Sermon Audio: "Freedom in Community" by Suzanne Burden

Listen to more sermons at 3rivers.church.

My whole life I've been asking the question: What if freedom begins in my areas of greatest brokenness? (Neither of us knew it when we were five or even 10 years old, but I think you've been asking the question, too.)

Along the way, our culture and communities have been moving toward isolation for over 50 years now. But Jesus created us for MORE. The very place I've been hurt the most (the Church) is the very place Jesus has ushered me into unimaginable healing (the Church!)

Hear Paul's words to the church in Galatia, and find yourself in God's big story of reconciliation: just as the vertical beam of the cross reminds us that we are reconciled to God through Jesus, the horizontal beam reminds us Jesus intends to make all things new, including our relationships in community.

Your turn: How does community scare you? Inspire you? Challenge you? Would love to hear from you.

Suzanne Burden is a pastor, writer, and friend. But  most importantly, the Beloved of God. She speaks on a variety of topics, including: Women of the Bible, Allied: God's Intentions for Men and Women, Being Apprenticed to Jesus, and Run Hard, Rest Well: Restoring our Souls through Four Biblical Rhythms of Rest. Contact her here.

Come to me, all who suffer burnout

I am surrounded by the broken, the bedraggled, the burned out.

Aren't you?

We are all just a step or two away from exhaustion. Some are closer to collapse than others; those who seem to have it all together are often the ones who are disintegrating slowly on the inside.

But enough of all this good news, right? Every day or two someone shares their story of weariness and I look for the presence of Jesus in their pain. Sometimes I just listen. Other times I am the one sharing about my slow recovery from a health crisis, about this or that struggle that threatens to consume my light and my peace, of my longing for spiritual rest.

We are all of us, every last one, looking for a resting place. A place of shalom—the Hebrew concept in the Old Testament that conveys a a meaning of being "complete or whole," of "being sound." We are talking about a wholeness of life or body, as well as a rightness of relationship, a prosperity or flourishing. When used as an adjective, it describes a warm feeling of peace and safety (biblestudytools.com).

I have yet to mean a human being of any age, stage, place, or mindset who isn't ultimately craving shalom, this place of peace. For no matter our disposition and the details of our life, every day is a search for wholeness leading into all manner of trial and error: workaholism, addictive behaviors, isolation, looking for payoff without pain, control and manipulation.

When Jesus said "Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest," I know he said this because he knew that this was our need. Our soul's cry. A reminder of the cry of a baby longing to be held, to be assured that they are OK and well and whole and complete. This longing answered by a gentle touch, gentle words, a soothing connection of presence and protection.

But if I had to ask Jesus to make one thing concise and clear-as-mud for all of us who are somewhat deaf from the chaos of our worlds, I would ask him to say it this way exactly:

"Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you PATHWAYS to peace."

Before you accuse me of revising Scripture, hear me out. When Jesus says to take his way of life and learning on us, he is inviting us to actually do something. The Message Bible paraphrases his conclusion this way: Come to me...[and] learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

Jesus is inviting us to come to him and to do what he did, to employ the spiritual practices that caused him to abide in, stay connected to, his Abba-Father who loved him. To pray. To practice 24-hour Sabbath rest one day a week or as many hours as we can to start. To go away in silence, stillness and solitude. To study and meditate on the Scripture. To practice love of God and neighbor while he changes our heart to resemble his own more each day.

To reflect on and internalize his love until the voice of love and shalom, and the very realness of it, becomes louder than our shame, our busyness, our self-obsessiveness. Until we realize that all is well in Christ, that we are held.

Here is where shalom rustles in, quietly, almost imperceptibly, yet tangibly. These are the pathways to peace we so desperately need. But they mean making the hardest of choices. Saying no all the time to less than the best. Saying yes to the voice of Christ and inviting conversation and communion with him in stillness.

Come to me, all who suffer burnout, and I will give you rest, he says, with a smile in his eyes. Choose these unforced rhythms of grace. We are invited to actually do something, to be coworkers with God in pursuing a life of wholeness and peace.

