Tough Times Are Good Times?

A.W. Tozer wrote, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” You may not like reading that (I don’t), but I’m realizing more and more that God works this way, and even though I don’t enjoy it, it’s for my good.
 
A little over a week ago, we started a new Sunday morning message series entitled, Finding Favor, with some basis in the book of that name by preacher and author Brian Jones. This past Sunday, Dean shared with us about God’s favor, and the fact that He intervenes supernaturally to bring blessings into our lives. This means, specifically, that God’s favor will help us become everything He created us to be in every area of our lives. As wonderful as this is, however, God’s favor will not keep us from experiencing personal hardship.
 
One of my problems (and perhaps one of yours as well) is that God’s blessing is often not what I want or even what I think I need. Favor rarely gives us what we want, but always gives us exactly what we need. If you’re like me, you pray for God to fix your problems instantaneously, but what usually happens is that God gives us a limp, as He did to Jacob when he wrestled all night with an angel, stating, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26).
 
As we go through our Finding Favor series this fall, we will examine unexpected ways that God blesses people with His favor. We will discover that God, in his favor, wants to do something in every area of our lives. Not good things, or even great things, but insanely great things, not just in one area, but in every facet of our lives. And God’s favor is rarely understandable or predictable. But it is always exactly what we need.
 
Troy Burns


A Great God for a Terrible World

One of my daughter’s teachers had a grandchild named Micah enter the world last week, only to pass away one day later. His mother wrote the following: “Born August 29th, went to be in the arms of our Creator August 30th. He is deeply loved by Tyler and I and our families. Our sweet little boy has and will continue to make an impact on many people’s lives. After Micah passed, he was able to further the lives of two other infants. He will always be in our hearts, be loved, and be our first most precious child.”
 
Back in early July, Micah’s mom shared these words: “Our precious little boy Micah is due in September. He is growing and his heart is beating strong, and we are excited to meet him. However, God has bigger plans for our little boy. During an ultrasound, the doctors. have seen some severe complications and believe our little boy’s chance of survival is low. We are immensely saddened by this news, but we know that our God does miracles and this is part of His amazing plan. We continue to pray for our son, and to pray for a miracle. We ask that you continue to pray for him and us as well.”
 
These parents have suffered one of the greatest tragedies that moms and dads can face in this world. And yet, they have the faith and trust and perspective to understand that God worked through these circumstances and even provided blessings in the face of unbelievably dark times. How can we follow the example of this family?
 
This Sunday, we will launch a new sermon series called, Finding Favor, based on the book of that name by Brian Jones. If you look in the Bible’s concordance, you might be surprised to realize that the word favor is all over the Bible. Even if you’ve been a Christian and have been involved in church for a long time, the idea of God’s favor might be completely new to you.
 
What this family experienced in losing their baby boy, and what you may have faced in situations in your own life, can be understood as God’s favor. God, in His favor, wants to do something in every area of our lives, even the tragic and terrible circumstances that befall us. This doesn’t mean good things or even great things, but insanely great things, not just in one area, but in every facet of our lives. The question for us is: Do we believe this?
 
Troy Burns


Responding Right to Wrong

I saw this Facebook blog where a woman was in the drive-thru lane of a restaurant and did not pull forward at the right time, because she was leaning over and trying to help her daughter find something that she dropped. Her lack of pulling forward promptly caused the person behind her to yell and honk her horn and raise her hands and otherwise have a complete meltdown.
 
The woman in the front car wanted to get out and karate chop the woman behind her in the throat, but she decided on a different course of action. She proceeded to pull forward and pay the bill for the woman behind her.
 
Explaining her actions and the undeserved kindness that she showed, this woman said that life is short and you just never know what other people are going through. I don’t know if this woman is a Christian, but her experience certainly illustrates an important truth from the Bible. Here’s what the apostle Paul writes in the twelfth chapter of Romans, verses 17-21:
 
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
 
In this passage, Paul addresses the proper response of a Christian who is treated wrongly. The natural (even understandable) response of the woman above would be to return evil for evil (read, karate chop to the throat), but anyone could do that. If we who are Christians retaliate, the watching world sees nothing different about our lives. It’s not even clear who’s right and who’s wrong when we respond in kind to the ones who wrong us. But, when we love our enemies and return good for evil, the contrast is stark.
 
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to seek an opportunity to respond the way this woman did. Not because I want to or because it feels good, but in order to tell the right story about my Savior, who did not respond in kind to my wrongs.
 
Troy Burns


They Like Him Better Than Me, and That’s Okay

Last week, I had the privilege of traveling with our Youth Minister (“The Chad”) and our students to the New Life Northwest camp in Washougal, WA. We had a wonderful week of renewing and recharging and just spending time with one another. It did this former youth leader’s heart good to hang out with young people, share deep conversations, and just have some plain old-fashioned fun.
 
My experience reminded me of how much I love young people and why my memories of youth ministry are some of the fondest ones I have. Perhaps I should have been offended that the students were disappointed to discover that I would be driving the church van back to Spokane so that Chad could drive the truck and trailer. But I wasn’t. I was actually quite pleased that they so prefer him to me. He’s their leader, he loves them, and they know it. (I really love them, too, but I’m just not Chad, and that’s okay.)
 
