The Power of an Orange Chair

isolated chair

THIS FREE DOWNLOADABLE BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THE SELFLESS, PASSIONATE, GENEROUS SERVANTS OF GREEN VALLEY COMMUNITY CHURCH  http://www.live58.org/7mandates

I am a hungry student of Grace.

When I began to explore grace, it changed my world. It made me less religious and more graceful (except on the dance floor).

Grace made me less critical of others and more committed to growing my heart. Grace made me less fearful.

I became less exclusive and much more inclusive after realizing grace is for everyone.

I discovered freedom.

Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” Jack Nicholson said, “You can’t handle the truth.” But I think Jack was wrong. I think we can handle it. It can be scary—counter-intuitive—but it will set you free!

For those of you who have been hurt, shamed, abused and manipulated in the name of God, I am so sorry!

My heart breaks daily as I live in this paradox of being a pastor, yet see the hypocrisy in our religious world and even in my own heart.

But don’t run away from grace. Don’t run away from the truth that can set you free.

My life changed forever in college when I discovered grace.

The rest of the world operates on Karma. You get what you deserve.

But Jesus came and offered us this amazing, wonderful gift called grace, where we get something better than what we deserve.

Since grace happened to me, I don’t judge other’s beliefs or religions; I just hope they someday discover grace, because Jesus cut through all religious ceremonies and traditions to get to the heart of the matter. We need grace.

He did the only thing that could be done to get grace. It was the crucifixion.

This book aims to bring credibility back to the church and to obey Jesus’ call to share grace in tangible ways to our world.

Credibility comes from obeying Jesus’ teaching to shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the rejected, touch the untouchable, fight for the abused, and take care of the widow and orphan.

When the church begins to share God’s grace in those tangible ways, credibility will come back to the church.

This is my life mission and my life goal.

It’s all Grace,

Ken Burkey
Senior Pastor–Green Valley Community Church
burkeyk@gvcconline.net
http://www.kenburkey.com
twitter @kenburkey

THIS FREE DOWNLOADABLE BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THE SELFLESS, PASSIONATE, GENEROUS SERVANTS OF GREEN VALLEY COMMUNITY CHURCH   http://www.live58.org/7mandates

Life-Changing Touch

WomanTouchingJesus

“Touch has a memory.” John Keats

The Gospel of Luke records a life-changing touch:

“As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him.”

The needs of this world are massive.

Physical. Emotional. Relational. Spiritual.

Ultimately, there is a God-Shaped hole that humanity is trying to fill.

Argentinian poet Antonio Porchia wrote, “We become aware of the void as we fill it.”

St. Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

“And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her.”

The length of people’s pain and the despair of not knowing if it will ever go away are excruciating.

The multitudes try so many ways to take away the pain.

The masses pray so many prayers to remove the chains of injustice.

I am reminded of the pain of young girls I have met in Niger, Africa who have been sold off to marriage much too young, whose bodies are too immature to carry a baby and are now experiencing the shame of a medical condition called fistula, where they cannot hold their fecal matter and urine, and have become outcasts to their own families and in their own villages.

The operation to fix them is simple in the western world, yet it seems like an impossible dream in the deserts of West Africa.

Maybe you can relate somehow.

Your pain has caused you shame.

You have tried everything. You feel hopeless. You feel like an outcast.

Redemption seems like an impossible dream, very far away.

“She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.”

Jesus has the power to heal and two thousand years later, those of us of faith, we are called the body of Christ and now we have the power to heal.

We have the power to heal through touching people’s lives with dignity, love, hope and prayer.

Mother Teresa said it like this:

“Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes
You are his body”

“‘Who touched me?’ Jesus asked.”

While being crushed by the masses, Jesus notices the touch of one woman.

With the overwhelming needs of the crowd, he feels the pain of one.

With the noise of our world at an all-time deafening high, can we still hear the one?

A young man walked into our early morning Sunday church service, beaten up and bleeding from a bar fight, his clothes and pours emitting the stench of  way too much alcohol he had consumed the night before. He sat down 4 seats away from a woman in her 70’s who was properly dressed and had come to worship her Lord and learn about his goodness.

When she saw this bloody, smelly young man, her heart broke and she moved over to the seat next to him and touched his hand, and she became the body of Christ, and with no judging or shame, she held it while the music played, and healing began.

This man has not missed a Sunday since that fateful morning and now he has become an agent of healing himself.

The New Testament writer James wrote, “Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?”

Today, with all the noise, be still, listen and you will be surprised how God wants to use you to heal others.

English scholar and Bible translator William Tyndale stated boldly, “The Church is the one institution that exists for those outside it.”

“When they all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.’”

Peter saw the crowd, Jesus saw the individual.

Jesus saw an individual in need of individual redemption.

I have a friend who used to see the homeless as a crowd and he judged and looked the other way.

And then he met an individual homeless man, heard his story and his heart broke and now he is one of the leading advocates in our county for the rights and resources for the homeless.

Do you see mankind as a faceless crowd or are you asking God to show you the individual who has a name and a story and needs to know that healing is possible?

“But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.’”

When we see each person as an individual, redeemable by God, we will get drained and we will need to be refueled by the Holy Spirit.

Being drained is part of the process of being an agent of healing for God.

If we see everyone as a crowd, we will not get drained and not have to depend upon the spirit.

Because Jesus came to heal the broken-hearted, he would spend much time alone with his Father before he would spend time with the crowds.

