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

Extinguish the Spark Not the Fire

In my previous blog, I discussed the difficulty of communicating with people to resolve problems or conflicts, because it’s so challenging to get down to the heart of the matter and figure out what is really true. As I’ve continued to reflect on this, the third chapter of James has frequently come to my mind:

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

So often, we speak of things about which we have no direct, factual knowledge. Sometimes we just don’t know, other times we’ve been misinformed, and still other times we trust the words of others without really knowing if they’re true or not. And yet in all of these situations, we tend to speak anyway and forget the incredible power of words, for better or for worse.
Perhaps nowhere is the power of words more clearly demonstrated than through the issue of gossip. One definition of gossip is, “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.” What typically happens is that words are accepted as true without being confirmed as such, and yet the words continue to spread from a small spark to a wildfire, as we saw in the James passage above. When people believe the words of others without knowing for sure if they’re true, the results are destructive, even catastrophic.
Maybe that’s why the first chapter of Romans mentions gossip in the context of so many terrible and harmful behaviors:
29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.
I used to wonder why gossip was included with such horrible behavior as murder and God-hating, but I think I understand now. Gossip essentially murders a person in terms of his reputation and what others think of him. If I gossip, I destroy a person’s character, I involve other people in my frustration, I stop growing as a person, I feel unjustly superior, I don’t forgive others, and I stay away from God. On the other hand, if I don’t gossip, I’m self-effective, I go to God, I avoid judging people, I’m tolerant (even forgiving) of others, I’m willing to suffer because people aren’t perfect, and I can still confront problems, in truth, when needed.
Gossip is inspired by Satan and hurts everyone involved. With God’s help, I’m going to work hard to deal in truth and not be the one who allows a small spark to ignite a great forest fire. Will you join me?
Troy Burns

What is Truth?

If you’ve ever tried to communicate with people in order to resolve problems or conflicts, then you know how challenging it is to get down to the heart of the matter and figure out what the truth really is. People often hold different perspectives and recollections of things (the old “he said-she said” dilemma). A person might share some details and leave out others. Or a person may even flat-out lie or otherwise distort the truth.
It can seem almost impossible to answer the question, “What is truth?” In John chapter 18, Jesus tells the Roman governor Pilate that the reason He (Jesus) was born and came into the world was to testify to the truth. Pilate responded, likely in a contemptuous way, “What is truth?” (John 18 37-38). This question has come up often in the history of the world. Many, many philosophers have asked it and they have formulated a wide variety of opinions as to what the answer is. Pilate asked Jesus the question in derision, which is what many people essentially do with the Bible. They have a contempt for it and are unwilling to investigate whether or not it’s true. This leads them to remain ignorant of the great source of truth and to remain in darkness and error.
The good news is that any person can find the truth if he or she will seek it. It may or may not be found in conversations with people, but it will certainly be found when it’s sought out from the proper source. God has chosen to communicate His truth through His Word, the Bible. In a world where it can be so incredibly difficult to determine the truth, we can rest assured that we have not only the truth, but also the most important truth that’s ever been told.
Troy Burns

But for the Grace of God

As I consider the challenges and struggles of so many people, I often think those nine words that humble me and keep me strong: there but for the grace of God go I. Then I get more honest with myself, and eight similar (yet different) words come to mind: there before the grace of God went I. I’m no better than anyone else. In fact, maybe I’m worse than anyone else. I’m certainly prone to living far away from God; in fact, I’ve done so. But I don’t ever want to again and, Lord willing, I won’t. There but for the grace of God…
When the apostle Paul wrote to the members of the church at Corinth, he pointed out where some of those believers had been, but he also reminded them of the new place to which God had brought them:
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
I was destined for separation from God, but He separated me from the world and a life lived without Him. I was filthy, but He washed away my sins in the waters of baptism. I was guilty and deserved punishment, but He paid the price for me and He looks at me now and says, “no penalty for you.”
I’ve been there. I could go there again. But, thanks to God, I won’t.
Troy Burns

Is Your Dad Home?

