Burning Heart: What a ‘Secret Society’ Taught Me About Faith

I’ve always had a thing for secret societies.

Maybe it was growing up on National Treasure movies (still mad that there wasn’t a third), or discovering, as a young adult, that I did know people in the Masons (what that means, I’m still not sure), or the memories I have of pledging a sorority in college, but for years I’ve been fascinated by secret handshakes, password-protected meetings, private vows, and candlelit invitation ceremonies.

So, when I found out during my first year of seminary that there was a room in the basement of the seminary library that had a mysterious burning heart on the door, and when that news was broken to me alongside incomplete stories of a potential secret society, I just had to know more.

As it turns out, the story is much less “Presidential Book of Secrets in the Library of Congress” and much more “Seminary President Visions a Revival.” In Carl Lundquist, the group’s founder’s own words (and a former President of my double alma mater, Bethel University and Seminary), The Evangelical Order of the Burning Heart was “an informal and unstructured non-organization.”

Coming from Luke 24, the Order was intended to form a generation of people whose hearts burned within them because of their closeness to Jesus and their pursuit of Him.

The idea that the heart of a Christian might burn within them doesn’t begin and end in Luke; the flame on the United Methodist logo is intended to partially symbolize the time that John Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed” in the rekindling of his faith, and many recite their own sensational experiences with faith, whether in conversion, prayer and revival meetings, or private worship and Scripture reading.

While sensational experiences isn’t the sole aim of our faith, but consistency in fellowship and discipleship with Jesus is, many of us rightfully long for a moving, breathing faith – one that impacts our life, that causes our heart to pull and long toward the Father, that results in an experience unlike anything else.

Lundquist longed for the same. In fact, in describing this “informal, unstructured, non-organization” he said:

“It represents a living, dynamic, daily experience with Jesus Christ. He’s not just an idea, not just an intellectual postulate, not just a theology to be studied, important as all that is, but He’s a person to be loved! Someone to enter in to experience with, someone to have such intimate fellowship with that we feel like these two disciples: ‘Did not our hearts also burn with us when He talked with us along the way and when He opened to us the Scriptures?'”

We long for that. We long for the type of closeness with Jesus that results in a real, lived experience with Him: a recognition of His presence, an ear tuned to His voice, a heart burning within us.

But, how do we get from here to there? How do we get from a believed faith, or a confessed faith, to a lived, dynamic faith?

Prayer and Scripture reading, says Lundquist, laying bare Luke 24: “Did not our hearts burn within us when He talked with us along the way, when He opened to us the Scriptures?”

It’s not sexy. It’s not mystical. It’s not secret handshakes or candlelit initiation ceremonies. But these two foundational elements are crucial to the life of a Christ follower, and constructed the building blocks of this “informal, unstructured, non-organization.”

“Did not our hearts burn within us when He talked with us along the way…”

Prayer is our foundational conversation with God. While we often worry about what we should or should not say, or how we should or should not say it, we really mustn’t fret much about the mechanics of prayer while conversing with a God who already knows our inmost thoughts (Psalm 139). After all, why watch your language or temper your honesty if what you would have said is already known?

Rather, treat prayer as a conversation. Bring to God not only your desires for what you would wish to see in your day or your life, but bring Him your concerns, your frustrations, your struggles and internal debates. Cultivate a practice of turning to Him throughout the day, creating a regular rhythm of conversation with the One who created both the Universe and you.

“…when He opened to us the Scriptures?”

There is no book as dynamic or interesting as the Holy Scriptures. Full stop. While one of my middle schoolers once called Leviticus “the sand trap of the Bible,” as in, “you start in Genesis, plow through the excitement of Exodus, only to get trapped in the confusing, often misunderstood book of Leviticus,” the truth is that Scripture contains the greatest stories known to man: stories of romance, intrigue, spies and kings, plots of murder and wild visions, a Man who walked this earth and resurrected again, and even a reluctant prophet being swallowed by a giant fish. But all of this is wrapped up in one mega-story about the God who loves us and wants a relationship with us, and will go to any length to do so.

Want to know God’s heart? Read Scripture. Want to know what He wants for your life? Read Scripture. Want to encounter Him daily? Read Scripture. Start in the Gospels. Start in the beginning, in Genesis. Start with the tale of God’s deliverance and justice in Exodus. Just start reading Scripture.

In fact, it was prayer and Scripture that first led to my own “was my heart not burning within me?” experience. As a young high school student, it was the opening of Scripture and praying together that drew my heart closer to Jesus in seasons where discipleship just didn’t make logical sense – and that closeness was, in all honesty, directly related to the proximity I was placing myself in relation to God and the practices that have sustained faith for centuries.

