A Meaning to Our Struggles

Someone very close to me (I’ll call him Benjamin) has struggled continually with fear, anxiety, and depression. I’ve tried desperately to shine some light and help alleviate the darkness that settles in, day after day after day. I feel unsuccessful in my efforts, but I was reminded of what the Bible tells us about those times when we need comfort. I told Benjamin I know how he will get through his challenges. Here are the verses I shared with him:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
The words, “all comfort” come from the ancient Greek word paraklesis. This word means more than soothing sympathy; it carries the idea of strengthening, and the real idea is communicated by the Latin word for comfort (fortis), which also means brave.
God Himself, and the people He works through (such as our close friends and family members) provide us with the comfort and strength we need to endure and overcome the difficulties of life. God does this not only for our good, but also to equip us to then offer the same comfort we have received. Spiritual comforts are not given for our use alone; they are gifts from God to shape us into instruments of service to others.
Benjamin is still a young teenager, but he wants to be a counselor someday. He also wants to be strong and brave as he grows through the almost overwhelming challenges he faces. I told him he will be a counselor and that his successful journey to overcome fear, anxiety, and depression will translate into the tools he needs to guide others through the very same problems and issues. In other words, in the specific way he was comforted by God and others, he will also comfort people who need the same help. I told Benjamin that’s why he was born and that’s what God’s purpose is for him. His struggles are by design; he will grow closer to His Savior and he will help others do the same.
Troy Burns

Will You Turn on the Light for Them?

In a previous blog, I wrote that one of the best reasons to believe in the existence (and goodness) of God is to consider what our world would look like if all people lived God’s way instead of their own way. Think about life in this world if every person obeyed God instead of himself or herself.
In this post, I’d like to consider what life on this planet would look like if all of us who follow Jesus were to live in such a way that we shined our lights in a dark world. What if we lived like A.W. Milne, the missionary who went to the New Hebrides in the South Pacific, knowing full well that the headhunters who lived there had martyred every missionary before him. Milne ended up living among them for 35 years, and he loved them. When he died, tribe members buried him in the middle of their village and inscribed this epitaph on his tombstone:
When he came there was no light.
When he left there was no darkness.
What a world this would be if those words could be spoken about each one of us. How can we make that happen? It’s simple, and difficult: love God and love people. When Jesus was asked, which is the greatest commandment in the law, He replied with this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
A.W. Milne inspired the radical change of an entire culture from darkness to light by loving the people he was called to serve. We can do the same if we will live how Jesus told us (and showed us) how to live. We can change this world, and impact the eternities of countless people, if we will demonstrate a pure, selfless, unconditional love, the very type of love that God showed us by giving His one and only Son to die in our place and take on the punishment that we deserved. Is there someone you know who’s living in darkness and needs the light that you can shine by loving them? Will you turn on the light for them?
Troy Burns

A Real Love for the Real Me

“My purpose and my identity, does not depend on your struggle to love the real me.” My 13-year-old daughter wrote those words as part of a song entitled, Look At Me Now. She writes much better than I did at her age; she writes better than I do now, come to think of it. Her lyrics are powerful because the words and actions of others have caused her to think much less of herself than she ought. But now she’s beginning to succeed in her journey to overcome the reality summarized by the words of Thomas Cooley: “I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am.”
My baby girl’s journey causes me to ponder what real love is. When other people choose not to love us, they treat us like less than we are. Over time, we start to believe the things they say about us. We begin to form our identity around the way in which other broken human beings treat us. Thankfully, God never fails to love us. God is love.
If other people knew everything I did, every word I spoke, and every thought I had, they probably would not love me, and I wouldn’t blame them. Mercifully, they do not know all of those things. But God knows them, and He loves me anyway. I don’t need to understand my purpose or shape my identity based on God’s struggle to love the real me. There is no struggle for Him; it’s not even a choice. He loves me no matter what. And His unconditional love does define my purpose; it does create my identity. He has a real love for the real me.
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16).
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1a).
Troy Burns

