Looking at What I Cannot See

This morning, I read some words I needed to hear from God. I’ll share them in case they might help you as well. They come from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

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.”

I don’t like that our troubles are apparently not such a big deal. If you’re like me, your challenges and difficulties in life can seem anything but “light and momentary.” More often, they are heavy burdens that weigh on my heart and seem never-ending. But that’s when I focus on the temporary, “here-and-now” things of life. My thoughts should center around things less obvious, things that last forever. When this life is over and eternity is ushered in, my troubles will indeed seem light and momentary compared to the glory that far outweighs them. I can rest in the hope of Jesus and the “forevermore” I will spend with Him in heaven where there will be no more tears, no suffering, no pain, and no sin.

Jesus himself was described as a man of sorrows, one who was afflicted by grief, and one who wept many times at the death, suffering, and unbelief of His people. Despite so much trouble, not to mention the indescribable agony that awaited Him on the cross, these words are written about Jesus in Hebrews 12:2, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” This gives me hope that it’s all worth it, that eternity with Jesus will make my difficulties pale in comparison. I don’t pretend to understand how life can go on, and on, and on, and on, but I can’t wait to find out!
Troy Burns

An Undeserved Valentine

Today is Valentine’s Day, so it feels appropriate to discuss the subject of love. Of course, much has been said (and can be said) on this topic, but for now I will focus on a part of God’s love that struck me as I read Psalm 106. Early in the Psalm, we read, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” So far, so good. Then in verse 7 we find these words of lament: “When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses.” Verse 21 echoes this failure as it tells us, “They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt, miracles in the land of Ham and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.” I remember thinking, as a younger man, that if God would just show Himself, then I could truly believe in Him and have an incredible faith that moves mountains. Well, as it turns out, God’s people did witness His miracles, including the plagues in Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea, and yet they forgot God and turned away from Him.

In spite of the many failures of God’s people, we read these amazing words about God’s love in Psalm 106: 43-45: “Many times he delivered them, but they were bent on rebellion and they wasted away in their sin. Yet he took note of their distress when he heard their cry; for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented.” Why would God show such mercy and grace? Why would he help those who are so clearly undeserving? It’s because of “His great love.” I don’t deserve this kind of love and neither do you. But God is love and He acts accordingly toward His children.

As one legend describes it, in order to remind people of their vows and of God’s love, St. Valentine is said to have cut hearts from parchment, giving them to soldiers and persecuted Christians. With all of the heart-shaped chocolate boxes and cards and valentines and decorations floating around this holiday, perhaps we can be reminded of the unconditional, unrelenting love that God has for each one of us. And perhaps we can turn toward God rather than away from Him as we remember not to forget.
Troy Burns

The End is Just the Beginning

I thought I should write something about “Senior Night.” Here’s the deal: my son is a senior and tonight, for the last time, he will play a home basketball game at his school. As I was thinking through this, my good friend texted me out of the blue and said, “Praying for you on Senior Night.” Coincidence? I think not.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, this school year has been, and will continue to be, a year of “lasts,” of those final traditions and celebrations my son will share with us before moving out and going on to college. As I also shared, this business of letting go is not for the faint of heart. And yet that’s my job as a dad: raising a responsible young adult who has made his faith his own and who will carry the torch of Christianity to the next generation. I’m just not ready for this momentous change that’s about to happen; however, I take solace in knowing how excited he is (he’s ready to leave in all of the ways that really matter). He is my son, my brother, and my friend. He’s an adult. I’ve done my job, I only wish it took much longer to do it.
Troy Burns

A Dad Learning from His Father

I’m a dad. It’s who I am. It’s easily the best job I’ve ever had, but also the hardest. I get to play and have fun with my kids and see their great joys and successes; I also get to watch them endure pain and sadness and suffering. But I don’t watch for long. If my children cry for help, I run to them and do whatever I possibly can to ease their pain. I want to rescue them; I long to make their suffering go away.

God’s a Dad. It’s who He is. When the Israelites had lived as slaves in Egypt for over 400 years and were crying out for help, God heard them, He saw their suffering, and He wanted to rescue them. In fact, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and commanded him to go rescue His children from slavery.

You may not think of yourself as a slave, but maybe times are extra tough right now. Maybe parenting is getting the best of you, or a close relationship is strained, or you’re dealing with great loss, or there’s too much month at the end of the money. Know this: God sees your suffering; He hears your cries for help; He wants to rescue you. As we read in Psalm 91:14-16, “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
Troy Burns

Snow Without Ceasing

Our wonderful Office Manager, Nita, turned her daily desktop calendar to January 9 (today), and saw this verse from the King James Version: “Pray without ceasing.” She thinks it really meant, “Snow without ceasing” as we looked out the window to see even more large flakes coming down. The snow has become somewhat annoying, and yet still so beautiful. In context, the “Pray without ceasing” verse is joined with a couple of other verses that say, in the NIV version,

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

To paraphrase and summarize the thoughts of John Piper, “praying continually” means at least three things: maintaining a spirit of dependence that permeates all we do; praying repeatedly and often; and not giving up on prayer.