And what’s the output of engaging in these practices? Well, according to Lundquist, “those who have experienced the burning heart… are more willing to take risks with God. They are more likely to value the disciplines necessary to a journey toward a mature faith.” (The Baptist Pietist Clarion, Vol. 3 No. 1)

A faith that risks and a faith that’s mature is something we can all strive for. So would you join me in this “informal, unstructured, non-organization?” For the first time, or the first time in a while, explore with me this God who causes humanity’s heart to burn within them, and engage with me in the practices that lead to such a faith. And maybe we, too, can someday meet behind a door outfitted with a burning heart – but not for secret ceremonies or using whispered passwords to enter, but rather joining in the open fellowship of those whose hearts burn with a desire to know God.

Corporate Prayer for Ukraine

Lord, you told us not to be troubled when we hear of war and rumors of war.
And yet, we are human:
frail, scared, and helpless.
Oh, Lord, how can we not be troubled
for the state of the world?
For our brothers and sisters in Ukraine?
For the loss of life?
For the loss of culture and community?
For the fear that grips those made in Your image?

Lord, meet us in our fear.

Meet us and remind us
that you are still God – really, truly still God,
that you see this,
that you are near to the brokenhearted,
that war is not your providence.

Lord, be our peace.

We lift up to you our brothers and sisters.
We lift up those old and young,
those who flee and those who stay,
those who fight and those who fall asleep worried.
We lift up the children, whose bodies absorb trauma they can’t name.
We lift up the refugees, who pray for peace as they seek safety.
We lift up those who are encountering devastating loss.
We lift up those who are fighting to preserve life.
We lift up caretakers, who are doing what they can to heal wounds – wounds of body, mind, and spirit.

Lord, be near.

We lift up the world leaders,
and we ask that you would give them wisdom,
and courage
to do what is right instead of what is easy.
Lord, break the will of those who desire destruction and death,
bind their rage,
let Your peace and Your justice reign.

Lord, speak and move.

We lift up your Church,
globally and locally.
There is so little we can do,
but You can do so much.
Help us to press into our helplessness
as a sign that we are ever more in need of a God
who is big enough.
Show us what we can do.
Keep our brothers and sisters,
and the state of the world,
at the forefront of our hearts, our hands, and our heads.

Lord, be with all who are made in Your image.
Bind their wounds,
show them Your way,
give them wisdom to trust

and courage to live
in the way of the Prince of Peace.

A Liturgy for Those Who Are Learning

Oh, Lord,
how dangerous,
how wonderful,
how scandalous is it
that I know more today
than I did yesterday,
and still yet, I know so little.

I am occasionally distraught
of the things I did not know,
of the carelessness of my past words and actions,
of my self-assurance of my own knowledge.

Lord, remind me:
You know all things,
I do not.
And yet! It pleases You
to continually share Your knowledge.

Give me grace to learn,
space to grow,
patience with myself,
patience with others.

Keep me from self-righteousness
and therefore from stunting my own growth
by believing I am further along than I am.

Keep me from despair
and therefore from stopping my own growth
by believing I cannot learn what I do not yet know.

Lord God,
may my knowledge and growth
not puff up,
but lead to humility.

May my growth
only serve to better Your world,
deepen my appreciation for all that you’ve made,
and lead me into relationship with those made in Your image.

A Liturgy for This Election Week

Lord, we are tired.

We are tired of waiting.
We are tired of hearing.
We are tired of seeing.

In our tiredness, we feel the same temptations grow.

The temptation to not temper our words.
The temptation to cling to passions instead of truth.
The temptation to trust horses and chariots instead of You.

So Lord, guide us.

When we hear misinformation,
help us tell the truth.

When we feel fear,
give us Your peaceful presence.

When we lose hope,
renew our spirits.

When we don’t know what to pray,
pray for us.

When we grieve,
remind us of Your Kingdom coming.

When we celebrate,
let us see the work still yet to be done.

In this moment, in this week, in this waiting period,
be with us, within us, and seen through us.

A Liturgy for Those Whose Hopes Have Been Dashed

“We had hoped…” 

Oh Lord, I wish it were so,
that I didn’t have to live between the Kingdom to come and this one,
that I didn’t have to know the burn of hoping for something good
and not having that hope realized. 

That I didn’t have to catch cries in my throat.
That I didn’t have to grieve what never was.
That I didn’t have to spend so many hours imagining a future I thought would come.

