Here’s Looking at You, Kid

Lately I’ve been on this kick of reminiscing over my college years, when English was my major and my days were spent reading and writing, writing and reading. Last week my blog began with a quote from Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. This week, my thoughts drifted toward a stanza from E.E. Cummings’ Somewhere I Have Never Traveled, Gladly Beyond:
 
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose
 
While the poet Cummings likely wrote those words with his love interest in mind, I’ve always understood them as describing a father’s love for his child, even when I first read them over 10 years before my first child was even born. Now, as a parent of three children, with more than 19 years of “dad” experience, I find Cummings’ words even more descriptive of a father looking at his child.
 
Before I had kids, I almost never cried (I had always “closed myself as fingers”); now I get choked up and the tears flow often (my kids have “unclose[d] me,” have opened me “petal by petal”). The last line of the poem also pulls at my daddy’s heart strings, especially as I recall the first sight of my kids while holding them as newborn babies: “nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.”
 
Ultimately, whenever I think about myself as a father, I’m led to consider my own Dad, not my male parenting figure on earth, but my Father in Heaven, who calls me His child because of what His Son Jesus did in dying on the cross and taking on the punishment that I deserved. I wonder what He sees when He looks at me. I’m not worth His love, but He couldn’t love me more. He’s looking at His kid when He looks at me, His imperfect kid made perfect by his Dad.
 
Troy Burns


Of Flowers and Unsung Heroes

“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen / And waste its sweetness on the desert air.” – Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
 
Consider some unseen “flowers” who did not waste their sweetness:
 
— Neerja Bhanot, a flight attendant who was murdered while saving passengers from terrorists on board the hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 in September of 1986. Posthumously, she became the youngest recipient of India’s highest civilian award for bravery.
 
— Lee Jong-rak, a minister in South Korea who created a “baby box.” He attached the box to the side of his house, allowing parents to deposit their mentally handicapped or unwanted babies, to stop them from being abandoned on the side of the road.
 
— Megan Coffee, a specialist in infectious diseases who has been working in Haiti since the earthquake in 2010. She established a new sanatorium at that time and still works there, without pay, taking public transportation to get around.
 
— Scott Neeson, the former head of 20th Century Fox International who left Hollywood to save children scavenging in Cambodia’s garbage dumps. He sold his mansion, Porsche, and yacht to care for destitute children.
 
— Irena Sendler, a woman who grew up in Nazi-occupied Poland who risked her life to save 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto from 1942 to 1943.
 
Before reading about these unsung heroes just yesterday, I had never heard of them. I’m guessing the same is true for you. The Bible is also full of flowers who did not waste their sweetness, of relatively unknown people who did great things for God. Or, more accurately, God did great things through them. For example, beginning in Genesis chapter 37, we read about Joseph the shepherd boy—sold off by his brothers, falsely accused, left to languish in prison, forgotten by both time and family, and wasting away in utter and complete obscurity—to find himself eventually elevated to the second-highest position in the land.
 
But that’s who God is and what He does to accomplish His purposes. He takes a flower that seems to blush unseen and waste its sweetness, at least according to the standards of this world, and gives it a meaning and influence that impacts others, even saves lives.
 
God did this very thing with His Son, Jesus. As we read about our Savior in Isaiah 53:2b-3, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” And yet the life, death, and resurrection of this seemingly ordinary man, this flower, this unsung hero, changed this world forever and made heaven and eternal life a reality for all who believe in Him.
 
Troy Burns


Giving Up on Giving Up

A high school friend posted the following quote on his Facebook page (the words come from the main character in the movie, The Green Mile): “Mostly I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world every day. There’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head all the time. Can you understand?”
 
These words resonate deeply with me. Life can be tragic enough on its own without the horrible, unbelievable things people do to each other. And in this age of online news and social media, we hear about these terrible acts on a regular basis. Sometimes, it’s almost enough to make me want to give up. When I think about the people who commit horrific crimes, abuse others, and just generally have no respect for life (their own or that of others), I become judgmental and feel rather hopeless.
 
