Turning 27 (in Friend Years)

Halloween brings a variety of thoughts to mind, but for me, it mostly means “friends.” Specifically, it means our oldest friends in the world (our oldest “couple” friends, that is). Exactly 27 years ago, on Halloween night in 1990, the four of us hung out together for the first time. Since then, we’ve spent nearly every Halloween together. That may sound strange for a pastor to say, but it became a tradition for us that had nothing to do with the dark side of the holiday, and everything to do with great friends and lots of yummy, spicy chili.
And just to name a few of the other wonderful times we’ve shared, we’ve eaten countless meals together, gone on multiple trips to the Oregon Coast together, laughed together, cried together, helped each other through five pregnancies and childbirths (the ladies), and played a million games of “H-O-R-S-E” (the guys, with one guy winning almost every time; I won’t say which guy). Most recently, we sent our oldest children off to college together (well, not to the same college, but we certainly suffered through the “sending” experience together).
Brian is a fun-loving, hard-working, hard-playing man who loves Jesus and his family. He’s the kind of guy who asks me how I’m doing rather than making the conversation all about himself. He’s always genuinely glad to see me, makes me feel at home, and compliments me far more than I deserve. Well done, Brian, well done!
Heidi is an amazing person herself, but I believe her best quality is the type of friend she’s been to my wife, Kelly. Heidi will forever be one of my favorite people on the planet because she listens to my wife, cares for my wife, and brings her up from the depths of despair when the need arises. Kelly endured a really terrible stretch of life this past summer and the person who helped her survive it the most was Heidi. Well done, Heidi, well done!
In honor of our oldest and greatest “couple” friends, I want to share a few friendship quotes:
“True friendship is when you walk into their house and your Wi-Fi connects automatically” (Author Unknown).
“True friendship comes when the silence between two people is comfortable” (David Tyson Gentry).
“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow” (William Shakespeare).
“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you” (Elbert Hubbard).
Thank you, Brian and Heidi, for sharing your Wi-Fi password and making silent time together comfortable and loving and accepting us just how we are even though you know everything about us. Here are a couple more quotes from an even greater source than the ones above:
“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (God).
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (God).
Thank you, Brian, for sticking closer than a brother. Thank you, Heidi, for loving Kelly all the time and being born, it seems, to carry her through the really tough times. Thank you, both, for all of the wonderful memories to last a lifetime and beyond. Here’s to 27 more years!
Troy Burns

Dear God, Never Mind

I want my kids to feel like they can talk to me about anything and not be afraid of how I might react. In fact, one of my biggest “pet peeves” is when my youngest daughter does this thing where she’ll say something, and I don’t quite hear her, so I ask her to repeat it, and she says, “Never mind.” Grr. I really don’t care for those words, “Never mind,” especially in this situation, where I want to hear from my girl. I know I can handle anything she needs to tell me, and I believe I got this quality from my Father God.
When the psalmist had concerns about God rejecting him and not showing him love, mercy, and compassion, the psalmist did not say, “Never mind.” He spoke up. He wrote words like those we read in Psalm 77:7-9:
“Will the Lord reject forever?
    Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
    Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
    Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
It seems awfully bold to me that this person would ask such questions of God. In fact, it frightens me. But should the psalmist be afraid of being totally honest with his Creator? If he was, wouldn’t that be much like him saying, “Never mind?” Wouldn’t he be doing the very thing my daughter does when she avoids sharing something with me? If I can handle anything my girl needs to tell her daddy, why in the world would I believe that God cannot handle what I, His child, need to tell Him? The next time I want to say, “Never mind” to God, I’ll say, instead, “Here’s all of my mind.” I suspect He knows, anyway.
Troy Burns

Missing What Was Always There

In our last home, where we lived for four years, one of the garage doors did not have a remote-controlled opener (or so we thought), which means we would open the door, pull out the car, go back inside and shut the garage, and then go out of the house and back to the car and finally drive away. When we returned home, we would reverse the process and spend way too much time and hassle just getting into our house.
Through the process of packing up and moving out of our home, we discovered a remote control we did not recognize. My wife said, “wouldn’t that be funny (not ha-ha funny) if that remote was the one we thought we didn’t have for the garage door. Sure enough, as you’ve no doubt guessed by now, that was indeed the remote that we could have been using for FOUR YEARS, but didn’t know it existed.
I think I’ve shared that “remote control” experience in a previous blog, but have you ever done something similar when reading the Bible? Have you ever discovered something that was always in God’s Word, but you didn’t realize it? This very thing happened to me when I read the following passage:
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Did you catch that? Because I did not catch it in the previous 10 or 20 or 50 times I read this passage. “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” When I reviewed my notes to preach yesterday morning, I thought there was a typo. But there was not. For a very long time now, I have missed the fact that Jesus loved the rich young ruler as He was about to tell him the one thing he was still lacking in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus loved this man enough to tell him what he really needed to do. And Jesus did this because he loved him. When our Savior convicts us and challenges us to change, He does so out of love. He knows what’s best for us and when He asks us to give up something, it’s for our good and not our harm. We just need to believe and obey the One who loves us too much to leave us the way we are.
Troy Burns

