Monday, July 9, 2012

"The Sweet Surrender of Submission" sermon audio by Suzanne Burden

Hold your hands out in front of you, clenching them and digging your nails in. Now open your palms in surrender. Which is easier? God is teaching me to choose surrender and submission.

Following is the hardest sermon I've preached yet. Discover the beauty of what God teaches us about submitting to him—and dying to ourselves to truly live.

Peace to you.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

If God is my father, this is my family

You can be lonely in a crowded room, in a busy hospital, in a bustling church. But here's what I'm beginning to believe: loneliness in a church setting may actually hurt most, because in the body of Christ we are to be binding up each other's wounds, listening to each other's confessions, actually physically breaking bread together. In fact, the list of "one anothers" in the Bible is quite extensive!

These are not suggestions, but imperatives from the very words of Scripture. 

Today I googled quotes on loneliness for a writing project I'm working on about community. And it was really telling that such similar sentiments came from secular writer Kurt Vonnegut, often known for his outrageousness...and Catholic activist Dorothy Day. It is as if they were at the same party, or at the very least that both had walked through the terrible darkness of loneliness:

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

If I were to ask you if you have ever been lonely in church, in a small group Bible study, or on a Christian retreat, you would invariably say "yes," because each one of us has known the pain of isolation in a group. And many of us hang out in groups that claim the name of Christ. In all of this, though, I believe we've cheated ourselves: so many of us in the U.S. have believed that our faith was an individual matter, that it is "just between us and God," and so we isolate, we posture, we plan our lives out without the interdependence that God built into our natures, that he calls into existence through His body.

In this, Pastor Eugene Peterson is instructing me, through the book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction:

"For God never makes private, secret salvation deals with people. His relationships with us are personal, true; intimate, yes; but private, no. We are a family in Christ. When we become Christians, we are among brothers and sisters in faith. No Christian is an only child."

With great irony, I've written this post on a day when I feel a great deal of loneliness and uncertainty. Since moving four years ago, loneliness has been a fairly consistent struggle—pastoral ministry helps, but does not cure this ache. But instead of dwelling on friendlessness, or childlessness, or loss of family members, I feel like I want to hoist my loneliness flag in a different direction: with God's help, I want to paint a vision for what his church should be. A healer of hurts, a noisy bunch of diners breaking bread, a family that stays together no matter the inconvenience or toil. A persistent community of God-worshippers in which solitude only leads us back to the raucous joy that can be found when we gather together.

"We are set apart for service to one another. We mediate to one another the mysteries of God."-Eugene Peterson

What about you? Do you struggle with loneliness in your church community? Have an example of the church doing well in celebrating life together?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Keep It Simple, Sister

KISS. Originally an acronym for "keep it simple, stupid." I, however, like my title better. It reflects my ongoing journey to embrace simplicity. Of casting off the nonessentials in order to embrace the essentials. Of choosing people above programs. Talk-to-me-in-person-time over technology. It is an ongoing dance, this journey to saying no over and over again so that ultimately I can say—yes, Lord. Yes, Lord, to your best for me.

"God made man simple; man's complex problems are of his own devising." (Ecclesiastes 7:30 JB)

Simplicity can be defined by many things, inward and outward, but I am finding that Christian simplicity surrounds this truth: I am becoming, and accepting, and living out fully the person God has created me to be. And in saying this, I am declaring that anything outside of the person God has created me uniquely to be can and must go. I do not want to live in duplicity, pleasing others and pretending to be someone I simply am not. That is the heart of simplicity.

I am convinced that Quaker pastor and author Richard Foster likes to kick my butt around a bit. Reading the first six chapters of Celebration of Discipline has shined a spotlight on my failure to fully embrace the means of grace God has invited us into. And yet—at this point in my life, I consider my shortfall not a scolding, but a delightful invitation. The world calls me to live my life frenetically, disconnected, seeking my own comfort, things, and satisfaction. Jesus calls me to something entirely, delightfully different. And I want different.

It is all about seeking the Kingdom of God first, according to Foster. And, of course, according to God's Word as well (Matthew 6:33).

"Freedom from anxiety is characterized by three inner attitudes. If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess freedom from anxiety. This is the inward reality of simplicity." - Celebration of Discipline, p. 88

Can you imagine living this way? Can you imagine the cost of NOT living this way? I simply cannot afford to ignore the invitation of Jesus to live truly and simply any longer. Just the first step on a journey to understanding what all of this means.