For my first 12 years of life, I grew up with a dad who was often out of town and scary to be around when he was home. When I was 12, my parents divorced and if I’m being honest, I felt relieved. Then when I was 13, my mom remarried and my stepdad wasn’t terrible, but didn’t love me the way he loved his own kids. I felt like an annoyance to him most of the time.
As an adult, I’ve passionately pursued a goal of breaking that cycle. Except for my faith in Jesus (but not separate from it), nothing in life is more important to me than striving to be a good husband and a good father. I’m far from perfect, but thanks to God I’m still here for my wife and my kids, and I plan to keep it that way. And yet I’m mindful of so many people who don’t experience this blessing, especially the kids who have no choice in the matter.
A little over four years ago, the National Fatherhood Initiative posted an article entitled, “The Father Absence Crisis in America.” The article begins by explaining that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America—one out of three—live without their biological dad in the home. It goes on to share some consequences for children in father-absent homes. They are:
  • 2 times more likely to die as infants;
  • 4 times more likely to be poor;
  • Likely to show higher levels of aggressive behavior;
  • More likely to suffer emotional and behavioral problems;
  • More likely to face abuse or neglect;
  • More likely to abuse drugs / alcohol and more at risk of substance abuse;
  • More likely to commit a crime;
  • Twice as likely to be involved in early sexual activity;
  • 7 times more likely to become pregnant as a teen.
The article then challenges America as a nation to begin to raise more involved, responsible, and committed fathers. This is certainly a worthwhile goal, but it’s not likely to happen unless dads get to know their real Dad. The Bible tells us that God is our Father, that we are His sons and daughters, that He’s a Father to the fatherless, and that He’s the Father from whom every family derives its name.
When earthly dads know their heavenly Father, they start treating their kids like God wants them to be treated. They break the cycle and give their kids a much better chance to avoid the aforementioned consequences of father-absent homes. More importantly, they teach their kids to know God, to love God, and to obey God. Can you imagine what America might look like if its homes were filled with these kinds of dads? What a gift we would receive if father-absent homes became father-present homes. Would you join me in praying for this type of turnaround? Will you ask God to “turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents” (Malachi 4:6a)?
Troy Burns

Hope for Now (and Later)

In the book More Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks, the story is told of an experiment conducted at the University of California at Berkeley involving Norwegian field rats. The rats were placed in a tub of water, where they were forced to swim until they grew exhausted and finally drowned. During the first experiment, the researchers discovered that on the average, Norwegian field rats were capable of swimming for over seven hours before drowning.
A second experiment was conducted, exactly like the first but with one exception. When a rat was getting too exhausted to swim any longer, the researchers would remove the rat from the tub of water for a few seconds, then put the rat back into the water to continue swimming. These rats were able to swim for almost 20 hours before perishing. The researchers concluded that the rats in the second group were able to swim much longer than the first group because they had hope. They had experienced a rescue—and what kept them going was the hope that they would be rescued again.
I need hope in my life, and I suspect that you do, too. As wonderful as life is sometimes, and as beautiful as this world can be, something is still very wrong. I don’t know how I would live if this life were all I had. Even if I followed Jesus, but only for my time on the earth, somehow it wouldn’t be enough. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:19, If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” But I believe with every fiber of my being that an incredible hope lies beyond the grave and that my last breath will usher in an eternity that’s far beyond anything I can imagine.
With that being said, I do need some hope for this life, too. Maybe I’m weak, but I don’t want to wait it out and suffer through life’s tragedies and difficulties while I yearn for the good life to begin. I want a better life now. I don’t want to repeat the same mistakes and commit the same sins over and over and over. I don’t want to cause anyone pain. I want to make the world a better place. I want someone else’s day to be brighter because they crossed paths with me. And I can’t do (or not do) these things on my own. I need a power that’s greater than me and my abilities.
Thankfully, I have such a power or, should I say, the power has me. I was “buried with [Christ] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, [I] too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). I can walk by the Spirit and be led by the Spirit and have the fruit produced in my life that includes “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23a).
I have confidence that things will get better in my life and I anticipate a new world 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). You could say that I have hope, and I have hope. And that’s good, because I need it.
Troy Burns

Can You Feel Me?

