“…there was a richness about them…”

From the “Guest Blogger” Series on I Am the Clay

Pastor Aaron

Guest Blogger: Aaron D. Burgner, Lead Pastor at Church at the Mall

I’ve been wanting to feature a “Guest Blogger” series on I Am the Clay for some time now by using great writers, thinkers, and communicators I’m blessed to call my friends. My guest today—and my first guest blogger—is my pastor, Aaron Burgner.

The article below was one he sent to our church family via email and graciously agreed to let me post here. And while it’s a very personal message to our congregation (as you’ll see in the final paragraphs), his message is universal—give richly because you’ve been given richly. As with every sermon he preaches, he captures the heart of this particular message in a unique and compelling way. (Services at my church are not to be missed.)

To hear more from him, check out our church website at churchatthemall.com… our Facebook page… or listen to our “Church at the Mall” podcast. (The handsome fellow above can flat out preach the word.)

And if you’re in the Central Florida area and looking for a church home, you won’t find a better one than Church at the Mall. God is at work in a mighty way and we would love to have you come be a part of it.

• • •

Church Family,

During some of my devotional time this past week I was struck by a verse in Proverbs that I have read many times before.

“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.” Proverbs 11:24

My Grandpa Burgner (Poppie) was one of the most giving people I have ever known. He worked for the county, fixing roads his entire adult life. I remember as a young boy spending time with him riding around in his pickup truck taking eggs from his chickens and delivering them to the men that he worked with on the roads. He was always giving what he had to others, whether it was from his garden or his money.

Looking back, my grandparents never had much, but I thought as a child that he was the richest person in all of Medulla, which was pretty much the known world to me at the time. It was the way he and my grandmother chose to live their lives—as givers—because of the outflow of God’s grace in their lives, that led me to believe they were rich. I know now that they were not rich at all, at least not in worldly terms. But there was richness about them that no one could ever take away. The Spirit of God gave them a joy in their giving that could not be stripped away, and it seemed to intensify the more they had opportunity to give.

Sadly, as a pastor, I have also known many people who have much, and yet they cling to it as if they actually have eternal control over the things with which God has blessed them. I can hear King Solomon’s heart when he wrote these words in Proverbs. Probably spoken out of his life experiences, he learned that riches are found in the joy we find in God. Ultimately, it is in Christ that we find this joy as we are a giving people, the way that Christ gave. King Solomon also saw that the tighter we cling to the resources that ultimately all belong to God, the more miserable we become.

I want our church to be a giving church. I want our church to be a church that has maximum ability to send more money to the nations for the purposes of the Gospel. I want us to be debt-free so that we aren’t sending money to a bank, but rather using it to see people’s lives changed by the power of the gospel. I want us to be a rich church. Not rich because we have more, but rich because we give more. I want us to be satisfied in Christ and find our joy in Him alone.

I ask you to help us tackle our debt as a faith family—that we would give graciously of what already belongs to God. And His Word tells us we will be all the richer for it.

I love you church family, and it is my joy to be your pastor. I am looking forward to the 30th of September as we have the opportunity to do more for the purposes of the Gospel. I am praying for you and that the riches of Christ would overwhelm your life.

For His Glory,

Aaron D. Burgner

• • •

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Church Without Walls

Church without walls

On my most recent visit to Auburn, AL, home of my alma mater, Auburn University, I found myself here…

The place: Auburn University Student Activity Center
The day: Sunday morning
The time: 10:00 a.m.

And the place lived up to its name:

  • Auburn University? ✔︎ (War Eagle, y’all)
  • Student? ✔︎ (mostly, anyway)
  • Activity? ✔︎
  • Center? Mmm… (Actually, it’s kind of on the edge of campus, but let’s not get too bogged down.)

The “activity” that was happening that particular Sunday was probably not the reason the Student Act Center was built. While you would probably be more apt to take part in a pick-up basketball game there, the activity that morning was a church service.

Let that sink in: a CHURCH service held IN the Auburn University Student Activity Center ON the Auburn University campus. (Where else but sweet home Alabama could a church meet on a public university campus. God bless ‘Merica…) The Sunday before, the service was held in the Auburn Convention Center ballroom. The first service I attended several months earlier was held in the Auburn Livestock Arena. (No jokes—if you like burgers and ribs somebody’s got to teach animal husbandry.)