Early in my life, I tried to pace myself too much, trying to preserve my energy that I was mustering up on my own.

20 years later, I have more energy, I am more involved, more invested, depending on Jesus to refuel me.

We pace ourselves, waiting for the moment to give it our all.
Stop waiting, the moment is now. SEIZE THE DAY!

Do not be afraid to be drained. God will fill you back up again.

The beautiful and talented Sophia Loren once stated, “If you haven’t cried, your eyes can’t be beautiful.”

Entering into the pain of humanity and becoming an agent of healing is hard and painful, but it will make your soul beautiful.

“Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed.”

I have learned that broken, hurting desperate people lead the way in transparency and humility leading to transformation and healing.

Like the tax collector standing in the shadowed corners of the temple, beating his chest crying out, “God have mercy on me, I’m a sinner!”, people who know they are broken are the ones who come to God just as they are and are ushered into his redemptive, healing arms.

This makes religious people nervous.

Religious people work so hard at looking dignified and well-put together that they miss out on the healing touch of God.

When the church I go to started welcoming broken, hurting people into our services, the rawness and honesty of their confessions of who they were and how God had taken their darkness and replaced it with grace made the more established, well-rehearsed religious people nervous.

One man, seeing people who were far from God now finding God and his mercies, actually stated in disgust, “I wish it was the way it used to be.”

The way it used to be was a few dozen people, all dressed in suits, toting Bibles from the same translation, coming to church, judging the world, thanking God they were not like them and going home feeling justified.

NO THANKS! I never want it to be the way it used to be.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”

Henry Ward Beecher said, “The Church is not a gallery for the exhibition of eminent Christians, but a school for the education of imperfect ones.”

“Then he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.’”

When we treat each person with dignity, as an individual, understanding they have been created by God for eternity, and when we take the time to notice them, invest in them, redeem them…then…somehow…supernaturally…their faith begins to rise…and in the words of Jesus…THEIR FAITH WILL HEAL THEM!

Their faith!

Faith rises in people when we pay attention and notice them.

As we choose to love our world, faith will replace fatalism, hope will replace despair.

My job is to pay attention, love and accept everyone.
My job is to bring value to their life. No exceptions.

Now is the time. Yesterday is over. Tomorrow is far away.

In the words of Bridget Willard, “Church is the human outworking of the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s not go to Church, let’s be the Church.”

Songs That Make the Whole World Sing

Graphic of a digital sound on black bottom

Songs have a way of marking the seasons of our lives.

From cheesy love songs during our teenage years to one hit wonders that we can’t get our of our minds to songs of healing and hope during tough times to songs that challenge us to live more courageously, music is a powerful source of motivation, entertainment and influence in our lives.

These are some of the “Worst” and “Best” lyrics that have motivated, entertained and influenced me.

Best “Picture of Heaven” lyrics

Earth Wind & Fire “Wonderland”

Come on in and enter as a child
Always wear a smile
Love and laughter here all the while
The flag of salvation waves around
Freedom here abounds
The joy in the sound
Calls my name – on this day

Leave behind your shame and your disgrace
Here they have no place
You will wear the garment of His grace
The rising sun will never set again
Sorrows at its end
And every word that spoken shouts amen
Take me there

Best “Challenge to Live Life at its Fullest” lyrics

OneRepublic “I Lived”

Hope when you take that jump
You don’t fear the fall
Hope when the water rises
You build a wall

Hope when the crowd screams out
They’re screaming your name
Hope if everybody runs
You choose to stay

Hope that you fall in love
And it hurts so bad
The only way you can know
Is give it all you have

And I hope that you don’t suffer
But take the pain
Hope when the moment comes
You’ll say…

I, I did it all
I, I did it all
I owned every second
That this world could give
I saw so many places
The things that I did
Yeah, with every broken bone
I swear I lived

Best “Sarcasm About Religion” lyrics

Eagles “Frail Grasp on the Big Picture

And we pray to our Lord
Who we know is American
He reigns from on high
He speaks to us through middle men
And he shepherds his flock
We sing out and we praise His name
He supports us in war
He presides over football games
And the right will prevail
All our troubles shall be resolved
We have faith above all
Unless there’s money or sex involved

Frail grasp on the big picture
Nobody’s calling them for roughing up the kicker
It’s a frail grasp on the big picture
Heaven help us

Frail grasp on the big picture
All waiting for that miracle elixir

Best “Honoring Of Fallen Heroes” lyrics

Bruce Springsteen “Into The Fire” Tribute to 911

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me then you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

You gave your love to see in fields of red and autumn brown
You gave your love to me and lay your young body down
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need you near but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

Worst “Love Song That’s Really About Stalking” lyrics

The Police “Every Breath You Take”

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you

Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I’ll be watching you

(Very creepy!)