How about you? What keeps you from Christian simplicity? And what draws you to it?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Things only a female pastor hears

Actual questions and statements I've heard in the last six months:

  • "What does your husband think about all of this?" (i.e., you serving as a pastor)
  • "What do you do exactly?"(i.e., and please tell me it isn't preaching)
  • "So you're ministering to women, then?" (or variations on this question)
  • "A female pastor. How wonderful! And I got to see it before I died."

And the really amazing thing is these questions mostly make me smile. To some, I may be hard to categorize and understand; to my Savior, I am simply his daughter. The one who is simply trying to be obedient—to say, "Yes, Lord," no matter what comes. 

Your turn. What would you ask a female pastor if you could? 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

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

In God's perfect plan, events converged that allowed me to share the ezer/imagebearer message for girls and women at my church this year. The result: for me, pure joy. For others, a challenge and realization that the biblical identity of every girl and woman is bigger than many of us have dared to dream.

In short, I'm thankful. Here's the 30-minute message:

Yes, an infertile woman can preach on Mother's Day...with great joy. Enjoy, and don't hesitate to share your comments here.

Monday, April 30, 2012

If I were Amish

If I were Amish, my life would likely consist of a three-mile radius.

Amish buggy in Walnut Creek, Ohio
Providing I was the Amish woman who worked in an inspirational carvings store in Walnut Creek, Ohio. I know this because she told me. She, who lives in the largest Amish settlement in the world, a settlement which boasts over 35,000 Amish, lives her entire life in the space of three miles. Good thing, too, because she travels by buggy or bicycle. The farthest she has ever been is Pennsylvania, where she has some cousins.

So I told this young woman, who seemed simply at ease in her simple blue frock and bonnet, that I'd always wondered what it would be like to live in an intentional local community like that. She half-smiled with pity in her eyes. Or perhaps I just imagined it.

I dared not tell her that I was driving one way to seminary and another way to serve as a part-time pastor, that my husband cooks, or that I had an iPhone in my purse that serves as my life's central command station. I'm not sure she could have borne all that news without weeping for me. Being in an intentional community of simplicity, a community in which every shop I entered was playing Christian music, and in which Amish of every age were bicycling over the hills in the wind and rain made ME feel like the outsider.

David, surrounded by "peace and comfort"
That is as it should be. Sitting in the der Dutchman restaurant, the only available dinner choice in town, I overheard a waitress greeting a woman with a head covering. The waitress approached her family, which included several good-sized children and said "I know you!" "What did your last name change to when you got married? Ah, yes, Yoder. Of course."

And I wondered what it would be like to be that woman. What if my last name were Yoder instead of Burden? What if my circle were small, but my faith was large? What if I cleaned and cooked for a living and found abundant satisfaction in simple things? What if I didn't have insurance, but knew my neighbors would come through for me come hell or high water? What if?

I wandered into a thrift store last Thursday and saw a teenage Amish girl in very conservative dress eyeing some black ballet-type shoes. She tried them on, sticking her foot out to admire them. And I tried to imagine what she must be thinking. Well, they aren't practical, but they are inexpensive. Would mother and father approve? Where could I wear them? and finally, They make me feel beautiful. At that, I left the store, leaving her to continue to admire them, to toss the idea around one more time, to decide if her life could embrace a pair of delicate ballet flats, to imagine herself wearing them somewhere nice.

der rolling hills

And this is where I decided we are not entirely different after all. In Walnut Creek and the nearby Sugar Creek community, Amish farms butt up to hotels and restaurants, thrift stores and gift shops. It is a dizzying mix of simplicity and tourist traps—and Amish and Mennonite locals are at its center. Abstaining from the world through radical nonconformity, the many different sects are content to get their goods into the marketplace and make an honest profit.

So this rag-tag mix of what the world considers misfits thrives, bolstered by thrifty living, laboring close to the earth and God's animals, enjoying a simple rhythm that 99% of the United States of America will never know or appreciate. This devotion, rooted in their Christian faith, attracts thousands of curious visitors, many of us wistfully longing for a simpler time and pace. So many of us want the same things. The Amish, however, are willing to forgo normal to maintain Christian simplicity.

