Friday, December 3, 2010

Notable Quotable on Generosity: AW Tozer

"Some of us put our offering into the plate with a triumphant bounce as much as to say: "There--now God will feel better!"... I am obliged to tell you that God does not need anything you have ... It is your own spiritual welfare at stake in such matters as these ... You have the right to keep what you have all to yourself--but it will rust and decay, and ultimately ruin you."

-AW Tozer, Christ the Eternal Son

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sermon #2

Sweating as my stomach did flip-flops, I marveled at my stage fright before last Tuesday's sermon #2. Surely by now I had established that the males in my class were friendly fellows. Encouraging, even. So I relied on the deep breathing exercises that reduce anxiety as I watched a fellow student preach. I wanted to break out into full-fledged yoga stretches, but refrained. Mercifully, I was second in line.

I shared a story from Debbie Alsdorf's book Deeper, about how her pastor-husband left her with two small boys, and her world shattered in an instant. I told them how Debbie's body couldn't handle an antidepressant of any kind, and of how Debbie's well-meaning friend suggested she read Psalm 139 throughout the day. Debbie was desperate, so she copied the passage at Kinko's and read it morning, noon, and night. She even set a stopwatch to remind her to read it more often. About three weeks in, her depression began to lift. She read it like this for one full year and God restored her life, and helped her to understand that He created her and is always protecting her.

My central truth: "These precious pages protect us." I talked about Psalm 19:7-11 and the over-the-top descriptions David used to describe God's Word.

In an attempt to describe my first point, that God's Word can be trusted to bring virtue to our lives, I talked about verse 7, where "refreshing the soul" means it preserves and rescues my life. I spoke of how we are all the "simple" or the morally inexperienced.

I told of a friend in addiction recovery who moved away from casual hookups to finding the hope she needed in the truth of God's Word. The power in this book to change our lives is palpable, true, amazing. (Just watch the movie Book of Eli if you want a visual picture.)

Second, I shared how God's Word brings priceless value to our lives. The most precious substances in the Near East -- gold and honey -- couldn't compare in David's mind with the value of God's law. "By them is your servant warned, and in keeping them there is great reward."

Honoring God's Word actually saves our skin! The Bible is not a battering ram, although unfortunately, some of us have felt bruised rather than blessed when others use it inappropriately. Instead, it is God's gift to us. Infinitely valuable, precious, and needed. It should have the effect of making our hearts happy and of giving light to whatever path we are on (v. 8).

These precious pages protect us. The challenge is to study and value them on the heart level, so that when a crisis hits the fan, we are armed and ready.


And so my sweating stopped and my quivery stomach stilled. As I looked up, my professor offered words of praise and encouragement that literally blew my mind. Is it a testament to my femaleness that I told him I wasn't that good? I wanted to get down on my knees and to thank my heavenly Father for bringing me this far, for showing me that His daughters can offer biblical truth in a truly feminine and excellent way. And so I thank Him now. Thank you, Father. Girls matter in your Kingdom. I'm starting to see that ever-more-clearly now.

Are you searching for the biblical support for women speaking in the church? I recommend this informative and well-researched article, Unmuted, from Dale & Jonalyn Fincher.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanks Be!

"Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone."  ~G.B. Stern

I am grateful. And I choose gratefulness over pessimism. I choose the glass half full over the half empty. I choose merrymaking over misery.

This is my God-given right, and because of what God has done on my behalf, it is also my inheritance. I pooh-pooh the psychologists who say my happy factor is a function of genetics and in-bred temperament. They haven't seen my dark moments. My losses. My dead ends. Or the multiple times my heart was severed in two.

"Choose hope," says author Leigh McLeroy's friend in The Beautiful Ache. "It's entirely reasonable." 

Daily, we choose whether to curse the darkness or to be thankful for the light. Gratitude is a choice, one that we can make moment-to-moment, one that has the power to change us -- and in so doing, to advance God's Kingdom in ways we never dreamed possible.

People who know this have the power to change things, simply by allowing the Holy Spirit to redirect their thinking--and in so doing to redirect their heart.
  • the Apostle Paul wrote "Rejoice in the Lord always!" while in prison chains
  • Corrie Ten Boom and her sister thanked God for a tick-infested room at a Nazi concentration camp, because it allowed them to read the Bible in peace
  • Mary the mother of Jesus, shamed by her out-of-wedlock pregnancy, said her "spirit rejoiced in God my Savior"

These ones, and millions of others, know the end of the story. God wins! And because of the sweetness of His promises and His presence, I choose to focus on this week's gratitude-givers:
  • the unexpected anticipation of preaching my second sermon to a classroom of men tonight
  • the joy on the faces of the elderly to whom my husband and I served a Thanksgiving dinner last night
  • after that, the balmy weather that led us out of our living room into a beautiful nighttime stroll
  • the giving of thanks time at this week's Bible study for women in recovery
  • Thursday's thanksgiving meal with family, an enticement for us to remember what God has blessed us with so we can share
  • tucking my two nieces and my nephew in Friday night when they visit, and waking with them early for buckwheat pancakes 

What about you? Because of what Jesus has done on our behalf, our spirits can dwell secure, leaving our hearts free to soar in gratitude. Let's hear your "gratitude-givers" below.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Who is Jesus to you?

