“Don’t Give Up on Me” — God

Sometimes (okay, most of the time), other people say or write things better than me, so I’ll use their words for some of this blog. But let me start with a few questions: Have you ever prayed and prayed (and prayed and prayed), but there’s no answer from God? Do you ever feel like giving up? Are you ever so overwhelmed with fear, anxiety, or depression that it’s all you can think about?
The answer is “yes” for me, and when I feel that way, a few thoughts from C.S. Lewis come to mind. While struggling profoundly with despair after the death of his wife, he asked the question, “Where is God? He wondered why He seems to welcome us with open arms when we’re happy and have no sense of needing Him, but then Lewis wrote the following:
Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away.
He dug even deeper into the heart of the issue with these words:
Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not “So there’s no God after all,” but “So this is what God is really like.”
I can relate. But I don’t want to believe things about God that are not true. One way to overcome those doubts is to keep my faith in who He has revealed Himself to be through His Word. It’s also helpful to see things (as best I can) from God’s perspective. It’s like the song, “Don’t You Give Up on Me,” by Brandon Lake:
I see you, child / Though you can’t see me / I heard every last prayer you prayed / Though I answered all the time / You just didn’t hear my reply / And I know it’s not easy / Don’t you give up on me / ‘Cause the darker the night gets / The brighter the light hits / Don’t you give up on me / You ain’t seen what I promised / Child, we’re just getting started. I’ll be your way / When there’s no way out / And I’ll be your strength / When your strength runs out / Don’t lose your hope / Don’t lose your faith / That’s where your fight is.
It’s incredibly difficult, but incredibly powerful, to see things from God’s perspective, and to have that sense of hearing Him speak to us directly. We often sing (or think or pray) to God, “Don’t give up on me,” but in this song, God is telling us not to give up on Him. For anyone who wants to give up—and I’ve been there—God reminds us that He has so much more for us.
Here’s one reason why that matters: When we refuse to give up, no matter how hard things get, we can point people to God and try to help them through the same struggles we’ve faced. As pastor and author Brian Jones writes, “When we manage to keep our lives intact when they should be scattered across the floor in a million pieces, we—and others—realize that something supernatural is holding us together.” I’m a broken person, no question about it. You might feel the same way. But our brokenness gives us compassion to feel the pain of others and drives us to do something about it. We go through difficult times because our wounds give us the power to suffer with another person.
I don’t enjoy hurting, so I would love for all my pain and suffering to disappear. But it doesn’t work that way. The good news is that my pain does not have to be wasted. And neither does yours. I’ve already quoted several people, so let me add a couple more: French philosopher Simone Weil wrote, “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it.” The apostle Paul wrote something like that as well:
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
Troy Burns

What Do You Think About God?

God is our Father. That’s “Christianity 101,” right? When I was a child, I had trouble making sense of that idea. It was difficult to believe that God was good and that He had my best interests in mind. As I discovered, however, that was not because God was bad or wanted to hurt me; it was because of my experiences with my earthly father. The great news is that once I had children of my own, I gained a much better understanding of the fatherhood of God. With every ounce of my being, I strove to be a different dad than the one I grew up fearing. I worked hard to point my kids toward God, not away from Him.
When I was young, I walked on eggshells as I dreaded my dad’s intimidating behavior and the punishment he would dole out if I disobeyed. Naturally, I felt like God was primarily a being to be feared and that He was always ready to “zap” me if I stepped out of line. Maybe you can relate. If you dealt with a harsh, absent, or demanding father, you probably believed, at least at some point, that God was the same way. On the other hand, if your dad was loving, caring, patient, and involved in your life, you likely believed that God had those same character traits.
The most important thing about each one of us is what we think about God, because that’s the basis of our faith. And what we believe about God will determine how we behave. As Jackie Hill Perry wrote, “If God is holy, then He can’t sin. If God can’t sin, then He can’t sin against me. If He can’t sin against me, shouldn’t that make Him the most trustworthy being there is?”
Starting in mid-September, we’ll go through a new message series that we’re calling, What Do You Think About God? This series will examine our thoughts on God, our ideas of who He is, and how those things shape our actions as we live in this world. Despite the tremendous impact our earthly fathers had on us, God is not the same as those dads, no matter how bad or good they were to us. God is our Father, but He’s not a better, more improved version of us. He is holy. He is utterly and completely different, and that’s the best news ever. Because He is holy, He can and should be trusted. As a result, we can place our faith in who He has revealed Himself to be, not in who we’ve made Him out to be.
In our message series, we’ll also talk about the good reasons to follow God, and how He knows and wants what’s best for us. With that foundation, we’re inspired toward a genuine faith, trust, and sincere desire to please Him, instead of living with guilt and obeying because we fear punishment, both now and forever. So, what do you think about God?
Troy Burns

