Is Your Dad Home?

For my first 12 years of life, I grew up with a dad who was often out of town and scary to be around when he was home. When I was 12, my parents divorced and if I’m being honest, I felt relieved. Then when I was 13, my mom remarried and my stepdad wasn’t terrible, but didn’t love me the way he loved his own kids. I felt like an annoyance to him most of the time.
As an adult, I’ve passionately pursued a goal of breaking that cycle. Except for my faith in Jesus (but not separate from it), nothing in life is more important to me than striving to be a good husband and a good father. I’m far from perfect, but thanks to God I’m still here for my wife and my kids, and I plan to keep it that way. And yet I’m mindful of so many people who don’t experience this blessing, especially the kids who have no choice in the matter.
A little over four years ago, the National Fatherhood Initiative posted an article entitled, “The Father Absence Crisis in America.” The article begins by explaining that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America—one out of three—live without their biological dad in the home. It goes on to share some consequences for children in father-absent homes. They are:
  • 2 times more likely to die as infants;
  • 4 times more likely to be poor;
  • Likely to show higher levels of aggressive behavior;
  • More likely to suffer emotional and behavioral problems;
  • More likely to face abuse or neglect;
  • More likely to abuse drugs / alcohol and more at risk of substance abuse;
  • More likely to commit a crime;
  • Twice as likely to be involved in early sexual activity;
  • 7 times more likely to become pregnant as a teen.
The article then challenges America as a nation to begin to raise more involved, responsible, and committed fathers. This is certainly a worthwhile goal, but it’s not likely to happen unless dads get to know their real Dad. The Bible tells us that God is our Father, that we are His sons and daughters, that He’s a Father to the fatherless, and that He’s the Father from whom every family derives its name.
When earthly dads know their heavenly Father, they start treating their kids like God wants them to be treated. They break the cycle and give their kids a much better chance to avoid the aforementioned consequences of father-absent homes. More importantly, they teach their kids to know God, to love God, and to obey God. Can you imagine what America might look like if its homes were filled with these kinds of dads? What a gift we would receive if father-absent homes became father-present homes. Would you join me in praying for this type of turnaround? Will you ask God to “turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents” (Malachi 4:6a)?
Troy Burns

Hope for Now (and Later)

In the book More Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks, the story is told of an experiment conducted at the University of California at Berkeley involving Norwegian field rats. The rats were placed in a tub of water, where they were forced to swim until they grew exhausted and finally drowned. During the first experiment, the researchers discovered that on the average, Norwegian field rats were capable of swimming for over seven hours before drowning.
A second experiment was conducted, exactly like the first but with one exception. When a rat was getting too exhausted to swim any longer, the researchers would remove the rat from the tub of water for a few seconds, then put the rat back into the water to continue swimming. These rats were able to swim for almost 20 hours before perishing. The researchers concluded that the rats in the second group were able to swim much longer than the first group because they had hope. They had experienced a rescue—and what kept them going was the hope that they would be rescued again.
I need hope in my life, and I suspect that you do, too. As wonderful as life is sometimes, and as beautiful as this world can be, something is still very wrong. I don’t know how I would live if this life were all I had. Even if I followed Jesus, but only for my time on the earth, somehow it wouldn’t be enough. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:19, If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” But I believe with every fiber of my being that an incredible hope lies beyond the grave and that my last breath will usher in an eternity that’s far beyond anything I can imagine.
With that being said, I do need some hope for this life, too. Maybe I’m weak, but I don’t want to wait it out and suffer through life’s tragedies and difficulties while I yearn for the good life to begin. I want a better life now. I don’t want to repeat the same mistakes and commit the same sins over and over and over. I don’t want to cause anyone pain. I want to make the world a better place. I want someone else’s day to be brighter because they crossed paths with me. And I can’t do (or not do) these things on my own. I need a power that’s greater than me and my abilities.
Thankfully, I have such a power or, should I say, the power has me. I was “buried with [Christ] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, [I] too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). I can walk by the Spirit and be led by the Spirit and have the fruit produced in my life that includes “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23a).
I have confidence that things will get better in my life and I anticipate a new world where God “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). You could say that I have hope, and I have hope. And that’s good, because I need it.
Troy Burns

Can You Feel Me?