I’ve written previously concerning the challenges and struggles I endure as the sole male member of a household filled with lovely, beautiful, emotional ladies. Have I mentioned how much I love them?! I really do, even when their emotions evoke strong feelings of my own: stress, anxiety, fear, despair, etc. And hopefully we all know that emotions are neither good nor bad, they just are. “Jesus wept” for goodness sake (John 11:35). The Bible tells us there is a time for everything, “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Hey, I’ve seen my oldest daughter do all of these things within about 60 seconds! Did I mention how much I love my girls?
Emotions just are, and they are in essence neutral. But they can lead us to do or say good or bad things. As just one example, I think of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:26-27, 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.” Paul doesn’t say that anger is a sin; rather, he says in your anger, do not sin. This truth is also reflected in the words of James, who reminds us, “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20).
What it all boils down to is this: we must grow in managing and controlling our emotions rather than allowing our emotions to manage or control us. As someone has said, allowing our emotions to control us is not godly, but neither is denying or vilifying our emotions. We should thank God for our ability to feel emotion and we should steward our emotions as a gift from God. We manage our emotions by growing in our walk with God, as we are transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (Romans 12:2).
If I can support and assist my girls in this endeavor, then I can endure my “lone male” struggles with much more grace and success. I can feel things with them, even if they scare me, and I can help them lead their emotions instead of letting their emotions lead them. Have I mentioned how much I love my girls? Because I do, no matter if they’re laughing, crying, screaming, shouting, whispering, or even just sitting there calmly and quietly, which may be the scariest thing of all. But I’ll be there for the long haul, because that’s my job and I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for anything else in this world.
Troy Burns

He’s Got Personality

I recently completed an online personality test and discovered that I have none (that is, no personality). I’m joking, sort of. Although I feel that way at times, I know it’s not true and my test results tell me I have a Protagonist Personality (ENFJ-T). These results are disappointing because it means my wife is right and I am wrong. You see, the “E” stands for extroverted and when Kelly and I participated in premarital counseling more than 25 years ago, my test results told me I was INFJ, with the “I” standing for introverted. While I still claim to be an introvert, my wife says I have changed and that is no longer the case.
Okay, Kelly, if you’re reading this, you were right. But barely. The test said I’m 51% extroverted and 49% introverted. I don’t want to bore the rest of you with too many details, but here are a few interesting tidbits from the summary of my test results:
  • Protagonists radiate authenticity, concern and altruism; they easily see people’s motivations and seemingly disconnected events.
  • Protagonists have a genuine interest in others, almost to a fault – when they believe in someone, they can become too involved in the other person’s problems.
  • Protagonists are true team players, and they recognize that that means listening to other people’s opinions, even when they contradict their own.
  • Protagonists are a bedrock of empathetic support, not bullheadedly telling people what they ought to do, but helping them to explore their options.
  • Protagonists don’t need much to be happy, just to know that their partner is happy.
I must admit that I see myself in these statements. And I must also admit that I’m not surprised that Kelly was right, since she’s normally right and she often knows me better than I know myself.
But my real point here is to understand that God made me this way for a reason. And he made you a certain way for a reason. This started where most things start: in the beginning. As we read in Genesis 1:27, “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Something about who I am has its origins in who God is. Whatever my personality is, and whatever yours is, it’s part of the image of God in which we were created. In addition, God gave each of us gifts and talents that are meant to be used for God’s purposes. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 that the body (the church, those of us who are Christians) is “not made up of one part but of many” (verse 14) and that “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (verse 18).
Our ultimate purpose is to glorify God, to make much of Him and not of ourselves. That’s why we’re called to tell the world about Him and that’s why we’re told to “let [our] light shine before others, that they may see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). We do this in different ways according to the unique ways in which God has created each of us in His image. If you carry out your God-given purpose, people will look at you and say, “He’s got personality” or “she’s got personality,” and your life will point them to the One who made you just the way you are: introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between.
Troy Burns