But no one is beyond the reach of God. The fourth verse of 1 Timothy chapter 2 tells us that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” No sin is too awful for His forgiveness. No person is too far, too dirty, or too hopeless for the Father to want them.
 
We should never give up and we should never live without hope. I’ve heard it said that human beings can live for forty days without food, four days without water, and four minutes without air. But we cannot live for four seconds without hope. If I had no hope, I would not almost give up, I’d already be done. Thankfully, we need not live without hope. Here are just a few reasons given by the organization World Vision for us to have hope in 2018:
  • Extreme poverty is giving up ground.
  • We are 99 percent of the way to eradicating polio globally.
  • The end of the HIV and AIDS pandemic is in sight.
  • We can solve the global water and sanitation crisis within our lifetimes.
  • Many kids in Africa will soon walk minutes instead of miles for water that will no longer make them sick.
  • Restored relationships are possible, even in the worst of situations.
What’s more, the hope we have in God is different than the hope this world has to offer. As we live our lives on earth, we might say, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I hope it happens.” Then, if it doesn’t happen, we may want to give up. But when we read about hope in the Bible, (for example, in 1 Peter 1:13, “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”), we’re not just being taught about wishful thinking. Christian hope is when God has promised that something will happen and we put our trust in His promise. Our hope gives us certainty that things will happen; they haven’t happened yet. Since I have this hope, the only real hope, I’m giving up on giving up.
 
Troy Burns


Lost and Found Party

During our Spokane Youth Rally this past weekend, the featured speaker (Arron Chambers, Journey Christian Church, Greeley, CO) shared about a frightening experience he had many years ago, when his young son was lost at Sea World in Florida. His incredibly powerful point was that during this time of severe distress, while frantically searching for his son, it never once occurred to him that he had three other children who were not lost. He never said something like, “it’s fine if I lose one child; I still have three others.”
 
This example gets to the heart of what we read in Luke 15:11-32, a passage widely known as the “Parable of the Lost Son.” In the parable, the younger of two sons asks his father for his share of the estate, which basically means he’s telling his dad, “hey, I need you to be dead, but since you’re not, give me my inheritance now.” The father obliged and the son proceeded to squander his wealth in wild living. He finally came to his senses and decided to go back home to his father and acknowledge his terrible actions.
 
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. The son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But instead of getting angry or seeking revenge, the father threw a huge party and celebrated the return of his son.
 
The older son witnessed this celebration, found out why they were partying, and became angry, refusing to go in and join the festivities. He couldn’t believe that his dad would celebrate the return of his younger brother, who squandered everything his father had given him. To this, the father replied, “‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
 
Just as Arron (our youth rally speaker) discovered, it didn’t even occur to this father that he had another son who was not lost. What mattered to him was that the lost son was now found. What a picture of our Father God, who frantically searches for lost people and celebrates when they are found. May we not only appreciate this amazing quality of God, but also demonstrate the same type of love to people in this world who need nothing more than to find their way back to God, no matter how lost and far away they are from Him.
 
Troy Burns


A Heart Full of Garlic

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to travel with some good friends to Seattle for a couple of Mariners games. A huge highlight of the trip (for me) was eating an order of Safeco Field’s popular garlic fries, loaded with lots and lots of chopped garlic cloves. The fries were absolutely delicious and truly enhanced what was already a magical experience at the ballpark.
 
If you’ve ever eaten a large amount of garlic, you know what happens for some time after you eat. You smell very strongly of garlic and there’s not much you can do about it. You can brush your teeth, scrub your tongue with a paper towel, chew gum, eat breath mints, wipe the gum or mint juice all over your face, etc., but the smell will likely stay with you until at least the following day.
 
A few of us on the Seattle trip had eaten garlic fries and then drove back to Spokane the next day. The day after that (now two days removed from the garlic fry consumption), the wife of the guy who had driven our group to Seattle and back got into her car and said, “this thing reeks of garlic!” The issue with garlic is that the odor doesn’t just come from your mouth, it’s actually expunged through your pores as you sweat, as well as through your mouth. In other words, you can’t contain the smell no matter what you try.
 