It's not a perfect life, but I admire them for it.

If I were Amish, my life would likely consist of a three-mile radius. And my relationships—in person and offline—just might go deeper than I've ever dreamed.

Your turn: What appeals to you about Amish faith and simplicity? What do you think the Amish can teach us about living more authentically?

Monday, April 9, 2012

What if Easter teaches us to let go?

I can only speak for myself—but Holy week was exhausting. I'm not sure a pastor is supposed to say that, but there it is.

In a strange way, I felt that I was giving birth to something wild and wonderful. It was a privilege to be involved with both Good Friday services and to read so many of the passages dealing with Jesus' death and sacrifice to our congregation. To serve communion twice in one evening, to have the privilege of saying to young and old, "The body of Christ, broken for you" as they took the elements, remembering. I felt as if I had entered the Story in a new and fresh way, as if I was there, as if I was witnessing the horror and the desertion of the disciples, the blood, and the final cry declaring it was done. Over. Finished.

Then there was the earliness of Easter morning—but unlike the female disciples who ran to anoint his body for burial, I was simply helping to set up breakfast for our choir and orchestra. Elements of a different kind. The rush of the celebration followed by smiles of victory, the Easter song, hands raised to the Risen Savior, folks crying out in song, "Worthy is the Lamb!"

Hands to shake, girls twirling their skirts, guests to welcome, the lonely to hug, workers to encourage. Easter dinner with family, warm fellowship, laughter, remembering, observing grief of loss loved ones together, being.

Any sane person would have let it at that. Perhaps I should have.

And yet. Although it would have been easy to skip the Sunday night Bible study for women in addiction recovery, something told me that would be passing up an opportunity I didn't want to miss. Bible studies teach themselves on Resurrection Sunday, as people yearn for the details of Christ's death and the story of the empty tomb. On at least this one day of the year, they want to know what it means to them. And, of course it means everything. New life. The old has gone. The new has come!

So I went, laboring over the story with enthusiasm, engaging them as if we were there, reading John's account with excitement and joy. As my voice began to strain from all the speaking, my heart threatened to give way as well. Two of the women who have been a vital part of our study, engaged, attentive, those in whom Jesus appeared to be doing something so beautiful, ditched the whole recovery program. Without a goodbye. These are the times I feel betrayed, when my heart begins to question what God is doing there. Although I knew better, I wanted to punch a wall. My love for them made me feel like my heart might explode, and I wanted to run from the brokenness of it all.

You see, while you were enjoying your Easter, dressing up in your Sunday best, doing Easter-like things and enjoying yourself, hopefully remembering Resurrection Day—others were wondering how they will go on at all. 

People were running back to the addictions that destroyed them. They were crying over failed marriages, wondering how they will pay their rent this month, begging God to bring them a job, wondering what they will do about an unplanned pregnancy.

I guess I never thought about this before getting involved in the middle of the mess; now I think about it all the time.

As I went to bed last night under a cloud of grief, I couldn't even name what I would need today to allow my spirit to be restored. It turns out what I needed most, more than anything, was a simple time of communing with God. In the book Celebration of Discipline, we are studying Christian meditation and the power of Christ transforming us in these silent, surrendered places.

And so this morning I practiced the simple exercise of holding my hands down, as I tearfully released all those persons and situations in which my heart aches for resolution and grace to prevail. The tension began to drain as I slowly let go. Hands up, I received the grace of our Savior, asking for his empowerment in every area of my life I could think of, accepting his sufficiency and the empowerment the Holy Spirit gives to each of His children.

The key thing is this—I received.

No one can force this newness of life on those who insist on clinging to the old, but it is available all the same. And that is the only truth that allows me to let go. It's been a bumpy Easter, but today my soul is being fed, nurtured, watered. And finally, strengthened. That is the only place—this quiet, surrendered place—from which new life and hope can come again.

Do you practice Christian meditation? How does reflecting on God change your heart, your outlook, and your life?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

What I like about my church

Tired of "10 Things the Church Needs to Change" posts and "5 Reasons Young People are Leaving the Church" posts, ad nauseum?

Then have I got a post for you.

