Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why Immodesty Doesn't Equal Female Power

The other night I was talking with some women about the destructive power of places like Hooters and Tilted Kilt, and strip clubs as well--and how they reduce us as women to the sum of our body parts. How they diminish and affect not only the women who work there, but women everywhere. And there were a few tears in our eyes, as we realized that we have all at some time sought male attention and approval through subtle and not-so-subtle manipulation of our bodies.

from wikipedia.com
I felt anger beneath the surface as I talked about Beyonce's latest video "Who Runs the World--Girls!" that has body parts displayed through little clothing, hips and breasts gyrating, while all the while claiming that girls now have the power--by manipulating through their sexuality. I'd like to go on record by saying that we certainly don't run the world when we're dependent on our fleeting beauty and gross immodesty to have power and position. As one blogger (who was simply a music reviewer) put it after seeing the video, "Hide your daughters!"

Did someone forget that women have brains and strength and love and nurture to give--and that they aren't only valuable when they look sexy? That they are valuable to God from the moment they are born till the moment they die...and beyond?

No, we are worth infinitely more to the God who created us in His own image. We as women are created as indispensable "ezers" -- the Hebrew word for Eve that exalts us as agents or rescue, meant to join with men to accomplish God's work. We are neither subordinate nor superior. We are created by almighty God, and instead of manipulation, we are called to love, to service, to give. (If you want to know more, listen to this sermon or watch this video.)

I'm not removed from this problem--I've seen the tragic effects firsthand. Last year, while helping a 21-year-old exotic dancer who was detoxing from opiates, my husband and I took her into our house for a few days. She was so ashamed, she couldn't look David in the eyes. I told her God loves her and gives her dignity, but she couldn't imagine leaving the strip club, since she made so much money there, and had so much "fun." Where is all the money you've made, I asked, since she had about $3 in her purse. And she had to admit it was all gone. And that in a few years, she would be out of a job, too, tossed aside as younger, more beautiful dancers came on the scene. Although she was the one nauseous from detoxing, I was the one who felt like vomiting.

Ladies, we don't have to objectify ourselves. God loves us intrinsically and always, when we are 8 days old and 80 years old, and it doesn't matter to him what we look like. We are valuable because He created us, loves us, and wants relationship with us. That is enough, and no-holds-barred sexuality cheapens you and the way other women are perceived. There's a better way.

Men, you don't have to objectify us, either. Choose to believe that you are also made in God's image, you are not animal, but you have a mind and a will that can be submitted to the One who loves you most. When you see a woman of beauty, thank God for his good Creation. Then decide that you will treat your mothers and your girlfriends and your wives and your daughters and the woman on the street with the protection and dignity they deserve. 

Pornography, and Hooters, and strip clubs, and showing body parts that arouse attention, are destructive to men and women, boys and girls. We have the ability to choose things that bring us death, but oh how God longs to bring us life!

**The author wishes to acknowledge that women also deal with disordered sexuality, including pornography--and that there is help and healing for both men and women. Here are two resources: xxxchurch.com and dirtygirlsministries.com.

How can we as men and women help each other in this area? What are some things we can do to restore modesty and dignity to God's daughters?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spiritual retreating

She invited me, and so I headed northwest about 45 minutes or so, finding myself on a dirt road, carefully following signs and arrows that pointed to "Lutherhaven."

The "day away" of spiritual retreat was a last-minute idea, and I gladly seized it. Since moving from Michigan, I have craved quiet, nature-filled spaces--and have so seldom found them. But find them I would. Brenda led me to a room filled with a bed, a desk, a dresser, and a few books. She prayed over me, that God would meet me in there and in the outdoors, and that my soul would be refreshed and renewed.

Her kindness surprised me. As you might suspect, it was a Lutheran campground, and I attend a Nazarene church while studying at a Grace Brethren seminary. But Brenda's heart beats for Christian leaders who need to be refreshed. So she found me through some recent articles and this blog, and she welcomed me as a sister in Christ. I was more than a little grateful.