Best “Promise Of God’s Healing” lyrics

The Reel “Come Back Home”

It’s hard to come back home
when you’ve never really had one
never really had one

Is that why you
keep running from love?
You never really felt it
cause it never really lasted

The very hands that held you
Only let you fall
But…

Love is reaching out
with His arms now
strong enough to hold your pain
His hands won’t let you go
no, your not alone
He won’t ever walk away
His voice is calling out
with a love you’ve never known
“Come back home”

Best “I Was Born To Give You My Entire Life” lyrics

U2 “Magnificent”

I was born
I was born to sing for you
I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
I give you back my voice
From the womb my first cry, it was a joyful noise …

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar
But only love, only love unites our hearts

Justified till we die, you and I will magnify
The Magnificent
Magnificent

Worst “Pick-Up Line” lyrics

NSYNC “God Must Have Spent A Little More Time On You”

Your love is like a river
Peaceful and deep
Your soul is like a secret
That I never could keep
When I look into your eyes
I know that it’s true
God must have spent…
A little more time
On you…
(A little more time, yes he did baby)

Best “Lifting Children out of Poverty” lyrics

Audio Adrenaline “Kings & Queens”

Little hands, shoeless feet, lonely eyes looking back at me
Will we leave behind the innocent too brief
On their own, on the run when their lives have only begun
These could be our daughters and our sons
And just like a drum I can hear their hearts beating
I know my God won’t let them be defeated
Every child has a dream to belong and be loved

[Chorus:]
Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in Your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these
Then they will be brave and free
Shout your name in victory
When we love when we love the least of these
When we love the least of these

I would love to hear some of the “best” and “worst” lyrics that have influenced your life.

He who cannot dance puts the blame on the floor

responsibility

There is an old Hindi proverb that says, “He who cannot dance puts the blame on the floor.”

In this life, taking responsibility is always harder than not taking responsibility.

It’s easier to stay bitter than to choose forgiveness. To give into temptation than to over come it. To eat every piece of candy at Christmas, than to have a little discipline and just take a few bites.

It’s easier to watch TV than to exercise. To spend money than it is to save and to give it away. To gossip rather than remain silent.

Yet, every human must take responsibility for their own actions.

But blaming gets in the way.

We blame the temptations that surround us, the people who discourage us and the hurts that have scared us.

Blaming is the “kryptonite” to taking responsibility.

I know people who have made blaming an art form to avoid responsibility.

They avoid things like discipline, hard work, love, forgiveness, perseverance, even success, to focus on whom they can blame and why they are the victim.

Jim Roan writes, “You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstance, the seasons or the wind but you can change yourself through the power of God’s grace.”

My mother is a great example of responsibility.

She was born during the depression, her father left her at a very young age, and then, while her mom was searching for an identity, gave her up to be raised by her strict Irish grandmother.

There was dysfunction all around her.

There was alcoholism and broken relationships.

She had a lot of excuses to not take responsibility for her life.

She had a lot of reasons to be bitter.

She never had a “real” relationship with her mother except for an awkward, reversal of roles relationship, where as I was growing up, it seemed like my mom was more her mother and her mother more the child.

She never had contact with her real dad.

With dysfunction all around her, she decided that as an adult, she would break the cycle and do life differently.

She made a choice that she would stay away from the things that brought destruction all around her during her childhood.

My mom and my Dad have been married over 55 years, and her commitment to family, while experiencing the loss of two grown daughters, her faith in God and her devotion to serving others is entirely inspiring.

When I hear people try to blame their situations on the hurts, dysfunctions and abandonment’s of the past, I have to feel for them, cry with them, understand their pain, but then I have to tell them my mom’s story.

SHE HAD A CHOICE.

She chose the road less traveled.

It’s always harder to take responsibility than not to, but it’s always more rewarding.

The gift my mother was given at a young age, in the midst of all that turmoil, was she was introduced to the love, truth and Grace of God.

And while there was brokenness all around her,  she allowed Him to be her healer, wisdom, strength and Heavenly Father.

Ernest Hemingway in his book “A Farewell to Arms” writes, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are stronger at the broken places.”

My mom has allowed the broken places in her life to become the places where God was honored most.

There is nothing glamorous about taking responsibility for our lives. It just comes down to hard work.

Donald Trump is famous for saying, “When we want to do something, we find a way, but when we don’t we find an excuse.”

Michael Angelo who spent four years lying on his back, painting the ceiling of the Sisteen Chapel wrote this “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem wonderful at all.”

Author and pastor, Charles Swindoll writes, “What is the sign of maturity? It’s taking responsibility for your life and using it to serve others.”

“For we are each responsible for our own conduct.” Galatians 6:5

Fractured

fractured

My heart has been broken with the recent tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut.

Words are hard to come by and emotions are hard to control.

I am holding on to this promise for them that, “God is close to the broken hearted and he lifts up those who are crushed in spirit.”

The closest way I can explain how I am feeling is what Jeremiah recorded in the ninth chapter of his book: “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.”

I told my church over the weekend that I was thankful for them because we could grieve and pray together, in community, for the families, leaders and people of  Newtown.

It really struck me how important being a part of a healthy community is.

The Apostle Paul gave this wisdom to the Romans when he said, “Rejoice with those who are rejoicing. Mourn with those who are mourning.”

We stay in dark places when we grieve alone.

Something supernatural and healing happens when we grieve in community. It is hard to explain, but I felt it this weekend.

Many in Newtown have expressed how knowing the nation and the world is grieving and praying with and for them has helped their wounded, stunned hearts.

But there is something else about being a part of a healthy community that is very important.

The healthier the community, the less of these kinds of tragedies will happen.

Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity has stated that, “For a community to be whole and healthy, it must be based on people’s love and concern for each other.”

Yet, many communities are not whole or healthy.

While people are more concerned about their own “bottom line” and cities wanting the “homeless” to go somewhere else, communities will not be whole or healthy.

While the media continues to exploit children with violence and sex and the philosophy of the day is to incarcerate rather than rehabilitate, communities will not be whole or healthy.