Sailing on Sinking Ships

You may have heard the recent story of a young couple who sold all their possessions to buy a sailboat, only to have the boat sink two days into their trip. Nikki Walsh and her boyfriend Tanner Broadwell decided nearly a year ago that they were tired of working. Walsh wondered how they could really enjoy their lives when they were working most of the day and had to pay so much just to get by. So, the couple sold all of their furniture and their SUV and purchased a 49-year-old boat in which they would live and eventually sail the world. They lived on the boat in a marina for a few months as a preparation period, before embarking on their journey. Then, nearly two days into their venture, the couple’s boat capsized in a channel of water called John’s Pass. The couple was left with just $90 in cash, no jobs, and no boat insurance.
From what I read, Walsh told a reporter, “Everything I’ve worked for, everything I’ve owned since I was a child, I brought with me. It’s just floating away and there’s nothing I can do.” She kept a positive outlook, though, as she’s also reported to have said, “The boat sank, but our dreams didn’t sink with the boat.”
I feel terrible for this couple and I truly hope they can bounce back and have a great life together. But this whole story reminds me of the irony that overshadows our days on this earth. We are sailing on sinking ships. Not only can we not take anything with us when we die, we might just lose it all before we die. I’m reminded of a few Bible verses as I ponder this sad but interesting story:
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. – James 4:13-14 (This reminds me of the words of Ms. Walsh when she said that everything she had was floating away and there was nothing she could do.)
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. – Matthew 6:19-21 (This reminds me of another comment from Ms. Walsh, when she said that her dreams didn’t sink with the boat; she was able to hang on to something that could not be destroyed.)
We’re not guaranteed another day, or even another breath for that matter. All we can do is focus on the things that really matter, the things of which eternity consists. And those things can be summed up with this: love God and love people. Love will remain forever. It’s not confined to this sinking ship, this life that will vanish quickly. And it’s not treasure on earth that can be stolen or ruined. Like the woman’s dreams that didn’t sink with the boat, we have “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for [us]” (1 Peter 1:4).
Troy Burns

Do You Mean It?

If you’ve attended an event where a couple is celebrated for a longtime marriage—perhaps a 50th or 60th wedding anniversary—you’ve likely witnessed an eruption of applause and joyous shouts of amazement, shock, or disbelief. When I’ve observed such tributes, I must say that a strange thought crosses my mind. Now, before I share that thought, let me preface it by acknowledging that marriage is very difficult and not for the faint of heart. And the reason marriage is so tough, at least for me, is that I’m married to the second most selfish person in the world (you can guess who #1 is). Of course, I’m exaggerating to make a point: I may be the most selfish person on the planet, but my wife is actually quite generous and unselfish.
But, nonetheless, having admitted the challenges of marriage (often caused by my selfishness), here’s my strange thought: when we get so excited and overjoyed at the accomplishment of a husband and wife staying together for the long haul, aren’t we just celebrating that two people did what they said they would do? Is it truly a momentous achievement when someone keeps his word?
It certainly seems that way sometimes. It can feel almost impossible to take someone at his word. But, on the other hand, why can’t we just mean what we say? I shouldn’t need to “pinky swear” or make some oath or promise to make you believe me. I’ve been happily married for over 25 years, but I don’t think I should be applauded for that. I haven’t accomplished some miraculous feat. I said “I Do” on July 25, 1992 and I meant it. Unfortunately, in today’s world, it’s become rare—almost the exception to the rule—to remain married “until death do we part.”  But if I follow Jesus, shouldn’t people know that they can take me at my word? In Matthew 5:34b, Jesus tells us “do not swear an oath at all” and in Matthew 5:37a, He instructs us: “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’”
What this all boils down to is that I want to tell the truth and I want people to trust that when I say something, I mean it. To paraphrase an article I read online, I will mean what I say because:
  • I want to be salt and light in a world that desperately needs Jesus;
  • I want to live out the character of the One who gave me life at the cost of His own blood;
  • I want people to know that I’m my Father’s child.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I appreciate it, and I mean it!
Troy Burns