I’d Rather Have Hope

It breaks my heart when people feel like I don’t love them because we disagree. After all, if I only love those who share my beliefs, views, opinions, and preferences, am I really showing the love of Jesus? Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” When Jesus went to the cross in our place, and took on the punishment that we deserved, He lived out the greatest love the world has ever known. And it was not because we earned or deserved His love. It was certainly not because we agreed with Him on everything. In fact, while we were still sinners—enemies of God—Jesus died for us. He showed love that was not based on a feeling, but on an act of the will, a resolve to put the welfare of others above His own.

Consider a few more examples of love from the Bible:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).

“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. (Proverbs 25:21)

Along with those verses, Jesus spoke the words recorded in the first part of Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus prayed those words while He was dying on the cross; He said them for the Roman soldiers who spit on Him, beat Him, whipped Him, put a crown of thorns on His head, and nailed Him to the cross. He said them for the criminals on the crosses beside Him, who jeered at Him. He said them for the religious leaders who mocked Him. And He said them for the angry mob that called for His crucifixion. For all of them, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them.”

Based on the life and death of Jesus, love is not contingent upon agreeing with someone else. If it is, then it’s only a conditional type of love. We receive (and give) conditional love all the time, don’t we? Christian counselor Kegan Mosier offered a few examples from the social media world in which we live: “I love you… until you offend me. I love you… until you don’t support my cause. I love you… only if you love me back.”

Mosier also shared, “We must learn how to have face-to-face, real life, in-person conversations with other humans whom we most likely disagree with while, at the same time, demonstrate the love of Jesus.” And when we do that, it’s not about winning or influencing a debate; it’s about loving the person in front of us.

Personally, I also need to remember that a gloomy, hopeless attitude will make it very difficult to show the love of Jesus. People expect Christians to trust God and to be hopeful despite their circumstances. If I don’t live that way, why would others want to follow Jesus? Plus, I think I’d rather have hope for somebody or something for the rest of my life (even if the hope is never realized), than to resign myself to a mindset that anyone or anything is a lost cause, beyond redemption.

Unconditional love is different from unconditional agreement. I can love and accept you, regardless of your stance on any controversial issue (and you can do the same for me), and that doesn’t mean we have to agree. But we do have to treat each other with kindness, respect, and dignity.

Troy Burns

Got Milk?

Some of you know (and if you don’t, I’m more than happy to tell you!) that my first grandchild came into this world a few months ago. It’s incredibly surreal to watch my grown son with a boy of his own, and it’s incredibly wonderful beyond words. The little guy is starting to smile and giggle, but beyond that, he doesn’t do much yet. However, he drinks milk, which is something he’s done from the very beginning.
In my regular Bible reading time this week, I just so happened to notice the following verse: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3). That led me to consider the relationship between the mother’s milk for physical human babies and the “Father’s milk,” if you will, of God’s Word for spiritual babies.
While my grandson grows, what if his parents teach him all the principles of walking, but he never takes a single step? What if they show him every word in the dictionary, but he never speaks a word himself? What if they explain the importance of brushing his teeth, but he never actually grabs a toothbrush? What if they demonstrate the proper way to take a shower, but he just runs the water and never steps foot into it, making his parents think he showered, when he did not (my grown son may have a story about that from his younger years)! If those things took place, my grandson would grow in age and size, but he would still be an infant in terms of his ability to live life.
As ridiculous as those examples sound, I wonder if those of us who follow Jesus do something similar in our spiritual lives. D. L. Moody, the well-known evangelist and Christian educator, was quoted with these words: The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives.” In the hypothetical scenarios with my grandson, he would gain all the knowledge he needs, and it would essentially do him no good. For those of us who believe in Jesus, we can take in the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word with an open heart. We can memorize it. We can meditate on it. And once we do those things, we’ll have all kinds of Bible knowledge. And if that’s all we do, we won’t be much better off than my grandson would be. The ultimate goal is for God to use the Bible to save us and to change our lives.
It’s critical for us to read and study God’s Word, but we do not become mature until we intentionally and continually put that learning into practice. If we believe that the Bible is our ultimate authority in life, and that it offers the only way for us to change our lives for the better, then we will drink that spiritual milk by doing what it says, to the best of our ability.
I get to see my grandson and his parents tonight. I bought some big, fresh, yummy cookies for all of us to enjoy after dinner. I wonder what I’ll be craving to wash down those delicious treats? Got milk?
Troy Burns