Because I really dig my church. And the fact that I dig it at this stage while serving as a part-time pastor is a profound experience—because I'm seeing it like it is, warts and all. And, I suppose, if prodded, I could list its downsides. But truthfully, there is just no need. The Spirit of God moves in our midst, lives are changed, healing from addiction and the bondage of sin is happening all around me, folks are getting baptized, people are giving enough furniture for an apartment to single mothers who need furniture. The food pantry is feeding people. Trips to Haiti to build medical clinics are impacting fragile lives. And people are coming in to my office, begging to know how to grow closer to God.

The next time someone asks me what I do I just might blurt out: "Watch God transform lives. How about you?"

So forgive my enthusiasm, will you? More than any other church I've ever claimed to be a part of, the presence of Jesus is visible all around me, folks are putting feet to their faith. Just last Sunday, we had a baptism and membership service, and I got to stand up and tell the congregation about A., a young woman who got in a car accident that might have severely injured her and her infant son—and yet she emerged without a scratch. She felt God telling her to return to him, to find a church, and since she drives by ours, we were the first target. I called her. She started coming to my Sunday School class. I started discipling her. And before I knew it, she had downloaded every Christian book ever mentioned by anyone in our class. And read every one.

I came very close to dancing down the aisle after Pastor Rex and I baptized her, and she came up from the water, sparkling and clean, smiling and whole. 

There is an eagerness that follows true repentance that splashes off these new believers, all over me, reminding me of the new life in Christ that is ours. Not long ago, someone at church mentioned how he had been set free from his pornography addiction just two weeks after he accepted Christ. He deleted the girlie pictures and replaced them with Christian music, just like that. And I asked him what helped him overcome the addiction—believing that surely it was an accountability program or a mentor or something—all of which, I'm convinced, are powerful tools. And he simply said, "Jesus Christ," with tears in his eyes.

So pardon the effusiveness.  Please overlook my gush. But I belong to a church that loves in the name of Jesus, where He changes lives over and over again, where a woman can joyfully serve in any capacity when God has so gifted and called her.

And that is what I like—I mean, love, about my church.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"
-2 Corinthians 5:17

Your turn: What do you like—or love—about your church family?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saying goodbye to Ferd

"Well, that was pretty good!" he said, smiling, after my sermon

My 88-year-old father-in-law was sitting in the back row, just in case he needed to slip out. I was surprised that he heard every word. To him, "pretty good" meant what I would consider "great," and so his words warmed my heart. My father died from cancer several years before giving a sermon was even a possibility for me, so Ferd's support meant so much. I'm not sure he knew how much. At one point I would have assumed he wasn't at all sure about seeing a woman behind a pulpit. Blessedly, his actions proved that assumption wrong. My husband, David, was also beaming. Today, I wrap this memory up with a string, cradling it like a treasure.
Ferd Burden, Jr., 2/19/23-3/13/12
Ferd's multi-faceted personality and life make him an enigma to me. He arrived a generation before my own parents and could have been my grandfather. A World War II vet who served in the Merchant Marines on the Pacific, he easily lived nine lives. There was the accident shipboard where he moved for what seemed like no apparent reason before a piece of machinery crashed down where he had been standing. Without moving, he surely would have been killed. With 12 siblings total, his family's constant prayers of protection surrounded him.

There was the colorful story of Ferd serving in Papua New Guinea, when he was surrounded in the woods by indigenous people. With laughter, he described pulling the cigarettes from his pocket and giving them as a peace offering. A few of his grandchildren sat there with their mouths open at the mention of nicotine. Ferd gave up smoking in his late 20s, a lifetime ago.

He lived through the Great Depression and hated to spend a dime. Married at the age of 39 and promptly had five children in rapid succession. All but one of them are still living. Survived a chemical spill to his face at the BF Goodrich factory, had a heart attack and lived to tell about it, and also recuperated from a life-threatening stroke several years ago.

After he recovered from that stroke, he began praying at family gatherings again, and inevitably his invocations would simply begin: "Our Father, we love ya...."

My brother-in-law, Jay, remembers waking up in the middle of the night in his childhood and finding his dad in the kitchen with a flashlight, poring over his Bible. It was the King James' Version, of course. No one could ever successfully convince him that this isn't the only (or even the best) translation of the Bible, though many have tried. (Me included.) I'm not sure I've personally known someone who is so familiar with Scripture that if you asked him where something was he could name chapter and verse.

