I Want to Get Even with You

Do you ever get really mad? This question, of course, is rhetorical, along the lines of “Do you ever breathe air?” or “Do you ever sleep?” If you’re like me, certain things in this life cause your emotional temperature to rise, even to boil over. And I don’t mean the silly things such as my dog not listening or my work commute taking too long or my kids leaving half a thimbleful of milk in the jug and putting back into the refrigerator. No, I mean the truly aggravating things where justifiable anger is, well, justifiable. What about the times when a broken person causes extreme pain to another human being? And what about the times when that other human being is my wife or child or someone close to me?

As usual with the things of God, the answer is simple but not easy. In Romans 12:17-21, we read some verses we discussed in Sunday School yesterday:

17 “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge,my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Sometimes I want to take my own revenge. I don’t want God to take care of it, especially when my loved ones have been hurt deeply. And I certainly don’t want to feed my hungry enemies or give them something to drink when they’re thirsty. I want them to suffer the same way they made other people suffer. And yet I know there will be vengeance and justice; things will be made right sooner or later, it’s just not up to me. As John Piper writes, “Either your adversary will pay his debt in hell. Or he will repent, and trust Christ, so that his debt was paid on the cross. All wrongs will be punished. In God’s universe forgiveness does not mean that some crimes receive no punishment. It means that some crimes are punished in the suffering of a substitute.”

So, I can be mad sometimes, but it needs to stop there. I can trust that God will take care of the things I cannot, and should not, be handling. I can turn over my justifiable anger to the One who justifies.
Troy Burns

A Constant in the Face of Change

I’m not sure where the quote originated, but I’ve seen it attributed to Heraclitus: “The only thing that is constant is change.” That’s a true statement. My family and I are in full-blown “change” mode as the owners of the house we’re renting are putting it up for sale and my son is about to graduate and head off to college in a land far, far away. Change makes me fearful and anxious because I don’t feel in control of my life (as though I ever really am).

And yet I’m reminded that God has a plan and a purpose. Change is uncomfortable, even painful, but I know that God is in the “change” business. He wants to create and allow change in my life to grow me into a man who is more and more like Jesus. While some things in this life are discouraging and scary and evil, I “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). I often feel weak and scared, especially in the face of change, but God tells me, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). And even though I must deal with the only constant that is change, I trust in the One who never changes: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). As it pertains to God, I guess change is not the only constant after all.
Troy Burns

Seeking Life in Death

During our Easter service yesterday, we showed a video asking the question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” This question is based on the first several verses of Luke chapter 24, where the women take spices to the tomb of Jesus and find the stone rolled away. They also discover that the body of Jesus is no longer there. At that point, two angels ask the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

This question is then connected to some other important questions: “Why do we seek life in things that lead to death?” “Why do we look for a savior in all the wrong places?” “We want to live life to the fullest, but we chase the things that ultimately kill us.” “Why do we search for fulfillment in emptiness?”

Too often, that emptiness we pursue is pleasure. Dr. Scott Wilson, a preacher in Australia, writes about the specific emptiness of pleasure, with Solomon as his example. Of course, Solomon pursued all of the “under the sun” pleasures: money; possessions; alcohol; sex; music; even work. He chased after everything he saw and wanted.

Then Dr. Wilson goes on to share some truths about pleasure in life. With some paraphrasing, condensing, and summarizing, here are a few of his points:

  • Sin can be pleasurable, but ends up hurting others and killing you.
  • Pleasure is not evil, but it is empty (and evil) to seek pleasure apart from God.
  • God created pleasure and wants us to enjoy it as a gift from Him.
  • The greatest pleasure in life is knowing and loving God, and this ultimate joy brings life’s “smaller” joys into their proper place and perspective.
Jesus Christ died for our sins; He was buried; and He rose again on the third day. Yesterday, we celebrated His resurrection and the power that we now have to live a new life, one that will eventually lead us to Heaven for all eternity. So why do we search for fulfillment in emptiness? Why do we seek the living among the dead? Let us instead pursue Jesus, the only One who defeated death, and seek after the life that comes only through His death.
Troy Burns

Knowing What I Don’t Know (and Liking It)

When I try to understand God, my finite intelligence reveals its limitations. My feeble thoughts resonate with the words of Ecclesiastes 8:16,

16 “Then I saw all that God has done.No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.” My lack of understanding can feel overwhelming, but maybe it’s a good thing. God is, after all, God, and I am not, and that’s enough. Instead of wishing I knew more, I can say, as the words of Psalm 73:25 tell me, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”

As I learn to trust God completely, I begin to have a sense of rest in Him. Life may seem out of control, but God has everything under control. My lack of understanding leads me to a place where I trust God and not my own logic or “wisdom.” Many situations are frightening, or at least uncomfortable, by my fear and discomfort put me in a position to depend only on God and to seek after His presence, promises, and provisions.