Letting (and Not Letting) Go

I appreciate flying—and I know it’s very safe, statistically—but still I’m not terribly comfortable with it. There’s just something unsettling about traveling more than 500 miles per hour, 35,000 feet in the air. While it’s extremely unlikely for an in-flight accident to occur, there are no “fender benders” in the sky, so I hate knowing that if something did happen, the result would almost certainly be horrific.
Having said that, I do fly occasionally and one thing I actually enjoy is traveling light. If I can fit everything in my carry-on and not check a bag, I have a much better time getting from point A to point B. I don’t have to wait in line for an agent to help me, all of my belongings are with me at all times, and I don’t have to go to the baggage carousel in my destination airport to wait for my luggage.
I wish I traveled light in my everyday life, when I’m not on an airplane. Instead, I give my baggage (burdens, fears, worries, concerns, etc.) to God and then I take it right back from Him. I let go and then I don’t let go. As much as I fail, though, I try to travel light because of what we read in Philippians chapter 4, verses 6-7:
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.
God commands us not to be anxious. Why? Because He wants us to have peace, not anxiety, which is an overblown concern for the things of life, and a feeling that takes over when we rely on ourselves and don’t depend on God and His power. Stated differently, it’s letting go and then not letting go. But when we try to do God’s job for Him, painful anxiety is inevitable and we feel all alone because we’re depending only on ourselves through the difficulties and dangers of life.
Back to the subject I began with (flying), I’m reminded of a family that put their Grandma on an airplane for the first time in her life, but she was not confident about the experience of leaving the ground on “that contraption.” When they met her at the airport on her return, one of the family members jokingly asked, “Well, did the plane hold you up okay?” She reluctantly replied, “Well, yes,” but then quickly added, “But I never did put my full weight down on it!”
Many of us who follow Jesus are like that Grandma, at least in some situations. The truth is, we are sustained completely by God, but we’re afraid to put our full weight down on Him. As a result, we’re plagued by anxiety and unable to enjoy the flight. That’s the hardest part: Trusting God with everything, letting go, and not continuing to hold on to it. In other words, it’s putting our full weight down on God.
However, He has a pretty good idea what He’s doing. He doesn’t need our help or advice. That means we can give our baggage to God, stop worrying and stressing over it, and resist the temptation to carry that baggage in our own power. It also means that we trust Him with the results.
I can’t recall the author, but I remember an article where the person shared something along these lines: “I used to think that the phrase, Let go and let God, was about turning my troubles over to Him, and He would take care of things. The saying bothered me because there were many times I tried to pass Him the baton, and it fell with a clunk on the ground. I’ve finally begun to understand that the phrase means something different: Let go of the outcome you desire, and let God bring about His will. It’s so hard to let go, and it’s so awesome to let go.
Troy Burns

The Wisdom of Becoming a Fool

When I accepted a church staff position for the first time, at age 31, I left behind a full-time job—including the income and career path it provided. With an English degree and nearly six years of writing experience under my belt, I approached a crossroads in my life. I chose the road less traveled and saw everything change as I discovered what God had in store for me: serving young people in youth ministry. I’ve heard it said that everyone is called to ministry, but only some are called to the ministry. I found myself in the latter category, knowing I had to devote my life and “vocational” time to loving God and loving students.
Not everyone understood my decision to follow where God was leading. Many could not believe God was involved at all. Well-meaning friends and family members encouraged me to return to the business environment and “climb the corporate ladder” so I could “have it all.” As it turned out, I already did.
When I reflect on that major life transition more than 20 years ago, I recall some lyrics from the song, “Only a Fool” by the band, Geoff Moore and the Distance:
Charlie was a fool / Did you hear what he went and did? / He quit his job, threw It away / Gave his life to a bunch of kids / He said he was in love with Jesus / But his friends didn’t understand / He could’ve had it all / But he just smiled and said / That he already did.
He saw the big in the small / He saw the beauty in the call / Even when no one else approved / He took the job only a fool would do.
I became a fool, like Charlie in that song, and it was surely one of the wisest decisions I ever made. Nothing compares to a front row seat, watching God move in the hearts and minds of students who want more than what this world offers. It was my absolute honor and privilege to take a job only a fool would do.
I’ve since been “demoted” to the preaching ministry. I’m joking (somewhat), because working with teens was the best “job” I ever had. I’ll never be the same, in the best possible way. I feel like Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in the movie, Field of Dreams, when he considered his life’s work as a physician. As a young man, he badly wanted to succeed in professional baseball, but that wish never really came true. Instead, he discovered a different dream, his real dream: living and working as a doctor in a small town community. As much as he had sought after an illustrious sports career, there was simply no comparison to his passion for medicine and caring for the patients he loved. Dr. Graham said this to the film’s main character, Ray, about the office where he ran his practice: “This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.”
When Ray suggested it was a tragedy for Dr. Graham to get so close to his baseball dream, to have it in hand for just five minutes, and then to let it slip away, the doctor responded by explaining, “If I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes, now that would have been a tragedy.” Speaking for myself and the career I left, I thank God for the 13+ years He allowed me to serve in youth ministry. If I only had five minutes working with those teens, now that would have been a tragedy.
Troy Burns