Regardless of the tabernacle du jour, the church meeting on and around Auburn University that I attended that morning is Auburn Community Church; ACC for short—a church without walls, as their tagline says. But let there be no doubt—it IS a church: a Spirit-led, God-honoring, Jesus-made-real, truth-preaching church.

And what a preacher—Miles Fidell, not yet 30, but with a depth of Biblical, theological, and practical wisdom shared freely and unapologetically; wisdom men of the cloth three times his age sometimes lack; wisdom appropriate for living la vida Jesus, whether you’re 21 or 81.

The first time a friend/church member sent me a link to one of Miles’ messages via the church’s podcast with a “you have GOT to listen to this” imperative, I admit it—I eye-rolled. Without even listening to a second of his message, I decided it was going to be some hip and trendy watered-down pablum he fed to the “kids” in his congregation—something all jargon-y and touchy-feely to placate them and make them feel good about their collective selves to keep them coming back. Knowing my friend would follow up to see what I thought, though, I figured I would just listen to a few minutes, make note of a couple points, and report back about how cool it was.

Not what happened.

I couldn’t stop listening. I kept tapping the repeat-the-last-15-seconds button on my podcast app so I could hear a particular point Miles made again. And again.

In the short term, that message wrecked me. In the long term, I haven’t missed a message since. (Quick note: I have an a-MAY-zing pastor at my home church who makes even the most unlearn-ed among us leave church every Sunday morning thinking we’re smart enough to actually understand those three alternate meanings of that Greek word John used. Plus, he also wrecks me. Then on Monday, I listen to Miles. It’s an embarrassment of preacherly riches. And wreckage.)

What’s amazing about ACC—actually, there’s a lot that’s amazing, but this particular thing could only happen in the 21st century in a college town—is if the service needs to change venue, it’s announced the Sunday before and on social media and texting ensues and everybody shows up the next week at the right place. (I can imagine my pastor telling our First Baptist congregation that we’re going to be meeting at a hotel ballroom next Sunday and in the gym the next Sunday and at the livestock arena the next Sunday. He might see exactly what that verse in Matthew 18 about “two or three” being gathered in Jesus’ name really means.)

Every Sunday the flock flocks: coeds, frat boys, pharmacy majors, engineers-to-be, singers, teachers, vet students, more than a few older folks (and growing)—all clutching a Bible, whether analog or digital, all tithing via Venmo, all singing with hands raised, all hungry to hear the Word presented with Miles’ unique delivery and incredibly clear presentation of the depth and goodness of a relationship with God.

And lest you get the wrong idea, this post isn’t about the “heresy” of a permanent church building. My home church grew so rapidly through the years that we finally bought an empty mall and turned it into a church complex that would amaze and astound you. So we definitely have a perma-building and God is definitely at work there. Nothing wrong with that.

But that place (with enough parking to host Black Friday sales for the entire county, I might add) is just that—a place. A place that’s big enough to hold us all, with weekly messages presenting the majesty and glory of the great I AM along with the “oh, that has got to be wrong—it can’t be that easy” Gospel message of grace and mercy and eternality, but, again—just a place.

And while I don’t have an inside on ACC’s marketing plan, I suspect the phrase “church without walls” isn’t referring to physical walls as much as it is to more abstract ones:

  • The “not one of us” walls we tend to erect—not to shut people out so much as to shut ourselves in.
  • The imaginary walls we hide behind because we think we can’t go to church until we get our hearts right with God or stop sleeping around or buy some socks or a coat and tie.
  • The walls we erect between our carefully-honed-comfort-zone-addicted selves and the tail-spinning, Katie-bar-the-door, dizzying fullness of a relationship with God.

Those kinds of walls.

I love that ACC doesn’t have those kinds of walls; it’s not that kind of church. Every church should be that kind of church…

…one where no one is shut out and no one is shut in.

…one where EVERYONE needs to get right with God in some area… and needs to stop (or start) doing something… and is welcome to be a part, socks or not.

…one where members are encouraged to pull the lap bar down, keep their hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times, dive headlong and with abandon into God’s arms, and hold on for dear life.

“Church without walls”—that’s what church should be, a place where…

…in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:5 NIV

A place where…

…we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another… Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV

A place where we…

…teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Colossians 3:16 NIV

And if we can tear down those walls, then maybe—just maybe—like the very first Church, it could be said of our churches…

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:47 NIV

For in the end, y’all, that’s what we’re all about…

For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Acts 13:47

(and just to make sure we get it…)

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

That name? Jesus. And because we are His followers, we are His body, the Church—and to be the Church, we must be the Church without walls.