I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye

Today my thoughts turn to some words from W.H. Auden’s poem, “Funeral Blues:”
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Thankfully I didn’t have to say goodbye, but for a few hours, I thought I might have to. My closest and best friend for nearly 30 years, my beautiful bride, woke up with the worst headache of her life last Friday morning, and by the early hours of Saturday, she was in excruciating pain that no Tylenol or Advil or Excedrin could help in the least. As terrible as this was, the frightening concern was her history of having an aneurysm, and brain surgery to correct it, nearly 10 years ago. The “worst headache of her life” could end up being the last headache of her life.
So, I spent Saturday with the love of my life—my north and south and east and west—in the hospital emergency room. She underwent a CAT scan to see if any brain bleeds or other abnormalities were causing this massive headache. Praise God, the scan came back clean and they were able to give her stronger medicine to finally alleviate her unbearable pain.
Selfishly, Saturday was one of the worst days of my life. I couldn’t stand the worry and stress of not knowing whether my wife would be okay or not. I couldn’t bear the thought of the doctor telling us she needed another brain surgery. I couldn’t live with the idea that love wouldn’t last forever, that life would never be the same.
I did gain perspective, though. Nothing else that day was important at all. Things that normally would have angered me or hurt me or disappointed me had no effect. Nothing mattered until I knew that Kelly was okay; once I knew she was fine, nothing mattered more than thanking God for keeping her here with me. I absolutely hated the experience we had on Saturday, but I love the gratitude it gave me to thank my Creator for giving me my bride and for blessing me with each and every moment I have with her. Without her, I would echo the poet’s words of feeling like nothing can ever come to any good. I know there may come a day when I must live without her, but I don’t want to. And I will sure appreciate every minute I still have with her.
Troy Burns

He Knows What I Don’t Know (That’s Good Enough for Me)

The end of life fascinates me, even if it troubles me. I believe God has forgiven me because Jesus died on the cross to make that happen. I believe God will welcome me into heaven after I pass from this earth. But I also know that death creates some fear within me. There are mysteries I simply cannot understand while I’m alive, and the unknowns are unsettling. Furthermore, I do know that with each day I live, I’m one day closer to death.
Since I tend to struggle with worry and fear, I find comfort in the fact that God knows exactly when my life will end. If I’m ever in a frightening, even life-threatening situation, I try to remember that God already knows when I will breathe my last breath. When my time comes, it comes. I don’t always need to “hold on for dear life” because God knows exactly when I will let go.
As the psalmist wrote to his Creator, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16). And as we read in the book of Job, “A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed” (Job 14:5).
God knows what I don’t know, and that’s good enough for me. Instead of worrying about what happens when my life ends, I want to focus on the great hope I have after that point, when my life will actually begin. I want each day not to depress me with the truth that death is closer, but to create a yearning within me that longs to hear those words from my Savior: “Welcome home.”
Troy Burns

If Life Could Be Good, Then God is Good

One of the best reasons to believe in the existence (and goodness) of God is to consider what our world would look like if every person lived God’s way instead of his own way. For example, just imagine the difference if:
–Theft of money and property never occurred
–Violence and threats were never used for people to get what they wanted
–Gossip and rumors were never spread about anyone
–Husbands and wives stayed married to each other for their whole lives
–Parents never abused or neglected their children
–Anger never became uncontrolled and led to sinful behavior
–No person ever took the life of another person
These are just a few examples, but think about life in this world if every person obeyed God instead of himself or herself. This hypothetical situation strengthens my faith in the One who intends for life to be good, just as He is good. If a life lived God’s way is much better than a life lived any other way, then the source of that better life must be true, and right, and, once again, good.“
Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” – Deuteronomy 5:29
“But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’” – Jeremiah 7:23
Troy Burns

Okay, Then, I’ll Be Afraid

As an English major in college, I fell in love with contemporary American poetry, and authors such as William Stafford, who wrote, “For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid.” In this poem, he penned the following words, as profound as they are confusing:
What you fear
will not go away: it will take you into
yourself and bless you and keep you.
That’s the world, and we all live there.
How is it possible that fear could “bless” and “keep” me? I’m not sure I understand or agree with that concept, but fear certainly dominates this world and we all must deal with it on a regular basis.
But what if I fear God and only God? If that’s the case, could fear be a good thing? As Michael Dye writes in his book, The Genesis Process, “Moving toward your fear is what the Bible calls a step of faith. Faith usually involves fear.” And the Bible also tells us that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Here’s the thing (also pointed out by Mr. Dye): whatever you fear, you give power to, and will control you. God wants us to fear Him because His control will be good and good for us. Life is full of uncertainty and insecurity, so we will have fear. What’s important is what we give control to.
That’s how my fear can “bless” and “keep” me. It’s the type of fear that can make me say, “Okay, then, I’ll be afraid.” It’s not the fear itself that matters; it’s the object of my fear and whether or not I’m giving control to the right thing. Since I’ve quoted a few different sources, I’ll share one more to finish things up. These words are from the song, “Control” by Tenth Avenue North, and they go like this:
God You don’t need me
But somehow You want me
Oh, how You love me
Somehow that frees me
To open my hands up
And give You control
Troy Burns