"Who is Jesus to you?" I asked, as we wrapped up last week's Biblestudy. I know the answers I receive this week might not be Scripturally sound. And I am OK with that. Because coming to Jesus with all of our junk can be a messy process, a journey in which He draws us into His open embrace. In which He becomes real to us, and His revolutionary message of deliverance pierces us, changing our hearts and lives.




The Sovereign
with Skin on

[picture credit: 6th-century mosaic of Jesus at Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. No undisputed record of what Jesus looked like is known to exist.]

We are reading the gospel of John in Biblestudy, and Jesus is surprising us. He's surprising me, too, though I've been in church all my life. As one girl put it, "Jesus is getting awfully witty and sarcastic." We see His tenderness with the Samaritan woman at the well and with others who are broken and sick, and then we watch Him thunder down on the Pharisees in all their self-righteousness, and we stand in awe.

CS Lewis wrote that Jesus Christ is either a liar, a lunatic, or LORD. When I think of Jesus, I think of a Savior, Healer, and Defender. God who comes near, and who literally saved me out of the deep places of depression and anxiety I have experienced. I love how singer Nicole Mullen responds to how she knows Jesus lives in the song My Redeemer Lives: "I spoke with Him this morning." 

"Who is Jesus to you?" Look forward to reading your comments.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My first sermon

My first sermon was delivered to a sea of testosterone Tuesday night. (Yes, my preaching class is male with one notable exception. Smile.) What might surprise you, though, is that I actually referenced the terms menopause and monthly cycle in my sermon. Really.

My central point was that TRUE FAITH GROWS STRONGER THROUGH TESTING. And so I moved through Genesis 18:1-15, talking about the three visitors who came to Abraham and Sarah, their hospitality, and Sarah's laughter when they said she would have delivered a baby boy one year from then.

I explained Sarah's lifetime of infertility, the grief that flooded her being each month when she received her monthly cycle, and how decade after decade went by with no baby, a deep shame in her society. I mean, we know Sarah was an amazingly beautiful woman, but I think if she could have summed up her life to that point in two words she might say: ABJECT FAILURE.

So by the time these three guys (the Lord and two angels) show up on the scene, she is 89 years of age. She hears their prediction, and instead of crying the hot tears that had filled her childbearing years, she does what comes instinctively. She laughs at the preposterousness of it all. I would have, too, I fear. True faith is exposed in a moment. Sarah's faith was still in the incubation stage.

So God ups the ante. If we were to say it in today's lingo, in order to capture God's emphaticness and a fuller meaning of the text's intention, we would say, "Why in the world did Sarah laugh? Is anything too wonderful, extraordinary, or amazing for the Lord?"

The truth is, Sarah is still hiding by the tent, but she cannot stand it. She cannot take the heat. So she blurts: "Really, I did not laugh." And God nails her to the wall: "Actually, you did."

Now all of this would be truly sad if God wasn't up to something big. If He wasn't growing up Sarah and Abraham's faith. But He did exactly that. The New Testament sheds light on Sarah's growth in Hebrews 11:11 (RSV): "By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised."

To be honest, Sarah and Abraham make a great pair. God told him in the previous chapter that Sarah would have a son, and he rolled on the ground, laughing. But shriveled-up uteruses and failed dreams are nothing for the God who hung the moon and created our inmost being. Scholars think part of the reason God exposed Sarah and Abraham here was to grow their faith. The other? Quite possibly, to remind them to have sex at 89 and 99 years of age, respectively. To do their part to usher in the unthinkable promise.

True faith does grow stronger through testing. Abraham and Sarah are proof positive.

The sermon was well-received, and the pastor evaluating us encouraged me to preach it again, but next time, even more from Sarah's perspective (which is somewhat reflected above). He made me realize that I was the only one in the class who could preach it that way. I'm surprised to be saying this, but God is using the 20 males in my preaching class to challenge, encourage, and grow me in ways I never anticipated. Abba really does know what He is doing. Always. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Notable Quotable: Ken Gire

"When suffering shatters the carefully kept vase that is our lives, God stoops to pick up the pieces. But He doesn't put them back together as a restoration project patterned after our former selves. Instead, He sifts through the rubble and selects some of the shards as raw material for another project--a mosaic that tells the story of redemption."

Do you agree? How might your personal suffering tell the story of redemption? Do tell...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Do angels believe in you?

That's right. I believe angels exist whether you believe in them or not. But do angels believe IN YOU?

A few weeks ago, my mom pulled into the Arby's drive-thru and waited and waited for the van in front of her at the window to pull forward. A woman got out of the van, obviously in deep distress--and mom, seeking to comfort her, got out of her Taurus and offered her . . . coupons. The woman said she had no money, no way to get food, and so she was going to go inside the restaurant to ask if they would give her something to eat.

Compelled to act, mom handed her $5. The van pulled through and took off without mom getting any further details on their plight. When mom pulled up to the drive-thru, however, she was told that someone had paid for whatever she wanted to order. She was shocked. Now, is it possible that someone saw her comforting that woman and interceded to reward the kindness of a stranger? And is it also possible that something supernatural was going on? That God was showing up through an angel to remind mom and all of us to be loving givers who go about doing good? I believe only God knows for sure.

