and sustaining grace revealing goodness beyond parallel. His goodness unlocks your heart a little at a time; savoring gives such unlocking necessary time.

Savoring is a spiritual discipline of trusting, yielding, opening to linger and experience fullness. 


Thanking the our Father, the Creator, and Sustainer, Jesus our Savior, Liberator, Friend and Lord, and the Holy Spirit, our Helper, Teacher and Revelator is the wise and good response of everyone who has learned to notice then savor all the grace and goodness everywhere. Consider these texts and quotes:

Psalm 107:1: Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! 

Psalm 100:1-5: A Psalm for giving thanks. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. 

Colossians 3:15-7: And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

“Gratitude bestows reverence.....changing forever how we experience life and the world.”
― John Milton

“[Gratitude is] an ancient cornerstone of prayer is that our desire to thank God is itself God's gift. Be grateful.”
― Richard Leonard

“As we learn to give thanks for all of life and death, for all of this given world of ours, we find a deep joy. It is the joy of trust, the joy of faith in the faithfulness at the heart of all things. It is the joy of gratefulness in touch with the fullness of life.” ― David Stendl-Rast

Thanking God for everything is the sweet fruit of learning to notice and savor his lavish, abiding grace. His goodness is radiant in and through his grace which we have learned to notice more and more. In our learning, we come to savor the richness of what he has given us every day. We linger to apprehend, taste, see, hear, and feel what is before us on any given day: simple gifts exquisitely precious. We are thanking him for their presence in our lives. Even our routines within an ordinary day is chocked full of reminders to be thankful because God has given them. We can find his grace and goodness nestled there. Even hard days, boring days, unbearable days are full of grace and enfolding goodness. Because we've learned to be thankful from knowing how to notice with a heart trained to savor, gratitude slowly yields a manner of being and a way of walking closely with Christ.

I encourage you to begin practicing this spiritual discipline of gratitude. Start by asking for God's help in beginning and continuing. Ask him to open your eyes so you can really see. Clear a space in your life, an oasis of time where you can notice the abundance all around you; savor some of the most beautiful or good, and then offer thanksgiving and praise. Do so at work, in the neighborhood, when you're running errands, going for a walk...anywhere.  Just do it.

To help you remember:

In NOTICING, we entice our hearts and open our minds toward God's goodness and grace.

In SAVORING, we settle our hearts in and fine-tune our minds to God's goodness and grace.

In THANKING, we liberate our hearts and elevate our minds in God's goodness and grace.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Adversity and Re-tooling

Persisting readers of my blog might recall how I've written occasionally about the struggles we have faced in launching, planting, and growing imagine/Northampton. We came here almost six years ago with strong faith, high hopes, but modest financial resources. We were all true amateurs at the outset with substantial ministry experience, but not as church planters. In trying to record my experience I would mention the financial and ministry challenges we experienced after the first year: much of it having to do with being a small church persistently under-resourced. It's not that people didn't give; they did and they do, but it's never covered what we needed, especially in terms of our salaries.

Recently, as some of you became aware, we reached a crisis at the end of last year, and God supplied wonderfully. What we didn't know, but soon were made aware is we owed more to our landlord. At first, the news felt a blow to the head coming out of nowhere. We thought we'd caught up only to find we were still in the hole. For a couple of days we were really confused and discouraged - shell-shocked actually. What did this mean? How come we were unaware of falling behind? Why didn't our landlord say anything before? We felt pretty forlorn, salted liberally with embarrassment and shame.

As we tried to get our bearings, and process what to do, Tricia remembered God had told her in prayer, early in January, we were to prepare for a battle and not be passive. She was not sure what the battle was beyond the spiritual scraps we've learned to fight regularly since coming up from Simsbury. Then a few weeks ago, someone who's a part of imagine, when I told the story, noted God wanted to tell me something, but this person had no idea of the context at first. She received from God I was to "stick with it." Both of those warnings bolstered us to leave the pity party early and take action.