At yesterday's funeral for Ferd, following his death from kidney failure last Tuesday, a holy understanding permeated the sanctuary and words of deep love rang through the church. As my sister-in-law Shellie read a tribute, she shared words that had been given to his grandson Malachi at his 13th birthday: "I'm going to live another 20 years. And you can, too, Malachi, if you read the Scriptures. The Scriptures will bless you."

A man at Ferd's country church of 40 years stopped me in the hall yesterday. I really will miss him, he said, his eyes misting. He didn't speak that often, but oh, when he opened his mouth, you knew he had something so important to say. You wanted to listen. 

We are still listening, Ferd. Listening to your legacy. I cannot imagine the sight that greeted you when you slipped away this week, leaving the pill bottles and the congestive heart failure and the bad kidneys behind. Although it still seems like a lifetime, we are not far away. And we will never forget you or the God you purposed to love all your days.

Say hello to Laura for us. And when you get to it, say hello to my Dad, too. I can't imagine how thrilled he'll be to hear from you.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"Blessed are the broken" sermon audio by Suzanne Burden

This last Sunday, I had the privilege of delivering a sermon on the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 with this central truth:

"Blessed are the broken, for they are the ones who get it."

It felt like a culmination of so many great things God has been up to in my life through years of searing brokenness. Also included: a powerful testimony from one of the women I work with at the Hope House, a program for women in recovery from chemical addictions.

I'd love for you to listen in and to share your answer to this question in the comments:
"How is God using brokenness in your life to heal and free you?"


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A prayer on this Ash Wednesday

 Many thanks to Rachel Held Evans for posting this prayer by Thomas Merton on her blog, as we start this Lenten season:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always,
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone

I'll be using this link during Lenten season for a daily prayer. What are you doing—or not doing—to remember Christ's sacrifice?

Friday, February 17, 2012

You can change your thinking...right now

I talk a lot with people about the choices they make in life. Inevitably, talking about a person's choices means talking about a person's thinking. (As she thinks, so is she...) And this is usually how the conversation goes:

Pastor Suzie, I don't know what to do about "X."

OK. What would lead you to make that choice? Where is that coming from?

I don't know. But I'm just afraid I'll make the wrong choice and screw everything up.

Yes. But what are you thinking that makes you see things that way? 

I'm thinking I'm...going to fail, I'm unworthy or unlovable, I'm about to get hurt, [you fill in the blank.]

There is a reason we quote 2 Corinthians 10:5 a lot. A verse in which Paul is defending his ministry, informing the church in Corinth that we, believers, are to take EVERY thought captive to Christ. This verse came alive for me years ago sitting at Schuler's bookstore cafe in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with my friend Colleen. It's actually one of my more vivid memories.

She said: "At any moment I can choose to begin thinking differently than I do right now."

Scha-zaam! I will never forget what she said or the way in which she said it. It was one sentence that connected so many of the dots in my life.

I have struggled with physical challenges, and depression, and hurts, and boundaries, and lost relationships, and searing grief, and infertility, and losing a job. You know, the usual. And being highly introspective—many times I would get stuck in my mental-hamster-wheel. (To be honest, a couple counselors have winsomely asked me mostly the same questions I now ask others.) But today, sitting from where I sit, knowing that I am created by a God who knows me intimately, that His Son, Jesus, paid a price so exorbitant to set me free from my self-addiction, I have been given a choice. Pursuing God on his terms (not the terms of others) and accepting His love always leads me into truth. Anything that is not of him is a lie. And as I grow on this long journey toward heaven, He will teach me how to choose healing and truth. He will show me how to begin thinking differently at any moment, to actually put on the mind of Christ.

That changes my thinking, over and over again. And changed thinking leads to changed choices.

It's not a miraculous, once-in-a-lifetime epiphany. Though, some of us, like I did, experience amazing ah-ha moments. It's a gradual revealing of the infinite love of our heavenly Father toward us, his Spirit filling us, his presence so gently shining the light into all of our brokenness. A soul-transforming love that begins to permeate our thoughts, dramatically influencing our choices, and healing us from the inside out.

"Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." Proverbs 4:23, NIV

What about you? Have you seen a clear link between your thinking and your choices? What is holding you back—or setting you free?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The wisdom of addicts

I cannot tell you definitively that those who are addicted are wiser than the average bird. (Though in general, I think they are smarter than most.)