"Keep on loving each other as brothers, for by so doing, some have entertained angels without knowing it." Hebrews 13:1-2

We've been studying angelology, or the study of angels, in my systematic theology class. One of the things that has surprised me the most is that I'm a little jealous of the angels, to be honest. I mean, we learn from the Bible that God created us as humans in His image, and we sometimes feel this tremendous pride and awe because of it. Now to study how God created angels, and how they get to fight the good fight in the spiritual realm, is a little crazy to contemplate. Honestly, we either think about angels too little or too much it seems to me. 

They are not worthy of our worship; only God is. Still, they are His messengers, and they do protect us and work among us, though as one scholar notes, they more likely offer "zone" rather than "one-on-one" protection. Nowhere in the Bible does it indicate we have a personal guardian angel.

Definition of angels – A biblical term describing God’s messengers or ambassadors, belonging to his heavenly court and service. They are non-human beings created with personality who assist in Christ’s work of reconciliation— praising Him in heaven, and doing His will on earth.[i]

It's interesting to note that the Bible's description of angels, for whatever reason, seems to describe them as distinctly male. We have Michael the archangel who leads the angelic armies against Satan and Gabriel, the angel who announced the Virgin Birth.

An author friend of mine, Trudy Harris, wrote a compelling book called Glimpses of Heaven. As a hospice nurse, she shares the dying stories of many who experienced supernatural events in their last days and hours. At first she thought many of them were just dehydrated or medicated when seeing visions of angels at the foot of their bed, until she realized patients across the board were having these types of experiences. Interestingly enough, the patients always insisted that these angels were tall, dressed in white, and distinctly male. Even when Trudy prodded them, asking if they were sure. 

Angels remind us that we are in a battle of spiritual wills--Satan, the fallen angel has come to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus has come that we may have life, and have it abundantly. His heavenly messengers fight on our behalf and bring glory and praise to the One who was poured out for us. I, for one, am grateful.

And let me assure you: as God's messengers of reconciliation, angels most certainly believe in you--while giving all glory and praise to the One who was slain.

"And they were calling to one another: holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." Isaiah 6:3

[i] Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, (Baker Reference Library). 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2001, 60.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Seminary word of the week #2


a) Word used by a junior high youth leader when asking for testimonies from the group: "Dude, anybody up for a testimonium?"

b) A word of Christian testimony that includes the use of a musical instrument, preferably a harmonica.

c)  The internal testimony of the Spirit to confirm within us the reliability of the Scripture, giving us certainty that the Bible is the Word of God. 

Note: if this were a quiz and you didn't guess "c," you would be hopelessly wrong.

So what do you think about the concept of testimonium? Have you personally experienced it?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Things I Learn in Preaching Class

Last night in preaching class, I learned that I can get 10 out of 12 on a quiz and live to tell about it. That I can refuse my perfectionistic tendencies and embrace the fact that I am learning. That I can get an imperfect score on a quiz and still become a better and better preacher of His Word, by God's grace.

I am also learning that I have true friends and cheerleaders in the many males who populate the class. We are all in this together, in such a positive way, and since the preaching experience can be so scary and overwhelming and huge (as in, I have to GET THIS for my ministry), we commiserate and grow together. We are stronger because of the community aspect of the class. For which I thank God.

For awhile now, I think I have believed (without admitting it to myself), that men can teach and preach better than women, that they somehow carry more authority in their preaching. They have stronger voices and heartier constitutions, etc., but this is not all of it. This is the way I have been raised to think, of course, and so I, unconsciously, do.

I am starting to see, however, that truly effective preaching is not a function of gender. It is a function of getting the point across, of skillfully applying the cutting truth of God's Word to another's heart, in such a way that preaching becomes a redemptive experience.  Ask Anne Graham Lotz or Beth Moore.

At this point, some of you will be tempted to say that I should cultivate this skill to minister to women. And I understand where you are coming from--I've lived there. This last weekend, I attended a women's conference called Come to the Fire, where woman after woman got up to preach and share testimonies to 1,500 other women, and it taught me something, too.

That a sister can bring a message that will transform hearts and lives, displaying the image of God, and in a truly feminine way, pointing others to His truth and grace. There's little difference between teaching and preaching, anyhow, but these ladies were preaching. How do I know? They were proclaiming instead of just imparting truth.

Before the event was over, there was a healing service, in which ordained elders from different churches (all of them female) prayed for individuals who were confessing sin and asked for God's healing (James 5:13-16). I am naturally skeptical of healing services, but this one was entirely different, and very biblical. I felt God telling me that I need to trust Him, and so I confessed this to an elder, and she prayed for me and anointed me with oil, also praying for my struggle with infertility.

And so we stood, nose to nose, ezer to ezer, both of us with tears on our faces and hope in our hearts. The words this woman prayed to God were so specific and genuine that I almost crumbled under their weight.

And all of this reminded me of the power of God's ezers, women made in His image and set aside for His purposes. I suppose this is a circuitous way of telling you that I will teach and preach to women when given the opportunity to do so. I will also preach the beauty and truth of God's grace to anyone I can, male or female. To do less would be to ignore God's calling and His good gifts.

Acts 2:17-18
“‘In the last days, God says, 'I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.'"

