The Perplexity Proclaimed
I anticipated that 2011 would become a banner year for the church I pastor and my life personally. Colmar Manor Bible Church was about to celebrate its 75th anniversary in March. Moreover, being the church’s longest serving pastor, I was about to begin my 20th year of ministry in June. This same year would provide one more milestone—my 50th birthday in September.
Having been saved through the ministry of this church 35 years earlier allowed these aging eyes to see a landscape in flux. This Caucasian minister remembers when the community where I serve reflected my hue of skin. The change in this neighborhood became obvious to me approximately 15 years ago. As a young boy, I recall my father taking me to the barber school located a mile from the church. (One friend describes barber school as the place your father takes the children for a haircut but personally goes elsewhere!) The business has now changed hands and services an African-American clientele. Like many communities, our Hispanic population the past five years also has increased dramatically.
My quest for God’s direction began in January 2011 while I was on vacation with my wife, Kim, and my son, Kenny, who serves as my assistant pastor. There was a burning question in my soul that could only be answered by the Lord. The Psalmist offers in
The Perplexity Pondered
Although the pursuit for God’s leading began in January of 2011, it wouldn’t be for two seemingly long months until I received a divine directive. One thing was certain to me: The Bible documents God’s leading of the saints. The gracious Father led the nation of Israel via a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.
Even the Lord Jesus Christ was led by both God the Father and the Holy Spirit. He received guidance through regular conference calls to the Father (
Furthermore, the New Testament records several ways the saints were superintended. The Spirit clearly led them.
As a result of knowing God’s desire to communicate His mind, I began to seek His face and direction through the Word, prayer and fasting, and even compiled a flow chart analyzing my 20-year history at Colmar Manor Bible Church. My heart was primed to hear from the Lord and He didn’t disappoint.
The Perplexity Pleased
It was now the latter part of March and the three of us were at our inexpensive retreat for several days of rejuvenation. The intensity of my prayers and passion to hear from God were greatly enhanced. Each day as Kim and Kenny went shopping—a favorite pastime for this mother and son dynamic duo—I would verbally pour out my heart before the throne of grace.
My hope was not to be disappointed. The God who delights to lead His children did so through three unmistakable ways: the Word, a remarkable relationship, and perfectly timed circumstances.
God’s timeless Word still governs those who seek its direction.
At this time, I had been preaching through the Book of Jonah. The text I would trumpet the following Sunday was
Jonah was not punished (as some assume) by being swallowed by the big fish; this specially prepared sea creature was his deliverance. My three applicational points for the next Sunday’s message were: 1. God rescues us in unusual ways (v. 17). 2. God rescues us for future service (vv. 1-9). 3. God rescues us according to His timing (v. 10). The Lord was going to use these preaching points coupled with circumstances that only He could orchestrate in order to communicate His will to me. However, before I elaborate upon this, I will share the second thing the Father used to guide His servant.
Let’s first go back to November 2009 to learn about an exceptional relationship that God brought my way. I had a call from an African-American lady in our church who was concerned about her 18-year-old daughter. I’ll never forget what she said to me over the telephone that day. In a loving voice she pleaded, “Pastor, you need to be a father to my daughter, Tyana. She greatly respects you. She has no fatherly influence in her life. Be a father to her.” I was so stunned by this request that I said—while in shock—”I’ll pray about it.”
You can imagine that in my mind I came up with a plethora of reasons why I shouldn’t embrace this assignment. The first excuse was simple: “Lord, I’m a white guy.” The logic continued, “Father, for 30 years I’ve trained men. I’ve instructed them to be disciple makers, share the gospel and preach the Word. Besides that, You had given me three sons to bring up. What do you do with a daughter?”