Are You Just Going to Stand There?

Like many of you, I fill nearly every minute of the day with work responsibilities, meetings, appointments, deadlines, family time, and unexpected tasks for which I’ve not planned. Come to think of it, I might be the only one reading this because no one else has the time! Since practically all of my moments are spoken for, I struggle to stop without feeling like I should be doing something. But maybe the solution is to take the advice that was shared by one missionary: “Don’t just do something—stand there.”
Earlier this week, my regular time of Bible reading just so happened to take me to a familiar passage, the 23rd Psalm. Verses 1-3a tell us, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside quiet waters; he refreshes my soul.” As I considered those words, one phrase jumped out to me, as though I’d read it for the first time: “He makes me lie down.” It’s almost as if God forces me to stop because it’s so important to Him that I rest.
I should not have been surprised by that. After all, we know from the Bible that God set a pattern from the beginning of creation: six days of work, followed by a day of rest, the Sabbath. As we read in Exodus chapter 20, verses 8-10a: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work.”
Of course we’re not required to observe a strict Sabbath like they were in Old Testament times, but God makes it clear that we have six full days that are all generally the same, and then a seventh day that’s different. That day is full of rest and things that are not the same as other days. God forces us to stop, for our own good. He essentially says to us, “Don’t just do something—stand there.”
“Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word “Shabbat,” which means to stop, to cease, to end, to rest. God did not create us to have all seven days the same. We are made very specifically to work and to do everything we need to do for six days, but one day, we say, “We’re done.” Our day of rest is so important to God that we should not only obey Him, we should also treat that day with as much respect as we show when we take the Lord’s Supper, when we pray, and when we worship. If we do this on a regular basis (hopefully weekly), we’ll discover what we always do, every time we listen to God: He has our very best in mind.
Troy Burns

I See What You Believe

I’m sitting on a chair at my desk, because I believe the chair will hold me up for as long as I sit in it. If I believed the chair was literally on its last legs and would collapse at some point, sending me quickly—and unexpectedly—to the ground, I would not be sitting here.
Earlier this morning, I took a quick break to run an errand for my lovely bride. I drove my car to complete that task, because I believed the car would get me safely to my destination. That faith, if you will, also involved a trust in other drivers, that they would travel in the correct lanes, stop at red lights, yield when required, etc. Had I believed that my car was not roadworthy, or that the other drivers were going to break traffic laws, I would not have driven my car.
A little over 30 years ago, I married the aforementioned lovely bride, because I believed we both meant the vows we made, when we promised to take one another from that day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. I believed that each of us would love, honor, and cherish the other until death do we part. Had I believed that either of us (or both of us), did not really mean those vows, I would not have said, “I do.”
I live out what I believe, even if I’m just sitting at a desk or running an errand. I do likewise in the more important aspects of life, such as marriage and faith in God. My actions reveal my beliefs. I suspect the same is true for you. You see what I believe; I see what you believe. In the case of faith, if you believe that God is real, that the Bible is His Word, that He came to the earth in the person of Jesus, that He lived a perfect life, that He died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins, and that He not only knows what’s best for you, but wants what’s best for you, then you do your best to obey Him and put your eternity in His hands. If you don’t believe those things, then you obey yourself or someone else. Stated simply, if your faith is in Jesus, you follow Him; if it’s not, you don’t.
Speaking for myself, I do believe in Jesus, so when life doesn’t make sense, I still follow. When I have trouble understanding something in the Bible, I still believe. When God tells me to do something I don’t want to do, I still strive to do it. When God tells me not to do something I want to do, I still do my best to avoid it. When I’m struggling and hurting and suffering, I turn to God, not away from Him. When doubts and questions shake me to the core of my soul, I still trust in Him. When life in this world seems utterly hopeless, I don’t give up. Why? Because, again, I believe that God is real, that He knows what’s best for me, and that He wants what’s best for me. His ways are better than mine and He always has something good in store for me, sooner or later (even if the “later” will happen in heaven).
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
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:8-9
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28
Troy Burns