A number of years back, I was the leader and Chad was one of my students. It’s indescribably cool to see him now in the role that I once held. His parents deserve all of the credit for raising him right, but I’m honored to call him a “son in the faith.” And partnering with a great friend in ministry is just about as good as it gets. That’s why it doesn’t bother me that the kids like him so much better than me. They should. He’s their guy. The baton has been passed and as much as I loved youth ministry, and hard as I worked to reach our young people, I believe Chad will do a better job than I did. Reminiscent of Esther 4:14, he has come to this place for such a time as this, and some young people will be thanking him for eternity.
 
Troy Burns


Sit Down, Please!

In his book, Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard writes, “We don’t believe something by merely saying we believe it, or even when we believe that we believe it. We believe something when we act as if it were true.”
 
As I write this blog, I’m sitting in my desk chair. The main reason I’m sitting here is that I believe the chair will hold me up. I’m not just saying I believe it; I’m not just believing I believe it; rather, I’m acting as if the chair will hold me up. If I believed the chair would crash down to the ground the moment I sat in it, I would not be sitting here and I would be looking for a new chair.
 
Jesus gave some instructions and commandments that are difficult for me to follow. For example:
 
  • I know how horrific murder is, but Jesus says if I hate someone, I fall under the same judgment – Matt. 5:21-22.
  • I know how damaging adultery is, but Jesus says if I look at a woman lustfully, I’ve committed the same sin in my heart – Matt. 5:27-28.
  • I’m great with loving my neighbors and hating my enemies, but Jesus says to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me – Matt. 5:43-44.
  • I’m good with forgiving someone who’s hurt me up to seven times, but Jesus says not to forgive seven times, but 77 times (a symbolic number meaning that forgiveness should be unlimited) – Matt. 18:21-22.
 
Here’s what it boils down to: will I sit in the “chair of faith” as readily as I’ll sit in my desk chair? Do I really believe that Jesus loves me and wants only what’s best for me? Am I just saying I believe, or believing I believe, or am I acting as if Jesus truly wants what’s best for me and teaches me accordingly?
 
Will I live my life, day by day and moment by moment, with the understanding that “faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse” (Philip Yancey)? Will you live that way? Sit down, please!
 
Troy Burns


Coming Home and Staying Away

My family is back from a wonderful, refreshing week of vacation, highlighted by several days at the beach on the Oregon coast. For a short time, we lived in my “happy place,” at my favorite place in the world, with my favorite people in the world.
 
Trips like this provide a gift that keeps on giving. Not only will my memories last a lifetime, my phone is full of pictures that show me, whenever I want, the ocean and the beach and the sunsets, not to mention glimpses of my family enjoying this handiwork of God. My phone even holds a couple of short videos of the waves crashing in, so the ocean can be seen and heard anytime, anyplace.
 
Someone has said that God gave us the gift of memory so we can have roses in December and snow in July. I think He gave me this gift so I can take a trip to the beach whenever I need one. And I do need these trips, not only because they take me back in my mind to a very special time with my family, but also because they scream out to me that God made this world, and He’s still in charge. “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” (Romans 1:20).
 
In addition, the ocean, as an immense part of the created world in which we live, helps me understand the unspoken, unheard words of the Creator:
 
The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world (Psalm 19:1-4)
 
Thank you, Lord, for who You are, for creating a world of unfathomable beauty, for giving me an incredible time of rest with my family, and for granting me the gift of memory so I can enjoy these things every day for as long as I live.
 
Troy Burns


I Want Out!

One of my favorite authors (who also happens to be a preacher, best job in the world!) wrote the following question, seemingly just for me: “Have you ever tried getting out of something but couldn’t, then later realized that maybe God was keeping you in that situation for your benefit?” I’m totally on-board with the first part of his statement. I want out! But I dislike the second part, because I’ve not yet discovered God’s hand in this situation. Why would He keep me here? How in the world could this ever benefit me?
 
I should mention that my desire to escape has nothing to do with my marriage or my family or my job and all of the people I love at Sunrise. When I say, “I want out!” I also know that I’m in that wonderful, scary, lonely, awe-inducing state of waiting on God and trusting that He will work “for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). After all, that’s what God does; He’s shown me many times before:
  • When my wife suffered a miscarriage that ended her first pregnancy, God drew us closer to Him and to each other, giving us a sense of almost going to war together and knowing that we could survive anything.
  • When my son became severely ill, God reminded me that I dedicated my boy back to Him, and that my son was really God’s child.
  • When my beautiful bride learned she had a brain aneurysm requiring surgery, God reaffirmed my commitment to her, in sickness and in health, and He showed me how precious each moment of life with her is.
  • When my daughter cried the saddest tears I’ve ever seen in this life, God gave me an extra measure of love and compassion for her as amazing as it was painful.
God allows us to remain in situations we want out of, but He does so with a purpose in mind. He’s proven Himself to work for the good of those who love Him. He takes what seems to be a curse and turns it into a blessing. For this reason, no matter how hard things get, I will persevere and trust in Him, even though I want out!
 