When we struggle to undergo genuine change in our lives, we often deal with the exterior, surface-level problems and not the true, foundational issues. Take our struggle to forgive others for example. We might read some books and go through some counseling, but if that’s all we rely upon, it’s like rubbing gum or mint juice on the problem—over time we realize that the core issue is still with us. Forgiveness is first and foremost a spiritual issue; therefore, we must engage in uniquely spiritual activities to allow God’s grace to heal and change us.
 
Deep down at the heart level, what’s the source of your “garlic odor?” For me, I think it’s relying too much upon myself and not truly giving everything to God and letting Him do the work that only He can do. Whenever I find myself in the driver’s seat of the car that is my life, I need to get out, move over to the passenger seat, and let Jesus take control of the vehicle. I still get a front-row seat, but now my life is led by the One who is only good and always good, who is for me and not against me, and who can cleanse me in ways I can never cleanse myself.
 
Troy Burns


Lessons in Pain Relief

One of my biggest struggles as a dad is when my daughter is hurt by someone and I want to solve the problem instead of offering advice and allowing her to work through the issue herself. I’d much rather lash out or crack some skulls or otherwise knock some sense into whomever caused her pain. But, fortunately, I’ve come to understand that my initial, natural reaction does not typically lead to the best solution.
 
This balance of trying to help and protect my daughter, while also striving to train her in solving problems and dealing with people on her own reminds me of a book my friend Ann-Luise gave me years ago, when I was in the trenches of youth ministry. I continue to find refreshment and inspiration in this collection of devotionals from the heart of a fellow youth worker. The book, written by Glenn Procopio, is entitled So That’s Why I Keep Doing This.
 
In one of the devotionals, Glenn describes a situation where his son was harassed at school by a group of older thug-jocks who were cruel and abusive. After Glenn guided his son through some options and strategies, the young man confronted the group of boys and made them realize they weren’t going to get the best of him, while remaining calm, cool, and Christlike in his words and demeanor. Through a trial in his son’s life, God reminded Glenn that He is faithful; here are a few words that Glenn wrote to sum this up:
 
Faith in Christ becomes more real when shared. The enemy is tinier than he appears. God is infinitely larger than He seems. Victory comes to those who dare to trust God’s ways. God comes to those who dare to trust Him. Standing alone is never easy. Standing alone is always worth it. Your Father will always be there for you. In times of hurt, someone else hurts with you. There’s no feeling like being loved.
 
What this teenage boy showed his father, and what my daughter shows me when she’s brave and learns to fight her own battles, is that faith and life in Christ works, not just in church but every day. Having said that, though, I would still advise you not to hurt my little girl. After all, she is my heart walking around outside my body and I will do whatever I can to protect her. 😊
 
Troy Burns


Serving the Second Most Selfish Person in the World

We sometimes joke around in the office, saying that “ministry would be great if all these people weren’t around!” We laugh because people (including me, unfortunately) are difficult, but also due to the ironic fact that people are the most important reason we serve in ministry.
 
It’s notoriously challenging to deal with people in general, let alone difficult individuals. After all, when I serve another person, I’m trying to help the second most selfish person in the world. Guess who’s the most selfish? When John D. Rockefeller was asked which character quality he was willing to pay for the most when hiring employees, he responded without hesitation, “The ability to get along with people.”
 
Loving and serving people can be extremely difficult, but it’s always worth it. After our love for God, nothing is more important than our love for other people. When Jesus was asked, “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” he replied “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-39).
 
Our love for others is even so critical and foundational that the Bible tells us we can’t love God if we don’t love people. Notice what we read in 1 John 4:20-21: 20 “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
 
Would ministry be great if all these people weren’t around? Well… Not really. It might feel that way at times, but during those moments, I’m just confirming that I’m the most selfish person in the world.
 
Troy Burns


It’s Not About Me?