I’ve written previously concerning the challenges and struggles I endure as the sole male member of a household filled with lovely, beautiful, emotional ladies. Have I mentioned how much I love them?! I really do, even when their emotions evoke strong feelings of my own: stress, anxiety, fear, despair, etc. And hopefully we all know that emotions are neither good nor bad, they just are. “Jesus wept” for goodness sake (John 11:35). The Bible tells us there is a time for everything, “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Hey, I’ve seen my oldest daughter do all of these things within about 60 seconds! Did I mention how much I love my girls?
Emotions just are, and they are in essence neutral. But they can lead us to do or say good or bad things. As just one example, I think of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:26-27, 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.” Paul doesn’t say that anger is a sin; rather, he says in your anger, do not sin. This truth is also reflected in the words of James, who reminds us, “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20).
What it all boils down to is this: we must grow in managing and controlling our emotions rather than allowing our emotions to manage or control us. As someone has said, allowing our emotions to control us is not godly, but neither is denying or vilifying our emotions. We should thank God for our ability to feel emotion and we should steward our emotions as a gift from God. We manage our emotions by growing in our walk with God, as we are transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (Romans 12:2).
If I can support and assist my girls in this endeavor, then I can endure my “lone male” struggles with much more grace and success. I can feel things with them, even if they scare me, and I can help them lead their emotions instead of letting their emotions lead them. Have I mentioned how much I love my girls? Because I do, no matter if they’re laughing, crying, screaming, shouting, whispering, or even just sitting there calmly and quietly, which may be the scariest thing of all. But I’ll be there for the long haul, because that’s my job and I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for anything else in this world.
Troy Burns

He’s Got Personality

I recently completed an online personality test and discovered that I have none (that is, no personality). I’m joking, sort of. Although I feel that way at times, I know it’s not true and my test results tell me I have a Protagonist Personality (ENFJ-T). These results are disappointing because it means my wife is right and I am wrong. You see, the “E” stands for extroverted and when Kelly and I participated in premarital counseling more than 25 years ago, my test results told me I was INFJ, with the “I” standing for introverted. While I still claim to be an introvert, my wife says I have changed and that is no longer the case.
Okay, Kelly, if you’re reading this, you were right. But barely. The test said I’m 51% extroverted and 49% introverted. I don’t want to bore the rest of you with too many details, but here are a few interesting tidbits from the summary of my test results:
  • Protagonists radiate authenticity, concern and altruism; they easily see people’s motivations and seemingly disconnected events.
  • Protagonists have a genuine interest in others, almost to a fault – when they believe in someone, they can become too involved in the other person’s problems.
  • Protagonists are true team players, and they recognize that that means listening to other people’s opinions, even when they contradict their own.
  • Protagonists are a bedrock of empathetic support, not bullheadedly telling people what they ought to do, but helping them to explore their options.
  • Protagonists don’t need much to be happy, just to know that their partner is happy.
I must admit that I see myself in these statements. And I must also admit that I’m not surprised that Kelly was right, since she’s normally right and she often knows me better than I know myself.
But my real point here is to understand that God made me this way for a reason. And he made you a certain way for a reason. This started where most things start: in the beginning. As we read in Genesis 1:27, “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Something about who I am has its origins in who God is. Whatever my personality is, and whatever yours is, it’s part of the image of God in which we were created. In addition, God gave each of us gifts and talents that are meant to be used for God’s purposes. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 that the body (the church, those of us who are Christians) is “not made up of one part but of many” (verse 14) and that “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (verse 18).
Our ultimate purpose is to glorify God, to make much of Him and not of ourselves. That’s why we’re called to tell the world about Him and that’s why we’re told to “let [our] light shine before others, that they may see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). We do this in different ways according to the unique ways in which God has created each of us in His image. If you carry out your God-given purpose, people will look at you and say, “He’s got personality” or “she’s got personality,” and your life will point them to the One who made you just the way you are: introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between.
Troy Burns