With the low prioritization of the mentally ill and the ignorance the impact that broken families have on social and economic health, communities will not be whole or healthy.

If we keep thinking that technology is the answer while people have never been more isolated and lonely, communities will not be whole or healthy.

And if we continue to be a nation of “survival of the fittest”, even though the scriptures tell us to “love the least of these”, communities will not be whole or healthy.

Charles Dickens said a long time ago, “Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.”

There is a lot of discussion about what “laws” do we need to change to make sure this never happens again.

We don’t need more laws, we need face to face “soul encouragers” helping those in their community who are hurting and struggling to be “brave and true.”

Laws divide and polarize and keep us from getting to the heart.

Jesus didn’t come to change laws, he came to change hearts.

I don’t have any problem debating whether we need better, more or less gun laws. I like a good debate and I think they can be enlightening for both sides.

But thinking laws will solve this complicated, multi-layered issue is like talking about what size of rain gutters should I get while a category 5 hurricane is approaching my house.

This is also not about trying to go back to the ‘good old’ days.

The rhetoric of going back to the ‘good old’ days is a weak argument, since the ‘good old’ days were full of racial bigotry and women having few rights.

This is not about going back, but rather moving forward.

This is about moving forward towards different priorities.

This is about a high level commitment and understanding how important community is. To paraphrase William James, “A community is only as strong as its weakest link and life, after all, is all about community.”

We cannot continue to live in our locked up homes, thinking that if we don’t look out our window, then we are safe and not responsible for what we do not see.

This is a dangerous lifestyle and it compromises healthy communities. Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

We must move forward committing our lives to the greater whole.

We must move forward to a new way of living.

Where a child’s protection will trump a companies profits.

Where a forgotten senior citizen is remembered and celebrated.

Where the homeless are befriended and empowered.

Where the rich learn from the poor.

Where the single mom is valued and lifted out of poverty.

Where the addict is embraced and equipped towards recovery.

Where the mentally ill are understood and assisted.

Where broken families are given tools to help them repair.

Where everyone in the community is treated equally, with deep respect.

Where everyone is on “common ground.”

It is what the scriptures call JUSTICE.

We must move forward.

“You shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach,
The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.” Isaiah 58:12

4 Guarantees That Cannot Be Taken Away

There are a lot of things that cannot be guaranteed.

Will I live a long, healthy life?
Will I make a lot of money?
Will my candidate be elected?
Will I find the love of my life?
Will I get that dream job?
Will I be labeled “successful” by my peers and family?

I can’t guarantee those things for you.
You can’t guarantee those things for you.
No one can guarantee those things for you.
God doesn’t guarantee those things for you.

There are 4 things God guarantees for us, everyday, if we embrace them.

They do not depend on the right circumstances, the right candidates or the right economy.

They are secure and cannot be taken away.

The first guarantee that cannot be taken away is…

…the GIFT of being uniquely created

Viktor E. Frankl wrote this while in a Nazi concentration camp, “Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.”

Everyday you can wake up and know that God uniquely made you for something greater than yourself.

You cannot be replaced. You are deeply needed.

You have unique strengths and talents that God has planned from the beginning of time to be used to bring hope and healing to this broken world.

No circumstances can take this GIFT away from you.

Everyday you wake up and look in the mirror, remind yourself that you are one of a kind, and God wants to use your talents, passions and experiences to make this world a better place.

Everyday you can live with the GIFT, hope and confidence that you are not an accident and you were created for this moment and this time in history to do something great.

Do not play it small. Do not wonder why you are here.

You are here on purpose. You are one of a kind.

Embrace this gift!

The second guarantee that cannot be taken away is…

…the JOY of forgiveness

There is nothing more paralyzing than the regret, pain and grief of past mistakes and sins.

Our self esteem plummets as we live with the consequences of what our past transgressions have brought to us.

Depression, addictions and other destructive behaviors try to mask the pain of our past.

Yet…you are no different than anyone else in the room.

You are no better or worse than the people to your left or to your right.

You are not a better or worse sinner than the people in your neighborhood.

You do not have the “corner market” when it comes to irreversible sins.

God sent his son Jesus to die for the sins of the world, and you are not an exception to the rule.

God is bigger than your sin.

God’s love for you is greater than your regret.

When we come to God with our grief, he is there to replace it with his forgiveness and that is a JOY we can embrace and live with everyday and nothing can take that away.

Someone once said, “After grief for sin there should be joy for forgiveness.”

C.S. Lewis said, “I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”

Knowing we are forgiven by God is the biggest step towards mental health.

Forgiveness is the greatest need for the human race.

The third guarantee that cannot be taken away is…

…the OPPORTUNITIES of today

Bill Keane said something deeply profound when he wrote, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.”

We are often so consumed by the regrets of the past or the worries of tomorrow that we miss the OPPORTUNITIES of today.

Scriptures remind us over and over that, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

They remind us to, “Remember how short our lives are so we should treasure and live each day wisely.”

They remind us that everyday, “God’s mercy, grace and power is offered to us, to do His will, to be His light.”

Everyday that we wake up and have breath is an opportunity to experience the abundant life God has offered to us.

Everyday is an opportunity to grow, learn, celebrate, laugh, cry, serve and love a world that desperately needs it.

“For God so loved the world…”, and it changed everything!

When we use every opportunity to “love the world…”, it changes everything, mostly ourselves.

