A Piece of Me Died Today, A Piece of Me Lived

My sister Rhonda, would have been 55 today. I miss her so much. I posted this poem about a year and a half ago. Still as fresh and emotional today.

kenburkey


These are some thoughts that I have been experiencing over the last week: Life is truly a journey.

I wrote this on a plane coming home from my nieces wedding. Becky is a beautiful bride and her mother, my sister Rhonda, was a beautiful soul.
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A piece of me died today, a piece of me lived.
A piece of me tried today, a piece of me didn’t
A piece of me cried today, tears full of stain
A piece of me lied today, avoiding the pain

Life moving fast, never ending the same
Voices of reason, always getting the blame
A wound ignored, a heart who needs mending
It makes wrong choices, leads to bad endings

I’ve lost a sister, now it looks like I’ve lost more
It’s hard to explain, if you haven’t walked through that door
The sadness is deep, because the memories are good
I need…

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Measuring Success in the Church World: We’ve Gotten it All Wrong

leastofthese

One of the more difficult and controversial things to do in the church world is to determine what the right measures of success should be.

What is success and how do I measure it?

Is it the number of people attending weekend services?
Is it the number of people getting baptized each year?
Is it the number of Bible studies people are going to?
Is it how much people are giving?
Is it the quality of music?
Is it the eloquence and popularity of the speaking?

I guess, all of these could be and should be a part of measuring whether a church is going in the right direction, yet…

I’ve known churches that were growing in numbers and were unstable, unfocused and unhealthy.
I’ve known churches who were in a season where lots of seeds of hope were being planted, yet not a lot of people had crossed the line of faith, and the question is: Does that make them unsuccessful? “It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.” 1 Corinthians 3:7
I’ve know rich churches, due to being surrounded by a strong economic community, wasting and underutilizing their precious resources.
Music, speaking? If it is an end all rather than a tool to propel people towards justice, mercy and humility, then it is a banging gong and clanging cymbal.

Church growth experts have said, “You measure by attendance.”

Discipleship movements have said, “You measure by Bible knowledge.”

“If having an orthodox theology is enough, satan is saved… Jesus wants more than theology” Tony Campolo

Jesus said, “You are measured by what you did for the least of these.”

American scholar and leadership guru, Warren Bennis wrote, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. “

The main way we measure success at Green Valley Community Church is by answering the question, “Is the vision, that every Christ follower should be using their time, talents and treasures to serve the least of these, being translated into a practical, biblical, active reality?”

And though I love that our attendance is growing and many each year are getting baptized and most are taking the time in small groups to grow deeper in God’s wisdom and our offerings are generous and our music is really good and hopefully our sermons are informational, inspirational and practical, I STILL FEEL LIKE THE GREATEST DIAGNOSTIC TEST FOR A HEALTHY CHURCH IS: Are more and more Christ followers engaging in being a voice to the voiceless, are they, with their passions, giftings, experiences and resources, living out what Isaiah chapter 58 calls the true fast?

This last Saturday, at my church, I was able to see a clear answer to that question when over 300 volunteers showed up to spend an entire day learning how to be better at serving and caring for our community and world.

From children’s workers, homeless activists, car mechanics serving the underprivileged, pastoral partners, transition home organizers, Celebrate Recovery and Landing volunteers, foster care sponsors, teen-age student leaders, food and clothing directors, funeral and grief share supporters, the list goes on and on and I’m leaving out so many…they showed up in masses to learn how to better serve the least of these.

OVER 300 people showed up to learn about the skills of boundaries, listening, praying and healthy crisis intervention. They attended breakout sessions learning about mental health, mandated reporting and what poverty looks like in our nation and world.

We were hoping for 100. We were hoping that if some of our core leaders would show up for the training it would be a success.

When over 300 showed up, my staff and I celebrated two things:

One, in the words of Warren Bennis, the vision to serve the least of these, is clearly more than just words at Green Valley, but it is becoming a reality.

Two, we celebrated that the biblical structure of the church, understanding that we are the body of Christ, and that we all have gifts and passions to live out, is also becoming a reality.

When the whole body is working together offering its time, talents and treasures towards justice and mercy, SUPERNATURAL things happen.

Most of the time, when this isn’t happening, it’s because church leaders are not teaching and modeling Biblical structure.

I have always said, “Leaders who help release people’s passions allow love and hope to go viral. Leaders who try to get all the credit stop that possibility.”