Troy Burns


Don’t Worry About What I Think

Do you ever feel like the people around you will think what they think, no matter what you say or do? The level of misinformation and miscommunication, with which we all must deal on a regular basis, is truly staggering. And I don’t believe I can do anything to fix this problem. Well, there is one thing.
 
I can look in the mirror and realize (after the initial shock of remembering how old I look) that I can be the change I want to see. I know that’s a trite cliché, but if I care about the truth, and I’m concerned about people basing their opinions on the facts that they know for sure, then I’d better do the same thing myself.
 
Of course, this is incredibly difficult to achieve. In a previous blog, I quoted Charles Horton Cooley, who said: “I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.” Today, I’m pondering this statement from the opposite perspective, i.e., what have I caused others to think about themselves because of how I’ve treated them? Have my perceptions of others helped to shape their self-concepts, for better or for worse?
 
To be part of the solution, I must treat people as more important than myself and I must base my opinions of them on facts from direct sources, not on suspicions, or judgments, or rumors, or gossip, or even just third-hand information that’s never really accurate (ever play “The Telephone Game?”). In short, I need to treat people in a manner consistent with the truth.
 
For my part, here’s my commitment: I will do everything in my power, and more importantly, in the power of God’s Spirit, to speak the truth and act only on what I know for sure to be true. I will “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). I will “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to my neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25). I will obey God when He says, “These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace” (Zechariah 8:16).
 
At one point or another, I will likely fall short of this goal. When that happens, I will: confess to the God of truth, the God for whom it’s impossible to lie (Hebrews 6:18); I will ask forgiveness from God and anyone I’ve hurt; I will change my mind (repent); I will renew my commitment; and I will improve my behavior. At times, this will seem like a goal I can never achieve, but as Jesus Himself said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).
 
Troy Burns


Honey, the Hamper is Full

I cannot stand doing the laundry, especially those annoying loads where many, many items must be hung after washing and not just thrown into the dryer (for fear of shrinking those clothes). But what I cannot stand, even more, is for my wife to do the laundry, especially after one of her long workdays. And, most importantly, the joy of removing that burden from her is far greater than the pain (or irritation or aggravation) of doing the laundry myself.
 
This brings to mind all of the decisions I make on a daily basis, and how those choices mostly boil down to this: Will I obey God or will I obey myself? There are things God tells me to do that I would prefer not to do. And there are things He tells me not to do that I would prefer to do (see Romans 7:14ff for a more detailed breakdown of this ongoing battle). When I do actually make the right decision, I’m motivated primarily by a trust in the idea that God knows what’s best for me. And the joy of following God is far greater than the pain (or irritation or aggravation) of not following Him and doing what I want to do (or avoiding what I don’t want to do).
 
What this means, ultimately, is that a great reward comes to us when we trust and obey God rather than ourselves. This doesn’t mean we receive a big pile of cash or a guarantee of zero medical issues or any other “health and wealth” types of blessings. The best reward of seeking God is to find the thing for which you are looking. The best reward that God gives is when He gives Himself. Many other blessings and rewards come when we truly seek after God and follow Him, but the best thing is that God draws near. Whether life is going smoothly and we are full of joy, or life is going poorly and we are full of despair, God is our companion and He walks by our sides.
 
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). With this in mind, I am both excited and disheartened to tell you that my laundry hamper is full.
 
Troy Burns


This is Who I Am (I Think)

I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.
― Charles Horton Cooley
 
How we see ourselves comes not from who we really are, but rather from what we believe others see in us. Right or wrong, we shape our self-concepts based on our understanding of the way in which our fellow human beings perceive us.
 
If someone acts grouchy to me, or is quiet around me, or gives me the cold shoulder for no apparent reason, I feel like I must have done something to upset him or her. If people gossip and spread rumors about me, I must have somehow caused those harmful words to be spoken. If I believe that a person thinks I’m mean, then I tend to think I’m mean. If I believe that a person finds me to be very annoying, it’s difficult for me not to feel that way about myself.
 
I suspect that the field of psychology is correct on this point, in that the way we feel about ourselves is formed in our growing up years by the way our parents—or other close family members—felt about us and treated us during that time.
 
Caring what someone else thinks doesn’t have to be so harmful, though, if that Someone is God. Then we can say, “I am not what I think I am, I am what God says I am.” The truth of our identities lies in how God views us.
 
God created us in His image (Genesis 1:27), designing our inmost being and making us in a wonderful manner (Psalm 139:13-14). We are His handiwork (Ephesians 2:10). He loves us so much that He gave His one and only Son to die for us and take on the punishment that we deserved, just so we could have the opportunity to spend eternity in heaven with Him (John 3:16).
 
I might think I’m the most miserable sinner who can never be made right with God. But that’s not who I am. You might think I’ve done far too much harm in this world for God to want anything to do with me. But that’s also not who I am. No matter what I think, or what you think, or even what I think you think, God sees me as His precious child and wants nothing more than to spend eternity with me. Oh, and by the way, He feels the same way about you, too.
 
Troy Burns