Can you guess what God did? Yep, He gave me an 18-year old African American daughter. Before I share with you how God used her concerning my ministry decision, let me inform you about my wife who was an inspiration to me to accept my new fatherly role. About six years ago, a young boy in the third grade by the name of Steven (whose family is from El Salvador) was drawn to my wife Kim. Kim was not only instrumental in leading Steven to the Lord, but also began tutoring him. In the present, this young man now is a straight-A student, plays in our praise team and is an example to all in our community. Every Sunday, he is officially adopted into the Burge family and spends the day with us. His mother (who only speaks Spanish) now comes to our church and hears the message weekly through simultaneous translation.
Moreover, God recently had put in upon my wife’s heart to homeschool the young man. There were many obstacles to this, so we knew only He could open that door. God miraculously did what only He could do. Not only is Steven to be taught by Kim under an umbrella ministry, but also the ministry waived an 18-month waiting list and gave him a full scholarship. (This is believably unbelievable!)
My daughter has become quite an inspiration to me. She’s had many hurdles to jump, which reflect the challenges of the region where I pastor. By the grace of God, she now attends Sunday School and church each week, is a regular at our Bible Institute and faithfully serves as a teacher in junior church and leader in our Monday night youth program. Her passion is to know Christ and make Him known.
Words cannot express the deep satisfaction I felt having Tyana sit next to me during my 20th-anniversary service. Simultaneously, my adorable wife, Kim, Joshua and Kenny (two of my sons) were just in front of us (as part of the praise team), and my other son Daniel administered the PowerPoint presentation. It was a privilege honoring this young lady who had received little recognition from any male figure while growing up. My heart is touched each time I look at the mantel over our fire place during the Christmas season and see two additional stockings: one for Tyana and the other for Steven. It is fun watching God grow our family.
Let’s go back to my time away in March. Literally as I was seeking the Lord through prayer about whether I should stay or leave the church, I happened to notice an e-mail that just arrived from Tyana. I read the e-mail which expressed her appreciation for the $5 I had sent to her to purchase her favorite ice-cream (chocolate-chip cookie dough!) and the tears began to flow as I read the final words which said, “I love you very much, your daughter, Tyana.” (Tyana later shared with me that she was going to send her e-mail a day earlier but somehow knew to wait one more day.)
I believe God perfectly timed this special moment to impress upon me that when we espouse His will for our lives that we experience a profound God-given satisfaction of life and ministry. God was kindheartedly showing me that He had strategically placed me in my pastorate for such a time as this; His stewardship for me was being confirmed.
Statistics show that many pastors leave the ministry as the result of prolonged conflict with church members. I recall visiting with a dear older believer at a convention I was attending. He asked how things were going, and I shared about God’s mercy to me that had enabled me to celebrate my two decades of ministry. He immediately said, “Let me take a look at your scars.” The implication was clear: I know you’ve had many skirmishes being a pastor.
An interesting phenomenon occurred twice while I was on vacation in January and March with Kim and Kenny. Both times while out of state, we saw some folks from our past who, might I say, were less than interested in our longevity in ministry.
The next day as I mulled over these happenings, the Lord began to illuminate my thinking. While my wife and son were out shopping (have you noticed a pattern here?) I looked over my sermon notes for my Sunday’s message. The Holy Spirit shined His beautiful light upon my preaching points in order to give me unmistakable direction. God rescues us in unusual ways. This first point beautifully reminded this former Catholic about how the Father saved me through the ministry of the church I now was shepherding. God delivered my soul not based on my works (this was unusual for me) but by His Son’s finished work. Indeed, He has rescued and preserved me more than 20 years of full-time service at the same church.
Why did He rescue me? The second point answered this poignant question: God rescues us for future service. As Jonah was pointed back to Nineveh, our Lord clearly was focusing my attention on my current ministry. (Even my flow chart revealed that all my training and experience fit with the location where my sovereign Lord had placed me.) God made it transparent to me that my family was meant to continue its work with Tyana, Steven and all the saints at Colmar Manor Bible Church and to reach our community for Christ.
It was exciting preaching my text the following Sunday. There was not a dry eye (including mine) in the church when I shared my journey. The entire congregation came forward at the conclusion of my message to show its love and support. I can say from the depth of my grateful being that it is great being home.