Sailing on Sinking Ships

You may have heard the recent story of a young couple who sold all their possessions to buy a sailboat, only to have the boat sink two days into their trip. Nikki Walsh and her boyfriend Tanner Broadwell decided nearly a year ago that they were tired of working. Walsh wondered how they could really enjoy their lives when they were working most of the day and had to pay so much just to get by. So, the couple sold all of their furniture and their SUV and purchased a 49-year-old boat in which they would live and eventually sail the world. They lived on the boat in a marina for a few months as a preparation period, before embarking on their journey. Then, nearly two days into their venture, the couple’s boat capsized in a channel of water called John’s Pass. The couple was left with just $90 in cash, no jobs, and no boat insurance.
From what I read, Walsh told a reporter, “Everything I’ve worked for, everything I’ve owned since I was a child, I brought with me. It’s just floating away and there’s nothing I can do.” She kept a positive outlook, though, as she’s also reported to have said, “The boat sank, but our dreams didn’t sink with the boat.”
I feel terrible for this couple and I truly hope they can bounce back and have a great life together. But this whole story reminds me of the irony that overshadows our days on this earth. We are sailing on sinking ships. Not only can we not take anything with us when we die, we might just lose it all before we die. I’m reminded of a few Bible verses as I ponder this sad but interesting story:
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. – James 4:13-14 (This reminds me of the words of Ms. Walsh when she said that everything she had was floating away and there was nothing she could do.)
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21 (This reminds me of another comment from Ms. Walsh, when she said that her dreams didn’t sink with the boat; she was able to hang on to something that could not be destroyed.)
We’re not guaranteed another day, or even another breath for that matter. All we can do is focus on the things that really matter, the things of which eternity consists. And those things can be summed up with this: love God and love people. Love will remain forever. It’s not confined to this sinking ship, this life that will vanish quickly. And it’s not treasure on earth that can be stolen or ruined. Like the woman’s dreams that didn’t sink with the boat, we have “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for [us]” (1 Peter 1:4).
Troy Burns

Do You Mean It?

If you’ve attended an event where a couple is celebrated for a longtime marriage—perhaps a 50th or 60th wedding anniversary—you’ve likely witnessed an eruption of applause and joyous shouts of amazement, shock, or disbelief. When I’ve observed such tributes, I must say that a strange thought crosses my mind. Now, before I share that thought, let me preface it by acknowledging that marriage is very difficult and not for the faint of heart. And the reason marriage is so tough, at least for me, is that I’m married to the second most selfish person in the world (you can guess who #1 is). Of course, I’m exaggerating to make a point: I may be the most selfish person on the planet, but my wife is actually quite generous and unselfish.
But, nonetheless, having admitted the challenges of marriage (often caused by my selfishness), here’s my strange thought: when we get so excited and overjoyed at the accomplishment of a husband and wife staying together for the long haul, aren’t we just celebrating that two people did what they said they would do? Is it truly a momentous achievement when someone keeps his word?
It certainly seems that way sometimes. It can feel almost impossible to take someone at his word. But, on the other hand, why can’t we just mean what we say? I shouldn’t need to “pinky swear” or make some oath or promise to make you believe me. I’ve been happily married for over 25 years, but I don’t think I should be applauded for that. I haven’t accomplished some miraculous feat. I said “I Do” on July 25, 1992 and I meant it. Unfortunately, in today’s world, it’s become rare—almost the exception to the rule—to remain married “until death do we part.”  But if I follow Jesus, shouldn’t people know that they can take me at my word? In Matthew 5:34b, Jesus tells us “do not swear an oath at all” and in Matthew 5:37a, He instructs us: “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’”
What this all boils down to is that I want to tell the truth and I want people to trust that when I say something, I mean it. To paraphrase an article I read online, I will mean what I say because:
  • I want to be salt and light in a world that desperately needs Jesus;
  • I want to live out the character of the One who gave me life at the cost of His own blood;
  • I want people to know that I’m my Father’s child.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I appreciate it, and I mean it!
Troy Burns

