Selfless Awareness

The main female character in an old baseball movie shared this quotable line: “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.” I’m not sure why this quote popped into my mind, but I’ve certainly experienced its truth over and over again. It seems that life would be much simpler if I didn’t know myself, if I didn’t care what other people thought, and if I didn’t have to worry that I’ve offended someone or hurt their feelings or somehow made them uncomfortable.
But, ironically, that’s just me being selfish. If I see that movie quote through my spiritual eyes, I’m reminded to focus less on myself. As Bud shared in his sermon this past Sunday, we are challenged by Paul to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4). In these verses, the term “self-awareness” takes on a different meaning. As a Christian striving to shine your light in the darkness, you might say the world is made for people who aren’t cursed with selfishness. Yet we all share this curse and battle continually to make God and other people more important than ourselves. Then, instead of our good deeds leading people to praise us, they will lead people to praise the only One who is truly good. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). That’s the ultimate lack of self-awareness, pointing others to God, not us, even when we do things that make people want to give us all of the credit.
Troy Burns

Don’t Forget the Good News

“Never Forget” serves as a slogan to remind us of the horrific events of September 11, 2001. If I’m honest, however, it’s difficult to remember what happened that day, because so much attention right now is focused (rightfully so) on Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma and the seemingly innumerable fires burning throughout the northwest. I can hardly fathom what people are dealing with in terms of loss. Homes are damaged or destroyed. Flooding is rampant. Families are displaced. Power is lost. Even human lives are lost.
At the risk of feeling guilty, and in spite of the many terrible things going on in the world, I must say that I’m in a very thankful place. Having recently crawled out from the shadow of darkness stemming from multiple losses (none as significant as those of the hurricane and fire victims), I am incredibly grateful for the love of God, for answered prayers, and for the ways in which He has worked through so many people who are willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I won’t even try to list everyone who’s helped me because, with such a long list, I’m sure to forget someone. After a period of time where one piece of bad news followed after another and yet another, I’ve now experienced the opposite end of the spectrum, where I’m getting good news. Lots and lots of good news. And I’m most thankful (and always thankful) for the ultimate “good news,” that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins, that He was buried in a tomb, and that three days later He rose again to destroy death, live forever, and give me the hope of an eternity in heaven with Him. That’s the “Good News” I’ll “Never Forget.”
Troy Burns

My Thoughts for All to See

Sometimes, I envision this imaginary scenario in which my thoughts are projected onto a large screen, much like a slideshow presentation, where anyone can see what’s going on in my mind. If you’re like me, you’re terrified by this concept that’s not always so “imaginary.” Why? Well, because God does have a “slideshow,” if you will, available to Him. As just one example, Psalm 139:2b says this about God: “You know my thoughts before I think them.” So, the real question is: why does it bother me less that God knows these things than it does that other people might find out about them?
I may have discovered an answer to this question, or should I say, God showed me an answer. His Word confronted me with a higher standard than the one to which I often hold myself. This “smack upside the head” happened when I read Psalm 104:33-34: 33 “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. 34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord.” What stood out to me was the first part of verse 34, which in the New Century Version reads, “May my thoughts please Him.” Then that verse reminded me of Proverbs 4:23, which warns us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Or, as it reads, once again, in the New Century Version, “Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life.”
I tend to live like my private thoughts are private until I remember that God knows all; He knows my thoughts before I think them. I should ask, “are my thoughts pleasing God?” not “are my thoughts hidden from other people and therefore not a big deal?” What goes on in my mind is critical, not only because God knows all about it, but because my thoughts run my life. It works like the quote attributed to Samuel Smiles:
Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.
God knows the power of our hearts and minds; therefore, He tells us to guard them and to understand how much our thoughts influence our lives, for better or for worse. Instead of fearing the “slideshow,” I want to remember that what matters is the images that are included, not whether or not anyone can see them. So, I press on, striving to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5b). I want God to find great joy, not pain, in knowing my thoughts.
Troy Burns

On the Flip-Side of Sorrow

As an English major in college, I read a good deal from the works of William Shakespeare. One of his best-known lines comes from Romeo and Juliet; you’ve probably heard it or said it yourself: “Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow.” Sorrowful parting is also “sweet” since it builds excitement in us for the next time we’ll see each other.
I’ve thought a lot about this concept since we dropped my son off at college in Phoenix this past Monday. That happened only two days ago, but I already can’t wait for the week of Thanksgiving, when he’ll be home for a visit back here in Spokane. I want to keep saying goodbye over and over and over, until, all of the sudden, Thanksgiving is here. And, of course, I will have something to be incredibly thankful for this year!
This season of life came too quickly for me. One of the “downsides” of raising a strong, independent young man is that he’s actually strong and independent! He’s ready to live far away and become an adult and I’m just not ready for him to be so ready. Yet, as Ecclesiastes 3:1 reminds us, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” So, I’ll hold on to all of the great memories and rest in the fact that he is God’s child and he has always been God’s child. I was just blessed with the immense privilege of raising him for the past 18 years. And my sorrow is sweet because each “goodbye” means a very special “hello” is just around the corner.
Troy Burns