So whether your life as a Christian includes attending church in the gym, under a tree, or in a tricked out, comfortable, state-of-the-art worship center, the absence or presence of physical walls doesn’t matter. Those other walls, though?

Tear them down.

• • •

Click here to go to the Auburn Community Church website. While there, you can listen to Miles’ sermons online, or search for “Auburn Community Church” on your phone’s podcast app. But heed this warning: do so at your own risk… Once you’re done being wrecked, click here or on the logo below and follow me on Facebook.

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Space Invaders

Space Invaders

Down here betwixt the Golfo de México and the Atlantic Ocean we’re smack dab in the throes of C.F.M.S. (Central Florida Monsoon Season)—and have been for a couple weeks or so (probably more like “or so”). Plus, with Tio Alberto doing a drive-by and adding his own brand of joie de vivre in the mix, the rain has refused to let up for any extended period of time and everything is starting to mildew. The mouseke-tourists have even been trying to use their Fastpasses to go to the head of the line to buy ponchos. (On the upside, a few pasty Yankees will probably be spared the threat of skin cancer.)

Don’t get me wrong—we need the rain. A few weeks ago, everything in my yard was brown. And not a pretty brown, like a Hershey Bar or a roast beef sandwich, but a given-up-the-ghost brown, kind of like old guacamole. The only greenness to be had in my yard was due to a big, lush patch of invasive flora—a/k/a weeds. From a distance, though, it still looked green, thanks to the weeds. I’m sure passersby were thinking, “That man has a nice green yard. I wonder what his secret is?”

Laziness. Laziness is my secret. Makes me think of a verse from Proverbs…

I went past the field of a sluggard…the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. Proverbs 24:31-32 NIV

(I don’t have a stone wall, but my driveway has a few cracks…

And now for the rest of the story…

She had maroon hair

She Had Maroon Hair

She had maroon hair.

That’s not a judgment call or anything—just a fact. It fit her, actually. None of the other breakfast crowd in the restaurant seemed to notice or care. (Which, in a small town in Central Florida where the median age is about 137, heavily right-leaning, I found progressive.)

She was efficient and pleasant in a strictly-business kind of way. She had that carefully-rehearsed, sing-songy spiel with just the right inflection, kind of like one of those Disney World ride operators: “Please gather ALL your PERSONAL beLONGings and take small CHILDren by the HAND. And enjoy YOUR day at the MAGIC Kingdom!”

“What can I get you to DRI-nk?”

“Coffee.”

In her wake I heard, “I’ll be right BACK with THAT,” as she sped away to fetch me a cuppa. (Actually, my own private potta.)

I didn’t catch her name, although my credit card receipt says it was “April.” April took my order, delivered it, and deposited my check plate-side after confirming I didn’t want any pie. (Pie for breakfast? Apparently it’s a thing.)

She also checked on me mid-meal, mouth full of eggs, feta cheese, and cremini mushrooms. I just smiled, mouth closed, and nodded my approval.

She never really made eye contact. (I’m not dinging her for that, as she had a restaurant full of 137-year-olds wanting more decaf and syrup.) I always let the server set the tone for how involved or not our interaction will be, and April was working the crowd from an attentive—but a tad impersonal—position.

Basically, she wasn’t interested in chatting anybody up.

How do you break through that? As Christians—specifically, old, white, male Christians—how do we connect with the Aprils of the world? How do we share some semblance of the gospel in a situation that absolutely does NOT lend itself to doing so? How do we—between bites of omelet—do what Jesus would have done?

I gave her a big tip—I like to do that and can afford to do so, but that’s not enough. My natural inclination is typically to throw money at the situation—send Bibles, send people on mission trips, send somebody else’s kids to church camp. All good things to do, but what about April, she of the maroon hair? Unless she’s an undercover cop pretending to be a server to try and bust a pancake smuggling ring, I’m sure she appreciated a few extra dollars, but what good will that do when she passes from this life to the next? You can’t tip the guy to get in. It’s all about who you know.

I know delightful, Godly, caring brethren and sisteren who have been witnessing to people all their lives—successfully—always armed with little cards to give out and million dollar bills with Bible verses on the back and red dots to put on their watch or glasses…gimmicky things. And I know the Holy Spirit is the one who rises above our tawdry gimmicks and softens hearts and opens people to the gospel message.

