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ANDREA BURKE
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Just Beneath the Surface

Andrea Burke

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“Look underneath the leaves,” I tell my daughter this as we’re elbow deep in berry brambles. Thorns tear at our hands and forearms as we straddle the vines and a skunk hole just beneath our feet. We wouldn’t normally be here on this corner of the woods, but today I have a white bowl tucked under my arm and we’re hunting for black raspberries. This little cove of thorns and vines boasted a crown of berries catching the afternoon sun so here we are.

“I think I’ve got them all,” she says. Her fingertips are purple and a handful of berries piles into my bowl.

“Did you look underneath?” I ask again. “That’s where the best ones are hiding. Just underneath the surface.”

She lifts a leaf with her fingertips, trying to avoid the branches that are sure to draw blood. “Whoa,” she remarks. “Ok, yeah, there’s more.” There under the sharp edges and the now barren surface is a world of fruit. Shaded, healthier, less likely to be picked off by birds. A robust harvest of black raspberries spills into the bowl, piling it up to the surface. 

“I think we need another bowl,” she laughs.

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I never intend for all of my interactions with the teeming nature just outside our back door to be moments of lessons. I can’t help but see Romans 1 in action everywhere I turn. While all of our culture seems to be living out Romans 1:21-23, I’m going to keep returning to Romans 1:19-20 —

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

There is no error in creation. No analogy that isn’t there with intention. No picture of God that is there by coincidence or “Isn’t that interesting?” moments. It’s all intentional. And for those of us who see it, it becomes clear. God’s creation shouts of his character, his attributes, who he is. 

I see again it today as we fill a ceramic bowl with fresh wild raspberries and my daughter asks to learn how to find a berry patch. 

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I’m thinking of every moment I’ve felt invisible. Every moment I’ve felt hidden while the ones who manage to make their way to the surface get picked and I feel stuck under a mammoth leaf. I think of every faithful pastor, mother, friend, worker, bible study leader, group leader, elderly woman, single dad, reserved child. I think of every time I’ve tried to get attention for the good in my life and it seems God is more interested at doing work at something below the surface where no one else can see.

I think about the fruit that grows healthy, sweeter, and vibrant just underneath the surface. The stuff that no one else can see. The stuff that seems non-existent until someone lifts the edge of a leaf and a world of fruitfulness is revealed. 

Fruitfulness in the homes that aren’t making it to influencer-level status on instagram. Fruitfulness in the marriages that are faithfully working it out every day. Fruitfulness in the mother who needs the grace of God to sustain her on another long summer day. Fruitfulness in the bible study leader who won’t ever make it to a main stage but who knows what it looks like to disciple someone. 

This is all I’m thinking of as our bowl fills.

Fruitfulness in the single parent who pours into their children at bedtime, with no one else to take note. Fruitfulness in the person who seems ordinary, not shiny, not that impressive. Maybe just someone you’d normally pass by assuming they don’t have much to offer.

Fruitfulness in all of the shaded corners, surrounded by skunk holes, fallen branches. There things root deep into the earth and find their growth.

Just underneath. Just hidden. Fully healthy. Content to grow without the fanfare of being seen. Content to grow to full health, protected, covered.

And it may seem obvious. It may seem like another analogy packed into nature, ready for anyone who wants to see it.

(Which it is. That’s the point.)

But today, if you feel hidden, invisible, unseen, trust that the One who makes you fruitful has not forgotten the place where He’s planted you to grow. Those massive leaves aren’t shadows. They’re protection. Grow healthy there. Be fruitful. Just underneath. 

Clotheslines, Enjoyment, and Work

Andrea Burke

Photo of our clothesline taken by  https://www.honesttogoodnessphoto.com/

Photo of our clothesline taken by https://www.honesttogoodnessphoto.com/

“Why do you do that?” a friend asked me.

The lace tablecloths and patterned sheets fluttered like flags on the evening breeze. Yes, I have a dryer. Yes, I know that I can just put them in the dryer.

But have you ever seen the way a rose-stitched tablecloth moves under the golden sun? Have you ever laid down at the end of a summer day under a quilt that smells like the edges of spring and the sweetness of rain? They can’t capture this stuff in a Tide bottle. 

“I do it because of the way it smells,” I laugh. We all chuckle. Why haul a heavy basket of wet laundry out behind the barn, at the edge of the daisy-filled field to hang sopping wet blankets, cloths, and bedding just for the smell?