For excellent resources on this topic, I recommend two resources that are impacting me these days:
Hearing God through the Year: a 365-day Devotional by Dallas Willard
• The Emotionally Health Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World by Peter Scazzero

Your turn: Are you burned out? Recovering? Pursuing a pathway of peace? Share your story here and encourage someone else.

My Ritual: On Saying No to Say Yes (Cara Meredith's blog)

Hey friends: I'm in the middle of a new website rollout. And in the middle of all those digital details, I had the pleasure of posting on my friend Cara Meredith's blog. She's a fellow Redbud Writer, and she's been featuring a lovely little series on rituals, the grooves that give our lives meaning. Hope you'll catch the rest of the post over on her blog—and let us know what you're discovering about the importance of saying no. Cheers, Suzanne

***

“Moving on from ___________” read the subject line in my email.

You can do this, I assure myself.

Historically, I don’t like to quit things.

I am an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs personality scale—and let me tell you, we can get things done. Consider it a function of our sheer stick-to-itiveness when we feel passionate about something.

(Read: we can’t always let opportunities, things, jobs, or people go when the timing is right.)

(And also: it could be that rituals just might help us say no more effectively.)

So I sent the email. After several years, a recent statement on the organization’s values and beliefs helped me to realize our philosophies were no longer the same. I had become “not the best fit,” and I needed to move on. I mentioned how thankful I was for the opportunity.

Coincidentally, this morning a coauthor and I dropped—as in, ceased—a publishing project I’ve been working on for a year and a half. We ourselves received a lot of “nos” and then a “we’d like to change it to this” that just didn’t work. I cannot even count the hours and emotion that went into what appears to be a failure, but at the moment, is a clear redirection. It may resurrect itself in a different season, but for now, I am being called to put the lid on all that effort. I do so with a mixture of relief, sadness and anticipation.

Read more on Cara's blog

What Lent looks like from here

What Lent-5It is late Sunday afternoon, and I intended to be Sabbathing, but my intentions have been interrupted. (God says rest this one day—I've got this, but I had to do a "live-chat" ordering thing TODAY and I am third in the queue, and so I stopped for a minute to think about this season while waiting for the real live computer chat person on the other end of the line.)

This is me keeping it real.

I am not the one to go-to if you're looking for tidy Lent plans, fixed-firmly daily patterns, or fasts. My life is chaotic in ways I can't explain to most these days, but that is all the more reason for reflection and prayer. And as my word for the year is "Present," I keep telling God I'll keep showing up, you show me the way. And I am stopping, stopping, slowing, pausing, searching for his voice above the clamor. 

The husband gave up Facebook during this season, and I thought that sounded lovely and hope-filled and quieting, but it wouldn't work for me in this season of speaking and writing and Reclaiming Eve Bible studies, and so I had to come up with something else.

The result is quite simple:

This morning, David and I began the ritual, minus the journaling, and Mike Mason nailed it, as he usually does, and it led to a bit of recentering and spontaneous prayer and rejoicing in the Lord, and I wanted that you should hear it, too.

While talking about how the Beatitudes in Matthew lead to an "upside-down view," where "the greatest joy issues from the greatest worldly trouble,"—the paradox of the Jesus way, to be sure—he ended with this gem:

"Pursue joy for its own sake, and anything that seems to go wrong comes as a grievous blow. But resolve to rejoice always and only in the Lord, and everything that goes right comes as a blessing."

And I thought about how serious everything seems sometimes. And how tightly I hold it. And I asked our Abba to help me release it, to release it tomorrow, too, to keep on releasing it. I asked that he would keep me focused on his surprising goodness and provision, his love for all. That he would keep me rejoicing.

In this season of reflection, and waiting, and brokenness, I pray that you would also find a quiet place of rejoicing, not just when Easter dawns, but in the middle of the mundane mess right now, no matter the grievous blows surrounding you. Resurrection and joy are already ours, and this year I am finding them in the quietness.