I hiked a bit outdoors, Brenda's words ringing in my ears. "Listen." and "Accomplish nothing." Unguided tours into the presence of the Almighty tend to unnerve most of us. So I sat and quieted myself. And read a bit. And journaled, confessing the competing motives in my heart...

"We tend to forget a very simple truth about prayer: It is passionate dialogue, a living conversation with the God who pursues us Because of what Christ has done, we may enter God's presence with the freedom of little children who cry, 'Abba, Father.' (Romans 8:15) - Matthew Woodley

I wandered up to the lodge's loft, and with colored chalk, began to list the places and things in which I sense God's presence. Just taking in the list reminded me of the healing Christ has brought to my heart, and the subsequent joy I have experienced.

"It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in." - CS Lewis

And the result of the quiet, and sitting surrounded by forests and nature, and just listening was this. My Father asked me quite simply, "Am I enough for you?"

-Am I enough for you if you never have a child?
-Am I enough for you, or do you need a new car?
-Am I enough for you, or do you need a seminary degree completed on your timetable?
-Am I enough for you, or will you fill yourself with sugar to replace me?
-Am I enough for you, or will you try to control life instead of depending on me to provide what's needed?
-Am I enough for you, or will you pressure your husband to be "god to you" as well?
-Am I enough for you, or will you persist in worrying over things in which you have no control?

Am...I...enough? Yes, Lord, you are. You're enough every minute of the day and the night. You're enough when I'm lonely and when my love-tank is filled to the brim. You're enough when I'm grieving, enough when I'm doing laundry, enough when I'm dreaming, enough when I'm serving, enough when I lay my head down on the pillow each night. In fact, I'll go one step further...as the extra bread at the feeding of the 5,000 signified, you are more than enough.

When was the last time you experienced focused time with God, with no agenda and a heart that was quiet enough to hear his voice? What was the result?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Surprised by prayer

Recently, I've been praying the Lord's Prayer (also known as the disciples' prayer) regularly. And I've been touched by the sentence, "Your will be done--on earth, as it is in heaven." As I've prayed, my heart has cried out, Lord, may your justice and love rise up here in the hearts of those who love you; I long for you to take joy in what is happening here with the image-bearers you've created. Your will be done, right here and right now!

And in saying this, I am longing for purity and righteousness. I am asking that people be drawn to repent of their sins and receive the love of a Risen Savior. I want desperately for the broken to be tended to, loved, for orphans and widows to be cared for, and for those in prison to be visited. For those addicted to substitutes for real joy to be healed and set free.

That leads me to my other prayer of late. I have led a Bible study for women in drug and alcohol addiction recovery for almost a year now. The sweetness of Jesus comes and hangs out in each Scripture read, in each truth applied to sorrow and sin, in each hug extended as though my arms were the arms of our Savior. But...I've needed help. For over six months, I've been praying for another woman with love and maturity to help with the study, to mentor women who want to go deeper, to add her heart and her mind to the cause. I told prayer warriors about this, I mentioned it to people I felt God might speak to, but nothing.

A few weeks ago, I grew impatient. Why, Lord? Why wouldn't you send someone to help these women? They are desperate for you! That day, I wrestled with God and mentioned to my husband my growing discouragement. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised to learn that same day a woman emailed the facility asking if she could start a Bible study there. The director said "We already have one, but I believe the leader is looking for help."

Was I ever. And so, within two days I met with God's provision, and she took over that Sunday while I was out preaching. And now she's helping to mentor these women in need. And I just keep smiling when I think about it. I wonder, "Did that just happen?" And God says, smiling, Yes, my child. I know what you need and when you need it. I see you. 

This week's Bible study filled up and filled over the allotted time, as the women wrestled with God's Word, asking profound questions, sharing deeply from their hearts, wondering about the difference Jesus can make in one individual life. And I said, Yes, Lord! Your will be done right here on earth as it is in heaven.