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Seminary word of the week #1

[dis-puhn-sey-shuh-nl-iz-uhm, -pen-]
(pronounciation from

a) A slang expression, meaning the pen you are holding is pretty sensational.

b) A theological tent for Christians who often like "really specific prophecy."

c) A theological system that began in the nineteenth century with the writings of J. N. Darby. Among the general doctrines of this system are the distinction between Israel and the church as two groups in God's overall plan, the pretribulational rapture of the church, a future literal fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel, and the dividing of biblical history into seven periods, or "dispensations," of God's ways of relating to people. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology)

Note: if this were a quiz and you didn't guess "c," you would be hopelessly wrong.

So what do you think about dispensationalism? Do tell . . .

Sunday, September 19, 2010

38 Birthdays . . . and this one may be the best!

I cried before I went to sleep last night, and it had everything to do with my 38th birthday. And this man specifically:

I try not to make a habit of posting sappy things about my husband. This is mainly because I was single for 35 years, and sometimes when you're single you don't like to read sappy things about other people's wonderful husbands. Trust me. But I've got to make an exception this time. David went over the top this year for my birthday.

There was this yummy gluten-free chocolate cake he made. (Keep in mind, he's been the lone star in the kitchen lately. Me: I've had my face buried in seminary textbooks.) Then there was the dinner at Biaggi's, where I enjoyed a gluten-free pasta dish that may be illegal in some states. It was that good.

And the birthday ice cream....

And the card and letter from David that I have now reread several times over.

And you have to understand that this was preceded by a beautiful bouquet of flowers.

And a purple ipod, and a very thoughtful necklace. And I have to be honest with you. I'M JUST NOT COMFORTABLE WITH THIS LAVISHNESS. Others might expect this kind of hullaballoo on their birthdays, but not me. It makes me a little restless and itchy. And for some reason, after we got home last night and I watched a Meryl Streep movie, I was just weepy as I went to bed.

The weight of many birthdays I spent as a single hung in the air all around me, and I remembered some happy times, but some very lonely times, too. Times when I questioned God's provision for me. Times when men couldn't love me the way I wanted them to. Breakups and depression. Shattered dreams. Questions about my future.

And lying in bed, wondering at the imperfect-but-wonderful and committed way David loves me and shows His love, I was reminded of God's good care. And, honestly, that He cares for me no matter what my circumstance. At present, though, through this wonderful man who just happened to sit on the other end of the Internet one state away...and who snuck into my life in such an unassuming way.

Tonight I'm reflecting on the kiss a dear friend delivered to me in Sunday School, and the hugs, and the cards, and the amazing facebook community (Jeanette's poem and so many well wishes!), and the gifts, and I just can't quite take it all in. I can't thank God enough for caring for me through people with skin on. (You are His beautiful hands and feet, dear ones.)

So thanks for indulging me, and I guess my point is this: my heavenly Father has seen me through physical disability, and deep depression, and job loss, and breakups, and the death of my father, and infertility, and obstacles in seminary, and who knows what else will come. But He's faithful; oh, how He is. So no matter what your corner of the world looks like tonight, I hope you'll tune in to echoes of His provision, His care, and His intimate love for you. My hope and prayer is that you will somehow know that the best truly is yet to come, because of what God has done for us in reaching out to us through His Son, Jesus.

"For He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake you nor let you down (relax my hold on you)! Assuredly not!"
Hebrews 13:5b, The Amplified Bible

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

One woman in preaching class

Picture me, wheeling my little laptop bag down the seminary hall, as I approach room 101 on Tuesday night at 6 pm, only to find...

Twenty males in my Expository Preaching class! Yes, I am the only spot of estrogen. I should have prepared myself, since I attend a conservative seminary. But alas, I was unprepared. And a little undone. I mentioned the lack of estrogen to the professor, and he remarked that I would "need to assert myself in class."

I think he might come to regret those words. I can just see it on my final evaluation: "I have learned Suzanne does not have a problem asserting herself..." In a class where I realize most of the members do not agree with my desire to preach, no one is quite sure what to do with me. But I have decided that I'm done minimizing my giftings of teaching, leadership, and encouragement. They are what they are. To be faithful to Christ and His body, I must simply be willing to use them.

And so my "introduction" went something like this:
"Hi, my name is Suzanne Burden. I write for Christian publishers part-time and attend seminary part-time. And I'll answer the most-oft question I get here up-front: no, my husband does not attend seminary. He works for an American automaker. I'm pursuing an MA in Theology. I have not had the opportunity to preach...yet (silence is deafening)...but I do fill in as a Sunday School teacher."

You see, it is not that women have not infiltrated the preaching class before...there were two last year, for instance. It is just that I'm not sure a woman who desires to actually preach or teach to a mixed audience has ever set foot in the door. Most of the women I meet are willing to live up to the status quo, to agree with Paul when he says he does not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. And I can respect that, if that's truly what they believe, although I personally feel other passages show us this is about Paul's local context only, and that women in the Old and New Testaments were doing a lot of things many of our churches don't even allow them to do today. (Deborah, Huldah, Miriam, Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia, etc.)

But my position becomes even stranger when I tell you that I don't like to be labeled an egalitarian. I truly believe that men and women are equal, but that they do complement each other. There is a reason God made both of the sexes. And I delight in our differences, and the beauty of our alliance.

So, if you think of it, pray for me on Tuesday nights as I soak in all the amazing material this class has to offer. And somewhere, several weeks down the road, get up to preach my first sermon. If there's one thing seminary does, it stretches you above and beyond your comfort zone.

