Give Me My Kid Back!

I’m not sure if it’s original to her or not, but a Facebook friend posted the following: “My child’s weaknesses are God’s glory in that He will make them stronger despite it, giving me the freedom to trust God as their Savior rather than trying to save them myself. Our children are children of God first, before they are our own. He adopted them first before we ever could!” This friend happens to be a mom to adopted children, but her words apply to biological parents like me and my wife. Our children belong to God first and foremost; He is their only true Savior and He loves them more than I can even imagine.
 
If your child has ever been extremely ill or has faced a life-threatening situation, perhaps you’ve sensed God asking you the question: “Whose kid is this anyway?” And you might give a sincere, if desperate, answer: “You’ve blessed me with this child to raise; he’s my child, God.” But then maybe God prompts you again to teach you the true secret to parenthood: “That’s true. But do you remember? When he was still a little baby? You gave him back.” Kelly and I did indeed dedicate our three children to God; ever since then, we’ve had multiple opportunities to surrender them to God again.
 
It’s so difficult not to want full control of our kids. And it’s so easy to live our lives as though our children’s experiences and emotions, the ups and the downs, the successes and the failures, are our own. I love it when my kids are happy and doing well; I absolutely hate it when they’re struggling and their hearts are breaking.
 
In the old Steve Martin movie, Parenthood, Martin’s character, Gil, is a dad who struggles (like all of us) with worries about his son. When his boy fails, he feels like a failure; when his boy succeeds, he feels like a success. In one particular scene, Gil is coaching his son, Kevin, in a Little League baseball game and a pop-fly comes Kevin’s way, while his dad, the coach, watches with great stress, hoping against hope that Kevin will catch the ball. Kevin does in fact catch the ball and later on, his dad puts the whole experience into perspective, from the fatherhood side of things:
 
Isn’t that demented, that a grown man’s happiness depends on whether a nine-year-old catches a pop-up? I mean, what if he missed?”
 
This is how I often live my life as a dad. But I gave my kids back to God, and I need to continue surrendering them day after day, year after year, as long as I have the privilege of raising and influencing them. I need to remember, as my friend pointed out, that “our children are children of God first, before they are our own. He adopted them first before we ever could!”
 
Troy Burns


I’m Just a Passing Through

If you know me at all, or if you’ve read some of my blogs, you’re likely aware of how much I love my son and how terribly I miss him when he’s in Arizona at the university he attends. Today is one such time when I’m missing him (extra) terribly since Christmas break just ended and he left us (again) two days ago. Someone pointed out to me (and I don’t like this at all) that when he’s back in Spokane with me and his mom and his sisters, he’s not really home, he’s just visiting. Ugh. There’s nothing I wouldn’t give to have him call our house “home” again; there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to make him more than just a visitor for even one more day.
 
When it comes to my life in this world, however, I’m excited to say I’m not really home, that I’m just visiting. Some words from the old song come to mind:
 
“This world is not my home I’m just a passing through / My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue / The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door / And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
 
The Bible has much to say about our temporary home on earth (where we’re just visitors), versus our eternal dwelling place in heaven (our real, forever home):
 
“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
 
“Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:16).
 
“But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (1 Peter 3:13)
 
While I may never enjoy the fact that my son is now just a visitor in my house, I’m so thankful that I’m only a visitor in this earthly home that brings such pain, sorrow, and suffering. I won’t give up or lose heart, though, because I know this life is temporary and that something much, much better awaits me and all of those who are in Christ. God tells us about it in 2 Corinthians 4:
 
16 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
 
Troy Burns


I’ll Hold the Remote, Thank You

Each week, when I put together the questions for our small group studies and discussions, I often include a “Just for Fun” joke. A few weeks ago, this was the joke: What did the man think when he got his first universal remote control? Here was the answer: This changes everything. Since I’m writing this blog on New Year’s Eve, the answer to that joke strikes a chord with me. I really do want to change for the better as I begin another year of life. But I also know how incredibly difficult it is for me to change. What might be my “universal remote control” that “changes everything?”
 
You see, I want to be a new creation, not just a somewhat better version of myself. I want to truly experience what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” And I want to be transformed; I don’t want to be another person who tries and tries and tries, only to make minor changes that mean little to myself or anyone else. I want to put into practice what Paul writes in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
 
There actually is a “universal remote control” that will “change everything” in my life. But here’s the part I don’t like: if I want it to work, I can’t be the one to operate it. Grr. How in the world can I give up that control? I don’t even want another person to hold the TV remote in my house, (I’ll hold the remote, thank you), so how could I possibly let someone take charge of my whole life? Well, the truth is, I can’t. I cannot relinquish that control, not to another mere human being, anyway.
 