Your turn. What does the Lord's Prayer mean to you? Are you surprised when God answers your prayer--or not?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

"Why Women Matter to God" sermon audio by Suzanne Burden

Here it is, friends. A message delivered last Sunday on Mother's Day. Please, spread the message far and wide. God has created every girl and woman in His image, as an ezer (Hebrew word in Genesis 2:18)--a strong helper, warrior, and rescuer in His Kingdom.

Is this message new to you? Comment below on the implications of every girl and woman being created as God's image-bearer and a strong helper, warrior, and rescuer in His Kingdom. Look forward to conversing here!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My first church sermon

*NOTE: There was a hiccup with the audio file to this sermon. Thanks for your patience. The audio file will be posted here yet this week.*

Last Sunday, I preached for the first time in a church. It was a big deal, a game-changer in my life, if you will. And then again, it was as natural as breathing. Is this how one knows when she has found a sweet spot? A place where the world's hunger and a person's giftedness and passion meets?

Pastor Jim Kane, me, and David
The title of the sermon was "Why Women Matter to God," and in it we turned to the Genesis Creation story. We unpacked the amazing truth that we are made in the very image of God, of being created as God's ezers (the Hebrew word used when God created Eve), and we discussed how women are desperately needed in God's Kingdom.

The central truth: "Women are part of God's Plan A, fully equipped to do his good work."

One woman, who looked to be about 80, said afterwards: "Thank you--you helped me realize I'm still worth something." And my heart soared. I addressed the young girls in attendance, as well as the grown-up woman, and in a moment at the end as I asked the "ladies" to stand for a prayer of blessing, the girls elbowed each other until they stood up as well. A woman is an ezer--a strong helper, warrior, and rescuer--from the cradle to the grave, and I wanted all of them to know it. Our heavenly Father's intentions for His daughters were made known on Sunday, thanks be to God!

But there was also something happening in my heart, something I find hard to articulate. I know many dear brothers and sisters in Christ who do not believe a woman should preach in church--and quite honestly, many of them use particular Scriptures to back up their views. I understand where they are coming from, though of course I don't believe those passages, set in very particular contexts, mean that at all.

What I am trying to say is the road to my first sermon has been costly to me personally. But when I walked up to the front of the auditorium on Sunday, none of that mattered. It didn't enter my mind in the least. Instead of being silenced, I was set free to simply expound the Word of God to his sons and to his daughters.

"In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all peoples. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. . . Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy."Acts 2:17-18

As I stood up to preach on Sunday, the prayers of many undergirded me, and I knew there were other women around the world approaching the pulpit as well. I know this because some of them have emailed or commented following the article on The Gifted for Leadership blog, and they remind me that being gifted to preach or teach is about faithfulness. A simple willingness to be used by God, to be obedient no matter what others think.

I have yet to meet a woman who is a leader in ministry for the wrong reasons. I'm sure there are some, but by and large, the women I meet have sacrificed greatly to use the gifts and express the calling God has traced on their hearts. It is not easy, but they choose faithfulness. Many of them switch denominations, lose friends or family relationships, and take poor-paying jobs that no one wants so they can serve the Lord with their gifts. I admire them—and though I don't know the specifics of what God is calling me to do yet, I pray for grace to simply obey.

Your turn. Do you believe women should fully use whatever gifts God has given them? If you do, are you still somewhat uncomfortable when a woman gets up to preach? Let's discuss with kindness and charity.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pain as a Platform: My Article on Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership blog

In just three days, I will preach my first church sermon on Mother's Day. This in itself is a big deal, an earth-shattering experience of sorts. But the fact that I battle infertility ups the ante and has caused me to seek out answers to a woman's identity from God's Word.

The result is the sermon I will preach on Sunday, "Why Women Matter to God," to all of God's daughters. (Yes, I will try to post the audio to this sermon after Mother's Day.)

Read my article "Leading in the Midst of Woundedness" on Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership blog for the rest of the story.

What about you? Are you leading or living from a place of pain? How has God transformed your areas of woundedness into opportunities for ministry?