I Want to Leave My Church

I can’t remember the last time I simply sat and took in a church service, with no responsibility for any aspect of the service. Full disclosure: I work full-time as a minister, so of course I never just sit and take in a church service. But this did get me to thinking: should any of us ever simply walk in, take a seat, sing some songs, take communion, listen to a message, and then leave? Even if church wasn’t my “job,” should I ever take that kind of approach?
The most obvious problem is that every member is called to serve as a minister of Christ. Every person in the church—young and old alike—is essential to the proper functioning of the body of Christ. As we read in 1 Peter 4:10, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
Another problem with the “sit and watch” approach is that church becomes focused on my preferences and desires. If church is just the way I want it, how can I possibly meet the needs of others? And give? And sacrifice? How can I be a servant if I just want to be served?
If I demand that we sing certain songs (the ones I like best), what happens when we sing something else? I might feel like the church doesn’t care about me. What happens when we try to reach younger people because they are the future of the church and we need to develop new leaders? I might feel like the church finds me to be unnecessary. But remember that every person, young and old, and everywhere in between, is essential to the body. Instead of feeling left out, we can (and should) join in the mission of reaching people. Instead of complaining about music, we can (and should) celebrate the fact that other people are aided in their worship of God.
I want to leave my church. I don’t mean that I want to leave Sunrise; I mean I want to leave my church, you know, the one that has to be just the way I like it. Because I can’t serve if I just want to be served. And I can’t understand my real importance if it’s all about my personal preferences and desires. True joy means giving up my rights and serving everyone else. That’s not my church, but it’s the one I want to serve.
Troy Burns

I Give Up

I’m tired. And not just from going to bed too late and waking up too early (although I do that). But no, I’m tired way down in my soul, and I’m tired of being tired. That’s what happens when I do things in my own strength and worry about things I can’t control. That’s when it feels like work just to breathe, and my hopes are crushed because they were misguided in the first place, and I just need some rest.
The song “Worn” by Tenth Avenue North describes my feelings well: “I’m tired / I’m worn / My heart is heavy / From the work it takes to keep on breathing / I’ve made mistakes / I’ve let my hope fail / My soul feels crushed / By the weight of this world.”
Again, that’s my life when I do things my way, by my own strength, and worry about things I can’t do anything about. That’s my life when I need rest, but fail to go to the only One who really provides it.
The “Worn” song also reminds me of the solution to my pain and weariness: “And I know that you can give me rest / So I cry out with all that I have left / Let me see redemption win / Let me know the struggle ends / That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn / And all that’s dead inside can be reborn.”
Is there a place of rest for the “tired” down in my soul? Will my struggles ever go away? Can God fix my broken heart and bring me back to life? Will good ever triumph over evil? I know the answer to these questions, but I can only say “yes” if I get out of my own way and live like God’s in charge. With that in mind, I give up. And I mean that in the best possible way. I give up on me; I’m going instead to the One who will never give up on me.
Troy Burns

Do You Go By Your Name?

The main character in the movie Lady Bird goes to a New York school and attends her first college party. She asks a young man there, “Do you believe in God?” and he bluntly replies, “No.” When she asks why not, he answers that it’s ridiculous. To his response, Lady Bird shoots back with: “People go by the names their parents give them, but they don’t believe in God.” This statement resonated with me. I know my parents brought me into this world and gave me a name; why would my belief in the existence of God be “ridiculous?”
Compared to my confidence that God is real, it feels like blind faith to simply accept the name my parents gave me. And yet I never question that my mom is my mom and my dad is my dad. They exist, and because of them, I exist. When it comes to the immensely vast universe in which we live, however, many people struggle to believe that it all came from somewhere.
If you share this struggle, think about the following:
  • Earth is the only known planet with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain plant, animal and human life.
  • Earth is located the right distance from the sun. If the Earth were any further from the sun, we would all freeze; if it were any closer, we would burn up.
  • The human brain processes more than a million messages a second.
  • The human eye can distinguish among seven million colors. The eye has automatic focusing and handles 1.5 million messages simultaneously.
  • Scientists are convinced that our universe began with one enormous explosion of energy and light. The universe has not always existed; it had a beginning. What caused that?
  • DNA is a three-billion-lettered program, a full instruction manual, telling the cell to act in a certain way. How do you find precise, programmed information without someone intentionally constructing it?
  • The universe operates by uniform laws of nature. Why does it?
These are just a few reasons why it’s far from “ridiculous” to believe in God. Perhaps something else is at work when it comes to believing, or not believing. And it has to do with whether or not we want to find, accept, and live in the truth.
People have sufficient evidence for God, but they push the truth aside and no amount of evidence will convince them. As we read in Romans 1:18-19, 18 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.”
On the other hand, for people who really want to know if God is there, Jeremiah 29:13 tells us, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
I go by the name my parents gave me, and I believe in God. How about you? What is your name?
Troy Burns