“…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

• • •

Wanna follow me on various forms of social media? Click on one of the logos below. You can be my first “Guest Follower”…

Follow me on Facebook!  Instagram New Logotwitter-128-black

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.

Follow me on Facebook!

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…

We got power

We got power

We had a hurricane down here recently. Maybe you heard.

Even as I write this, many Floridians are still reeling from the loss. (If you haven’t yet taken that much-anticipated vacation to Key West, you may have missed your chance.) Depending on what part of the state you’re from, Irma’s impact ranged from devastating to merely annoying. For the most part, up here in the middle it was mostly just annoying; with that annoyment mostly due to power outages; with those power outages mostly due to tree limbs being ripped off and hurled into power lines by 100 mph winds.

I’m sure there is a perfectly logical reason (or not) why so many humongous, spreading, live oak trees—of which Florida is rife—tend to grow intertwined with power lines. Did we not think this through? Often you’ll see where the power company has come and cut the middle out of a tall oak tree so that it looks like a big ol’ “Y” with a power line running through it. In addition to looking like something out of Dr. Seuss’s Whoville, it’s just a power outage waiting for a brisk breeze.

And now for the rest of the story…

Seedy

From the I Am the Clay “Story” Series

coffee10

A farmer went out to sow his seed… Matthew 13:3-8 NIV

“Ally?”

“Oh my goodness—Jess? Hey!” Ally stood up from her small table and gave her high-school friend a hug. “What are you doing back in town?”

“I’m here for the women’s conference this weekend at the New Life Center at Calvary Memorial.”

“It’s so good to see you!” Ally motioned to an extra chair. “Please—join me.”

Jess sat down. “I thought I might run into you at the conference, but this will give us a chance to catch up.”

“What are you having? Cappuccino? Latte?”

“A cup of tea would be great.”

Ally flagged down the server. “Evie? Can I get a tea for my friend, hon?” She turned to Jess. “How about the mango/peach tea? It’s amazing.”

“Sure.” Jess turned to the server. “Mango/peach it is. Thanks.” She looked around the small restaurant. “This is really cute. I don’t think it was here the last time I was in town. Didn’t it used to be a gas station?”

And now for the rest of the story…

10 Ways to Live a Holy Life, Part 1

[God] has saved us and called us to a holy life. 2 Timothy 1:9

“Listicles” are everywhere. You know what I mean: “18 Ways to Know If Your Cat Is a Presbyterian” or “13 Foods That Will Make You Clairvoyant.” The theory is that we just don’t have enough time to read regular paragraphs, but we do have time to read lists.

So in the spirit of listicality (not a word, but totally should be), this is the first of a four-part series on 10 ways to live a holy life. After all, God Himself said:

“Be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)

Great – but what did He mean?

Being holy means that, now that I know Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I’m supposed to be different from the average non-Christian guy on the street – different in the things I do, the things I say, and the things I think about. For me, holiness means that I don’t cuss, or go to R-rated movies, or miss church to stay home and paint my bathroom.

But notice in the verse above that God doesn’t say “Be holy just like me.” (Because that’s just crazy talk.) We can never match the standards of God’s own holiness, but we can be holy within the parameters of our humanity. And God totally gets that; He created us, so He doesn’t have any delusion that we can be anything more than He made us to be.

The list below (and in the following days) will most likely make some folks squirmy, because we don’t want someone telling us that something we’re doing isn’t pleasing to God. But if you’re a Christian, the squirminess is good, because that means you still want what God wants for you.

In the end, though, it’s not what anyone’s list says; as Christians the litmus test for each of these items is whether or not Jesus would do it. (You can already see where this is going.)

So here we go…

The Holiness Listicle (1-3)

1. Go to Church

You get this, right? You need to be there in person every week (unless you have the plague). Church isn’t always perfect – and neither are the people who go there. If they were, they wouldn’t need to be there. But as the author of Hebrews says:

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another. (Hebrews 10:25)

(Apparently 1st century Christians stayed home to paint their bathrooms on Sunday, too.)

I’m fairly certain that there is at least one church within driving distance with music you like and/or a preacher who isn’t afraid to preach from the Bible (or both). And if one or the other of those isn’t available, there are a million worship tunes on iTunes and YouTube and at least that many good online sermons.

So comb your hair and grab your Bible (or electronic Bible display type device thingy) and go be a part of God’s plan for the Church (capital “C”). And if you have to suffer through uninspiring music or preaching, smile and thank the Lord you still have the freedom to be there. Then go home and log in and listen to the good stuff.

Would Jesus go to church?

2. Read the Good Book (and other good books)

I get it – the Bible can seem daunting to read. Even with a version written in contemporary language, it’s hard to know where to start – all those difficult to pronounce names, and sacrifices, and kings, and Jewish customs (if you’re not Jewish) in the Old Testament and the not-for-the-novice book of Revelation in the New. Definitely daunting.

But it’s all good:

All Scripture is God-breathed… (2 Timothy 3:16)

…it’s just finding a course of study that fits your learning style and where you are in your Christian walk. God planned for us to be able to read and understand His Word, but I think He also meant for us to work at it a little and mull over it and talk about what we’ve read with others. (Thus the “Bible Study” was born.)

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Start with the book of John. John loved Jesus – and Jesus loved John (as John loves to remind us). He was quite the eloquent communicator for a back-water fisherman. When you’re finished, read it again.
  • Read Paul’s letters to the churches he planted; Romans, Corinthians, Galatians – pretty much any New Testament book that ends in “ans.” He is truly the author of much of our Christian theology.
  • Remember all the worship tunes and sermons online? There are about that many Bible reading plans online. Your favorite search engine can point you to a few.
  • There are great Bible apps for phones and tablets that include built-in reading plans (Bible Gateway and The Bible are two). Plus, these apps are all free.

There are also lots of good books by Christian writers out there. You’ll find daily devotional books, Bible commentaries, books devoted to unpacking the life of a Bible character or theme, Christian fiction, and books with themes like this blog about living the Christian life with grace and style. These make great supplements to your Bible reading.

Ask a friend from church (see #1 above) who has lots of books to loan you something. Nothing pleases us book collectors more than to wax eloquent on the books in our library. Just borrow a book someone suggests with the understanding that if you don’t enjoy it after giving it your best shot, you’ll return it unread. Be honest. (More on that in Part 2…)

Wouldst Jesus read the Bible and, verily verily, “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis? Behold, I say unto thee – He would.

3. Pray

Just like church going and Bible reading, praying should be a given for a Christian.

Praying isn’t hard – just talk to God like the friend that He is. There are no magic words to say and He doesn’t care about your grammar. Sometimes praying is as much about hearing yourself articulate your thoughts as it is about God hearing them. (Kind of like therapy with the greatest therapist in the universe, but without the fake plants and shelves full of books by Freud and Jung.)

After all…

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

Living life as a Christian can be amazingly awesome – but it can also be incredibly hard. Mostly, it’s somewhere in between. Talking to God about it at each of those stages can make that life come alive. You can tell Him anything: “I’m sorry,” “Thank you,” “I don’t know what I was thinking,” “Help me know what to do,” “I can’t do this without you – I’m not even sure I can do it with you,” “Today – just grace for today…” Absolutely anything.

Paul says to:

Pray continually. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

You can do it in the shower, in the car, during that boring meeting, sitting on the porch having coffee, mowing the yard. David said that God…

…does not slumber or sleep (Psalm 121:4).

The lines of communication are always open to talk to someone who will listen.

Did Jesus pray? Three words: The. Lord’s. Prayer.

 


 

Not too bad so far, huh?

So far. Stay tuned for Part 2…