Your turn: What are you discovering in this Lenten season?

On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!” — Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church

Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD sample here. Includes print Bible study piece; great for group studies! Order here.

Original poetry: I am God's Beloved

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Sometimes I remember that God shouted love when we were brought into existence when the egg connected with the sperm when the gestation period started  when it continued, nutrients pumping in when he knew us, inside and out before we were born wrinkly and new before even one of our days, before a 24-hour-period came to be. Sometimes I remember this important thing. But sometimes I forget.

***

This brooding amnesia colors my outlook it destroys my confidence it causes me to seek escape through television or a perfectly made latte or an accomplishment or an accolade, a word of praise.

But at day's end my heart still smarts in the quiet before-sleep moments when I am still awake.

 ***

But then the sun comes up And I stare out the window from my living room And I grow pin-drop quiet, asking for a word from You. Oh, Father, the tears form in the corners of my eyes What do you think of when you think of me?

Silly how I approach you sheepishly hoping you will care enough to speak to lavish a bit of love on me. Within moments or minutes you impress on me a love that defies words; sometimes I begin to laugh your delight making me feel that I am held in your arms fastened winsomely under your gaze. Sometimes I cry when I realize how far you have gone to show me your love, to help me reimagine and realize my worth, to inhabit this place as the apple of your eye.

***

It all seems somewhat scandalous to receive this Belovedness to embrace that I am truly wanted beyond all failings, in spite of imperfections. But then I remember John the beloved disciple And Lazarus, the one whom you loved and wept over, and then I remember Jesus emerging from the water with your Belovedness, your pleasure spilling forth into desire and praise.

***

The real scandal would be living unloved when you are shouting Beloved when your love is right here waiting.

Sometimes I remember that God shouted love when we were brought into existence and sometimes I forget.

Then I remind myself that the ship of your love sailed before even one of my days came to be.

"How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you." -Psalm 139:17-18, NIV

What prevents you from living as God's Beloved? What reorients you to his love?

Subscribe to my blog via email in the right column. I’m also over on Twitter.

Five better ways to be in 2014: speak your truth

Top 'o the morning to you. Let's do this new year thing right. In the first few weeks of 2014, I've been posting on better ways to be in the new year. Each of them hinges on the knowledge that "the Lord is here," that the ongoing presence of Jesus in us causes us to live and interact differently with ourselves, with our world and with those closest to us.

Post #1: choose empathy over sympathy.

Post #2: put the Word in. 

Post #3: learn something new.

Post #4: inspire trust from others. 

And now for post #5: speak your truth. 

Who knows but what you've come into the world for such a time as this . . . -Rich Mullins, songwriter and musician

There comes a time in most people's lives where the truth is not a luxury. Most of us discover how to posture at a young age, how to avoid the hard things, how to sidestep confrontation; however, this delicate state of affairs often wears down with time. Case in point—the 85-year-old who comes off blunter than the dullest knife. For many, there is a point at which they begin to stop hiding.

Why not now? Why not this moment, while reading this blog post, on this particular day in your one beautiful life?

What is the gospel, this good news of God becoming a slippery, hungry, crying baby but an invitation to speak your truth?

***

They met under cover of night, Jesus and Nicodemus, and I've always wondered if their conversation was hushed. Nicodemus asked a funny, kind-of embarrassing question about being born again, of being stuffed back up into your mother's uterus and shooting back out through the birth canal.

Jesus didn't blink.

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There was an underneath-the-radar hunger in this Pharisee, a yearning and a desire for truth, and Jesus laid out a banquet for him:

God came to save the world through me.

Further, "Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God." -John 3:20-21

So that what may be seen plainly? The truth. I step into the light because I confidently live by the truth—the life, the death and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ—and so I want the truth to be seen through my life, through my story, through my voice, however small it might seem.

If I am the Beloved of God, the most ridiculous thing in the world would be to hide in a corner, to discount the glory of Jesus shining in this one life. If I am walking in the light, I should naturally desire for my life to be lived in the light.