And if all goes well, I will not hear the strange words uttered to another woman who preached a sermon in seminary: "your preaching was good, but it was kind of feminine." Uh....exactly.

P.S. Although you may mean no offense, please don't invite me to the seminary wives group, assuming that my husband is the one in seminary. Please ask first. And when you find out I am in seminary, please don't ask me if my husband is in seminary, too. That might not seem offensive at face value, but if he were in seminary, I highly doubt you'd ask if I was, too. However, if you do (or have done) one of the aforementioned things, I will forgive you in Jesus' name. I, too, have stuck my foot in my mouth on more occasions than I can count and am truly grateful the grace of Christ covers it all!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How (Not) to Write a Seminary Paper . . . or Any Paper

Enjoy the torture that precedes one’s first ever Systematic Theology paper. Can anyone say “trying too hard?”

  1. Read your four sources and all 150 pages in fits and starts; one minute you dig theology and think you should have so read this ten years ago—the next you feel that seminary was a grave mistake and that someone who knows what “teleological” means should be writing this paper.
  2. Tell your mom, friend, spouse, pet, or significant other in the room to stop making breathing, belching or [you-fill-in-the-blank] noises. You can’t think, and dang, thinking is what this paper really needs. Now if only you could quiet the voices inside your head…
  3. Email the professor about formatting your paper and endnotes. Although this has already been spelled out clearly in the syllabus, you are worried that Systematic Theology professors will be especially anal about formatting done…systematically.
  4. Go back to the kitchen when you realize you can’t see anything anymore due to the eye strain and grab your reading glasses. Be sure to also grab two chocolate fudge cookies while you are there for the seritonin boost that could put this paper over the top. Yes, chocolate, that’s what it needs.
  5. When chocolate is not enough, take a study break to run to Starbucks for a Green Tea Frappuccino with whip. Convince yourself the green tea will stimulate brain cells that have been lying dormant for 37 years now.
  6. Contemplate the interesting differences between Bible-followers who claim the Bible is inerrant and infallible and those who believe it is just infallible. Recognize that certain inerrant-infallibles you know may or may not look like they are in pain, or at least constipated.
  7. Although you know it is important to always be asking “What Would Jesus Do?” you suddenly find yourself thinking: What would NT Wright say about this?”
  8. Google NT Wright and quote from him at length.
  9. Read Phillippians 4:13, for pete’s sake. Read it again. Then read Isaiah 40:31 and picture yourself soaring like an eagle as soon as this paper is signed, footnoted, and emailed.
  10. Go over the 1000 word limit by seven, but tell yourself that instead of getting docked, your professor will most likely smile with benevolence and offer you extra credit.

The author may or may not have followed these steps exactly during the formation of her first Systematic Theology paper last week. At least not in order. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

We are all addicted

Hi, my name is Suzanne, and I'm an addict. That is, we're all inclined to be addicted to ourselves. Self-addicted. And so I offered this prayer at a success event for women in drug and alcohol recovery this last Monday.

Dear Lord:

It’s because of you that we are sitting here tonight. You’ve been so good and gracious to us.

The truth is that each one of us here tonight has a tendency toward addiction. We are addicted to ourselves. Self-addicted. And that addiction shows itself in our relationships, in our longings, in our substance abuse, and in the way we often ignore you, forgetting that you have created us and made a way that we can know you personally. Forgive us, Father.

Sometimes it’s been hard to receive your acceptance and love, because we don’t feel loved by others. Break down that barrier, Lord, and help us to receive all that you have to offer us. Help each one here to be grateful for the amazing blessings you’ve poured out on us, and to turn their will and their life over to you.

And thank you for this amazing time of celebration—for the success we are celebrating tonight.  Surround these amazing women with your strength, bless them as they seek to thank you and to make things right in their lives, help them to know that they are always loved.

In Jesus' name we pray, Amen. 

What we learn from Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous is that the first step to recovery of any kind is that we admit we are powerless to help ourselves. You don't have to be shooting up or draining a shot glass to need help in your life. You just have to admit that you need Jesus...and yes, others, too, because they are the hands and feet of Jesus in our lives. 

Have you taken the first step? And if you know Jesus, are you becoming less self-addicted? How?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Video studies: Grandmother Eve-an alliance, part two

Every woman since Eve has been an ezer-- a Hebrew word God used when creating her that means strong helper, warrior, and rescuer. See last week's video for an eye-opening look.

This week, we're talking about the amazing alliance created between "adam" and "ezer" or Eve. Ideally fashioned to work together, love together, create together, imagine together . . . to be together. This amazing duet is sung today over and over again, as men and women pow-wow in board rooms, minister together, live and love together--friend to friend, wife to husband, mom to son, dad to daughter . . . you get the gist. You're a part of this grand alliance between "adams" and "ezers" whether you are single or married, a mom or not, working out of your home or a business. Or any combination thereof.

Watch this week's video to find out why:

Grandmother Eve-an alliance, part 2 from Suzanne Burden on Vimeo.

Genesis 1:27-28, NIV
"So God created man [or humankind] in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'"

Read Genesis 1-3 for the full Creation story. Other suggested resources:
When Life and Beliefs Collide and Lost Women of the Bible by Carolyn Custis James.

What about you? Do you believe men and women are better together than apart? What are some challenges that keep us apart? What *beautiful* things have you noticed we can accomplish together? Please comment.