Tonight, I did it again. A basket sidled up against my hip, maple clothespins pinched to the edge of my tank top, a summer breeze, an empty clothesline. I tried to reason with myself as I walked. 

“I could just put this in the dryer,” I muttered. “But I’m also saving on electricity and that seems to matter these days, right? But that’s not why I’m really doing it.”

I hang up the first blanket. It’s our winter comforter. The one filled with goose down. I’ve just stripped our beds from all of the cold weather bedding and I’ll wash it all before it goes into a plastic tub until November. It’s heavy but the wind picks it up without a struggle. The kids will run through it later, their tiny faces peeking around it like a stage curtain. In November, when I pull it from the gray bin, I’ll remember summer, the hot sun, and our burned noses.

Our matching sheets are next. Like a sail, the fitted sheet billows out. The hay in the field moves with it. A quiet symphony for anyone who cares to hear, anyone who stops to witness and pay attention. 

These wandering thoughts continue until I’m snapped back to reality when I’ve run out of clothespins. The beauty and the earth, the ordinary work of laundry, and the common grace of wildflowers and summer winds — this is why I do that. I don’t need a moral or economic reason for everything. I don’t need a cause or a purpose for the simple act of enjoying the very accessible gifts God has stretched between those two ancient walnut trees behind my barn. 

I do it because it makes me love it all more. The earth, the summer, the laundry, the people, the fields, the wind, the sun, the work. All of it. I wonder how much we all avoid doing things we simply find beautiful and good because we’re so laden down with the need to explain ourselves. 

Why are you eating that ice cream? A million reasons we could answer, but in reality it’s because it’s sweet and a delight to our tongues. It reminds me of childhood and little league games by the creek. Why are you laughing? A hundred points of why, but really because we still can. Because in this messy world, when grief and wickedness abounds, we still find ways to laugh and let our souls lift for a moment.

Why are you planting those seeds? Why are you wearing that nice dress? Why are you singing? Why are you painting that? Reading that? Enjoying that?

Because before we were consumers, we were consummate enjoyers. I cannot get to Eden from this side of Heaven but I can remind my heart that when the wind blows, I can step a bit closer to that thin veil where the sound of music from some faraway land makes ripples on my skin for just a brief moment. 

Simply because I want to. 

“I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” Ecclesiastes 3:12-13

Review: "God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel"

Andrea Burke

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When Costi asked me to review his book, it was a no brainer. Having walked the stage with some powerhouse health and wealth teachers early on in my adulthood, I wanted to hear the story of someone who knew the system inside and out and could speak into it with some Gospel clarity. The prosperity gospel sounds so good. It’s subtle. It shades the edges of so many of our local churches, the songs we listen to, and even the prayers we pray. But I was only a few pages into Costi Hinn’s book when I had to set it down. One deep breath of a sobering realization settled in my chest.

“I know I lived through some of this,” I said to my husband. “But I didn’t realize that this was the gimmick. It’s a whole thing. They all do the same thing. The deception is the same.”

 

I was only 17 when the traveling ministry from Miami rolled through my town. Rural upstate New York is the opposite of Miami Beach, in every way possible. We were rough around the edges country folk. Blue jeans that didn’t fit quite right. Mid-‘90s Doc Martens covered with late October mud. They, however, were polished. Tailored suits and unscathed high heels. Perfect hair and flawless makeup. Expensive cologne and white smiles.

For weeks he preached and prayed, money flying out of our pockets while we fell to the ground. We, the faithful, showed up to the small church on the hill night after night for weeks on end. The committed ones. The ones who wanted revival. And for weeks on end, he told us how revival was coming. How we needed to believe more. Give more. Sacrifice more. How our acts of faith were the same as the widow’s mite. We needed to give sacrificially. Be willing to take a risk. Maybe then God would show up.

Please, we begged, baggy jeans and country knees to the floor. Show up.

This was the rhythm I would eventually learn. Not long after they arrived in our little church, the man in the suit turned to me and said, “Come with us.” And so I did. Halfway through my senior year of high school and until I was nearly 20, I played piano and sang night after night while we traveled from city to city. The story was the same every night — two sermons. One on money. One on God’s coming revival. That was the one that usually tied to your circumstances. The one that asked if you had bills to pay, rent due, illness in your body, an unsaved family member, that God’s revival would come if you had enough faith. If you believed enough, shouted enough, prayed enough, gave enough.