First, we let the Board know we needed help to tackle head on what has become a frustrating problem and an unexpected setback A couple weeks prior we sat down with two of them and laid out the numbers. They asked about where our hearts were regarding imagine, and where we wanted to head, or if we still had passion for this mission, given the struggle it's been. These folks care for us and have for a long time. We processed those questions honestly looking at fatigue, the effects of discouragement, and what we wanted to do, if anything, to address and change the situation. The process was helpful, even encouraging. We looked at hard questions, including changing our direction personally.

Once we prayed (praying has been taking our center stage for a while now), we asked one member of the Board to look closely at the numbers, ours and imagine's to come up with an effective budget. He's really good at that stuff. It's important to note here when we gave the Board members an income and expenses sheet, they were encouraging in that, while there were clear problems to solve, it was not a disaster. They needed to be addressed, but abandoning ship wasn't a foregone conclusion. I can't tell you how relieved we were to have the prayer and practical support these Board folks brought. We didn't feel so alone and overwhelmed. The long and the short of it is we'll have a budget strategy which accurately reflects and addresses the financial state of the church. A good first step; one we should have secured in place long ago.

Another step we're taking is to engage imagine folks about who we are and where we see God leading us together. We've started letting them know we're in this process and have persisting financial challenges which affect focus and effort. In a few weeks, we'll have a dialogue about vision, calling and strategy with everyone in the church. We want them to contribute because they are imagine/Northampton, not they go to imagine/Northampton. We want the collective wisdom from people listening to God as one people, praying and seeking how we can best fulfill our work of helping anyone discover and follow the God who is more than they imagine. While the path ahead might not be easy, it will be shared. Some of the Board will be there as well.

It's equally clear to me I must find ways to make more money to support our household. We and others in the church have been praying for a number of months I'd have more paying clients for counseling and spiritual direction. I want to take some of that burden off Tricia who's struggling with burnout. Also, I'd especially like to re-ignite my PLAYMAKER Profile of Motivational Gifts work. One of the Board members is encouraging me to revisit the opportunity, and get more focused on building that part of what I've offered the past 30 years. He has business acumen. I could use a generous dollop of that to work smarter. I'm also looking to do more retreats and perhaps speaking opportunities.

Then, as these past few weeks have unfolded, I've been told twice in one week to contact a foundation which supports churches in New England with different approaches to being church and being missional. The two people who brought it up without prompting from me said virtually the same thing a few days apart. I need to listen to their counsel also, and follow through. I will be doing so after a discernment process of what to ask for and why. Yesterday someone asked if I'd be willing to ask larger churches to help; that's on the table too.

To sum up, our fresh wave of adversity since mid-January has served to prompt us and imagine to consider re-tooling. I like the word "re-tool." It captures the notion of making changes to improve effectiveness or desired ends. No one's talking about completely throwing out all we've done and been as  imagine. However, it does mean wisely discerning what our problems are insinuating so we might make necessary adjustments for the future. In a way, everything's on the table including the vision of where we seek to be, and how we have to get there in light of what God wants, and why He's gotten us this far.

Adversity is an adroit teacher, yet an often-unwelcome opportunity to mature spiritually, relationally or professionally. It calls out courage, wisdom, flexibility, humility and endurance. Dug-in adversity rarely feels good, but yields much good, often unexpectedly, which can result by yielding to its, "I ain't going away until you ..." challenge. I've noticed too, God uses adversity, even suffering to gradually turn a spiritually surficial and juvenile faith into one of grit, unforeseen resourcefulness ... even joy. In a good way, adversity has the power to poke and re-poke slumbering hearts to create a faith which holds on while staying a gaze on Christ, the One who went through horrific adversity to defeat death and make creation new. 

Re-tooling is just common sense when the way one is going does not work or works ineffectively requiring change - even for churches. Re-tooling is working smart as God's reality warrants it. Unseen or developed opportunities come into view and potential beckons. We don't throw out the baby with the bathwater, rather we give the baby more nourishment and room to grow, with better care based on what must be done to help it thrive. If the effort is stumbling; it's stumbling forward; gaining ground as we learn and mature, even if by inches sometimes.Wisdom says we re-tool until God's picture comes in view, and whenever change is necessary to stay His course.