Next time: a look at how the curse of sin mars the alliance--and whether the curse is something to live up to or something to live above. Hint: we'll examine male/female roles at home, work, and in the church. Catch you later!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Her first Bible

This morning, I sat on a picnic table with the sun beating down on my neck as I read through the 2nd and 3rd chapters of John with a 20something who is in addiction recovery.

And we talked about crazy John the Baptist, and the first few disciples who bravely followed the seemingly-insignificant Jesus of Nazareth, and the way his mother got a little bossy, which instigated his first miracle of turning water into wine.

The person of Jesus was alive between us, and we were both excited about his ministry getting started in the beginning of John. And after we read and talked for awhile, I reached into my bag, and pulled out something wrapped in sparkly purple paper. "I've got something for you," I said. "And this slow grin just broke out over her face, and she said, "It's a Bible, isn't it?" with excitement in her voice. "I've never had my own before..." And looking inside she said, "And it has words I can understand, too."

And something within me shivered, picturing the many Bibles at home upon my shelf, so many of them untouched.

I told her to mark up her Bible, to not be afraid of it. I recommended she keep on going through John for the story of Jesus' ministry, and that she consider reading the Psalms, especially Psalm 139. I told her God delights in her.

I prayed for her and she said each time we meet her heart leaves lighter, and I told her that is because her spirit is involved. That she is made to know God.

And then she grabbed her brand-new Bible in her arms and turned to go back inside, promising to meet me there next week. And I don't know whose heart was more filled up to the brim with joy, dribbling out as I got up from the picnic table to walk to my car.

"For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the [a]breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart."
Hebrews 4:12, The Amplified Bible

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Notable Quotable: Mother Teresa

"We have been created for greater things, not just to be a number in the world, not just to go for diplomas and degrees, this work and that work. We have been created to love and be loved."

"And let us consider and give attentive care to watching over one another, studying how we may stir up (stimulate and incite) to love and helpful deeds and noble activities . . ."
-Hebrews 10:24, Amplified Bible

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Notable Quotable: Rich Mullins

"If I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my Savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

New video studies: Bible women - Grandmother Eve, part 1

Need a fresh vision? Some perspective? A reminder of why you as a woman are worthwhile? Watch this week's study for an exciting look at who God created Eve to be--and how you share her essential qualities today. Be sure to join the conversation in comments after watching the video. (Men welcome, too!)

You, daughter, of Eve, are not an afterthought--but Creation's perfect finishing touch.

Bible women - Grandmother Eve-an ezer, part 1 from Suzanne Burden on Vimeo.

Genesis 2:18, NIV
"The LORD God said, 'It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a *ezer* suitable for him.'"

Read Genesis 1-3 for the full Creation story. Other suggested resources:
When Life and Beliefs Collide and Lost Women of the Bible by Carolyn Custis James.

If you are female, do you often feel  like an afterthought? Have you believed the lie that daughters of Eve are not as valuable to God as sons of Adam? Share your thoughts below. Let's get the conversation started!

Next week: Adam and Eve unite--a blessed alliance, whether single or married. See you then!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Fall 2010 pleasure reading

While normal people are reading their favorite magazine, and watching the Food Network, and doing all the autumn-type activities I love, I will be reading:

Pity me not, dear friends. I signed up for this--and can't wait to dig in! Systematic Theology I and Expository Preaching and Teaching classes, here I come.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

New video studies: Bible women - Hagar the Invisible

Welcome to my new mini-Bible studies featuring women from the Bible and how their stories relate to ours.

Bible Women - Hagar the Invisible from Suzanne Burden on Vimeo.

Genesis 16:13, NIV
"She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: 'You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the one who sees me.'"

Read Genesis 16 and 21 to experience more of Hagar's story and God's love for anyone who feels unwanted.

Can you relate to feeling invisible, unloved, or unwanted? Do you believe God sees you and protects you? Why or why not? Please share.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Notable Quotable: Elizabeth O'Connor

"Each of us is the artist of his own life. Whether a man arrives or does not arrive at his own destiny - the place that is peculiarly his - depends on whether or not he finds the Kingdom within and hears the call to wholeness - or holiness . . . The man who hears that call is chosen. He does not have to scramble for a place in the scheme of things. He knows that there is a place which is his and that he can live close to the One who will show it to him. Life becomes his vocation."
-Elizabeth O'Connor, Journey Inward, Journey Outward

Do you believe you are the artist of your own life? Do you believe that all of life is the vocation of the Christian? Please share.

Friday, July 23, 2010

When Jesus asks you to volunteer

Read on to see what happens when God says "not now" to your plans and signs you up for something better. See if you can relate!
This summer . . . I had plans. But when they fell through, I got quiet and started watching and listening for opportunities Jesus might want for me instead. The result follows.

I planned to make money to fund my seminary education. And, despite due diligence, several projects fell through due to timing or being postponed.

Jesus asked me to volunteer to lead a Sunday night Bible study for women in drug and alcohol recovery at a local rehab house. We're reading through the gospel of John in The Message Bible. Wow. I'm seeing the power of God's Word at work in a fresh and real way.

Before I knew it, my friend and I were also on the hook to teach resume-building and interviewing skills. Someone else donated money for Bibles for these ladies. The ripple effect!