The Love that Cannot Fail

I was reading Psalm 44 this morning, where God was praised for the past victories He gave to His people. And then the Psalm takes a sharp, dark turn with phrases like these: “But now you have rejected and humbled us” and “You gave us up to be devoured like sheep” and “You have made us a reproach to our neighbors.” A few verses later, as if to express how confusing this turn of events was, the psalmist writes, “All this happened to us, though we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant.” God seems to have forgotten them even though they had not forgotten God.
And yet the psalmist goes on to write, “Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.” The writer appeals to God’s unfailing love because He covenanted to show love to Israel. God made a promise and He cannot break it, because He’s God. Interestingly enough, Paul actually quotes from Psalm 44 when he writes the following:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39).
What Paul quotes in verse 36 of Romans 8 is verse 22 of Psalm 44, where the psalmist describes a situation in which the outward circumstances have gone bad and God is not making them good again. By quoting Psalm 44, Paul reminds us that suffering has always been part of the experience of God’s people. And suffering does not separate believers from Christ, but actually helps us progress toward our ultimate goal. In other words, it’s ok for the outward circumstances to be bad if the inward circumstances are good. This is true primarily because it’s not possible for God not to love us. We can, indeed, say to Him, “Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.”
Troy Burns

Safe Because You’re Guilty

As part of my message yesterday morning, I quoted the following lines from a Relient K song, released around 10 years ago: “’Cause we’re all guilty of the same things; we think the thoughts whether or not we see them through.” I shared these words because as Christians, we don’t need to “go it alone;” we can have genuine community with other followers of Jesus. We might think we can’t or won’t or shouldn’t reach out to others in Christian fellowship, but we should make a decision to step out and seek authentic relationships with other followers of Jesus.

Reaching out in this way is risky and scary, but we all have something to hide, so how dare we condemn and shut out others who are only doing the same thing we are? How can we not be safe people to share with? I’m no better than you and you’re no better than me, not in God’s eyes. There’s too much at stake—for ourselves, for our Christian brothers and sisters, and for a world that desperately needs us—to “go it alone.”

We were created for relationships, and to quote Michael Dye, “It is experiences from hurtful relationships that caused your wounds, and it takes new experiences with safe, caring people to bring healing.” Of course, it can be extremely difficult to trust people once you’ve been wounded, but it’s possible if we make the church a safe place for hurting people. And doing that begins with you, and it begins with me. Broken lives will be restored when one person invests in another person by means of a relationship. Will you help me? I will help you, and together we can grow and love and serve in a church that functions the way Jesus intended.
Troy Burns

The Unrest of the Story

It’s Monday morning and it FEELS like a Monday! I’m sleepy and groggy, and yet happy to be in the church office. Just for kicks, I decided to google the phrase, “Does the Bible say anything about sleep?” Wouldn’t you know it? I ran across an article that posed the following questions: “Can a lack of sleep indicate a spiritual problem? Does the Bible say anything to guide us in our sleep patterns? You might be surprised to learn that the answer is ‘yes’ to both questions.”

I like the “yes” answer to the second question, but I’m not so sure about the first one. I’m a lousy sleeper, both in terms of quantity and quality. I don’t want to believe that my problem could be spiritual. Does God love me? Do I really trust Him completely?

When David asks God for relief from his distress, he comes to the conclusion that, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). Does my inability to sleep reveal a lack of trust in God? And what about the troubling words of Solomon: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for He grants sleep to those He loves” (Psalm 127:1-2). Yikes! Am I getting up early and staying up late for no reason? Am I not sleeping because I’m not one of “those He loves?”