The Cause and Effect of Caesar Salad

One evening last week, when my wife worked late and I had no time to make dinner for my girls, my older daughter was charged with the task of preparing a large Chicken Caesar Salad for herself and her younger sister. I had already cooked and cut up the chicken; her job was simply to combine and toss the romaine lettuce, Caesar dressing, Parmesan cheese, croutons, and, of course, the chicken. She did a wonderful job and the girls enjoyed lots of yummy salad.
When I returned home later in the evening, I noticed something quite curious and perplexing. In the sink was this large glass bowl with a thin layer of Caesar dressing, tidbits of shredded Parmesan cheese, and crumbs resembling crouton dust. Inside of the bowl were a couple of forks and a pair of large tongs with the same culinary residue. How in the world did these items ever get into our sink? I pondered and I conducted extensive research, but I just could not come up with an answer. Now, of course, this question is ridiculous and the answer is obvious, but this situation illustrates how people often understand themselves and the world in which we live. Essentially, there’s this notion that the universe and the earth and everything on it, including we humans, just somehow came to be, accidentally, over the course of billions of years.
It would never even occur to me that the items in my kitchen sink just happened to be there, that the non-crystalline amorphous solid (glass) shaped itself into a bowl over billions of years, and then somehow the forks and tongs (which also created themselves) just happened to fall into the self-made bowl as well. As crazy as this sounds, it is much, much more likely for this to happen than for our entire universe to have started from nothing and to eventually have evolved into all that we observe today.
Think about just your eyeballs for a moment. Right now, as you read this blog, your eyes are using intricate machinery to refract and focus light from your computer screen onto light-sensitive rods and cones. Then, the light is transduced into nerve signals, which are then carried via your optic nerve into your visual cortex, where the raw information is filtered and patched together into something of which you can make sense. I’m no expert, obviously, but this is what I’ve read about our eyes and how they work. The point is this: if the dishes from a Caesar salad meal could never have created themselves and ended up in my kitchen sink, how much less likely is it for our eyes to be what they are and to function as they do? And this question speaks only of our eyes, two small parts of our incredibly complex and amazing bodies.
These types of thoughts always bring me back to God’s Word, specifically to what’s recorded in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” I cannot bring myself to believe that effects have no causes, whether those effects are dinner dishes or human eyeballs or this whole world in which we live. I know that a creation points to a Creator and I suspect you do, too. So, what shall we do? I will give God the last Word and let you decide:
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
– Acts 17:24-28


Troy Burns

Get Out of the Locker Room (Redux)

Yesterday, a technical issue prevented my sermon from recording properly (meaning we can’t post it on our website). Therefore, I’m using this week’s blog to provide a summary of what we discussed. I coach high school basketball, mostly at the C-Squad and JV levels, and during the pre-game time, and at halftime, we meet in the locker room to draw things up on the whiteboard, review offensive plays and defensive schemes, talk about how to press and break a press, etc. The players seem to understand when I’m drawing on the board and we’re just talking about the game. Then, sometimes (more often than I would like), the boys leave the locker room, start playing on the court, and seemingly forget everything we just discussed. For example, one of my players can actually draw up play “51” himself, but then go out on the court and not run play “51” when I call it. In these situations, I want to scream (okay, share passionately), “get out of the locker room!”
What we talk about, explain, and draw up means nothing if we don’t do it on the court. As Christians, we can experience something similar. We can participate in church services on a Sunday morning, sing songs of praise and worship, partake of the Lord’s Supper, hear a message from God’s Word, spend time in prayer, and encourage each other, which are all wonderful and important things to do. But as critical as these things are, they really work much like the pre-game or halftime speech; we need to “get out of the locker room,” go out into the world, and actually put our faith into practice, day by day, moment by moment. The “game,” if you will, is in our real lives, our homes, our neighborhoods, our work places, and our schools. We must “get out of the locker room” to walk with Christ, go to heaven, and take as many people with us as possible.
This is especially critical when it comes to the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:19-20b, we read these words from Jesus: 19 “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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Getting out of the locker room means we put our faith into practice and we understand that we’re simply beggars showing other beggars where the food is. We “let [our] light shine before others, that they may see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). So, let’s not only know God’s Word and what we’re supposed to do; let’s actually do it by getting out of the locker room and shining God’s light in this dark world.
Troy Burns