I can only tell you that those who are in voluntary (and proactive) recovery from their addictions have taken a self-awareness pill. They have taken the pill, drank the self-awareness koolaid, if you will, and so they tend to drill down to the essence of their problems in record speed. It is the first of 12 steps that initiate this process: admitting I am powerless to help myself.

And given the fact that most of us struggle or have struggled with some kind of addiction—pride, food, nicotine, drugs, lust, codependency—you name the crutch, it would follow that all of us could choose the path to greater self-awareness.

Especially when Jesus enters the picture, and gives the hope of a new heart for the old one, delivering on his promise to make all things new

Each Sunday night I plop down on a couch facing six or seven women who are recovering from drugs and alcohol and we talk about recovery and what Jesus has to do with it. Some weeks, what comes out of their mouths stops me dead in their tracks. This week was one of those weeks.

Wise words erupted, intertwined with stories of utter brokenness and redemption:
  • "Things are a lot less painful when you're sober."
  • "Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers."
  • "And I said, 'Oh, God, sometimes you talk too much.'"
See what you can learn in one short hour-and-a-half Bible study sitting on an old couch?

  • Our addictions are meant to dull the pain—and they end up intensifying it.
  • Unanswered prayers, the ones we beg most to be answered "our way" often bring benefits: brokenness and healing we can't even conceive of in the middle of life's mess.
  • God is speaking, warning, guiding, instructing, and we sometimes quench His Spirit, try to quiet His voice, to our detriment—and sometimes, to our destruction.
That's it. That's what I learned from 7-8:30pm last Sunday night while the rest of the world was eating nachos and watching the Superbowl. I think from now on I'll call our weekly visits "Sunday School," the very best kind, where Jesus teaches me words of wisdom from those who are wise enough to know they are broken, and smart enough to believe Jesus can do anything.

Your turn: Do you have someone in your life whose deep self-awareness and brokenness has instructed you? What have you learned from them?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Why I Drive a '97 Sunfire

I suppose there are many reasons I drive a rusting '97 Sunfire.

I inherited it from my mother. It runs without a car payment. It gets me where I need to go. But as the years tick by, I become increasingly aware of its downsides.

Strange noises from any and every inch of the vehicle that others notice when they drive along. (I have for the most part blocked them out, now that my ears are so used to them.) It leaks antifreeze and stuff. And so it goes into the repair shop often for a new water pump, a new belt, a new this, a new that. It is beginning to feel like we are pouring money down the drain.

Then there are the obvious aesthetic challenges. 

A beautiful shade of....rust.

The rusting passenger door. The creaks and groans. The short that makes for a lack of good volume control on the stereo. The one slightly-cracked light on the back, the bumped up license plate that says "beep-beep" on the front. The way the fuse on the horn went out for awhile, giving me no ability to toot in those times when a horn would come in handy. This is not my dream vehicle, not by a long shot.

Still, at this very moment, it's sitting in my garage. And it still gets me where I need to go—while dispensing a healthy dose of humility in the process. Many times when I drive it I think about how God is providing my transportation for the day (give us this day our daily rusting Sunfire), and that the Almighty is watching for me to be grateful, even in this. I suppose God is smiling as I pray, "Thank you, Lord, for getting me safely where I need to be." (Aging cars as a way of breeding dependence on God. Yes, he's definitely smiling!)

But beyond all this, the real reason the Sunfire still gets me where I need to go is because we've decided to opt out of the American way. You know—the get-a-car-every-so-many-years-and-put-it-on-credit mentality. We've gone that route in our pasts, but we're trying to do something different this time around.

We started a savings account specifically for a car, and we're hoping that come spring or summer we'll be buying a vehicle outright. When we do purchase it, we're praying for a different mindset: a determination on how we can minister to the people in our lives through using the new vehicle to provide transportation while getting a good MPG that will allow us to steward our money wisely. Meanwhile, the Sunfire has decided to run for another day.

And yes, Lord, I am grateful.  

*Turns out there's a Christ-centered movement to drive junkers! No kidding. It all started in 2006 when a guy named Mike Foster sold his fully-loaded sports car to drive a junky 1993 Toyota Camry. As an act of rebellion against consumerism and in an effort to give more, Mike enlisted the help of his friends. There's even a junky car club bumper sticker. Check out and let me know what you think. Or follow Mike on twitter.