But I can give God that control by doing things His way and not my own. I like how John Piper put it into words: “Giving yourself to God means longing for him to completely possess, rule, satisfy, and use you for his purposes.” That’s a “universal remote control” I’ll let Someone Else hold; the God of the universe “changing everything” for me just because He loves me. I’m excited for this new year, as long as I don’t try to take the remote back from God.
 
Troy Burns


Brushing My Teeth with God

In an effort to multitask this morning, I brushed my teeth while reading a Bible-based devotional. While I wanted to start my day off right, I felt guilty for doing something so mundane while also spending a few moments with God. It was a strange experience not just reading and praying. As I thought more about this experience, however, I felt less guilty and more aware of the fact that it’s a good thing to spend time with God as much as I possibly can. If I’m eating, driving, or brushing my teeth, why can’t I read the Bible, or take in a devotional thought, or pray, or listen to praise and worship music?
 
Solitary time focused only on God is critical, but worship is more than just those moments, and it’s certainly more than just the songs we sing on Sunday mornings. As Jesus told us, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). In context, Jesus was saying that genuine worship is not confined to a particular time and place. And as we read in the letter to the Hebrews, “let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Hebrews 13:15, emphasis added).
 
So, again, why shouldn’t I worship and spend time with God while I’m brushing my teeth or completing any number of mundane tasks that seem to come along multiple times a day, every day? Why shouldn’t I cleanse my heart while I cleanse my teeth? As the old song goes, “Pray where you are / In the fields and in the factories / There’s no limits, rules or boundaries / At work or school or driving in your car / Pray where you are.”
 
Troy Burns


Why Would You Follow My Example?

When Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he shares some brief but powerful words: “Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:6). Later in his letter, he writes, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I would say these words to anyone! It could be a bad thing for people to imitate me or to follow my example.
 
I find it especially difficult to say such words to my children. It’s much easier to communicate the idea, “Do as I say, not as I do.” But anyone who’s a parent knows that kids tend to do as we do. What we try to teach them is more “caught” than “taught,” meaning that the life we live is much more important than the mere words we say. Modeling, or teaching by example, affects our kids’ behavior far more than telling them what to do. If you’re a mom or a dad, how often have you watched your kids and found yourself looking into a little living mirror, for better or for worse?
 
There is, however, a positive side to all of this. Our children might imitate our negative behavior, but they will also follow the example of our positive behavior. We can decide what we want most to instill in our children, and we can try our best to consciously live out those values. We can pay attention to our own habits when we realize that our kids are imitating us. And, with God’s power, we can work toward change, based on our awareness of those little eyes and ears.
 
A critical element to the writings of Paul, when he says to imitate him or follow his example, is the phrase, “as I follow the example of Christ.” Even though there are things about me that I don’t want my children (or anyone else for that matter) to imitate, I do want my kids (and others) to follow my example insofar as I’m living a Christlike life. Because then people are ultimately following God and not me, and even the things they imitate in me reflect a life lived in obedience to Christ. So, I guess it’s okay for people to follow me, if I’m on the right road and going the right way. If, and only if, I’m living and loving like Jesus, then please imitate me.
 
Troy Burns


The Richest Man I Know

I’ve been very humbled and blessed to spend some time today with Salonique Adolphe, who’s the director (and one of the founders) of Living Water Christian Mission in Gonaives, Haiti. I’m so impressed by, and appreciative of, people like Salonique who have given their lives to serve on the mission field. And he serves in an extremely poor country with no modern buildings or homes, a place where most people get around on foot or by bicycle, and a place where the cost of eating out for just one meal is equal to the cost of eating at home for a whole week or longer. I have to admit I felt guilty driving him around in a decent car, and ordering coffee and tea at a drive-up stand, and getting custom artisan style pizza superfast. But I also felt very blessed, even (dare I say) rich? I may not be wealthy by American standards, but in comparison to most people in Haiti, I’m rich indeed. And, in more important ways, I might call Salonique the richest man I know.
 
As Living Water’s website describes, the first decade of the 21st century brought major natural catastrophes to Gonaives, Haiti. There were hurricanes Jeanne (2004), Hannah (2008), and Ike (2008), which claimed thousands of lives of people and animals. The hurricanes also destroyed or damaged thousands of homes, farms, and businesses. Yet the people refused to give up or be defeated.
 