***

So why does fear keep me from speaking my truth—the truth Jesus has shaped and is shaping in me? Because for too long I have listened to voices of condemnation, to voices that tell me to mind my place, to voices that believe my story is invalid, my truth, inconsequential.

In the spirit, then, of openly living from the truth of my life in Jesus, of owning my story and being willing to speak my truth, I've made a list of three things I'd like to carry into 2014. I want to . . .

  • Live loved. (To truly live as the Beloved of God and to inhabit his selfless, giving love.)
  • Word for 2014: "Open." (I'm purposing to open myself to new beginnings and new opportunities to speak my truth, to Resurrection in unlikely places.)
  • To ask myself, What would you do if you were not afraid? and to pray for guidance in pursuing those things.

Incidentally, in John 12, Nicodemus steps into the light, comes out of hiding, and clearly associates himself with Jesus following his death. Resurrection, indeed. A story worth being told. 

What is keeping you from speaking your truth? In what ways do you want to begin to speak your truth in 2014? Do tell.

Five better ways to be in 2014: learn something new

Top 'o the morning to you. Let's do this new year thing right. In the first few weeks of 2014, you'll find me posting five times on better ways to be in the new year. Each of them hinges on the knowledge that "the Lord is here," that the ongoing presence of Jesus in us causes us to live and interact differently with ourselves, with our world and with those closest to us.

Post #1: choose empathy over sympathy.

Post #2: put the Word in. 

Now for post #3: learn something new.

What exactly does it mean to love God with all your mind (Luke 10:27)? Greek Keys says this word, dianoia, means to exercise the mind—the imagination, mind or understanding. 

Maybe some of us are exercising our abs and our glutes, our hamstrings and our biceps, but how many of us are loving the Lord our God by exercising our mind? Do iPads and computer and video games count? Are your mental grooves so well-worn that it hurts to think about stretching your mind?

What new groove in 2014 might help you exercise your imagination and your mind, and in so doing, to tune yourself to the pursuit of God and his love and truth?

Last night, I picked up the guitar after putting it down for over a month. With only 8 weeks of group lessons, I was able to play three or four songs.

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My brain is stretching in new ways, my fingers becoming more nimble, the chords becoming easier. Knowing that my Creator creates, and that he has made his imagebearers to do the same, I'm drawn to learn and to grow in both my keyboard and my piano playing. (I've even read that thought processes improve after playing.) So I emailed the guitar teacher and promptly requested eight lessons for the first few months of the year. I'm picturing less TV and more music, a development that can only help in stretching the mind and bringing callouses to the fingers!

In addition to making music, I'm signed up for an online biblical Hebrew course with a teacher in Jerusalem to start in June. And I'm in a book club that's stretching me theologically and relationally to pursue God's kingdom in every area of my life.

Even simpler, I have a list of books I want to read in the New Year that's being compiled on my office desk. Growing. Stretching. Trying. Risking. Loving God with my whole mind. Being adventurous enough to want to participate in his Kingdom wholeheartedly by using the minds he has given us.

The only barrier to learning something new that truly paralyzes? Fear. This used to call my number every time. But after I turned 40, I realized that failing at something counts as learning. So now we are left with no excuses. I may fail spectacularly at trying to learn biblical Hebrew in 2014. But even if I do, I'm willing to guarantee I will have learned something, stretching my mind in the process.

Are you in? How will you love the Lord with all your mind in 2014? What new thing are you planning to learn?

Five better ways to be in 2014: put the Word in

Top 'o the morning to you. Let's do this new year thing right. Over the next several days, you'll find me posting five times on better ways to be in 2014. Each of them hinges on the knowledge that "the Lord is here," that the ongoing presence of Jesus in us causes us to live and interact differently with ourselves, with our world and with those closest to us.

Post #1: choose empathy over sympathy.

Now for post #2: put the Word in. 