It’s funny, there’s a lot of debate and confusion in the church world these days, about how to measure success, but I am starting to see that the scriptures are very clear:

“Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help…Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the LORD will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.” Isaiah 58:6-9

Would love to hear some of your thoughts.

Twitter: @kenburkey

Where Do You Find God?

Where is God 2

The writer of Hebrews says “God rewards those who sincerely look for him.”

All human beings have one thing in common.
It’s to connect to their creator.

That’s why humans can act extremely strange and erratic.
They may act in destructive ways to deny that desire or they may act in strange ways to try to fulfill that desire to connect.

There’s an old song “Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places.”

I think that in our world, in religious circles and even in my own life, we are many times looking for God in all the wrong places.

Sometimes I’m looking for God in a worship experience or in a teaching or in a class or in a particular religion but I am reminded of the words of Jesus:

“I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”

The words seem so simple, the instructions uncomplicated.

I was just recently in Seattle and I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Jesus called, he wants his religion back.”

Embarrassingly, religion spends billions of dollars every year on buildings, politics, programs, rituals and war, trying to find God when the truth is God is around every corner.

He’s the homeless person needing shelter.
She’s the abused mom looking for safety.
He’s the dying aids patient hoping for someone to care.
She’s the prostitute begging for intimacy.
He’s your neighbor wondering what life is all about.
It’s your co-worker fighting depression.
It’s the forgotten elderly couple who children never visit, barely getting by on their social security check.

Tradition says that when St. Francis of Assisi turned his back on wealth to seek God in simplicity, he stripped naked and walked out of the city. Now I don’t recommend the stripping naked part, but the story says that he soon encountered a leper on the side of the road. He passed him and then went back and embraced the diseased man.  St. Francis then continued on his journey and after a few steps he turned to look again at the leper but no one was there. For the rest of his life he believed the leper was Jesus and I think he was right.

JESUS IN ALL HIS DISGUISES.

Author Max Lucado says, “Jesus lives in the forgotten. He has taken up residence in the ignored. He has made a mansion amidst the ill. If we want to see God we must go among the broken and beaten and there we will see them, we will see HIM.”

If that is the case, then it’s easier to find God than we think.

A Hidden Epidemic

self-esteem

There is an epidemic of low self-esteem in America today.

Many are highly successful on the outside but inside there is a gnawing question of “Do I really matter?”

In our society we tend to judge our worth by our appearance,  income, possessions or popularity.

The problem with these judgments is that none of them are stable.

Beauty fades, fashions change, incomes shrink and popularity wanes.

We are good at creating universal standards on temporary cultural fads.

Joseph Stowell, in his book “Fan the Flames”, writes, “It was absolutely amazing. I was in West Africa, and the missionaries were telling me that in that culture the larger the women, the more beautiful they were thought to be. In fact, a young missionary who had a small wife said that the nationals had told him she was a bad reflection on him– he obviously was not providing well enough for her. A proverb in that part of Africa says that if your wife is on a camel and the camel cannot stand up, your wife is truly beautiful.”

Low self-esteem leads to destructive addictions, crushing depression, compromising relationships and self-absorbed narcissism.

High self-esteem comes from building your identity on something that won’t change. And the one thing that does not change is what God thinks about you.

Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector who lived in Jericho and one day Jesus came visiting Zacchaeus’ home town.

If there was a man who had deep seeded low-self esteem, it would be this guy.

Zacchaeus had the trifecta of low self-esteem.

1) He was self-conscious about his short stature. He was so short that he climbed up in a tree to try to see Jesus when he was walking through his town.

2) He was unpopular, in fact, he was pretty much hated by everyone in Jericho because he was a chief tax collector meaning he would collect and keep as much taxes as he could get as long as he paid Rome its due. He was more like a mafia extortionist than a legal collector of taxes. His family had disowned him, he was not welcome in the local synagogue and he was viewed in a class of people worse than murderers.

3) He hated himself because when you have a guilty conscience, you can’t feel really good about yourself.

Here is a guy with a lot of money and an empty soul.
A lonely, miserable man, desperate for things to change.
And one day things did.
He had an encounter with Jesus and learned how much he mattered to God.

The story about Zacchaeus shows how God feels towards us:

FIRST, no matter how invisible you feel, JESUS SEES YOU.

Zacchaeus climbed up in a tree to see Jesus, but Jesus walks past thousands of people on the streets and walks right up to the tree, stops and looks directly at Zacchaeus.

Can you imagine what Zacchaeus is feeling when Jesus sees him?