Under Salonique’s direction, the mission operates three churches and assists three others. They also provide two elementary schools, one traditional high school, and one high school for adults. Many of the students need sponsors to provide meals and an education. In addition, they operate a farm and a school for people to learn a profession. Eventually, a seminary will be built on the farm land (the seminary currently meets at one of their other schools). What’s more, Living Water provides a health clinic for many in the neighborhood who would not otherwise receive health care.
 
Salonique knows Jesus and he understands the blessing of serving Him and reaching out to help others come to know Him. Salonique lives by very humble means, in a very poor country, and he’s one of the richest men I know. Of course, he’s not rich financially or materially, but he has received the true reward of giving up everything for the cause of Christ, and knowing that God will provide for his every need.
 
I would encourage you to support this ministry if you’re able. To learn more, to sponsor a student, or to donate to help with God’s work in one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, please visit livingwaterchristianmission.org.
 
Troy Burns


Are You Glad When I’m Sad?

My lovely bride finds great joy in making me really, really sad. That sounds terrible, I know, so let me explain. Kelly and I are the proud parents of three amazing kids, the oldest of whom now spends two-thirds of the year in a city 1,400 miles away from us. My wife, the adoring mother of said oldest child, likes to read posts from the “Grown and Flown” community on Facebook, a group that’s intended to offer support and sympathy to parents of college (and high school) kids. Kelly finds great comfort in these posts, and then breaks my heart by sharing them with me.
 
Here are a couple of examples:
  • “But when I hugged my daughter good-bye and watched her walk down the city street, away from us, her family, her protectors, it was like watching her walk straight out of her childhood.”
  • “Being a college parent means learning to say goodbye again and again and again.”
Do you see what she does to me? Since we’ve been fortunate enough not to face the death of a child, I would have to say that the initial college drop-off, when we first left our son in Phoenix and headed back to Spokane, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a parent. It’s a dirty trick, this business of raising a child and being around them all the time, only to have them leave you.
 
Since we’re coming fresh off the Thanksgiving holiday, when our son was home with us for a week after being gone for three months, we had to say goodbye again (and we’ll keep having to do that again and again and again). These “see you later” moments are getting slightly more tolerable, but they’re still a far cry from anything remotely enjoyable. And then there’s that wife of mine, sending me reminders of the emotional wreck that I am when our son is not here with us (and especially when he leaves again).
 
Okay, enough whining. My bride is in fact lovely and she does not in fact find great joy in making me really, really sad. We’re partners; we’re in this together. In fact, we are one. We share everything, including the great joys of life and the great challenges as well. She’s not glad when I’m sad, she just wants me to be sad with her. “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).
 
Or, to quote a much less important source: “You know I can’t smile without you / I can’t laugh and I can’t sing / I’m finding it hard to do anything / You see I feel sad when you’re sad / I feel glad when you’re glad / If you only knew what I’m going through / I just can’t smile without you” (Barry Manilow). There’s no other person in the world I want to be sad with, or glad with, or laugh with, or sing with… or anything else for that matter.
 
Troy Burns


Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going

Where I’ve been: Author James Baldwin put into words my life so far: “Man does not remember the hand that struck him, the darkness that frightened him, as a child; nevertheless, the hand and darkness remain with him, indivisible from himself forever, part of the passion that drives him….”
 
Living in almost constant fear as a child marked me and made me, in many ways, who I am to this day. There’s an obvious drawback to this reality. Certain people and situations frighten me and I can’t prevent it from happening. However, on the positive side, I hate this reality so much that I have a passion for raising my kids in a more loving and graceful manner. While I want my children to respect me, I absolutely do not want them to be frightened of me.
 
Where I’m going: Author Lewis Smedes put into words what I want the rest of my life to be: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” As a dad, I’ve worked hard to break the cycle and help my kids keep “the hand and darkness” from remaining with them when they’re adults. But as a son, I want to stop dealing with the hand and the darkness. I want to render them powerless as a fuel for the passion that drives me. I can do this through forgiveness.
 
A couple of words in the Greek New Testament are rendered “forgive” or “forgiveness” in English. One of them is aphesis, literally meaning “to send away.” That’s one place I’m going. I’m releasing those who hurt me and scared me; they’re in God’s hands now, not mine. The other term is charizomai, which signifies “to bestow a favor” or to “show kindness.” I’m going there, too. I’ll choose to show kindness even when it’s completely unnatural and undeserved. My kind acts will free me from the emotional prison of unforgiveness.
 
We read in 1 Peter 3:9, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” Hatred imprisoned me, but kindness gives me my ticket out. I will love my enemies, as Brian Jones writes, “personal enemies with names and faces and horrible parenting skills.” I’m going there. Want to come with me?
 
Troy Burns


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