I don't know where the hard work we're doing now will take us, but like faraway stars on a hazy night, opportunities appear faintly twinkling now. We just need to head-out for them; letting our Captain get us there.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Living From An Examined Narrative Identity; An Attestation Of Sorts.

I'm re-reading Tim Keller's The Reason For God. I've been re-reading a number of books over the last 6 months. I find it refreshing to revisit texts important to my spiritual formation, including some of the very first books I read as a new believer. They were over my head at the time, but now have riches I can appreciate and absorb.

As I was up hours before dawn this morning, I returned to Reason for God and was stuck by a couple of sentences in Chapter One entitled, There Can't Be Just One Religion:

"What is religion then? It is a set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing."

"Notice that this (i.e., the material world is all there is) is not an explicit 'organized' religion, it contains a master narrative, an account about the meaning of life along with a recommendation for how to live based on that account of things."

"Everyone lives and operates out of some narrative identity, whether it is thought out and reflected upon or not. All who say 'You ought to do this,' or 'You shouldn't do that' reason out of such an implicit moral and religious position."

So what is a narrative? According the the Oxford Dictionaries Online it's: (a) The narrated part or parts of a literary work, as distinct from dialogue; (b) The practice or art of telling stories;  (c) A representation of a particular situation or process in such a way as to reflect or conform to an overarching set of aims or values. Put simply, my narrative identity includes how I understand myself based from my core values, life choices, people I've known and learned from, my gains ans loses; what I've embraced and given myself to for almost 65 years.

Prior to being enticed and found by Christ in 1972, my narrative identity was formed by life in the McDermott family with my father, mother, younger brother, grandmother, and aunts, uncles, and cousins in Albuquerque New Mexico. This identity was also shaped by school chums, girlfriends and the strong family culture of being a middle-class, Irish-Catholic white people in the diverse racial mix of the Southwest. This unfolding identity included the various neighborhoods in which I lived, the liberal Democratic politics my parents embraced and I heard debated; where I went to school from kindergarten to university; being in Cub Scouts, playing baseball, watching television, hiking in the Sandias, having my first jobs, taking lessons and learning to play drums, then becoming a musician.

When I  became a Christ-follower and soon after a husband, my narrative identity changed radically regarding how I understood myself, what life actually meant; what the good - as in virtuous, moral, loving, true - life looked like apart from much of what I assumed prior. I changed my understanding and conformed my way of life around what really mattered as defined by following Christ. I still worked and lived in American culture, but not in an unexamined way. I now had a narrative identity which challenged the story I'd lived before and the meaning of life I'd accepted uncritically: as in what really is of transcendent worth and what isn't.

While the recognizability and expressing of my personality did not alter genetically at regeneration, my narrative identity was revolutionized spiritually, ethically and morally: first below the surface and then in my attitudes and behaviors as i took seriously the reality of sin. I gave my heart to the way of life revealed in the Scriptures and let be influenced by the indwelling unction of the Spirit. I became a new creation and still remained Kit within this new narrative identity.

Forty-two years later, the narrative identity I live today has matured, expanded, deepened, and transformed me beyond what I couldn't have even conceived when I agreed with Christ to give him me. I cannot see any other identity as being of more worth than this one which has bound my heart to the most meaningful STORY in the universe; in fact, the one which gives inestimable value to, animates, and sustains all of Creation. I still live it needing help daily, but this narrative compels and sustains me like no other. I neither seek nor desire  another spiritual identity. I apprehend no other narrative through which people find essential meaning, whether it be political, social, professional, ethnic, sexual, artistic, cultural, or national that would have the power to draw my heart away toward a new narrative identity. I've examined them all and can find no equivalently transcendent meaning which compares in ultimate value. Certainly, there is value and meaning in all of them, but not in a first things way.

Based on the last forty-two years of discovery, exploration, and growth, I can't predict how my narrative identity will continue to develop, but I can attest I will stay put in my Christ-knowing, Christ-loving and Christ-following narrative until my days come to an end here. I've much still to learn and change and grasp, but I've had four-plus decades to examine Christ and His patient, gracious work with the likes of me. Nothing else in this mysterious, beautiful, tormented, astounding  Creation compares; not even close.