He’s thinking, “Well, here it comes, judgment! I’m going to get what I deserve. The Son of God walked right over to me to tell me all the wrong things I’ve ever done and the punishment that I am going to receive.”

But Jesus didn’t judge him or condemn him.

Jesus walked over to Zacchaeus to let him know that he knew exactly where he was at.

God knows exactly where you are at today. He has not abandoned you. Even though he knows every thought you have had, every word you have uttered, every deed you have done, good or bad, he has constantly kept his eyes of love upon you.

The deepest expression of love is attention and God’s attention span for you is eternal.

Jesus not only NOTICES you…

SECONDLY, no matter what others think of you, JESUS VALIDATES YOU.

Zacchaeus’ life of crime and corruption had nullified any credibility of character and yet Jesus came with a completely different kind of opinion.

Jesus not only walked up to the tree and saw him, but he called Zacchaeus by name.

Zacchaeus must have been shocked that Jesus knew his name.

Jesus not only knows where you are but he knows who you are.

The crowd had to be shocked for two reasons. 1) That Jesus knew his name, and 2) What Zacchaeus’ name meant.

Zacchaeus means, “PURE ONE.”

The crowd must have thought Jesus was joking.

Zacchaeus was everything but pure.

Zacchaeus must have been shocked too. He probably had been called every dirty name in the book over the years but he probably hadn’t heard his real name for a long time. “Pure One” was a name he had given up many compromises ago.

In spite of Zacchaeus’ sin, Jesus validates him.

Jesus says, “Beneath the emotional hurt, shame and insecurities and amidst all the bad choices and the hardening of your soul, I see a pure one. Zacchaeus, I created you for purity. I didn’t create you to be a crook. You are the pure one.”

The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”

Masterpieces are not mass-produced.
When God made you, he broke the mold.
You are one in 7 ½ billion!

Maybe you have had some horrible things said to you growing up. “You’ll never amount to anything.” “Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister.” “I’m embarrassed to be around you.” “You will always be a slut.” “You’re fat.” “You’re dumb.” “You’re a failure.”

And those voices and phrases play over and over in your mind and they define you and paralyze you.

A defining moment in all of our lives is whether we choose to believe what other people say about us or what God says about us.

It will deeply affect our self-esteem and determine our destiny.

Jesus sees Zacchaeus and then validates his masterpiece by saying, “You are the pure one. I see all your potential no matter your failures, hurts and shame.”

Jesus not only NOTICES you and VALIDATES you…
THIRDLY, in spite of our past, JESUS WANTS A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOU.

Zacchaeus was lonely, insecure, bitter, resentful, full of guilt and shame and yet Jesus not only sees him and validates him but he goes one step further and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home for dinner.

“Come down from that tree quickly, Zacchaeus, I am going to be a guest in your home today.”

This is an invitation to enter into a deep, intimate relationship.

This was scandalous and incomprehensible!

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, walked all the way through town, past thousands of onlookers, to find the biggest criminal in town to say, “I’m going to your house to be your guest. I see you, I validate you, I choose you!”

The crowd’s reaction was fairly predictable: “All the people saw this and they began to complain, ‘Jesus is staying with a sinner.’”

Zacchaeus may have been thinking the same thing too: “I’m not good enough! Jesus, you don’t know the things I have done.”

We have all felt that way, haven’t we?

The reality is that none of us are good enough, but gratefully, our relationship with God is not based on our goodness but on God’s compassionate love for us in spite of all we have done.

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah when he said, “I am the God who forgives your sins, and I do this because of Who I am. I will not hold your sins against you.”

Jesus said in John 3:17, “I was not sent here to condemn you, but to save you.”

That’s called grace.

Grace is when God gives you what you need not what you deserve.

Zacchaeus received undeserving, scandalous, mind-blowing grace.

How should we respond?

The way Zacchaeus did.

The Bible says, “So he came down at once and he received him with joy.”

He couldn’t get down fast enough

Zacchaeus took Jesus up on His offer for a relationship. And he began to change.

Luke 19:8-9 “Zacchaeus stood and he said to the Lord ‘I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor and if I’ve cheated anyone I’ll give them back four times the amount.’ Jesus responded, ‘Salvation has come to this home today.'”

Dr. Charles Cooley, the Dean of American Sociology once said, “Your self esteem and self worth is determined to a large degree by what you think the people or the person that matters most to you thinks about you.”

I encourage you to make Jesus Christ the most important person in your life. He SEES you, VALIDATES you as a masterpiece and wants to offer you grace and be in a RELATIONSHIP with you forever.