It Only Works if You Do It

My friend woke up with a splitting headache, so his mom (who’s a doctor), told him to take three ibuprofen. My friend did not take the medicine and his headache worsened. So, I knew right then and there that ibuprofen is ineffective for taking away the pain of headaches.
Another friend drove a car that kept overheating, so he took it to a mechanic who diagnosed the problem as a broken water pump that needed replacing. My friend did not replace the pump and his vehicle continued to overheat until his engine was damaged and he could no longer drive. So, I knew right then and there that water pumps do not prevent automobiles from overheating.
I know man who’s a Christian and he once had a lustful thought about a woman who was not his wife. He also joked around with his fellow employees for about 20 minutes when he was supposed to be working. He earns $36.00 per hour, so he essentially stole $12.00 from his company by failing to do his job for one-third of an hour. In addition, he’s dealt with multiple, ongoing struggles when it comes to loving and forgiving other people. So, I knew right then and there that Christianity is false and it doesn’t work in our lives.
If you haven’t guessed already, I’m sharing hypothetical scenarios that illustrate something I see all too often: judging the Christian faith based on the failures of those who follow Jesus, rather than on Jesus Himself. If a Christian does something that God says not to do (or if he avoids something that God says he should do), that does not mean that God is false. What it does mean is that the person messed up and failed to follow God completely.
Having said that, for those of us who follow Jesus, this does not mean that the way we live in this world is not critical; it is. I know too many people who have struggled with their faith, and even lost it entirely, because of the way Christians have acted. I always remember the song, “What if I Stumble?” released by DC Talk more than 25 years ago. The lyrics sum up the issue quite well:
The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians
Who acknowledge Jesus with their lips
And walk out the door
And deny him by their lifestyle
That is what an unbelieving world, simply finds unbelievable
The song takes seriously the high calling of representing Jesus on this earth, as it repeatedly asks the questions: “What if I stumble? What if I fall? What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all?”
As the old saying goes, “You may be the only Jesus some people ever see.” This can be a good thing or a bad thing. We can live in a way that doesn’t make sense unless God exists, and thereby shine our lights in this dark world and lead other people to the God we serve. That’s a good thing. We can also live in a way that demonstrates our lack of faith in what we claim to believe. That’s a bad thing and it’s caused too many people to want nothing to do with Christianity.
Take the ibuprofen. Replace the broken water pump. Do what God says and avoid what He says to avoid. Live like you actually believe what you say you believe. It means everything for yourself and for the world that’s watching.
Troy Burns

Goodbye Forever?

On a recent trip down memory lane, I read some old blog posts, one of which began with the following words, written nearly two years ago:
And so it begins… My emotions and dramatic behavior are beginning to spin out of control. Well, I take that back. It actually began on March 2, 2002, when my first daughter entered this world and stole my heart. My most recent emotional breakdown, however, stems from her moving to Arizona this coming weekend as she embarks on her college adventure.
Those thoughts come from a blog entitled, “Goodbye for Now.” I can write much of the same today, as my girl prepares for her final trek to Arizona in less than two weeks, except this current blog is entitled, “Goodbye Forever?” I’m exaggerating, of course, since she’ll still come home to visit, but she’ll never reside in my house again. I do know that in some ways this will always be her house, but I also know that it’s no longer her home.
She’s engaged to a young man whom she’ll marry shortly after graduating from college next spring. I was the first man in her life, but she’ll soon begin her journey with the last man. As I shared earlier, she stole my heart; now her own heart belongs to someone else. And her new married life will be lived in Phoenix, some 1,400 miles away from her childhood home, where we celebrated so many “firsts,” and are now faced with so many “lasts.”
But it’s not all sad and gloomy. In that blog from nearly two years ago, I also shared some of what blogger and author Kami Gilmour wrote: “Be fully present to support [her] and look forward to the future through the lens of [her] life, not backward through the lens of my life.” Instead of mourning what I’m “losing,” I’ll do everything I can to focus on how exciting this new stage of life will be for her.
It feels like I’m saying “Goodbye Forever,” but in reality, it’s just another version of saying “Goodbye for Now.” And no matter what happens on this earth, since my daughter and I both follow Jesus, we can look forward to the time when we’ll live eternally in a new heaven and a new earth, where God “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). When that time comes, we’ll never have to say “Goodbye” again, not for now and not forever.
Troy Burns