And yet, here You find me:
wondering about You,
questioning Your goodness,
Your plan,
Your attentiveness;

Suddenly aware of a Jeremiah 29:11 faith
that didn’t take into account
a world so unpredictable,
bodies so frail,
emotions so fraught,
futures so uncertain.

Lord, hold me.

When my emotions can’t handle this broken world:
Hold me.

When I have no words for prayers:
Hold me.

When the future seems bleak:
Hold me.

When I dismantle the spaces I created for what I thought would come:
Hold me.

When I deliver the news I never thought I would have to:
Hold me.

This moment reveals my weakness,
my unpreparedness,
my frailty,
my humanness,
and I cringe at the thought that I’m not enough to face this alone.

“Yet I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

Though I despair, I will hold on to hope.
Though I doubt, I will trust what I know.
Though I weep, I will hold out for joy.
Though I worry, I will trust that You are with me.

You are with me:
in this moment,
in this depth,
in this silence,
in this room,
in this future,
however unknown and terrifying it may be.

And so, I will trust You.
I will trust that You cannot be shaken as I am;
That this foundation will yet still hold me,
and everything I bring to it as a result of this moment.
I will trust that You not only listen to my cries,
but love my honesty;
That You come close to my pain
even when it feels foreign.

In the aftermath of this moment,
in the rubble of hopes dashed,
I will hold on to the only thing I know: You.

A Fall Liturgy

Lord of Creation,
of color-changing trees,
crisp air,
warm apple pie,
and the breeze that brushes my face,

You have designed this world miraculously.
You have designed this world to spin in such a way
that I get to experience seasons:
the sweaty, sticky summers,
the blustery, cold winters,
the sweet, blooming spring,
and this crisp, cooling season – fall.

This season reflects so much of what I know to be true
about You and this world You’ve created.

It reminds me of Your creativity,
splashing oranges and reds and greens all around me.

It reminds me of Your call to
taste and see that You are good.

It reminds me of the garden that was
and the garden that is to come,
and I’m overwhelmed by the promise.

This season reminds me that you are a God
who can still make something beautiful out of death.

And so, in this season,
may my delight at what I see heighten my sense
that there is still something better to come;

may my moments of rest
restore my soul for another day of doing Your work;

may my preparation for winter
help me create spaces of warmth for me and those I love;

may the adventures I go on
stockpile laughter and joy for the hard seasons.

God, guide me in this season,

and use Your creation to remind me that there is a time to hold on
and a time to let go.

Let go:
of the dead weight
of expectations, schedules, timetables, pressures;
my own pretentiousness and pride;
grudges, fears, feelings of inadequacy;

and to see what You can do with a life laid bare.

So take these moments –
the hikes, walks, drives through forests of colors —
and consecrate them to You,
that they would be holy moments between You and I.

Private Vote, Public Witness

My friends are walking away from faith.

Whew. That’s hard. Hard to see, hard to talk about, hard to write.

Overwhelmingly, the conversation about their exile from Christianity is centered not around a disillusionment with Jesus, but around His followers; not around His words, but around ours; not around His laws, but around the rules that have seemingly been added on by us. And so, in many ways, I understand. And I don’t blame them, though I wish they could stay.

So this post is more love letter than lament; more exhalation than condemnation. It’s to the church – those of us who, no matter denomination, cultural or ethnic background, political party, or location, claim Jesus as Lord. It’s full of hope for what could be, and encouragement for what we could show the world. And it’s centered around our political engagement, since 1 in 4 cite politics as a main reason for their leaving.

Church, we need a better witness right now.

In the middle of an already divisive season, our voice has often been used more to mock our political opponents than provide Biblical witness to policy specifics. Our memes have simplified complex issues into soundbites. We’ve engaged in Facebook battles where we’ve diminished the image of God in others—friends, family, and strangers—by name calling, rough language, and dismissive attitudes. Rather than reach across the aisle, we’ve built higher walls.

We’ve become more known for what we’re against than for what we’re for; we’ve drawn our partisan lines and called those who disagree ‘heretics;’ we’ve contributed to brokenness instead of healing it.

And for those things, we lament. We lament that, in the middle of partisan battles, we’ve provided a witness to the world of a broken, divided, divisive church. We lament that people have left the church, not because they’ve lost Jesus, but because we’ve lost them. We lament that we’ve failed to consider that there’s more at stake when we speak publicly.

Our vote is private. But our witness is public. And so, what are some overriding principles for us this political season?

How We Talk About Our Political Opponents Matters

“But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:8–10 ESV)

In a season marked by conspiracy theories and memes fact checked as false, there’s an opportunity for Christians be even more cautious when it comes to spreading false information, demonizing our political opponents, simplifying complex issues, and sharing soundbites over substance.