And, no doubt, I’m cynical, but it just reminds me of the people who stand out on the street corners with their portable microphone and speaker and yell until they’re hoarse or wave signs getting people to honk for Jesus. I don’t for one minute doubt their hearts and their passion for the Lord, but does anyone listen? Are hearts truly transformed?

Or is there a better way?

Jesus was deliberate in everything He did, but he didn’t stand on the corner and yell at people, hoping some of it would stick. Jesus’ ministry wasn’t a spectacle. In fact, if the crowds got too big he would say weird things that would scare a bunch of them off, things like the fact that they would have to eat His flesh and drink his blood. (“That’s it—I’m outta here.”) Only those who truly wanted what He had to offer would stay.

Jesus would have connected with April; He would have figured it out.

He would have made eye contact and offered her living water. (Or maybe living coffee…) He would have invited himself to her salon to watch her get her hair colored. He would have timed it just right to NOT have a mouth full of food when she stopped by, whereupon He would have told her how much he enjoyed the omelet and let her know without any doubt that He loved her, all in one fell swoop.

But that’s Jesus. His life wasn’t, like, you know…an example…or, you know, anything like that…

Ummm…actually, it was.

And He didn’t leave us any outs. To paraphrase Acts 1:8 He said: “You will be my witnesses… EVERYWHERE!” not “…everywhere EXCEPT at restaurants when your waitress has maroon hair and looks busy.” So that’s where I’m stumped. WWJD? How do you NOT scare a millennial off with your tracts and your “Jesus Loves You” and still make a connection between them and the risen Savior?

Jesus met people where they were. He sat down by a well and asked for a drink and an entire village was transformed.

I can’t give April living water—only one person can do that. But I have to find a way to point her to the SOURCE of living water…

• • •

Since it’s been a while, maybe you’ve lost contact with me. Click here or on the Facebook logo below and visit my page. Would Jesus do Facebook…? (I have no idea.)

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I am not ashamed

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on I Am the Clay

clothesline [klohz-lahyn] noun 1. a strong, narrow rope, cord, wire, etc., usually
stretched between two poles on which clean laundry is hung to dry. 2. A way to cut
your power bill AND your waistline in half. (“in half” may be exaggerating a bit…)

IMG_0967

Other than hitting a lick or two at writing a book, it was quiet here at the “Lizard Lounge” this past summer. (If you’re new to “I Am the Clay,” take a second and follow that link to find out where that name came from. You can also click here for the whole series.) That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, as it quite possibly means I haven’t done diddly squat around here—except for the laundry. (Those are my clothes in the picture above.) All is not lost, though—the most mundane activities can often inspire a blog post.

Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

I have a clothesline—and use it regularly instead of the clothes dryer. (I also wash dishes by hand and don’t use a dishwasher—on purpose.) So there.

Oh, I hear you thinking, What are you, some kind of hippy, tree-hugging, off-the-grid, antiestablishment, pinko commie liberal prepper? If God had intended us to NOT use the clothes dryer He wouldn’t have created Bounce fabric softener sheets. And don’t get me started on the dishwasher thing…

(Hey, now—that’s uncalled for.) Hear me out. Consider this:

  • Clothes dryers use a la-hot of electricity.
  • Hanging out the laundry burns calories. (not pointing fingers or anything, but…)
  • You can’t beat that fresh (and free) great-outdoors smell.

So there are more reasons TO use a clothesline than to NOT use one. Especially for me.

And now for the rest of the story…

Indelible

An “I Am the Clay” Vignette*

Indelible

“Ink”—slang for tattoos. Ink is actually an appropriate moniker for tattoos, as ink, in most cases, is indelible…permanent…un-erasable—like tattoos.

The most inked human I know is one I affectionately call “my boy.” He’s tattooed from the neck down—or so he says, as there are a couple of private spots I haven’t seen (and ain’t asking about and don’t wanna). Tattoos are kind of like indelible reminders of wear and tear from the past.

And he’s definitely got a past—drug use and abuse, civil disobedience, jail time. But that past also includes marrying a beautiful wife who kept his family—their family—together while his drug use ran its course.

And then one day there was an encounter with Almighty God, delivery from his demons, a sure and certain moment of salvation.