“Give and it will give back to you,” he’d say. Direct correlations drawn between how sacrificial your giving was and how active God would be. As if His desire to move was contingent on us. On my money. On my faith. On my action and ability, willingness and desperation. On how loudly we’d could shout or how much we had cried. God was a reluctant guest who needed a bit more convincing to actually show up at the party.

We traveled from Miami to New Jersey to Michigan to Alaska. The same message everywhere we went. God was bringing blessing and revival. God also was telling you to fund that mission. Sow a seed to see what God will do. Speak as though you have it. Don’t say you’re sick — say “The doctor may say I’m sick, but I believe I’m healed.”

It didn’t take long for the strings to unravel.

For part of one stretch in Michigan, while the pastor and his wife rolled around town in a Jaguar, the ministry interns were getting our food and essentials off of the local food donation truck. They dined wherever their ministry supporters were taking them. We dined on the dented cans and expired boxes of Chef Boyardee and mac and cheese.

Yet night after night, I sang the songs. Night after night, I counted the offerings. Night after night, we participated in the same cut-and-paste routine. Marriages were struggling. Illness was represented en masse. Homeless guests would come listen. What a spectacle to see. Our door-to-door “evangelism” ministry was led by a slick salesman from Ohio. He taught us how to nod when we asked people questions.

“Before you know it,” he said, “they’re nodding with you. That counts as a salvation. Write it down.”

Stacks of names would be brought in night after night. People who sat next to us on the buses, met us in the streets, nodded with us when we asked if they were afraid to go to hell. Names of people I never saw again. Faces I never knew beyond a number. That stack of names was held up in front of the cash poor crowd each night.

“See?” the man would say. “Revival! Be desperate for a move of God and ask him to show up.” An offering (or two) later, an altar call, and the night repeated itself like a prosperity gospel-fueled Groundhog Day. One day we’d be in front of a laughing, hysterical crowd in Oklahoma City with checks being cut to us numbering in the thousands backstage. Other days, when the veneer wore off, I could barely move out of bed from the depression and hopelessness that weighed so heavy on my soul.

And yet the good news of Jesus was nowhere in sight. No water to drink. We offered handfuls of dust. We took money from people who needed it. We spent money in Manhattan on leather shoes and tailored suits. Money that was to us given by people who needed to pay for medical bills, credit card debt, Christmas.

The prosperity gospel was planted. We reaped no good.

It can be tempting to call it harmless. That it’s just some skewed scripture, people who mean well, people who just want good for you. It seems like nothing more than a slight optimistic bend on faith, money, and sickness…until you pull back the curtain and see that this is no subtle, nuanced song. This is deafening, deadly theology.

 

In “God, Greed, and the Prosperity Gospel”, Costi Hinn bravely puts the prosperity gospel on notice. As one who lived among it, he is now a man marked with the story of the true Gospel. We listen to those who have the scars. The ones who’ve braved the fires and the wars and live to tell about it. The ones who can point to their limp and say “God won.”

Costi saw the brokenness, the hierarchies, the lies that twist and distort scripture so much that it takes years of undoing. Costi, the nephew of well-known “health and wealth” preacher Benny Hinn, tells his story of what it was like growing up inside the private jet and speak-as-though-you-have-it walls. He wore the clothes and drove the cars but within his chest there was a steady call that compelled him to seek, find, and know Christ.

And while I’m thankful for the exposure of lies that this book addresses, what I’m even more thankful for is Costi’s immense humility and compassion exhibited in his writing. This isn’t a tell-all exposé. This isn’t meant to destroy a person or give some juicy details that will grease the gossip mills. “God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel” isn’t meant to simply garner applause for Costi and his bravery.

This book points to a man, a gospel, a kingdom that is far more beautiful, desirable, and worthy than that of the prosperity gospel. Costi points to Christ as a clear bell ringing in the fog of his struggle with what he had grown up with. Where the theology of men fails and the twisting of scripture only contorts our feet, Costi tells how the Lord patiently worked to rescue him and set him on solid ground. He gives scripture, practical wisdom, and narrative throughout to teach and encourage anyone picks up this book. He calls to something better, something truer, something richer. The good news of the Gospel is the best news for those caught in the web of the prosperity theology — God is more faithful than you could possibly imagine, speak, or dream.

“God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel” releases on July 9 and I cannot recommend it enough. It’s available for pre-order now!

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