It Will Get Better (I Hope)

I recently read about self-made millionaire Eugene Lang, who significantly impacted the lives of some sixth-grade students in East Harlem. Lang was invited to speak to a class of 59 students and he wondered what he could say to inspire these young people, most of whom were likely to drop out of school. He wasn’t even sure how to get these underprivileged children to look at him, let alone listen to him. Instead of using his notes, he spoke from his heart and said, “Stay in school, and I’ll help pay the college tuition for every one of you.” The lives of these students were changed in an instant because, for the first time, they had hope. One of the students remarked, “I had something to look forward to, something waiting for me. It was a golden feeling.” As it turned out nearly 90 percent of that class went on to graduate from high school.
As I look around the world, even in my own city, I’m discouraged by the way things are going. It seems like everything is getting worse and nothing will ever get better. But hope is powerful. And I don’t mean wishful, unlikely dreams such as, “I hope I win the lottery,” or “I hope I don’t owe any money with my tax return this year.” No, the powerful, meaningful type of hope is for something we know will happen, but it’s still in the future. This is the hope of those sixth graders in East Harlem: they didn’t just wish they could go to college someday; they knew their tuition was paid if they graduated from high school. They knew things would get better.
In a similar, but even more important way, we have a hope in Jesus that is not wishful thinking or dreaming. It’s a hope of something we know is true, but it’s still in the future. We know things will get better, in this life and especially in the life to come. Our genuine faith gives us this knowledge. As we read in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” On a foundational level, God’s Word, the Bible, provides this hope. Romans 15:4 tells us, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” I hope things get better; I know things will get better.
Troy Burns

Real Life Show and Tell

A Facebook friend posted an article summarizing what non-Christians really think about Christians. Based on numerous interviews with unchurched individuals, here are the most common types of responses received:
  • Christians are against more things than they are for.
  • I would like to develop a friendship with a Christian.
  • I would like to learn about the Bible from a Christian.
  • I don’t see much difference in the way Christians live compared to others.
  • I wish I could learn to be a better husband (or wife or dad or mom) from a Christian.
  • Some Christians try to act like they have no problems.
  • I wish a Christian would take me to his or her church.

My two big “takeaways” from these comments: 1) Unchurched people actually want to have a relationship with me; and 2) They want me to be real (I need to live what I believe). Should I be surprised by this?

Isn’t this the message from Jesus in Matthew 5:14-16? 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
And isn’t this what we’re taught in 1 Peter 3:15? “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
If I’m a real Christian who actually lives out his beliefs, people will be drawn to God, the true source of light in this dark world. And once people know that I’m for real, and that I love them and care about them no matter what (even if they never decide to follow God), I’ll earn the right to be heard and share the reason for the hope that I have. It’s sort of a grown-up, real-life “Show and Tell” where I have to demonstrate something through my life before I can talk about it. People are watching; what will my life show them?
Troy Burns

If You Want to Win, Give Up

Norman Wright compares forgiveness to the tug-of-war game many of us played as children. Here’s what he wrote: “As long as the parties on each end of the rope are tugging, you have a ‘war.’ But when someone lets go, the war is over. When you forgive…, you are letting go of your end of the rope…. If you have released your end, the war is over for you.” I’ve long understood forgiveness to be a “sending away,” or a “letting go,” but the words of Mr. Wright paint a helpful picture when it comes to the endeavor of forgiving others. In the game of tug-of-war, you lose when you give up and drop the rope; in the “game” of life, you win when you let go and let God heal your wounded heart.
Of course, many of us know firsthand that letting go of our end of the rope is a challenge. One of my favorite passages in the Bible, Philippians 4:6-7, actually sheds some light on this: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This passage helps us deal with anxiety, of course, but I was surprised when it was pointed out to me that these words actually speak less about anxiety than they do about forgiveness and the emotions we experience when we’ve been hurt and don’t want to let go of the pain. The context for the passage is that two women in the church at Philippi (Euodia and Syntyche) who were in conflict with one another. In verse 2, Paul pleads with them to be of the same mind, which requires forgiveness.
Since forgiveness is primarily a spiritual problem, it requires a spiritual solution. In many cases, and especially in overcoming the deepest of our wounds, we may never reach a place of forgiveness were it not for a power beyond our own efforts. When we’re angry with someone who has hurt us, the best thing we can do is pray. We must connect with God, allow His thoughts to fill our minds, and ask for His peace to guard our hearts. When we let go of anxiety and give it all to God in prayer, He hears our requests and gives us the peace we need to let go of the things that have hurt us so deeply, thereby making forgiveness possible. God enables us to let go of our end of the rope and allow Him to heal us.
Troy Burns