Paulo Coelho, author of the powerful book “The Alchemist” wrote, “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

The fourth guarantee that cannot be taken away is…

…the PROMISE of tomorrow

We can live fearlessly everyday, embracing our uniqueness, celebrating our forgiveness and boldly loving in difficult places because of God’s promise of the future.

The Apostle Paul showed us that “No eye has seen, or mind can comprehend what God is preparing for those who love Him.”

He also reminds us that, “Nothing can separate us from God’s love.”

The Apostle John saw that we can live with the security that one day, “There will be no more disease, sorrow, pain, tears, abuse or regret.”

Jesus taught us that as we celebrate our uniqueness, are born again by forgiveness and love the least of these, that we are investing our lives in things that will last forever.

As we live in a fragile, painful world that does not have a lot of guarantees, the scriptures teach us that as we grieve because of disease, war, abuse and broken promises, that we should grieve with a powerful hope that has been promised to us from the beginning of time, that in the words of Pablo Neruda, “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”

Everyday we can offer our uniqueness, be freed from our sins, be energized by our daily purpose and can walk around with a silly grin, not because all things are well, but because…”it may be dark in the night, but joy comes in the morning!”

Each generation seems to boastfully declare they are the last one before God makes all things right.

I do not know the answer to that one.

When asked that question, Jesus said he didn’t know the answer either.

Because we do not know, our job is to know what is guaranteed in this life and to pass it on to the next generation.

That is our job. This is our opportunity.

Let’s make sure the children around us and children around the world know that there are 4 things that are guaranteed and cannot be taken away.

The GIFT of being uniquely made.
The JOY of forgiveness.
The OPPORTUNITIES of today.
The PROMISE of tomorrow.

Carl Sandburg once said, “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” I couldn’t agree more!

Contentment: The Elusive American Virtue

Most of our lack of contentment has to do with COMPARING.

When we compare what we have to what those around us have, we will never be content.

Living a life of discontentment affects our own personal happiness, our relationships, our finances and many times our moral choices.

Your life is unique.

You are one of a kind.

God made you and picked you and gave you a purpose that is like no other.

Your looks, skills and resources are original.

God does not want you to be like someone else.

He wants you to be YOU!

Your unique purpose is needed in our world.

You cannot be you while you are trying to be like someone else.

C.S Lewis very wisely wrote in Mere Christianity, “We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. Nearly all those evils which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of pride.”

Our obsession with riches really is an obsession of what I have compared to what others have.

The apostle Paul said some encouraging and powerful words when he said, “Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”

Finding contentment in America is like fitting a camel through the eye of a needle. Hmm? Someone much smarter than I said that once.

Most of our problem with comparing ourselves to others is that we don’t really know who we are. We feel lost. We feel like we need to attach ourselves to what the world says is important in order to feel valuable.

Once a human finds out WHO THEY REALLY ARE, they then begin to find the real contentment that they have been searching for.

Our perspectives, hopes, dreams, priorities change when we realize WHO WE ARE!

Fred Craddick tells this story about the time he was vacationing in Tennessee.

Fred and his wife were seated at a table in a restaurant when an old man came up to them and asked, “Are you folks on vacation?” “Yes,” said Fred, “and we’re having a good time.”

“What do you do for a living?” the old man said. Fred was trying to get rid of the guy and he said, “I’m a preacher.”

“Oh,” the old man said. “Then let me tell you a preacher story.”

He pulled up a chair and sat down.

“I was born an illegitimate child. I never knew who my father was. That was very hard for me. The kids at school made fun of me and they called me names. When I walked around our little town I always felt that people were staring at me and asking that terrible question, ‘I wonder who the father of that little boy is?’”

“I spent a lot of time by myself and growing up I didn’t have any friends.”

“One day a new pastor came to town and everybody was talking about how good he was. I’d never gone to church but one Sunday I decided I’d go hear him speak.”

“He was good. So I kept coming back. But each time I went to church I’d come in late and I’d leave early so I wouldn’t have to talk to anybody.”

“Then one Sunday I got so caught up in listening to the sermon I forgot to leave early. The service ended, people stood up and I couldn’t get out the door. Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder.”

“When I turned that big tall pastor was looking down at me. He asked, ‘What’s your name boy? Whose son are you?’”

“When I heard that question I just shook. But before I could say anything the preacher said, ‘I know who your family is. There’s a distinct family resemblance. Why, you’re the child of God.’”

“You know, mister, those words changed my life,” he said. The old man got up and left.

The waitress came over and asked me, “Do you know who that was?”

“No,” said Fred. She said, “That’s Ben Hooper, two term governor of Tennessee.”

A man learned he was the child of God and it changed his life.

All the depression and all the cuts and hurts and rejection he’d had through his life were eliminated by the power of God’s love.

And no longer could people diminish his sense of dignity because he was a child of God.

David wrote in the psalms “God is the Father of orphans, champion of widows, He makes homes for the homeless, and leads prisoners to freedom”

Paul wrote to the Romans, “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’ For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs.”

That elusive virtue called contentment happens when we realize who and whose we are and that we have been called to a greater purpose and calling than just acquiring things.

We have been called to represent our Heavenly Father to a world that desperately needs to know about His love.

Mother Teresa said these beautiful words about our highest calling of representing God here on earth, “Hungry for love, He looks at you. Thirsty for kindness, He begs of you. Naked for loyalty, He hopes in you. Homeless for shelter in your heart, He asks of you. Will you be that one to Him?”