And now for the rest of the story…

Bold

An “I Am the Clay” Vignette*

Bold 1

…the righteous are as bold as a lion. Proverbs 28:1 NIV

“Can I try this one in a size 10?”

“Yes, sir—let me get that for you.”

The Thom McAnn Shoes clerk disappeared through the curtain to the stock room to retrieve a pair of black wingtips for my daddy, while we—my daddy, my mother, and I—sat at the back of the store and waited.

It was 1972, the heyday of the Gateway Shopping Center in Decatur, Alabama, just before the shopping mall explosion. Besides the shoe store, there was a Woolworths, complete with a snack counter that served huge banana splits; a Quick Chek grocery store where they let my granny buy cigarettes with food stamps; a Sears and Roebuck, also in its heyday; and a movie theater with two screens. (A few years later, I saw the original Star Wars there 11 times.)

Decatur was a small town back then and people were, for the most part, respectful.

For the most part…

And now for the rest of the story…

Turn, turn, turn

turn turn turn
Being born and raised in Alabama and a long-time resident of Florida, I’ve heard all the redneck and hurricane jokes. Some of the rest of y’all got some good some good local jokes, too, though. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • You know you’re a Californian if the fastest part of your commute is down your driveway.
  • Top sign you’re a New Yorker #4: You believe that being able to swear at people in their own language makes you multi-lingual.
  • Q: What do a divorce in Arkansas, a tornado in Kansas, and a hurricane in Texas have in common? A: Somebody’s fixin’ to lose them a trailer.

In the years I’ve lived in Florida, I’ve come to appreciate all of ours, especially the ones that have to do with the climate. Por ejemplo:

You’re a true Floridian if…

…you judge a good parking place, not based on distance from the store, but on its proximity to shade.
…you consider anything under 70 as “chilly” and anything under 95 as “just a little warm.”
…you’re on a first name basis with the Hurricane list. They aren’t Hurricane Charley, Hurricane Frances, etc., but Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne.
…you’ve worn shorts and used the A/C on Christmas.

I can especially attest to the last two. I actually washed my car wearing my swimsuit one New Year’s Day. (I was wearing the swimsuit, not the car…)

And now for the rest of the story…

Mama

An “I Am the Clay” Vignette*

Mama

She is clothed with strength and dignity… Proverbs 31:25

She leaves her afghan folded up in the pew at church where she and my daddy have sat as long as I can remember—second pew on the right, facing the pulpit. (The Epistle side, if you’re an Episcopalian.) The men keep it way too cold in there for the women, so emergency afghans and blankets dot the church.

She loves me fiercely, as I do her. When I called them the morning I became a Christian, she shouted. Baptists don’t do much shouting. (Or hand-raising. Too prissy.) Mama did that morning.

While she’s sat in the same pew for all those years, she’s not the same person. She’s grown spiritually the past several years. Now that I’m a Christian, many of our phone conversations end up as deep theological discussions. She’s had to up her game.

I send her books and CDs and she reads my blog. I like to get off into hypothesizing on the organic fluidity of justification and the timing of the rapture. She says I challenge her. (That may just be a nice way of saying I’m full of myself.)

She’s become quite strong—stronger than I think she ever imagined being. She stood up to a car salesman last week and drove out of there with exactly what she wanted at the price she wanted. I knew she had it in her.

But that strength goes a lot deeper—it lives somewhere down about where the Holy Spirit lives. I wouldn’t mess with her.

She’s my mama. I’m proud of her and wouldn’t wanna be anybody else’s son.

Well, God’s son, of course—but she’s happy to share…


*A brief written piece about a person or event.

• • •

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Holy Spectacles

untitled“One…” *click* “…or two?”

“Ummm…”

*click*

“One…” *click* “…or two?”

“Two… I guess—maybe just a little.”

*click* *click* *swivel* *click*

“One…” *click* “…or two?”

And so it went. My optometrist would click a lens in place—“one”—then click a different lens in place—“two”—and ask me which one made the little teeny-tiny row of letters I was looking at more clear. Sometimes it was pretty obvious, but most of the time it was more like a Moe’s burrito vs. a Chipotle burrito—it’s a tortilla with beans, meat, and cheese. Bueno.

While the whole optometrical once-over—including the air rifle blast in the eye and the blinding dilation drops—is kind of a chore, it’s worth it to get a new pair of glasses every year.

And now for the rest of the story…