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?"