I so desperately wanted to serve patients at the hospital this summer while fulfilling a chaplaincy credit for seminary. But at the last minute, it got canceled.

Instead, Jesus asked me to take cookies to my new neighbor--and then to bring over chicken salad with croissants when her father fell ill. He asked me to fill in for my Sunday School teacher about four times, leading a class of men and women, which is new for me. He also asked me to share life with about 20 fifth and sixth graders at my church's Vacation Bible School. 

Perhaps most of all, I wanted to get pregnant this summer.

Jesus has asked me to acknowledge and live out my God-given role as a life-giver, whether I have any children or not. So I invited a ten-year-old girl out to lunch. She lost her mom to cancer last year and lives with her dad and five brothers. For just an hour and a half, I offered up a little bit of mothering and was blessed by this young woman's unbelievable grace and love for God's Word. My life-giving also extends to two developmentally-different brothers at church, one of whom sits with us sometimes. On some Sundays, their friend Joe tells me I am "gorgeous AND sweet." Really, what could be better?

Yesterday, I had a volunteer shift at a local hospital, sitting with someone who is dying with no friends or family to be there. And it struck me how we come into this world like we go out...helpless, sometimes frightened, just wishing for a warm touch. And so I held this person's hand, while realizing that life-giving comes in a million different forms. In fact, we must have a hundred opportunities to "give life" daily through our interactions. But how often do we choose to give life? 

Unless we quiet every noisy beep and ring and distraction and listen to Jesus. I'm not speaking of anything mystical and strange. Just quieting your heart so you can feel the stirrings that come as you focus on God and His Word, while also watching for the work God is doing around you--work that you could participate in. And when we let Him know it's OK to ask us to volunteer--that we'll be ready for our next assignment--then our eyes start to open to opportunities, and we'll do what He asks when it sometimes goes against what we had planned.

I didn't initially want what I got this summer. I planned for something entirely different and kicked and screamed when the results of my planning seemed to backfire everywhere I looked. God had something else in mind, and I'm finally starting to appreciate His "plan B"--which we all know is not a "plan B" at all in His economy.

You see, I'm starting to see what He's really asking from me is "availability." He's not always asking me to drop everything. He just wants to know that I will if He has a more important assignment for me at present. Back in May, I had a tight grip on my plans, and an agenda, and GOALS. I still have summer goals, but several of them have been postponed.

Jesus was asking me to volunteer, you see, and He didn't want anything messing with His plans.

What has Jesus asked you to volunteer for? What did the volunteering teach you about yourself and what you have to offer in God's Kingdom? How did it touch others? Please share.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What's your test from God?

Tears streamed down my face this morning as I watched this video about Abraham's test, Holy is the Lord, by folk singer Andrew Peterson.

I cried because we are, all of us, being tested, even as I sit here. We tend to want for a controlled, cushified, consumeristic--did I mention controlled?--life. But we don't get it. None of us do. We were born to be tested.

Just ask Abraham. The one God made the covenant promise to in Genesis 15. Here's a paraphrase: A son coming from your own body will be your heir [God didn't mention Abraham would struggle with infertility most of his life and be older than dirt when Isaac was born]. Look up in the can't count those stars, Abraham, my friend--but that's how many offspring or great-grandchildren I'm going to give you. I promise.

So how inconsistent, how two-faced, did that promise seem years later, when Abraham and his wife Sarah had a son in their geriatric years--and Abraham was then, quite simply, ordered by God to kill him? Insert the place right here where my heart starts hyper-ventilating. I can't help it.

This smacks of the way God gives a godly woman a husband--and that same husband dies one year later unexpectedly. Or worse yet, divorces her to be with someone different. Father, what heavenly purpose could there be in this? This is betrayal of the worst sort, when someone (anyone, really) who loves you promises you something big, gives it to you--but ultimately takes it and abandons you, carrying your dignity and heart off with them in the process.

In a very personal sense, this is how God gave me a Dad who loved me well, then allowed him to be taken at 61 years of age from cancer. Just before he would have met the godly man I waited 35 years to marry. The man he had prayed so earnestly for. My extended family met David three days after Dad passed away.

Seriously?!? That was the response of one friend who prayed so earnestly for me to find a spouse that year. She prayed specifically that Dad would meet said spouse. And in God's divine wisdom, only half of her prayers were answered affirmatively.

 A test. 

Will you still believe God loves you and will provide for you? Will Abraham? Will I? Because He's promised to, though all of the signs around you are screaming to the contrary.

And so Abraham walked 50 or 60 miles with young Isaac, a three-day journey that ended as they climbed Mount Moriah. Isaac was on the altar. There was wood for burning the sacrifice. A knife, even, to do the killing. Abraham's chosen son was getting suspicious. The moment of obedience had come. And...

An angel of the Lord cried out! Don't lay a hand on your boy. Don't do anything to Isaac. I see now that you fear God, because you didn't withhold what was most precious to you. And suddenly Abraham spotted a ram. The place where his life--and his faith--flashed before him would be called "The Lord Will Provide."

What will your place of testing be called? "God failed me and I deserted Him?" "Been there. Done that. Doing it my own way now?" Or will your faith be refined and purified through testing?

You may suffer losses unimaginable and people may fail you repeatedly and you may feel depressed and downcast. You may fear there is no way out. But there is, somehow. God cannot go back on His promise to love and save you and bring good out of your circumstances if you know His Son, Jesus. It's just not in His nature to do so.