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Just wondering, is there more than one Bible on your bookshelf? We've got an embarrassment of biblical riches hanging out around our house. I'd say probably 15-20 copies if we started counting.

So there are the plentiful print versions . . . and now that 70% of millennials read the Bible digitally (see Barna), there's a whole new world of God's Word just waiting to explore. It's like living next to the Y and complaining that you can't find the time to work out. Provided you have internet access, the Bible is one click away at any moment.

Earlier this year, I wrote this article: "5  great ways to get some Bible in your day." All of its tips still apply, but may I also offer a few personal insights?

  • I listened through the Bible in 2013 via dailyaudiobible.com through the iphone app (99 cents). Truth be told, I found this to be addictive in the best possible way. It took 15-20 minutes, setting my focus for the day, and there's a whole community of people around the world cheering you on. What a blessing to hear the whole story of Scripture and to hear God's heart for the people he loves through the Story.
  • Memorizing Scripture is underrated. I guess I simply got tired of my horrible excuses for not committing Scripture to memory. After memorizing Psalm 91 and reciting it over deathbeds and sickbeds and women in chemical addiction recovery, the truth of God's protective care for us begin to sink deep down into my marrow. Then our Sunday School class memorized Isaiah 61:1-4, the power of the life-giving mission God has entrusted to us through Jesus sinking in, and now I'm looking for the next thing to commit to memory. So I've got a long way to go, but here's an entire new year in which I might decide on the passages I want to shape me—and consequently those I live and love with—this year.

So here's my parting question: what truth do you want to live from this year? And how will you put the Word in, starting today?

The announcement of new beginnings

Have you ever chronicled the bumps and bruises a year contained? In December, I did something unlikely, something decidedly counter-cultural. I scheduled three individual days of solitude with God at a state park that is mostly unpopulated in the winter.

Although I remembered the hard times in 2013, these times became more about healing, more about celebrating things like this:

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There is life, which is honestly often unpredictable and filled with things one has to manage, and then there is the wilderness, a forest of trees and animal tracks, and it is here that I usually hear God's voice loudest, that my ears are most finely tuned to his voice.

"Wait," he seemed to be saying. "Wait."

And what is advent anyway but waiting expectantly?

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And might I just add: here in the mostly unspoiled outdoors it seems entirely reasonable to wait on God. 

I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. -Psalm 130:5, NIV

IMG_2242Spiritually speaking, these little retreats felt like working out the kinks in a knotted neck or a pair of strained shoulders. I felt myself standing taller, I felt myself more deeply believing God's love for me and his love for everyone. I felt myself stilled.

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OK, so I also felt my rear becoming like an ice cube during the snowy hikes, but I'm just keeping it real.

I would head inside the lodge, and I would sit and listen, and I would journal, and I began to be given new eyes to see what was really happening in my life, to glimpse the beautiful things dormant underneath the ground, waiting to sprout.

On the last of my retreat days, I sat on a couch by a Christmas tree, and I was reading about the importance of solitude and how it prepares us for the things God has for us to do, and I thought of this little book, Reclaiming Eve (amazon affiliate link), and how desperately we've worked for four years now to get it out into the world. To say with grace and truth, women matter to God! They are essential to his kingdom mission, and it is high time for brothers and sisters to join together to get on with the business of loving the world and sharing the gospel.

Then I remembered how vulnerable I feel, how afraid I can be to speak this important truth, to offer a prophetic word on behalf of the kingdom. And I felt God impressing an image on me . . . 

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Stand firmly rooted in my truth and my word, in the glimpse I have given you of my Kingdom. Do not waver. But as you wait, standing firm, extend your arms, stretching them out to meet these new opportunities to speak into the gender reconciliation the gospel provides. Sometimes the opportunities will stretch you a bit further than you're comfortable with, they will necessitate growth and risk and sacrificial love. But you can do this, if you remain rooted, abiding in me.

The next day, the fedex man rang the doorbell, and this arrived:

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And may I say that I can't tell God the wait wasn't worth it. But I can say that he calls me Beloved, and that he has provided the opportunity to birth this book with my coauthors, to launch it into the world.