He’s Not So Bad, and I’m Not So Good

What’s one of the few things that all Christians have in common? Perfect theology? Worship music preferences? Conservative political beliefs? We know the answer to those questions, but there is something we all have in common: we are sinners. In fact, we cannot even call ourselves Christians if we have not admitted our sinfulness and changed our minds to move from a self-focused life to one that is surrendered to God.
I must admit, however, that when someone hurts me (or, worse, hurts one of my family members), the first thing I do is forget about my own sinfulness. At that point, I seem to focus only on the other person’s faults. When I’m hurt, it’s not a bad thing to step back, evaluate the situation, and decide how to respond. But I can’t live in that place, and neither can you. Not if you want God’s best for your life.
If I only focus on my own pain and the other person’s faults, I forget about my sins and struggles and weaknesses and failures. You could say it’s easy for me to look better to myself than I really am. Even if I commit the same sin as another person, it doesn’t seem quite as bad when I do it. But here’s the deal: even if I’m more “right,” and even if the other person hurt me deeply and is completely at fault for causing my pain, I am not more moral than that person. Romans 3:23 makes this clear: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” As much as I don’t like to admit it sometimes, especially when someone hurts me or my family, I am part of the “all” who have sinned.
A key factor in my genuine repentance is acknowledging that I’m no better than anyone else. I have to admit who I really am in the eyes of God. I tend to compare myself to other people; sometimes I look pretty good. But other people are not the standard; God is. Of course I seem more moral than the person who hurt me or my family, but the standard of moral comparison is the not the person who hurt me; it’s God Himself.
What I really must do is forgive and show kindness to the people who hurt me, because it forces me to remember that they don’t deserve it, but neither do I. It helps me realize that person is not as bad as I make him out to be, and I’m not as good as I make myself out to be. The “worst” person on the face of the earth shares my humanity and needs the same Savior I need. With all of this in mind, I may even reach the point of forgiving that other person. Isn’t that what the second part of Colossians 3:13 is all about? “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Troy Burns

Be Careful What You Wish For

I believe I’ve shared in the past that the problem with trying to raise children into strong, confident, independent adults is that they become just that! For example, I’ve heard it said that if your grown children are willing to move far away from you, then you’ve done something right in raising them. My kids have demonstrated this willingness, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.
My 19-year-old son is finishing up his second year at a university in Arizona, 1,400 miles away from me and his mom and his sisters. But he practiced leaving us before he ever left for college. He spent a week in Anaheim as part of his team in the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA). He also left us to play in weekend basketball tournaments in Seattle and Portland, not to mention the weeks he spent in Las Vegas and Anaheim for more basketball tournaments. Right now, it’s not enough for him to live in Phoenix; he’s actually heading to Los Angeles next weekend to play in yet another basketball tournament at UCLA.
Then there’s my older daughter. Thanks to the generosity of our church and our friends and family members, she has raised $2,500 for the mission trip she’s taking to the Dominican Republic in just a few weeks. She has also let us know, in no uncertain terms, that she will not be staying close to home when she goes to college. Even our younger daughter (formerly known as our baby) is getting in on the act. She will leave this month for a trip to Portland with her youth group, and she will head out again next month for a trip to Seattle with her 7th grade class at school. What in the world? Just because my wife and I want our kids to become strong, independent adults, does that mean they have to prepare so much? Must they practice leaving us, seemingly whenever they get the chance?
I know the answer to these questions, I just don’t want to admit it. God has spoken on this matter: “Train up a child in the way he should go / Even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Of course, these words address our need to raise children the right way, but they also highlight the fact that training is involved in bringing up our kids. What we do over and over as parents, and what our kids do over and over as they grow up, comes to be the “curriculum” for this training. My kids are practicing, again and again, to leave their parents who love them so much.
What I really don’t like to admit is that having kids who are willing to move far away actually makes me happy for them and proud of them, despite the fact that I miss them terribly each day they are gone. If I’m being honest, I would much rather have things this way than to have them live close by simply because they lacked the courage to move elsewhere. And my heart would ache constantly if they became so homesick that they were miserable wherever they lived. The truth is that I want things to be the way they are, I just don’t like it sometimes.
Troy Burns

