“…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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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…

Siri-ously

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. James 1:5

Recently, I publically bemoaned the fact that my first-generation iPad could no longer be upgraded and was, in effect, becoming an obsolete relic. However, I do solemnly swear that had nothing to do with the fact that I drove to work recently with it laying on top of my car, resulting in its untimely demise. (The iPad case is dark gray, the top of my car is dark gray, yadda yadda…) I’ll never forget the sight of it in my rear-view mirror doing a triple summersault dismount into traffic – it would have definitely garnered a “10” from the American judge…

Of course, that immediately freed me up to buy a new one – an iPad Mini, actually. (Kind of reminded me of getting a new puppy after having the old dog put to sleep, but without any piddling on the rug.)

About half the size of a regular iPad, the Mini is a one-handed, light-as-a-feather, camera-equipped bundle of portable computing power. Plus, it has Siri.

If you’re not familiar, to quote Wikipedia:

Siri is an intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator which…uses a natural language user interface to answer questions, make recommendations, and perform actions by delegating requests to a set of Web services.

In other words, I can press a button on my iPad to summon Siri and ask her a question, and she will reference various internet-based information resources and answer me in an eerily conversational tone – in a multitude of languages.

I know this technology has been out for a while, but it’s new to me so I decided to put Siri through her paces by asking her a few simple questions. Right out of the box, she understood my poorly enunciated, sloppy diction without missing a word. It was love at first byte.

Here is some of our conversation…

Me: Siri?

Siri: You rang?

(Note to Apple Inc.: If she had said that in her best “Lurch” voice from “The Addams Family,” I would have bought stock in your company. Just sayin’…)

Me: What is the temperature outside?

Siri: It’s currently 47 degrees F.

First, she knows we like our temperatures in Fahrenheit where I’m from; second, she also included a detailed list of hour-by-hour projected temperatures for the next 12 hours. (I’m gonna need another blanket.)

Me: Thank you.

Siri: You are most certainly welcome.

Nice manners – she must be a Southern gal.

Me: Where is the nearest Starbucks?

Siri: I found ten places matching “Starbucks” a little ways from you.

Her definition of “a little ways” and mine differ, but I guess if you’re really jonesing for a little caffeine, 19 miles isn’t that far to drive.

Me: Who was the 15th president of the United States?

Siri: Let me check on that… (I doubt she really needed time to think about it or anything – she just didn’t want me to feel stupid for not knowing all the U.S. presidents.) The answer is James Buchanan.

I thought I would test her facility with foreign languages. (Not that I would know if she was correct, as my facility with foreign languages mainly consists of “burrito” and “spaghetti”.)

Me: Hola, Siri.

Siri: Good evening. (She knew I was faking.)

Me: ¿Cuál es la capital de México? (What is the capital of Mexico?)

Siri: México Distrito Federal es la capital de México. (Mexico City is the capital of Mexico.)

Me: Gracias.

Siri: Para eso estamos. (That’s what I’m here for.)

I was curious if Siri’s programmers had a sense of humor…

Me: Do you know the way to San Jose?

Siri: Getting directions to San Jose…

I guess she didn’t catch the reference to the 1960s Burt Bacharach tune. You’d think somebody would have thought of that…

So far, her responses were all just information. I thought I would check to see how complex her (or her programmer’s) reasoning abilities were…

Me: Should I vote Democrat or Republican?

Siri: I’m sure I don’t know.

Smart girl. To quote Linus from the “Peanuts” comic strips: “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people… Religion, Politics, and The Great Pumpkin.”

Me: What is the meaning of life?

Siri: To think about questions like this.

(If she had said “42” I definitely would have bought stock in Apple.)

Next, I thought I would check her spiritual knowledge.

Me: Who was Jesus?

Siri: Here’s some information:

She displayed a snippet from Jesus’ “bio” on Wikipedia with, of course, a link to the full article.

Me: What must I do to be saved?

Siri: I found quite a number of movies matching ‘saved’…

Movies? Not what I was looking for, but her list was interesting: The Dog Who Saved Christmas, Beer Pong Saved My Life, Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style, and a movie called, simply, Saved, about a teenaged girl named Mary who gets pregnant by her possibly gay boyfriend because Jesus appeared to her in a dream and told her to do everything she could to help the boyfriend not be gay.

(Ai-yi-yi… That’s a whole other blog post.) I thought I would try a different tack…

Me: How do I get to Heaven?

Siri: Which Heaven? Tap the one you want…

Which Heaven? Not what I expected. Her list of links used “Heaven” and “Haven” interchangeably. The links included “Holiday Inn Hotel Winter Haven” and “Hog Heaven Smoke House.” A Holiday Inn in Winter Haven, Florida is not quite where I want to spend eternity. (No offense.) Barbecue would be good, though.

