24 September 2006

Folks who believe God whispers to them and nobody else have always been spiritually dangerous because this belief-system accomplishes two truth-distortions at once -- it attempts to make God small (read ... manageable, malleable, and tamable) and it attempts to make them big (read ... to be feared, revered, and stood in awe of).

Of course, God can't be tamed anymore than any of us can sit on our own laps. And none of us deserve to be revered any more than we deserve the taste of strawberries and cream. And yet how easily we lust for both these lies to be true. We lust with envy that God would be smaller. And we lust with pride that we would be bigger.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:22-23 ...

22 that, in reference to you former manner of life,
you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted
in accordance with the lusts of deceit.

23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind

I like the phrase Paul uses here ... "lusts of deceit" because there's perhaps no greater deceit than lust. And lust isn't just sexual. It's wanting what we don't have, even if we know it will kill us. Like Frederick Buechner writes in his book "Wishful Thinking", "Lust is the craving for salt of a person who is dying of thirst."

I'm no expert, and I'm certainly not a professional theologian, but I think that much of our mis-steps as Christ's followers would take care of themselves if we gave more time and thought to listening to, understanding and obeying God ... and less time and thought trying to figure out how to be God's mouthpiece.

Uttering the phrase "thus sayeth the LORD" should scare the begeebers out of us. Even the most confident of prophets had inferiority complexes. Misunderstood. Seldom listened to. Chased out of town with regularity. Hardly ever invited over for dinner more than once. Being God's mouthpiece is one misunderstood gig -- and it's all too often taken up by people who are more ego-driven rather than Spirit-led, and more fear-based than Christ-centered.

And yet, you can't get around the fact that God does indeed ask us to speak for Him. I guess that one of the litmus tests for whether God has really asked us to speak for Him, should be that while speaking we should be quaking in our boots because our reverence for being God's mouthpiece demands it, more than because we're afraid somebody will misunderstand us or read something into what we've said that God never intended.

God asks pastor-teachers to speak on His behalf weekly, and even sometimes more often! This makes me think of the words of Reinhold Niebuhr in his book "Leaves From The Notebook Of A Tamed Cynic" (which is a collection of Niebuhr's journal entries as a young pastor in Chicago).

From Niebuhr's journal in 1915 ...

"They say a young preacher must catch
his second wind before he can really preach.
I'd better catch it pretty soon, or the weekly
sermon will become a terrible chore.

"You are supposed to stand before a
congregation, brimming over with a great
message. Here I am trying to find a new little
message each Sunday.

"If I really had great convictions, I suppose
they would struggle for birth each week.
As the matter stands, I struggle to find an
idea worth presenting, and I dread the approach
of each Sabbath.

"I don't know if I can ever accustom myself
to the task of bringing light and inspiration
in regular, weekly installments.

"How in the world can you reconcile the
inevitability of Sunday and its task with the
moods and caprices of the soul? The prophet
only speaks when he is inspired. The parish
preacher must speak whether he is inspired
or not. I wonder if it is possible to live on a
high enough plane to do that without sinning
against the Holy Spirit?" (p. 12)

Niebuhr speaks my mind ... living in a cautious balance between "willingness to be God's mouthpiece" and a severe case of the "yikes!" God, give me the discernment I need to obey you without being afraid. And give me the courage I need to follow through on what You ask me to -- regardless of whether it's opening my mouth or keeping it shut. Godspeed.


Gregg Lamm

09 September 2006

I've been thinking a bit more lately about the course my life has taken these past many months -- and acknowledging with humility and thanksgiving the way God has used His WORD, so many different people, circumstances, books, letters, articles, and the spiritual discipline of solitude in my life.

This has been a season of transformational nouns ... people, places, and things given, handled and experienced. Some of them have connected with me in ways nearly hidden in the moment, and only now are their meanings beginning to emerge from hiding. While others have been in my face -- as evident and obtrusive as a fat man on a rush-hour bus. But all of them have, in their beginnings, middles, and ends, been life giving.