My son’s girlfriend, Pauline Hassan is a hero in my life. Her mother was born in Sudan, and Pauline was a young girl when they moved to San Diego to escape the persecution and danger of her war torn country.

I believe we can learn from her and her family about how right priorities and hard work can lead to a contentment in America that is greater than just how much money we can make.

They remind me to always make my life purpose greater than just about myself.

The news organization Al Jazeera interviewed Pauline and her mother Agnes talking about “Living the Modern ‘American Dream’”.

It is a very inspiring interview.

I am proud to know Agnes. I am proud to know Pauline.

Check out the link below

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We Are Far More Powerful Than We Realize

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” The Apostle Paul

Mike does not remember much about his childhood.

He was raised in a small town where his mother was addicted to pain medications.

Shoving deep issues under the carpet became an art form in Mike’s family.

Mike’s dad never hugged him, told him he loved him, or showed any emotion at all toward him.

“Being in a small town, everyone knew everyone else’s business and I was embarrassed of my mom and her addictions and I was embarrassed of our home.”

In Mike’s teens he stayed away from home and went the wild route, drinking and smoking and doing drugs.

“I guess not feeling loved you’re going to find love somewhere and I found it in music, girls, drugs and alcohol.”

Mike spent 3 weeks in college and then was gone at 18.

The military lottery was happening and he was lucky number 13.

Mike was drafted quickly. He spent 6 years in the army.

After 6 years Mike came home, got married, had two sons and went to work as a machinist to pay the bills and raise his kids.

Mike didn’t know how to have a healthy relationship and his marriage ended badly.

He moved to Southern California to start all over again.

“I knew about God my whole life but I had no clue what it meant to have a relationship with God. We used to call people Jesus Freaks who would say, ‘Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?’ I’d always say, ‘Yeah’ to shut them up. But I never knew what that meant”

Then Mike met his future wife, and when they got serious they decided they probably needed God in their relationship if it was going to last. Mike did not want to repeat his past.

“I didn’t want to screw it up and with my past you know I could have screwed it up pretty easy. And so I didn’t want to go that route again. I knew there had to be something, a much better way of doing it.”

Mike married his beautiful new bride and they started going to church and learning about God.

And then Mike and his new wife, Mavis, discovered that her son was addicted to cocaine and they began investigating recovery programs.

He went into rehab and they were told to take him to a program called “Celebrate Recovery”.

They went to “Celebrate Recovery” and that’s where Mike and Mavis truly found God’s Grace.

“I saw what God does. I saw miracles. I’ve had people say, ‘God doesn’t do miracles anymore,’ and I just don’t believe that because I see them all the time in Celebrate. I saw miracles left and right. Working the 12 steps has changed my life. They have given me the tools to not only help myself, but also my marriage, my relationships and ultimately the steps have taught me how to help others. As a follower of Jesus, I have now dedicated my life to serving and saving others. My vocation pays the bills, but my life calling is to help people heal and overcome.”

Mike and Mavis, started and our currently the directors of my churches Celebrate Recovery Group.

Mike and Mavis, as volunteers, tirelessly serve our community “comforting others with the same comfort God has given them.”

They are making a significant difference.

We are far more powerful than we realize.

During the last months of WWII, the British conducted daily bombing raids over Berlin.

One night after a successful bombing raid, as they were heading for the safety of England, the bombers were attacked by a large group of German fighter planes.

Five bullets slammed into the fuselage of the bomber near the gas tank, but there was no explosion.

Miraculously, they were able to make it back to their base and get safely off the plane.

A few hours after they had landed, one of the mechanics showed up in the crew’s barracks.

He had found five bullets inside the fuel tanks, crumpled but not exploded. He handed them to the pilot.

The pilot carefully opened the shells and to the crews amazement found each one empty with gunpowder.

Inside one of the bullets was a tiny wad of paper.

When he unfolded the paper, he found a note which read, “We are Polish POWs—forced to make bullets in factory. When guards do not look, we do not fill with powder. Is not much, but is best we can do. Please tell family we are alive.”

When every follower of Jesus lives with the philosophy of “comforting others just as God has comforted them,” no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, then we will see the miracles that we have been praying for.

It may not feel like much, but all God asks is to do the best we can do.

Mike and Mavis could be overwhelmed by the brokenness of addiction all around them, but instead they are offering comfort and hope in seemingly small ways, and yet hundreds have found sobriety and faith because they are simply comforting others with the same comfort God has given them.

5 Things Every Church Should Do (Part 5)

 

 

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith.

They began eliminating possibilities.

Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form.

Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death.

The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room.

“What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions.

Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

After some discussion, the colleagues had to agree.

The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity.

The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, the Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval.

The 5th and most foundational thing every church should do is to be a large, generous distributor of Grace.

Grace dares to make God’s love unconditional.

Grace makes it possible to start over again.

Grace makes it possible for new beginnings.

Grace makes it possible to move forward.

The Apostle Paul who once was the king of religion, experienced life transforming Grace and said, “I am still not all I should be but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead…”

So many people live with hidden shame, mistakes from the past, failures of deep consequence and they seem stuck, not able to move towards the future.

I was working at a coffee shop not long ago and a gentlemen working next to me struck up a conversation and asked me what I did for a living.

I told him that I was a professional body builder, but I pastor on the side.

He believed the pastor part and told me he hadn’t been to church in years.

I asked, “What has kept you away?”

He said a divorce, a drinking problem and the way he was treated by the church when he was going through those difficult times.