So what I learned from this fun little experiment is that Siri is big on information but short on anything deeper, like ordering information into something resembling wisdom. (What did I expect – she’s just a machine that can only respond as she’s been programmed to respond.)

But it made me think about the nature of wisdom. I’ve heard wisdom defined as putting bits of knowledge into the proper order, or knowing to do – or not do – something. But it’s one thing to know when the interest rates are ideal to justify refinancing, but quite another to know how to comport oneself in a manner pleasing to God. (However, if you’re a follower of Jesus and need help making financial decisions like that in order to be a good steward of the resources God has given you, I know from first-hand experience that, if you ask, He will waft a little financial wisdom your way.)

Throughout Biblical history, wisdom was something to be desired. God asked new king Solomon what he wanted and Solomon told him that, more than anything, he wanted to be wise enough to rule the Israelites properly. This pleased the Lord to no end, so He gave him what he wanted. Solomon’s writings (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon) reflect this gift from God:

For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:6

Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she [wisdom] is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Proverbs 3:13-15

Obviously Solomon knew a little about wisdom, as did Daniel. Daniel said of God:

He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. Daniel 2:21

Paul prayed for wisdom for the Christians in the churches he planted:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. Ephesians 1:17

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Colossians 1:9

Jesus’s brother James said:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. James 1:5

(I bet He got that from His brother.)

He’s right, of course. If you look at all these verses (a mere smattering of the verses in the Bible on wisdom) they all have some key points in common:

  • Wisdom comes from God.
  • Wisdom is a thing to be treasured.
  • God wants His children to have wisdom.

God is the author of wisdom and, as noted by James, doles it out through the Holy Spirit as needed. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who I would consider as possessing true wisdom outside of that given by the Lord.

Oh, throughout history some folks have stumbled into some really deep insight, and people like Confucius and Plato came out with some thoughtful and witty bon mots, but they were no Jesus.

And even though there may seem to be very little wisdom percolating around us these days, God is still passing it out. I can testify to that personally – not Solomon-esque wisdom, mind you (Solomon would have never left his iPad on the roof of his car and drove off), but at least the ability to post content here on “clay” in a reasonably coherent manner that testifies to the depth of God’s grace and His ability to create new life in old people – and the wisdom to know when that’s not what I’m doing.

I’ve also been blessed to share some insight from the Lord with friends and family members who were struggling with this and that. Interestingly, I’m not really known as someone people run to for advice, so when a good friend came to me recently with a bit of a struggle…

Without revealing anything personal, let’s just say that he had an exciting opportunity from the Lord that looked doable at first, but, as the time to carry it out neared, grew increasingly daunting, and finally a little bit frightening. Before I knew it, I had a guy out on the ledge ready to jump (so to speak).

Just to be sure I was remembering the situation correctly as I’m writing, I dug around and found our whole email exchange. Had the tables been turned, I’m not sure I would have been able to follow through, no matter how much Godly advice I got. So I knew my response was not something I could come up with myself. But the Lord stepped in. The first few lines I wrote in my initial reply make James’ point in 1:5 perfectly:

“I just stopped to pray and ask God to give me wisdom to respond. So here goes… (This may be kind of all over the place, but I’m praying that the Holy Spirit will translate it so that it makes sense.)”

I wish I could include the entire email exchange here, because it wasn’t all over the place; it was just what God wanted me to share. I lacked wisdom and asked for it and, just as James said, God gave it to me – in abundance. A couple of messages later, my friend had climbed back in off the ledge and locked the window tight against Satan, ready to do what God had called him to do.

I also wish I could say that receiving and responding to wisdom from God was the rule and not the exception, but, again – remember the flying iPad.

In spite of all the scripture about wisdom, though, having it shouldn’t be our only desire – after all, Solomon made some pretty unwise choices. Marrying 700 wives, for instance. Plus, it’s way too easy to not handle that type of gift with any degree of humility.

In Paul’s list of the traits that every Christian should possess in Galatians 5:22-23 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – wisdom isn’t mentioned even once. (A little wisdom would certainly be a nice accompaniment for some of those, however.)

We can be obedient and love and serve the Lord in a way that brings glory and honor to him in abundance with very little in the way of wisdom. But when the time comes for a little five-star decision making, just know that God promised He would be there to give us what we need.

Siri-ously.

Me: Siri?

Siri: Your wish is my command.

Me: Would you go out with me?

Siri: I’m not really that kind of assistant.

Atta girl – I may make a Christian out of you yet…