What about you? Does your faith impact what you choose to drive? How?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pastoral tears

When you sign up for the job of a pastor, no one tells you there will be tears. They mention you will be on call at times, that people will misunderstand you and sometimes confuse you, and that you might sometimes be emotionally tired.

But they forget to mention the tears. In seminary or otherwise. At least that is my experience.

You do not realize at first that sometimes you will be helping people who are so emotionally and spiritually and physically broken that all you want to do is lie down on the floor and cry with them. They didn't tell me that I would usually end up crying later, after they are gone, when I am alone with God and asking "Why?" When I am begging God to give me His vision of restoration for them. Asking that he would help me believe that all things are possible with him.

They did not tell me that those who are the most broken would bring the most joy to my heart, as I witness God's work in them. Sometimes these things go in fits and starts, two steps forward, three steps back, and over again, but nevertheless, there is an undeniable look in someone's eye when they believe God loves them and wants to make a way for them. Repentance before God is the gateway to new life, and it is so heart-achingly beautiful that I almost look away. It blows my mind that I get to see these transformations as they are happening, that I am a witness to the power of God's love in the heart of the broken.

You see, they did not tell me that next to my Bible, I would need a box of tissues in my office, stashed in my glove box, crammed into my purse. (Or that I would constantly be dispensing of a used-up tissue in my coat pocket.)

They did not share with me that occasionally I would cry because I had no words left to share with the hurting, with those who are not ready to see beyond themselves. That I would cry because they were not ready to receive all that God longs to offer them. That at times I would be a weeping prophet who didn't have clearance to speak all that my heart held.

No one happened to mention this. Though maybe they tried. Perhaps there are no words to express pastoral tears and so it is useless to try. Yet there they are, these tears, binding me to God's heart, spilling out like love all over those who need a touch from God, cleansing the pain, making way for the newness  Jesus longs to bring to every aching heart.

And just beneath the tears? Deep, abundant joy.

It is the story retold, the story of deep pain on Good Friday and brilliant joy on Easter Sunday. It is the story of new life waiting to burst forth all around me, and for this reason, the tears are worth it. I wouldn't trade them for a minute.

What in your experience brings you to tears? Do the tears give way to joy—and if so, how?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Serious heart withdrawal

I am in serious withdrawal.

And I am not referring to giving up Christmas sweets or the crass materialism that threatens to gobble us up and spit us out this time of year. This is withdrawal of another kind. Ministry withdrawal.

No sooner did I jet out of town following our two Christmas services, then I started to remember the people I live with and minister to at our church. I thought about so-and-so's surgery, whether or not certain individuals were spending the holiday alone, what it looks like for so many to soldier through the season with fractured relationships, unanswered questions...and doubts. I shook my head as I heard of several individuals who experienced searing loss at the time of year when all is supposedly "merry and bright."

My heart, it seems, was in two places at once. For some, this is parenthood; for others, it is the pastorate.

Eugene Peterson described it this way: "The pastor's question is, "Who are these particular people, and how can I be with them in such a way that they can become what God is making them?"How, indeed.

For this is a messy proposition. A mixed-up bag of highs in one meeting and deep lows in the next. Hot tears and deep joy. Hospital visits, and graveside services, and Bible teaching, and subversive acts that point towards God's advancing Kingdom while the world screams comfort and materialism and the ordinary. Looking for the uncomplicated and straightforward? One need not apply here.

But suppose one's heart beats for transformed hearts and changed lives and the new things Jesus ends up doing with and through ordinary folk. Then the rollercoaster becomes the ride of your life and withdrawal brings its own rewards. I am investing in the hearts of lives of those who matter to my Abba, and he is doing the rest.

I am trusting that all of it matters, even when I don't see how.

"Christian spirituality means living in the mature wholeness of the gospel. It means taking all the elements of your life - children, spouse, job, weather, possessions, relationships - and experiencing them as an act of faith. God wants all the material of our lives."

Did I mention it's good to be back?

[*The author is new to a temporary assignment as a part-time pastor of evangelism. Proof positive that miracles do happen.]

Your turn: What makes your heart experience withdrawal symptoms? How is God's Kingdom expanding around you in a way that brings you deep joy?

Citations: Eugene H. Peterson. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Kindle Locations 41-42, 45-46). Kindle Edition.