It's Saturday afternoon and
life and ministry are co-existing versus being on a collision course. Tomorrow's teaching has been studied through and prepared -- it feels like it's part of my heart, not just my mind -- ready to jump out of my mouth at both services tomorrow morning in ways Spirit directed, not just man-made.

For two months now I've been settled into life and ministry here in Newberg. As most of you reading this know, after flying back and forth between Portland and Michigan for eight months (serving as the interim pastor-teacher at Ogden Church | www.ogdenchurch.org), on 16 July, I became the lead pastor-teacher at 2nd Street Community Church in my hometown of Newberg, OR (www.2ndstreet.org). Now that I'm finding my rhythm, I'm finding that ...
  • I AM SERVING GOD HERE IN WAYS ORGANIC ... Once again life and ministry are rooted, sprouting, and moving forward with a visible harvest ... and ...
  • I AM SERVING GOD HERE IN WAYS RELATIONAL ... I'm not trying to do it all on my own -- my brothers and sisters at 2nd Street are with me and I'm with them -- we're on the same page -- using our spiritual gifts based on our callings, and not from a posture of duty, tradition or ego-centric-expectation ... and ...
  • I AM SERVING GOD HERE IN WAYS RESTORATIVE ... I'm at peace about the eighteen-month journey God has taken me on. He taught, I tried to listen. He instructed, I decided to learn. He pruned, I bitched and moaned. He pruned some more, and I conceded and found His mercy. He healed, and I sighed. He mended and encouraged, and I began to sense the beauty of restoration. He corrected, and I was brought back into alignment with His will. He loved, and I pressed deeper into the character of Jesus Christ.
And through all the potholes of this journey, through all the pebbles in my sandals while on this quest, and through all the dips and climbs in the road, I am now simply living out His will with a passion I have never known.

I pass on this note to you, to encourage you of the INDISPUTABLE FACT that God is alive and well and desperately wants to use us in one another's lives. So let's listen and follow this God who seems (in spite of His sometime ridiculous requests and weird leadings) to know what He's doing. He is worthy of our trust, our allegiance, and our hearts. Godspeed.



03 September 2006

I love the writing of Wendell Berry ... a farmer, a poet and an essayist living in Henry County, Kentucky.

Berry writes often of farming [which I know nothing about], but I've found that when I swap out the word farmer with the word pastor and when I swap out Berry's imagery of fields or crops, replacing them instead with the imagery of a local church or flock, his words seldom fail to give me lasting images of what I've been called to do as a pastor-teacher ... images that take me deeper into what it means to be a preacher-man. Here are three of Wendell's poems. The final one is a "farmer poem" ... but the first two aren't.

A Warning to My Readers
from A Part | 1980

Do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honor the grace
that keeps this world. I am
a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full
of fits and furies. That I
may have spoken well
at times, is not natural.
A wonder is what it is.

from The Country of Marriage | 1973

Did I believe I had a clear mind?
It was like the water of a river
flowing shallow over the ice. And now
that the rising water has broken
the ice, I see that what I thought
was the light is part of the dark.

The Farmer, Speaking of Monuments
from Farming: A Handbook | 1970

Always, on their generation's breaking wave,
men think to be immortal in the world,
as though to leap from water and stand
in air were simple for a man. But the farmer
knows no work or act of his can keep him
here. He remains in what he serves
by in it, becoming what he never was.
He will not be immortal in words.
All his sentences serve an art of the commonplace,
to open the body of a woman or a field
to take him in. His words all turn
to leaves, answering the sun with mute
quick reflections. Leaving their seed, his hands
have had a million graves, from which wonders
rose, bearing him no likeness. At summer's
height he is surrounded by green, his
doing, standing for him, awake and orderly.
In autumn, all his monuments fall.

Godspeed to each of you tonight.