In Scripture, followers of Jesus are repeatedly called to exercise wisdom over all things, but especially over our tongues (see James 3). When we intentionally engage in lying about our opponents or exaggerating our claims about them, when we spread misinformation or engage in baseless conspiracy theories that have no grounding in reality, we sully our credibility and dishonor others’ right to have the truth told about them.

In this season, we should not only do our own fact-checking to ensure we’re spreading truthful, honest, and helpful information, but we should be the first to repent, apologize, and delete when information we thought was true is proven to be false.

How We Talk To Our Political Opponents Matters

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-24 ESV)

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is terrible advice made up by someone who was probably trying to convince themselves it was true despite all evidence to the contrary. Our words matter. What we say to one another – whether in person or online – reveals the state of our heart and hits to the core of someone’s identity, so we ought to be cautious what we say.

This is especially true when it comes to what we say when we disagree with one another. When Jesus, in Matthew 5, was taking the words of the Torah and bringing them into fulfillment, He took the passage on murder and extended it to say that even insulting a brother (or sister) by calling them a fool was akin to engaging in physical murder. Why?

Our words divide relationships, plant seeds of doubt, and speak against what we know to be true – that all people are made in God’s image and are worthy of being treated as such. Because we’re called to a higher standard than the world at large, we’re called to correct misinformation, share an opposite view, or ask good questions without name calling, degrading, belittling, or mocking. We owe one another a reminder of their dignity and identity, not a diminishing of it.

Who We Vote For Matters

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19 ESV)

While there are no perfect politicians, there are minimum standards for that the Bible points to when it comes to evaluating good leaders: wisdom, as demonstrated in words and actions; an ability to listen to wise counsel and associates; self-control; ones ability to make peace instead of stirring up conflict; hating evil and pursuing good; and an attitude of humble servanthood, among others.

In an essay, Michael Austin, the former president of the Evangelical Philosophy Society, wrote: “Humility is a central virtue for leaders, because it restrains the ego, undermines the vice of pride, and sets the stage for many other virtues. A lack of humility in any person, especially a person of power, should never be taken lightly. This is especially true for those of us who follow Jesus, the paradigm example of humility.”

Ignoring character for the sake of political expediency is foolish. If we wouldn’t be comfortable with our children mimicking the words and actions of our leaders, that’s a damning judgement on their character. Voting is one way that we hold our leaders accountable for their words and actions; being able to speak prophetically into politics as they happen is another.

Our vote doesn’t just endorse a platform, it endorses a person. Who we vote for matters.

What We Vote For Matters

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40 ESV)

As followers of Jesus, we’re invited into a backwards kingdom where the first are last and the last are first, and we’re invited to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Taking that one step further, Paul invites us to “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV).

Our vote, therefore isn’t only concerned with our needs and the needs of our immediate neighborhood, but also the needs of those that are most vulnerable. Scripture regularly points to specific groups: widows, orphans, those in prison, immigrants and refugees, the poor. Scripture also points us toward being people of reconciliation and justice, which means, in this season, that our vote is also concerned with such matters.

For most of us, this is a reorientation in our voting practice (it was for me!). But this is also an invitation to practice humility and show concern for our neighbor. It doesn’t negate us from personal responsibility, but adds one more way by which we work for the good of our neighbors – and not just the ones that live next to us.

So this is an invitation. An invitation to practice discipleship in our political engagement – to truly believe that our voice and our vote in this season can be a representation of Christ to a world that desperately needs to see Him. Our vote may be private, staying between us and the ballot box (or envelope). But our witness? We don’t get an opportunity to keep that private. That’s about as public as it gets.

A Liturgy for Those Who Are Overwhelmed

Oh Lord,

I long so deeply for days filled with meaning,
with compassionate conversations,
kind words,
slow sips of coffee,
and a moment to sit alone in silence.

But I come to you today as I so often do—

Overwhelmed by a to-do list that grows instead of shrinks,
by those who need me deeply,
by financial concerns and work woes,
by the sheer busyness of this one holy, precious life;
I come overwhelmed by how overwhelmed I feel.

And so, I ask You:
Calm these storms, within and outside.
And, if the calming of the storms is not possible,
board the boat with me.

May your presence be near to me today.
May I know your peace.
May I seek and find moments of joy in the chaos.
May I recognize where my gifts would be best utilized,
and be willing to let enough be enough in the places where they would not be.

Oh, that this day would more reflect the human side of You:
The God who, while here on this Earth,
prayed in solitude,
went away,
and somehow found balance between serving needs and cultivating a relationship with the Father.