Worried About Tomorrow or Lost in Yesterday?

“Nothing is as good as it seems, and nothing is as bad as it seems. Somewhere in between lies realty.” – Lou Holtz
“Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?” – Emily, in Our Town (Thornton Wilder)
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” – Paul, in Philippians 4:11-12 (God)
We human beings seem rarely to live in the present moment. We look forward to fun, wonderful, exciting times or we dread some horrible situation we believe will transpire. Either way, we live in the “then” rather than the “now.” Or, on the other side of the coin, we bask in the incredible memories of times gone by or we dwell on past versions of ourselves or maybe relive the pain and suffering we once endured.
Since our primary struggle seems to resolve around anxiety over the future, let me share one more quote, from Michel de Montaigne: “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” A study was conducted wherein subjects were asked to write down their worries over an extended period of time and then identify which of their imagined misfortunes did not actually happen. As it turned out, 85 percent of what subjects worried about never happened, and with the 15 percent that did happen, 79 percent of subjects discovered either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning. In other words, the vast majority of our worries reveal little more than a fearful mind punishing us with exaggerations and misperceptions.
Okay, I said I would share “one more quote,” but here’s another, so that God has the final word: “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” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Father in Heaven, help me to live right now, in reality; help me to realize life while I live it, every minute. Make me content in any and all circumstances. Grant me your peace and guard my heart as I thank you for everything and trust in your perfect answers to my prayers. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Unwasted Pain

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Don’t Waste Your Pain.” Truly awful things will happen to us at one time or another, and typically the only redeeming value lies in what we make of these experiences. As I write this, I’m heavy hearted, sick to my stomach really, over the news from Las Vegas and the horrific shooting at a country music festival. I won’t pretend to understand why these things happen or why people must endure such terrible suffering. But I do know that our pain need not be wasted.
When you survive a time of adversity, even if it seems minor compared to the hardships faced by the Las Vegas victims’ families and loved ones, God can use you to help someone else. As we read in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “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.”
To put this into practice requires “compassion,” a word that comes from the Greek word splanchna, meaning “guts.” In the Bible, splanchna is used literally to describe the inner parts of the chest cavity, such as the heart, lungs, and blood vessels, but it is also used figuratively to describe the overwhelming compassion someone feels toward another person in need. With a heart of compassion, we’re able to use our pain for something good. We can comfort others with the same comfort we’ve received. We’re all in this life together; I can’t be healed if you can’t be healed. What I’ve learned from my pain can help you through your pain. To quote author and theologian Frederick Buechner, “Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”
Troy Burns

Promise Not to Grow Up?

I’m holding my youngest daughter to a promise. It works every once in a while. Her promise these past couple of years has been quite simply to remain who she is, meaning she will not become the stereotypical teenager. You know, acting selfish and sassy and grumpy and just generally remaining in that state of not really liking her parents and thinking she knows more than they do. Whenever my little angel starts to demonstrate even a hint of those behaviors, I’m quick to remind her, “You said you would not turn into that. Remember? You promised!”
Last night, at least for a couple of hours, she made good on that promise. We wrestled and tickled and snuggled and laughed almost uncontrollably while watching a kid-friendly movie and poking fun at her mother, the wife of my youth. Given my daughter’s current station in life, that of a pre-teen, these moments don’t always come about, but I’ll take them when I can get them.
I know, as my daughter grows eventually into a young adult, she must develop an identity independent from her parents and build a capacity for independent decision-making. But do I have to like it? What if I love and miss the sweet little lady of her younger years? What if I long for her to look up to me and think I’m her hero?
Her physical growth is very important, but something even more critical is taking place. I take heart in the truth of Scripture: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). My daughter may take some detours and be tempted to depart from the right path, but I’m praying and trusting that God will keep her on the road to both physical and spiritual maturity. I’m believing in the God who always keeps His promises.
Troy Burns

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