My Princess at the Ball

The song, “Cinderella” by Steven Curtis Chapman always tugs at my heartstrings (at a minimum) or makes me break down and bawl like a baby (more often than not). I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to live out this song, being the dad of two daughters that I am.
As the story goes, the girl asks her father to dance with her: “Dad, I need you / There’s a ball at the castle / And I’ve been invited / And I need to practice my dancing / Oh, please, Daddy, please.” And dad responds with: “So I will dance with Cinderella / While she is here in my arms / ‘Cause I know something the prince never knew / Oh, I will dance with Cinderella / I don’t wanna miss even one song / ‘Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight / And she’ll be gone.”
Whew! I can hardly even read the words without starting to cry. This past Friday offered me my latest chance to dance with Cinderella; I was able to join one of my girls at the “Dad-Daughter Dance” at her school. She was a princess at the ball and, at least for one night, I was her prince. I love that she’s still here in my arms, and I dread that all too soon the clock will strike midnight. I understand, unfortunately, how quickly the time goes by, since my son is already completing his second year of college in Arizona. Just yesterday, he was a little boy asking me to play catch and teach him how to ride his bike.
My experience only confirms what God’s Word has always taught: “Lord, what are human beings that you care for them, mere mortals that you think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow” (Psalm 144:3-4). God also reminds me that “My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass” (Psalm 102:11). Nowhere is the fleeting nature of life more evident than when I try to watch my kids grow up, and then I blink, and then I see them as young adults in what took only a moment in my mind.
So, I’ll dance with Cinderella every chance I get, because the next time I blink, I’ll open my eyes to watch my girl dance with her husband on her wedding day. I don’t even want to think about that right now, so I’ll hold my girl tight and hope it lasts longer than I know it will.
Troy Burns

He Finally Got What He Deserved!

As a kid, I enjoyed watching action movies featuring an obvious good guy and an obvious bad guy. My favorite part was when the bad guy was killed or captured or thrown into prison, when he finally got what he deserved. This met my deep need (albeit just in a movie), to see him brought to justice. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize how dissatisfying this experience is. As someone pointed out to me, here’s why: retaliation might feel good and it helps to maintain social and civil order, but it wasn’t intended to heal broken hearts—justice can never do that.
I really wish I could disagree, but I cannot. In fact, the only thing that can begin to heal the heart is what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:38-42:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Jesus says I’m not allowed to get back at people. He even says I can’t choose to do nothing after I’ve been hurt. He actually tells me that when I’m hurt, I’m supposed to return kindness for pain, and blessing for cursing! Why would He tell me this? The idea comes up again 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.”
Something happens when we show kindness to another person, especially to someone who doesn’t deserve it. It forces us to rely on God because we’re doing what only God (through His Spirit), is capable of doing. It’s like we’re showing a little bit of empathy in a way that doesn’t make sense to us. Here’s the bottom line: I need to find a way to show kindness to the person who hurt me. Initially, this is not even to benefit the other person, it’s to soften my own heart. As I’ve shared in at least one other blog in the past, not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Forgiveness is good for me; in fact, forgiveness is vital to my life and well-being. Showing kindness to the one who hurt me is a critical way for me to begin extending forgiveness.
The Mayo Clinic lists the following benefits of forgiving someone:
  • Healthier relationships
  • Improved mental health
  • Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • A stronger immune system
  • Improved heart health
  • Improved self-esteem
Did Jesus know what He was talking about? Forgiving others releases us from anger and leads us to the healing we need. God loves us more than we can begin to understand, and He does not want anything to stand between us and Him. Forgiving others spares us from the consequences of living with an unforgiving heart. Challenge yourself (as I’m challenging myself) to do something kind for someone who’s hurt you. Begin the process of forgiving him or her, and just watch what God does.
Troy Burns

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