Of Moms, Daughters, and Hats

My wife is a mom and a daughter, in that order, but for this week, the roles have reversed. Kelly is in Florida, wearing her “daughter hat” and missing her own little ladies something fierce. Removing her “mom hat”—relinquishing her role of caring for her girls in order to care for her father after surgery—is incredibly difficult for her, not the caring part but the relinquishing part.
You see, my wife is a mom, put on this planet, it seems, for just that purpose. To share a few thoughts that remind me of her mama’s heart, here are a few quotes:
  • “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” – C.S. Lewis
  • “I didn’t lose myself when I became a mother. I discovered an even better version.” – Source unknown
  • “The loveliest masterpiece is the love of God in the heart of a mother.” – Source unknown
  • “Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise.” – Andy Stanley
The “mom” part of my wife, the part that wears the “mom hat,” gave up a great deal to leave town and go far away for an entire week. But the “daughter” part of her did the right thing and honored her dad.
Ephesians 6:1-3 says this: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
We typically view moms as responsible for the well-being of their children, but what happens when the roles are reversed? Moms are daughters, too, and God takes seriously how we honor (or dishonor) our parents. As just one example of this, in Mark chapter 7, Jesus delivered a stern rebuke of the Pharisees when He accused them of using their religion as an excuse for not taking care of their parents.
So far as it depends on us, we must fight to honor God in this area. Scripture is very clear that the way we treat our parents has significant ramifications, not only for our physical lives, but our spiritual ones as well. With this in mind, let me say this to my beautiful bride: Your girls miss you, Kelly, but they know you’re coming home soon. Your “mom hat” still fits and we can’t wait for you to put it back on. But we’re so proud of you for honoring your father and taking care of him and doing something that could be eternally significant. And thank you for the example you’re setting for your girls, because that’s what great moms do and someday your daughters will remove their own “mom hats” and take care of you.
Troy Burns

A Summer Reunion: Fly Away, But Come Back!

You can sum up our holiday season in one word: “Family,” or, perhaps, five words: “Our whole family together again.” After 18 years as an in-the-house-every-day member of the Burns clan, our oldest child, our only son, left the nest and started learning to fly at his university in Arizona. Letting him go was a grieving process for us and a rather joyful experience for him. As I said about parenting in a sermon earlier this year, “One of your greatest accomplishments is for your kids not to need you anymore. And one of the saddest, most difficult times in life is when your kids do not need you anymore!
But our son did come home for a long visit during his winter break from college. And one of my new “favorite moments ever” is having our entire family reunited in our home during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season. It’s not the exact same situation, but some thoughts from Kami Gilmour, in her book, Release My Grip: Hope for a Parent’s Heart as Kids Leave the Nest and Learn to Fly, really hit home with me. She shares about the rare opportunity she had to embrace the sacred timing of all five of her kids, from different parts of the country, coming home for a weekend together.
She writes: “For 24 hours my nest would be full—all of the kids under one roof…. I knew I’d sleep well with the peace and completeness of everyone at home.” As they all enjoyed some wonderful time together, she continues with this: “I was in awe of these amazing humans, so full of life and dreams and new beginnings. And I was in awe that God had given me the privilege of being their mother. I’d released my grip, but my kids weren’t gone forever. This was a new season of parenthood with a new normal that consisted of a steady rhythm of coming and going, of saying “goodbye” and “welcome home” again and again. Nothing could separate them from my love or the love and presence of God. He still held them in the palm of His hand even though they’d let go of mine.”
Our son will return home in late April for his extended break between school years. We are so proud of him and so excited to see him thrive in his new young adult life, but we also miss him dearly and long for the next time we’re all together again. We don’t just love him, we like him. We truly enjoy his company and we treasure the adult relationship we are building with him. So, with even more zeal than I had as a child, I want to scream, “I can’t wait for summer!”
Troy Burns