While I don’t believe the answer to either question is “yes,” I’m led to reflect on my relationship with God and whether or not I truly find my peace and rest in Him. I also need to get real and honest about how much, and how late in the day, I consume caffeine. I may drink less Mountain Dew this afternoon. Or I may really get serious and cut it out completely for the rest of the day. More likely though, if I’m being honest, I know my best chance of sleeping better tonight is going to bed at a reasonable hour, saying my prayers, and reminding myself that God is in control. I know He loves me and I know He’s trustworthy. The “rest” is up to me…
Troy Burns

Old Enough to be A Kid Again

I’ve been a “grown-up” for around 30 years now, but at times it feels like yesterday when I was “just a kid.” I still miss those younger days when I didn’t know so much or worry so much or have to do so much. Mark Twain said, “It is not likely that there has ever been a civilized person 65 years old who would consent to live his life over again.” I understand the reason for those words, yet there are times when I wouldn’t mind living like a child again, even if only for a moment.

I miss having recess during the school day, and snack time, and gym “class,” and field trips. I miss summertime, when it was an actual break and each day seemed endless. I miss riding my bike to my friend’s house in the morning and not having to be home until dinner time or later—and these long absences caused no concern for my mother. I miss playing pickup games of basketball or football or baseball with all of the other neighborhood kids, just for the fun of it. I miss wondering what I would do when I grew up and thinking my dream of getting paid to throw baseballs for a living would actually come true.

I miss my innocence and my ignorance of how rotten I can be and how awful other people can behave. I miss that place in my mind where anything was possible and friends never deserted you and people never gossiped and kids weren’t abused and mommies and daddies stayed together forever. I miss that feeling of immortality, even if, deep down, I knew it wasn’t real.

Or maybe it was real and I just didn’t understand. Because I know that God “has also set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and that He loved the world so much that He “gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And when that eternal life in heaven begins, I know that Jesus “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). Maybe the things I miss are not gone forever. Maybe I’ll live them out all over again, but really, for the first time.
Troy Burns

Of Fireworks and Days Gone By

Last night, our friends invited us to join them at their lake property for the 4th of July festivities. It just so happens that fireworks are legal in that particular county, so anyone and everyone can set off their fountains, missiles, rockets, and so on. Therefore, as the sun set and the sky darkened, I was transported back to the 1970s, when I was still a kid and the world seemed so big and fireworks were not illegal. If you’ve had one of those vivid, realistic dreams where you’re back in your childhood days, you understand my evening at the lake. The only difference is that it was REAL.

Wherever I looked, fireworks lit up the sky. Wherever I heard (if that is a phrase), booming sounds rang out almost continuously. If you would have told me that I’d literally traveled back in time, I might have believed you. As bizarre and surreal as this experience was, it also refreshed in my mind a sense of childlike wonder. Maybe I’m not so grown up after all. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Since I strive to live with a humble, unpretentious trust in God that one could call a “childlike faith,” why shouldn’t I act like a kid in the truly important ways? In Mark chapter 10, verses 13-16, we read the following: 
13 “People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”
I guess I don’t want to grow up when it comes to my complete trust in Jesus and my utter dependence on Him for even my next breath. So, although I can’t go back in time very often (I still think I might have last night), I’ll do everything in my power to live like a child, standing in awe of my Father.
Troy Burns

A Tale of Two Trailers

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…no, wait, that quote opens up a famous novel that’s a work of fiction, and yet it feels so much like real life right now. Currently, we reside within the friendly confines of a fifth-wheel trailer. First and foremost, we are beyond grateful to our friends who are allowing us to live on their property. Having said that, however, life in a trailer is much different than life inside a large house.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world…. Next door to the wonderful, large house we just vacated (no, we were not evicted!) sits another fine trailer, hitched to a truck, and ready to embark on a journey that’s completely unlike ours. Our former neighbors are heading to the Oregon coast (my favorite place in the world) for a two-week vacation marked by fun, relaxing times with little or no “real-life” responsibility. You might say they are experiencing the “best of times” while we, despite our immense gratitude, are living through the “worst of times.”

Of course, I’m exaggerating to a fairly absurd degree; we are nowhere near the “worst of times.” I really don’t care how big or small or fancy or plain our living space is, as long as we’re together as family. But in comparison to our neighbors, the contrast is stark. And, as is the case with many things in life, there are spiritual truths and vivid reminders of what’s ultimately important. Life in this world can be wonderful, even better than spending a vacation on the Oregon coast. And life can be terrible, far worse than calling a trailer “home” for an extended period of time.

In short, life on this earth, in whatever home or trailer we occupy, cannot begin to compare to the permanent, eternal home we have waiting for us. As we read in Philippians chapter 3, “our citizenship is in heaven” and as Jesus assures us in John 14:2-3, 
“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going thereto prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” If Jesus has been spending more than 2,000 years preparing a place for us, it will surely be the best of times, and only the best of times, forever and ever.
Troy Burns