To quote William Temple, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” Hmm, I’m not so sure about this. I like church the way I like it. I want to see my Christian friends, and sit with my family in the same pew every week, and sing the songs I want to sing, and hear sermons that are interesting and meaningful to me, and on and on it goes.
 
But, deep down I know that church is not about me and that Mr. Temple is right. After all, didn’t Jesus say He “came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10)? If I’m part of His church, His body, then I’m also here to seek and save the lost. (Well, technically, I’m here to seek the lost and point them to the One who can save them.) When the original followers of Jesus (the disciples) were asked by the religious leaders of their day, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:30-32). If I’m part of Christ’s body, then I need to eat with the tax collectors and sinners of my world.
 
Furthermore, the last recorded words of Jesus to His disciples are these: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). Once again, Jesus says my most important job is to seek the lost and point them to the One who can save them. This is ultimately and primarily why the church exists. It’s not about me.
 
Troy Burns


Tough Times Are Good Times?

A.W. Tozer wrote, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” You may not like reading that (I don’t), but I’m realizing more and more that God works this way, and even though I don’t enjoy it, it’s for my good.
 
A little over a week ago, we started a new Sunday morning message series entitled, Finding Favor, with some basis in the book of that name by preacher and author Brian Jones. This past Sunday, Dean shared with us about God’s favor, and the fact that He intervenes supernaturally to bring blessings into our lives. This means, specifically, that God’s favor will help us become everything He created us to be in every area of our lives. As wonderful as this is, however, God’s favor will not keep us from experiencing personal hardship.
 
One of my problems (and perhaps one of yours as well) is that God’s blessing is often not what I want or even what I think I need. Favor rarely gives us what we want, but always gives us exactly what we need. If you’re like me, you pray for God to fix your problems instantaneously, but what usually happens is that God gives us a limp, as He did to Jacob when he wrestled all night with an angel, stating, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26).
 
As we go through our Finding Favor series this fall, we will examine unexpected ways that God blesses people with His favor. We will discover that God, in his favor, wants to do something in every area of our lives. Not good things, or even great things, but insanely great things, not just in one area, but in every facet of our lives. And God’s favor is rarely understandable or predictable. But it is always exactly what we need.
 
Troy Burns


A Great God for a Terrible World

One of my daughter’s teachers had a grandchild named Micah enter the world last week, only to pass away one day later. His mother wrote the following: “Born August 29th, went to be in the arms of our Creator August 30th. He is deeply loved by Tyler and I and our families. Our sweet little boy has and will continue to make an impact on many people’s lives. After Micah passed, he was able to further the lives of two other infants. He will always be in our hearts, be loved, and be our first most precious child.”
 
Back in early July, Micah’s mom shared these words: “Our precious little boy Micah is due in September. He is growing and his heart is beating strong, and we are excited to meet him. However, God has bigger plans for our little boy. During an ultrasound, the doctors. have seen some severe complications and believe our little boy’s chance of survival is low. We are immensely saddened by this news, but we know that our God does miracles and this is part of His amazing plan. We continue to pray for our son, and to pray for a miracle. We ask that you continue to pray for him and us as well.”
 
These parents have suffered one of the greatest tragedies that moms and dads can face in this world. And yet, they have the faith and trust and perspective to understand that God worked through these circumstances and even provided blessings in the face of unbelievably dark times. How can we follow the example of this family?
 
This Sunday, we will launch a new sermon series called, Finding Favor, based on the book of that name by Brian Jones. If you look in the Bible’s concordance, you might be surprised to realize that the word favor is all over the Bible. Even if you’ve been a Christian and have been involved in church for a long time, the idea of God’s favor might be completely new to you.
 
What this family experienced in losing their baby boy, and what you may have faced in situations in your own life, can be understood as God’s favor. God, in His favor, wants to do something in every area of our lives, even the tragic and terrible circumstances that befall us. This doesn’t mean good things or even great things, but insanely great things, not just in one area, but in every facet of our lives. The question for us is: Do we believe this?
 
Troy Burns