I can testify, though sometimes with tears, that the Lord will provide.

"Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life." James 1:12, The Message

What's your current "test?" Do you believe God is providing for you? Why or why not?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Did I mention I'm falling in like with N.T. Wright?

I'm a girl who's on the beginning of her seminary journey. And as such, I have a lot to learn. Approximately two more years worth of seminary learning, to be exact. (And lots more learning after that.)

I've been learning, for instance, which authors my seminary professors would like me to read--John Piper, Dallas Willard, Miles Stanford, etc. And which books they would recommend I not bother with. Anything by Rob Bell, for instance.

But since at this stage in my life I'm not good at following directions "just because," I tend to a read a little bit of everything. And this approach serves me well, because on the Arminian/Calvinism theology continuum, I get exposed to almost every imaginable approach to Scripture.

Along the way, although I can assure you I am happily married, I have begun to fall in serious like with N.T. Wright. ("Tom" Wright is the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and a New Testament scholar.) Or perhaps I should say I am seriously in like with his even-handed approach to theology and his irenic, peace-loving spirit.

Call me ornery, but I like that Bishop Wright has not been liked by liberal Christians, that he has been questioned by the very conservative John Piper, that the emerging church digs him but his views don't line up with many of them consistently,  and that he is always trying to work out his faith according to the Word of God, set in its proper context. The latter, of course, is what I find most endearing--Bishop Wright's committed faithfulness to the study of the text and context of the Bible.

The funniest thing about this post is that I've read so little of Wright's actual writing--though I intend to. Since I so often struggle with the paradoxes the apostle Paul represents, perhaps I should start with one of his "Paul for Everyone" commentaries.

Meanwhile, prepare to be wowed by the essays and addresses found on this page. If I were you, I'd start with his "The Biblical Basis for Women's Ministry in the Church." I've read it three times already, and I still want to read it again.

So, yes, I've fallen seriously in like. Friends and family now have a built-in book shopping list for my next birthday. Now, if you'll excuse me--it appears I have a bit more reading to do.

What about you? What do you love or dislike about NT? Who are your favorite theologians?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What if Billy Graham believes in evolution and creation?

That is, that God created the world, absolutely, but our Creator may have used the evolutionary process in some form to do it? And what if I told you he told the world just that in 1964? That was so 25 years ago! And yet I just read about it today, courtesy of Pastor Kurt Willems blog.

“I don’t think that there’s any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. I think we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we’ve tried to make the Scriptures say things that they weren’t meant to say, and I think we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course, I accept the Creation story. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man… whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man’s relationship to God.” 
— Billy Graham in Doubt and Certainties (1964)

*picture from 1966

That is, that God created the world, absolutely, but our Creator may have used the evolutionary process in some form to do it? And what if I told you he told the world just that in 1964? That was so 25 years ago! 

This is one of those "drop the bomb" in the middle of a conversation things I can use with friends...just like the reaction I get when I tell them B.G.--who seems to be our evangelical spokesperson--used to be a registered Democrat. That he's primarily a Christian, but that he's admitted to voting as a Democrat, voted Republican for a bit, then eventually left the labels to be a pastor to both the right and the left. Would anyone object if I just come out right here and now and say that I treasure diversity in Christ's body? I hope not. Because I believe I just did.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Something crazy

Last night the husband and I did something crazy, and it turned out splendidly.

Being the more spontaneous one in our relationship, I told him we needed to jump in the car and the inspiration for dinner would hit us. It had been a long day.  I had a great call with a business connection that gave me insight into a project. I made and served lunch at my home to two precious women who form a writing team with me. We're involved in a God-thing, a little project that seems to possibly be going places, against all odds. Something that could allow us to join in the work we believe God so desperately wants to do in us and around us. We ate beautiful plates of chicken salad and fruit while listening to classical music.  We prayed and poured out our hearts to God. We brainstormed. And two Skype calls and one physical therapy appointment after that, it became clear that no one in our home was interested in kitchen duty.

Since we've hit all the usual dining spots in our town, we headed toward my seminary's little town and nice little place on a lake. On the way, we called some seminary friends who live in this town, and being the hospitable types who were already having one seminary guest for dinner, they generously invited us to their home, too, for a dinner which was happening 45 minutes later. Exactly the amount of time it would take us to get there. We got there right on time to enjoy a meal of steak, potatoes, corn on the cob, coleslaw, salad, fresh-cut melon, and crepes for dessert. And all we brought was the Coca-Cola and apple juice we picked up on the way. We enjoyed every minute of it!

So I got to daydreaming on the way home and thinking about how God knows our days and what we need and how to bless us. And sometimes He does stuff like this, probably to get our attention, to show us that He is our source of refreshment. And when we are weary, when we can't even make up our minds about dinner, can't decide if we're tired, hungry, thirsty, lonely, etc., He sometimes steps in to dish up just what we didn't even know we needed.

In this case, dinner with three other lovely, beautiful people with whom our bodies, minds, and souls were refreshed. Thanks Jim, Christy, and Adam. Something crazy turned out to be just . . . right.
Sweet, unexpected fellowship from generous hearts that love well. And thank you, Abba-Father, for knowing what we need and surprising and delighting us by your provision. And to think, I didn't even have to ask.

"...for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."
Matthew 6:8