He said, “I don’t really need to go somewhere and feel judged. I know I’m a screw up!”

We preceded to have an hour long conversation about Grace.

He asked me a great question. He said, “If Grace is the difference between Jesus and other religions, then why don’t churches teach it and live it?”

I told him because we haven’t made Grace the highest priority. It falls in the middle of the other many things churches try to do.

I told him that at the church I go to we teach on Grace all the time because it is so multi-faceted that you have to keep looking at it, living it, celebrating it and teaching it.

Philip Yancey writes “Grace makes its appearance in so many forms that I have trouble defining it.”

“I am ready, though, to attempt something like a definition of grace in relation to God.”

“GRACE MEANS THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO TO MAKE GOD LOVE US MORE—no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciations, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes.”

“And GRACE MEANS THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO TO MAKE GOD LOVE US LESS—no amount of racism or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder.”

“Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.”

Grace is inclusive. Religion is exclusive.

In WWII, a group of soldiers were fighting in the rural countryside of France.

During an intense battle, one of the American soldiers was killed.

His comrades did not want to leave his body on the battlefield and decided to give him a church burial.

They remembered a church a few miles behind the front lines whose grounds included a small cemetery surrounded by a white fence.

After receiving permission to take their friend’s body to the cemetery, they set out for the church, arriving just before sunset.

An old priest, body betraying his many years, responded to their knocking.

His face, deeply wrinkled and tan, was the home of two fierce eyes that flashed with wisdom and passion.

“Our friend was killed in battle,” they blurted out, “and we wanted to give him a church burial.”

In very broken English the priest replied, “I’m sorry, but we can bury only those of the same faith here.”

Tired after many months of war, the soldiers simply turned to walk away. “But”, the old priest called after them, “you can bury him outside the fence.”

Cynical and exhausted, the soldiers dug a grave and buried their friend just outside the white fence. They finished after nightfall.

The next morning, the entire unit was ordered to move on, and the group raced back to the little church for one final goodbye to their friend.

When they arrived, they couldn’t find the gravesite.

Tired and confused, they knocked on the door of the church.

They asked the old priest if he knew where they had buried their friend.

A smile flashed across the old priest’s face. “After you left last night, I could not sleep, so I went outside early this morning and I moved the fence.”

JESUS DID MORE THAN MOVE THE FENCE, HE TORE IT DOWN.

RELIGION SAYS, SOME DESERVE THE INSIDE, SOME DESERVE THE OUTSIDE.

Accepting and living in Grace is the only way for us to have compassion and to see Grace in others.

Compassion means “to suffer with”, to endure with, struggle with, and to partake in hunger, nakedness, loneliness, pain, and broken dreams in the human family.

The question has been asked, “What makes a genius?”

The answer is, “The ability to see.”

To see what?

The butterfly in a caterpillar.
The eagle in an egg.
The saint in a selfish person.
Life in death.
And suffering as the form in which the incomprehensibility of God himself appears.

There has always been a debate in the church world about what is deep.

People leave churches because they are looking for something deeper.

What they usually mean is that there is not a certain version of the Bible being used, or there are not certain songs that are being sung, or there is not enough solemn judgment coming from the preacher.

What is the definition of deep? Compassion.

Because compassion means accepting Grace for yourself and seeing Grace in others.

Matthew Fox writes “Compassion is a spirituality of meat, not milk; of adults, not children; of love, not masochism; of justice, not philanthropy. It requires maturity, a big heart, a willingness to risk and imagination.”

To rephrase C.S. Lewis, religion is all around us and it has led to wars, division, judgment and death.

Religion has given God a bad name.

When a church lives in and offers Grace, people are healed, sins are forgiven, relationships strengthened and people are truly alive.

Grace gives God his name back.

Grace is the only thing the church has to offer that no one else can.

If a church wants to grow in depth and compassion, it should make Grace its #1 priority.

These are a few of my favorite verses on Grace. Share with me some of yours.

“But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” Acts 20:24

“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” Romans 6:14

“You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Ephesians 2:8-9

“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” Hebrews 4:16

“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

“When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” Luke 14:12-14

“Don’t be afraid!” David said. “I intend to show kindness to you because of my promise to your father, Jonathan. I will give you all the property that once belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will eat here with me at the king’s table!” 2 Samuel 9:7

5 Things Every Church Should Do (Part 4)

Vanessa was born into a broken world on November 3rd, 1989.

She was loved, but she didn’t love herself.

When she was 2, her father died in a motorcycle accident in Southern California.

Her mother was 21 years old with 2 small children, no job, no education and life became chaotic.

Sadness, anger and regret filled their lives, though no one ever talked about it.

Vanessa learned at a very early age to stuff deep hurts and play the part of a happy kid.

She played a lot of make believe, numbing herself to the reality of sadness, loneliness, pain and guilt.

Her other coping skills were eating too much and hurting herself.

Vanessa and her family went to church occasionally but her perception of God was that “He had a lot of rules that, if broken, would send me straight to Hell. The whole thing just wasn’t appealing.”

Her mother met a man and the family moved to Colorado and Vanessa felt like she was starting a new life with a new dad.

Everything seemed perfect until at the age of 10, she was molested by a 40-something-year-old neighbor, but she never told anyone about it, not realizing that anything out of the ordinary happened.

Vanessa’s mom got engaged, Vanessa’s mom got cancer, Vanessa’s mom’s new fiancé could not face the storm and he left.