May the new year hold opportunities for you and me that we could only dream about now—opportunities that happen as we remain still, rooted, stretching our arms out toward the things our Abba has for us. 

And may there be days of solitude, carved out purposefully, set aside intentionally, to hear his still, small voice. May there be beauty and praise. And at the end of 2014, may we be able to say with conviction: all is well in this stillness; all is well with my soul.

Grieving with gratitude at the holidays: a guest post by Brooke Taylor

Photo of Brooke - by Mere KentBrooke Taylor lives in Michigan where she resides with her husband and is enjoying a new season of life as she mothers her now five-month-old daughter. She holds an MA in Educational Ministries from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and serves as an adjunct worship leader and assistant chaplain at a Christian mental health institution. Brooke is also beginning her first year in training as a spiritual director associate. To contact her, send a message through facebook. I sat alone on the couch with a mini-lit Christmas tree bringing some light to my family room, as I ate a microwaved Turkey dinner. This would not be the first time that I would have a quiet night around Christmas. Being single after going through a painful divorce was something I didn’t ever think I could get used to. Add in two feet of slushy snow outside and a cloud-filled day, and I knew that my “seasonal” depression was going to kick in. I had come to dread the holiday season because of the many bad family memories that were associated with it. I really missed someone to share the joys of mistletoe. How was I going to deal with disappointment around the holiday season in the face of all the merry expectations? Now, several years later, I can look back and see the disciplines I’ve developed to keep the season bright.

I meet regularly with a spiritual director. Often I am asked what that means. My director does not tell me what to do—she describes herself as a follower of Christ who gently walks alongside me in my spiritual journey. As I heard it said from a director recently, “I will help you stand there and help you know directions, but I will not give you direction on where to go.” The Holy Spirit’s job is to direct us and the director is there to aid us—to help us hear where God is at work. I shared my frustrations with my director. She listened and reflected back what she was hearing. I was beginning to see that I was not grieving my losses and they were hurting my communication with God.

Although I often talked about how God was at work in my life, I was struggling to spend time alone with God. It was easy to talk to my director, but hard to speak to God. I stubbornly refused to take the first step and share what was truly on my heart with Him. I was burying my pain to “keep face” with God in a way I thought a good Christian would do. I had not addressed some serious setbacks.

My director helped me see through this rough season in my life. She pointed me to King Solomon, one of the wisest men to live, who wrote that there is a season for everything… “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecc 3:4). I learned that God gives us permission to grieve and even grieves over us at times.

But the question is, do I give myself permission to grieve, and how can I do it?

During a silent retreat (which allowed time for speaking with a spiritual director), I found the space I needed to take my disappointments to Christ. I needed to name my pain, move toward burying my past hurts, and then wait for what was next. I believed that Christ would resurrect new dreams for me. As I took each of my worries to Him, we began to communicate better in our relationship. I realized how much he had done for me. I started to grieve with gratitude – acknowledging my pain openly, but also holding onto hope that God was still at work in my life in good ways.

I like to journal. It is one of those amazingly safe places where I can speak my heart and also be faced with reality. After meeting with my director, I began to focus not just on my grief but on the people and things for which I was thankful. I began to see that Christ was at work in my life in many surprising ways and to rejoice in His goodness.

The holidays are becoming easier for me to face as I seek to remember the spiritual discipline of grieving with gratitude. After eight and a half years of being single, I have married again and been blessed with a new baby girl. God has opened my heart to love—and risk—again. Love always comes with risk in relationship. I know that no matter whatever hardship I may face, God will always be there for me. He is someone I can always trust, and he desires that I be real with my pain. I still face occasional blue days, even with these many blessings. I then try to remember with gratitude God’s many good promises. Isaiah 30:18 says, “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion, for the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him!” This is a promise that I can be thankful for in any season.

 What emotions threaten to color your holidays this year? What have you discovered about journeying with God through your grief?