The levies are in danger of failing…

Look out, people, look out. I’m not promising anything, but I think my blog silence is about to be buried in an avalanche of words.

God is doing something deep and serious in me over the last month or so. I normally think and hear from God in words. I’m a word person, not a picture person. You know the difference? Many people in prayer or worship get a sense of what God is doing through a picture, sometimes one they don’t even fully understand. I usually get words, but Tuesday night in conversation with two of our new and wonderful friends, I got a picture.

I saw my own mind and soul like a huge, churning mass of water behind a dam or a levy. I saw the dam getting ready to give way, to explode, and all of this stuff ready to burst out and wash everything below it away. I didn’t get an ominous sense about it. It didn’t make me scared or fearful. I found myself wanting (and even asking our friends to pray for) the dam to break in a way that let the water go nicely and neatly and safely down a channel, but I laughed at myself when I said it. That’s me wanting control and safety. God’s going to do what God wants, and my sense is that all this water behind the dam is going to cut some new channels in me and in our church, but I don’t envision destruction. God is doing a new thing in me; I’m not sure what it is, but I think it’s going to start overflowing soon.

Glimpses are coming out. God has been present to me in powerful ways, a few times with a clear leading, but several times without me being sure of anything other than the fact that I was oh-so-present to the Holy Spirit. I may share some over the next few days. I’ve been reading again about the beginnings of Newberg Friends as a meeting, back in the 1870’s. Oh my, did God ever shake this town and these people! Huge evidences of the power of God, new people coming into a relationship with Christ and joining the meeting, revivals, shouting, church planting, service, justice, education…wow. It’s an honor to be a part of that heritage. Three years ago, on our church’s 125th anniversary as a meeting, I first started reading (obsessively) about the beginnings of our church. It led to this message, and I’m reading again in preparation for June 4th, when I’ll share more of who we have been and who God is calling us to be.

I was asked months ago to be a part of our community’s National Day of Prayer gathering tonight, specifically to share about the way God moved William Hobson to start a Quaker “Garden of the Lord” in this valley before any other church was here. I said yes, and didn’t think too much about it, thinking I would just adapt the message from three years ago to share tonight.

But Jesus had something else in mind.

I was rototilling our garden today. We live in a 1916 farm house on an acre of land just outside of Newberg. It was part of the Deskins Donation Land Claim, dating back to the 1850’s; then the Root family owned it and farmed it for 3 generations. For over one hundred years, this land we now live on was farmed, and for 25 or so years after that, cows did their business all over it. This is only our second year living here, so I was rototilling through several months of weed growth, tilling up the soil like we did last year for our garden. My hands have blisters. My shoulders and back are sore from fighting two different rototillers for several hours as they blasted through a surprisingly thick weed cover. But then we discovered something again.

This is good soil. Really good. All that farming, and all those cow pies make dark, rich soil, and now it’s ready to be planted again.

We live in good spiritual soil, too. It’s been tilled by past generations of Quakers and other Christians who have obediently followed the leadings of the Spirit. God has even taken the mistakes and failures and dung of the past, and turned it into rich fertilizer. But there’s a surprisingly thick weed cover in our community, too. And we, as the first church in the valley and spiritual heirs of William Hobson, have a responsibility to do some hard tilling in our lives and our community.

I ended up confessing on behalf of Newberg Friends. On our behalf, I asked God’s forgiveness for our sins and our failings. I asked the forgiveness of our non-Quaker brothers and sisters, too. Here’s part of what I shared:

Today, as pastor of NFC, I want to offer a public confession for some of our wrongs.

I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

James 5: 16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

Before God, and before you, our brothers and sisters in Christ, I want to make these confessions on Newberg Friends’ behalf. I want to ask God’s forgiveness, and yours.

We confess, God, the sin of spiritual pride.

We have sometimes thought of Newberg as our little Quaker town, and it is not. It is the town that God loved so much that he has worked in powerful ways over more than a century, drawing people to himself. It is the town of Jesus Christ, and he loves it dearly. God, we ask forgiveness for our pride, forgiveness for forgetting that you gave William Hobson a holistic and huge vision for all of God’s people in Newberg, for more than just their spiritual salvation, but for reconciliation and wholeness and justice.

Brothers and sisters, will you forgive us for the ways our spiritual pride has hurt you? If so, would you be willing to say, “We forgive you in Jesus name?”

We confess, God, the sin of limiting how you want to work.

Instead of continuing to follow your leading to meet all the needs of our society, the poverty, the drug use, the pain and struggles, we have sometimes focused only on ourselves. We have thought our church exists for ourselves and our preferences. We have forgotten your call to reach out. God, we ask forgiveness for our inward focus.

Brothers and sisters, will you be God’s priests to us, and forgive us in his name for our inward focus? If so, please say, “We forgive you in Jesus name.”

This was how God led me as I rototilled today. I don’t know what it is that God is doing in me. This is not like me, not like me to claim to speak on behalf of 128 years of Quakers, most of whom I never met. But I am sure, absolutely sure, it is why I was asked to be a part of this event tonight. The sense of God’s unifying Spirit was present as we met tonight, met with many people from many churches. God is on the move in more than just me.

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7 thoughts on “The levies are in danger of failing…

  1. Gregg, your words caught me (and I suspect a lot of people) completely off guard at the service last night. What an incredibly powerful way to begin the service. Whatever barriers were present – between churches, between individuals, between individuals and God – were completely swept away by the confessions and requests for forgiveness. Thank you so much for being faithful!

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  2. I am in! Heart, soul, mind, and body… Let’s give ourselves more and more to the power and life of Christ and see what happens!!

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  3. Maybe the blockage is not so much a levy as a logjam, to use a good Northwest image. As such, it’s a good thing when the logs get untangled and allow the water and the logs to flow downstream again as was intended. It’s also a very dangerous moment when the water begins to flow. You can’t stop it once it gets going, and you can’t really predict where it will break free or flow from there. But it’s a risk worth taking.

    I didn’t know any of the history of Newberg Friends, and only the vaguest notion of this part of the Quaker movement to the west. For me, this is an important part of building the Religious Society of Friends, to know more of the history, of other branches of the family, so to speak.

    I also think there is a great deal of insight that comes to one when one is engaged in manual labor, whether scrubbing a bathtub or rototilling a garden or felling a tree. Perhaps this should also be a requirement of all who aspire to the Gospel ministry, that they have a certain allotment of physical work as well as academic study.

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  4. This is so good. There have been a few times in my life when I have felt that Quakers tend to worship Quaker distinctives and methodology to a fault. But…as you have so eloquently stated, we are all one in Christ; and while we are drawn to our particular denominational characteristics, others are equally enthralled by their own preferences. You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to…let’s make soup!

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  5. Given Robin’s insight about physical labor and spiritual insight, I won’t remind you now that we offered to let you borrow our shiny John Deere and tiller last year.

    Confession really is good for the soul and we do far too little of it. What a great way for God to continue drawing the faith community in our little valley together. Thanks for following God’s lead without apology.

    Thanks especially to Steve whose words here have helped remove a logjam in my own heart and mind. Lets do live into the truth of what is happening here.

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  6. I have been so very moved toward the gathering together of the churches in Newberg. The Lord has been leading me to pray for other congregations on Sunday mornings, and this has been a big blessing even to me. To spend time contemplating how God wants to bless other church families certainly takes my mind off “our” problems and “my” concerns, and only God knows where those prayers lead.

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