Once again, Vanessa faced abandonment.

While her mom was getting medical treatment, Vanessa and her sister would stay up all night and began to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana.

They moved back to California and the partying intensified.

When she entered high school her life was spinning out of control though on the surface you would not know.

She was in honor classes with high grades, involved in water polo, swimming, school plays, dance class, journalism, a statistician for wrestling and assisting with school rallies.

Yet getting wasted, smoking weed and stealing prescription drugs became an everyday occurrence.

Vanessa began to sell marijuana and was arrested and had to do community service.

Her sophomore year she got pregnant and had a miscarriage, yet, this was not her bottom.

She began to get into heavier things and then she discovered the drug of her choice, meth.

While still putting on a pretty good show on the outside, her mom caught her doing meth and she revealed that her dad had completely lost himself in the meth pipe.

The night he died, her mom caught him smoking and kicked him out of the house and that is when he crashed his motorcycle.

Vanessa felt lied to and ran away and did not finish the last 2 months of school.

Her mother reported her missing, thus violating her parole, and she was arrested and spent 2 ½ months in jail and sober.

When she got out, she got accepted to college and had great intentions of being a good student but quickly got involved with alcohol and weed.

“My disease was much stronger than my ambition.”

Vanessa jumped around from one high to another and ended up in Las Vegas where her dad’s friend Ryan lived.

She moved in with Ryan and “I found my usual low-life crowd and began selling weed, coke and x. I was then introduced to the pimp and prostitution game.”

“They appeared to have it all; little did I know they were just great actresses. I got myself a pimp, who was also a drug dealer.”

“That day, I sold my soul.”

Things went from bad to violent to worse and Vanessa eventually left her pimp but she kept selling drugs and was re-introduced to meth.

6 months later, smoking meth daily, she lost everything, cut off her long beautiful hair and went into seclusion.

He mom called the morgue often to find out if she was alive.

“The toxins of the drugs were seeping out of my pores. I would pick at my skin all over my body. My once flawless complexion was constantly covered in sores. I spent my 21st birthday getting high in a closet.”

On the night of November 17th, 2010, someone turned Vanessa in on a $10,000 bounty.

It saved her life.

She got lost in the system, a blessing in disguise, and for 21 days she reflected on her life and her choices.

“I looked into the foggy jail mirror and saw a grimy creature I didn’t recognize. God told me in a faint, gentle whisper, ‘This is not what I want for you. This is not who you are.’”

That night she wrote a poem titled, “Surrender”, begging God to deliver her from this insanity.

Under house arrest she immersed herself into recovery and followed the rules like her life depended on it. And it did.

“One day, as I was contemplating what the God of my understanding was to me, Jesus appeared. I have always been a cloud watcher. There He was wearing the crown of thorns, like an image I’d had on a postcard as a child. He was smiling at me and I could see that He was so proud. I had more hope that evening than any other moment of my entire life!”

Vanessa learned that the root of disease lies in obsession, compulsion, self-centeredness and lack of faith.

She moved to California and arrived in Placerville with a new ankle monitor.

Her mom mentioned that her church offered several recovery groups.

Vanessa thought, “Oh great! They are going to shove religion down my throat.”

A recovery meeting called “Celebrate Recovery” was meeting that night and so they came to the church and Vanessa experienced something she had not experienced before.

“That first night at Celebrate Recovery, I felt warmth and a hope I didn’t recognize. Everyone was so welcoming and loving. I began to attend church services and I started volunteering. I soon realized that Green Valley Community Church was not a religious church about judgment or being better than, but it was a Jesus church about relationships and acceptance.”

”One thing I knew, I had finally found home.”

“I learned that God is a father to the fatherless. He offers grace and forgiveness and peace. I began to like myself.”

”I got off house arrest, I got to flip a sign at Easter reading ‘Road to Hell” as my old life and “Road to Recovery” as my new life.”

Vanessa is an inspiration and a miracle and now helps young people recover from their hurts, hang-ups and habits.

Celebrate Recovery and my church’s commitment to help those dealing with hurts, hang-ups and habits has once again drawn us very close to the heart of God.

Jesus stated that he clearly came to “Heal the broken-hearted and set captives free.”

When people say that God doesn’t do miracles anymore, then they have never been a part of Celebrate Recovery.

Our Celebrate Recovery program was started by a couple who was rejected by another church when they wanted to start the program.

The church told them that they weren’t sure they wanted people with serious issues and addictions coming into their church.

Their sad loss was our gain.

Celebrate started small and as the leadership grew, so did the program.

7 years later, hundreds have overcome, healed, found God and been baptized.

When you go to a Celebrate Recovery service, ours is on Thursday nights, what you experience is what real church should be.

Each service includes true celebration, safe relationships, honest assessment, humbling confession and gut wrenching transparency and a sense of freedom and purpose that is contagious.

It is about as pure of a church as you will find!

We have now started “The Landing” which is Celebrate Recovery for teenage and college students.

It is a safe landing place for students to come and heal, build healthy relationships and start good habits.

Every church should help people overcome.

The 4th thing every church should and must do is be fully committed to “Celebrate Recovery.”

 

Vanessa’s life scripture is from the book of Lamentations where the prophet Jeremiah says, “I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great Your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.”

For more information about “Celebrate Recovery” go to… http://www.celebraterecovery.com/

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Or email me and we can talk burkeyk@gvcconline.net