May this one, holy, precious life
be paced and purposeful
and may You teach me how to make it so.

An Election Day Liturgy

Oh Lord, long ago the Israelites cried “Give us a king!”
And since then, we have learned the dangers and blessings of being ruled by another.
We grieve a history that speaks to power gone awry;
we lament the history of broken lineages,
of slavery, segregation, riots, and retribution.

We weep over despots who brought the desecration of Your image as reflected in their treatment of Your people.

We recognize and repent of the ways in which we have idolized politics over You,
trusted fallible leaders more than You,
and made the temporary, ultimate.

And yet, we thank You.
For the ways in which You have been faithful despite our forgetfulness.
For your sustaining power to bring us here, to another opportunity to try again.
For the clearer image of You that we see when we come to know one another.

In this age, in this nation, O Lord,
we have been entrusted with the sacred duty
of keeping those in power responsible.
So on this morning of another election, as people prompted by your Spirit to tend to the lives of our neighbors,
socially, emotionally, spiritually, and yes, politically, we pray:

Move us, in our vote, to seek the good of the city in which we live.
Remind us, in our decisions, that You are a God who has called us toward the margins:
toward the immigrant,
those who are disabled,
the hurting,
the poor,
the widowed,
the forgotten,
the destitute,
the sick and injured,
the lonely,
and the lost.
Remind us that You are a God who has told us that that “whatever we have done for the least of these,” we have done for you.

Cleanse us, therefore, from partisan loyalty,
that we may speak prophetically to those in power as ones whose vote must be earned by word and action.

Open our eyes to see reality,
rather than being blinded by our proclivities toward one party or another.

Move us toward your Word,
that we would come to it not wishing to prove our point right,
but willing to be faithful followers.

Help us to see clearly
both our community’s need for us to be a voice for the voiceless,
and our need to put You first, as Lord, and trust Your slow work of redemption.

Make, then, even our ballot box decisions
an instrument of Your grace to Your world,
a part of Your healing of broken things,
a small piece of the legacy we leave,
and a reflection of Your Kingdom come.

Big News!

There have been a lot of happy tears and “woah, God” moments this past week.

After a lot of prayer and application essay writing (like the nine hours I spent, consecutively, in Spyhouse on a Thursday), I’m so incredibly excited to say that I’ve been accepted into this fall’s Doctor of Ministry in Preaching cohort at Northern Seminary. It’s a legitimate dream come true to get to spend the next four years learning how to preach and teach more effectively alongside other excellent preachers – all under the guidance of incredible faculty like Scot McKnight. Here’s a quick rundown of the what, the why, and the how:

Why a Doctor of Ministry?

I’ve known since the start of seminary that I didn’t want my Master of Divinity to be the end of my theological educational experience. For a few years, I processed what this might look like: a Certificate in Marriage and Family Studies, a PhD, a Doctor of Ministry… I landed on a Doctor of Ministry for two reasons:

  • First, I remain deeply committed to the Church. A few weeks back, I published a post about why I think our local churches matter. A Doctor of Ministry degree is the terminal degree for church leaders (though there are many effective pastors with PhDs, and many effective professors with DMins), and my deepest desire is to spend my life leading well in the Church and serving alongside God’s people as we try to figure out what it looks like to follow in the footsteps of Christ in our everyday lives.
  • Secondly, I remain deeply committed to my church. Emmanuel Covenant Church has been my church home since I was fourteen, and being on staff is one of the best experiences of my life. The great thing about a Doctor of Ministry degree is that it is designed to be done while working in full-time ministry, which means that I get to implement what I’m learning right away in my role at Emmanuel.

Why a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching?

So much of my life and career – in and outside of the church – has centered on the value of great communication. I’m so passionate about the power of words and the power of the Word (the Gospel). Simply put, it’s an area that I want to experience focused growth in my whole life, and a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching will give me four years of continued growth and some fun research – like how to disciple better as a preacher in post-Christian America.

But don’t you still have to finish your Master of Divinity?

If there’s one thing my family and friends know about me, it’s that I don’t like to slow down. I have a semester plus one credit left in my MDiv at Bethel, and the folks at Northern are kind enough to let me begin my doctoral studies as I finish my degree at Bethel.

So, if you don’t hear from me in the fall, it’s only because I’m nose deep in papers and reading. Send coffee. 

But wait, isn’t Northern in Illinois? Are you moving?

No way, Josè! I love Minnesota and my church and have no plans of leaving either. The Doctor of Ministry is designed to be done online with one week intensives on campus. So, you all are stuck with me.

On a scale of 1-10, how excited are you?

One billion.