 I’m looking at the irritating, yet beautiful snow falling as I write this; I picture each flake as a prayer, only each one rises up to God. I ask myself, “Do I pray always, the way the snow falls, seemingly without ceasing?” “Do I pray to show my dependence on God, or just ask Him for the things I want?” “Do I ever give up when I feel like God is absent or says, ‘No,’ or asks me to wait on His timing?” I have a long way to go in my prayer life, but I’m thankful for the falling snow and its reminder to me of what God wants my communication with Him to be: ongoing, never-ending, and beautiful.
Troy Burns

His Speech that Takes my Breath Away

Has your breath ever, quite literally, been taken away by the created world in which we live? Have you ever gasped in amazement at the majesty of what surrounds us every day? Once, while sitting on an airplane, high above the clouds, I looked out the window and actually had to catch my breath because of what I saw. The indescribable beauty stunned me. And it happened simply because God spoke. The Bible tells us in Genesis 1:1-2, that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” From the verses that follow, we know that God spoke and this world came to be.

If you’re anything like me, you’re continually astounded by the creation and the conditions that make our earth just right for us to live here: we are neither too close nor too far away from the sun; we have plenty of liquid water to drink; the sun is just the perfect size to provide energy without destroying life; the moon is just the right size to control the tides; and our atmosphere is breathable, with just the right amount of oxygen. Also, if you’re anything like me, you can’t fathom how these conditions just happened to exist and make life possible. God said it; I can see it; I stand amazed.
Troy Burns

A Life Changed by Love

When the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, he was personally unknown to the churches of Judea, yet they heard the following report about him:

“’The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they praised God because of me” (Galatians 1:23-24). The power of a changed life is the greatest testimony one can have as a Christian. And what more radical life change could one undergo than the persecutor becoming the persecuted?

 As Christians, our regenerated lives shine brightly in this dark world as evidence to the fact that Jesus is alive and He is changing the lives of those who follow Him. We testify by our words and actions, most significantly through the fruit that God produces in our lives, marked especially by our love for Him and for other people.

 When Jesus was asked, “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” he replied, “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 22:37-38). As I’ve heard it said better than I can say it: a Christian who wants to live his life as a testimony for Jesus will love God above all else and love others above himself.
Troy Burns

The Gift of Christmas

As I read the Bible this morning in a random fashion, I happened upon these words:

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too [Jesus] shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:14-15; 17)

 Maybe it’s not true that I “happened upon” those words; this is, after all, the time of year when we remember the birth of our Savior. As we prepare for Christmas, we begin to celebrate the fact that when Jesus was born, He shared in our humanity and was made like us, fully human in every way. And since He did this, He was able to become the offering that turned God’s wrath away from us and on to Himself. For many people, the true meaning of Christmas is an introspective, benevolent attitude that stands against the commercialization of the holiday. For most of us, Christmas means exchanging gifts, which brings great joy, but can also create that commercialization. One could say that Christmas is about exchanging gifts or, rather, receiving one gift: the ultimate gift of salvation, based on the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, the most important event in history that was set into motion by the humble birth of our Savior on that silent, holy night more than 2,000 years ago.
Troy Burns

Memories of the Greatest Gifts

‘Twas the night before Monday, and all through our house, not a mantel was covered, not even… I can’t make it work after that. But as you might have guessed, last night was the night for our family: the time when the boxes of Christmas decorations make the short trek from our garage to the rooms inside our home. This task excites me and our children; it sounds like work to Mrs. Burns. But, alas, when the tree is up and the ornaments are hung and the cinnamon pinecones fill the air, my wife smiles and starts to enjoy the spirit of the season. The various inanimate objects we place around our house evoke actual emotions inside of me. I feel more like its Christmastime than I did just hours before our efforts began.
The best (and most bittersweet) feelings are generated by the ornaments we hang on our tree. “Baby’s First Christmas 1999” still hangs for our son who is now a rather tall 17-year-old, a life passage achieved in just the blink of an eye. “Middle Child” still hangs for our spunky, hilarious daughter who became a freshman in high school when I wasn’t looking. And then there’s our third child; hmm, do we have something for her? She always seems to be left out or forgotten. I’m only half-kidding; we have a few ornaments for her as well. My favorite is one with a photo of her beautiful little face with that smile that’s part joy, part mischief, and part something no one will ever understand. The memories of all those Christmases past, marked by emblems staring out from the tree each December day, focus my thoughts on one of my greatest blessings: the children God entrusted to me, who have changed my life (for the better) in ways I could never have imagined. They are the best gifts I could receive in this world because they are not just my kids, they are children of the Greatest Giver ever known.
Troy Burns

A Treasure That Can’t Be Stolen

A few weeks ago, my car was stolen from the church parking lot while I worked inside, oblivious to the happenings just outside. Thankfully my car was quickly abandoned on a nearby side street, so I got it back with only the hubcaps missing. As I write this blog, just a few minutes ago, our youth minister, Joe, saw a man attempting to break into my car again. Now, my car is not much to look at; it’s 24 years old (168 in dog years) with lots of miles on it and an accelerating noise that either awakens or frightens the neighbors. I guess it’s just an easy car to steal, so maybe the thieves are hoping to find something valuable inside. The worst part about these incidents is the negative impact they have on my 10-year-old daughter, who scares easily and doesn’t really understand the fallen nature of humanity, of just how lousy we people can be.
My car is certainly no treasure, but my concern for keeping it reminds me of the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew chapter 6: 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I’m not ready to leave this earth because I still have kids to raise and important work to do. But I do long for the day when the only things that truly last will endure for all eternity. My car won’t be in heaven and even if it is, it will never be stolen. My daughter’s fears will fade away, sin will disappear, and evil will be destroyed. These are the real treasures and God will allow us to enjoy them forever.
Troy Burns