It’s easy for me to get stressed out, anxious, sad, and exhausted, but then I remember that I don’t need to understand the ways of God because they’re impossible for me to understand! My own life experience makes this clear, but more importantly, the Bible tells me: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33). God’s ways are higher than my ways so I can trust my all-knowing, all-powerful God. I can rest in the fact that God is still (and always will be) good, loving, and wise in everything He does, even if I don’t understand much at all.
Troy Burns

There is no God?

This morning I read the words of David in Psalm 53:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Once upon a time, I was that fool who said those words. Thankfully, I only said them and did not really mean them. In my late teen years, if I could have convinced myself that God was not real and that when I died, I would simply cease to exist for the rest of forever, I would not be here today.
But as far as I was from God at that time, He made it clear to me that He is real and there is something beyond the grave when this life end. If you find yourself in the place I once was, saying, “There is no God,” please consider a few Bible verses that speak of the way in which God reveals Himself through our created world and through our consciences:

18 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,so that people are without excuse.” – Romans 1:18-20

14 “(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law,they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)” – Romans 2:14-15

Maybe you don’t want to believe that God is real and that life does not end with your physical death. I get it. I’ve been there and I don’t blame you for feeling that way. But trust me on this (better yet, trust God on this): He is there, He loves you, He knows you’ve failed, and He wants to forgive you and save you so He can begin the work of changing your life right now and preparing a place for you to live with Him forever.
Troy Burns

Not a First Day of Spring Post

The first day of Spring has arrived, but I won’t discuss that, partly to avoid being cheesy and partly because I don’t believe that Winter is finally over. I’d rather talk about the messes my 11-year-old daughter makes and how much I enjoy them. Yes, that’s right, I enjoy the messes she makes. It’s a small price to pay to see her so excited when she puts together a recipe or creates a crafty project or concocts a ball of homemade “slime.” Since I’m the dad, her joy and sense of pride mean so much more to me than my desire to keep the kitchen clean for just five minutes please.

I wonder what God thinks of the messes I make as I attempt to please Him and live in relationship with Him. When I don’t know how to pray or what to pray for, does He still love that I’m talking to Him? When a friend has doubts about God and I fail in my attempts to answer, does He still take pleasure in my effort to represent Him? When I struggle to understand a passage of Scripture, does He still appreciate the time I spend listening to Him?

I’m going to say, “Yes” to all of these questions, not because of who I am, but because of who God is. As I’m reminded in Lamentations 3:22-23, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” I’m also going to say, “Yes” because God is my Father and while my wife and I have tried to raise our children, to paraphrase Glenn Procopio, “God has been raising us. As we’ve tried to fill our kids’ lives with the certainty of a love that would never end, He has been filling us with the same. As we’ve tried to delight in their successes, He has rejoiced in ours. As we sought to share their pain and cry with them when they were hurting, God was hurting with us.”

So, go ahead, sweet daughter of mine, make that next mess and bring me the joy that only a father knows. Help me feel your happiness with you as you create what some would call a mess, but what I consider a perfect masterpiece. That’s what I’ll thank God for this first day of Spring, no matter what the weather looks like.
Troy Burns

Now I Lay Me Down To…

Sleep has been difficult to come by lately. When I first lie down, I crash almost instantly and slumber through a few hours of solid rest. Then, nearly every night, I wake up to use the restroom, after which time I’m mostly up for the long haul. I’m sure some physiological issues contribute to this issue, but I also have trouble shutting off my brain as it races through things to do, people to visit, and problems to solve, none of which I can do anything about at 3:30 a.m.

What’s my problem? Doesn’t 1 Peter 5:7 tell me to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you?” And doesn’t Philippians 4:6-7 say, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God?” If I truly give my fears and anxieties and stressful situations to God, He promises that His peace, which transcends all understanding, will guard my heart and mind in Jesus.

So how do I “cast my anxiety” on God? I read an article by John Piper that discusses the word “casting,” which was also used in Luke 19:35. In context, it was Palm Sunday and the disciples had been sent to get the donkey for Jesus to ride on. Then verse 35 says, “They brought it to Jesus, and casting their garments on the colt, they set Jesus on it.” So, here’s the idea: if you have a garment on and you want an animal to carry it for you, you “cast” the garment on the animal and you don’t carry it anymore.

God is willing to carry our anxieties the same way a donkey carries baggage. In fact, God wants to bear our burdens to demonstrate His power and to show His care for us and the things that have us worrying. So, the secret to casting my anxiety on God is to let it go, but also to trust that God cares for me. If I believe His promise that He cares, and I believe that He is God, my fears will fade away.

I must also remember the connection the Philippians 4 passage makes with prayer. I need to pray and let my requests be made known to God. My trust in the fact that God cares is expressed in prayer. And prayer is that trust turned toward God and spoken. May there be pleasant dreams tonight for all of us, hopefully including me!
Troy Burns

Seeking Nothing and Everything

Most, if not all of us have said things like, “If I just had a better job, I’d be happy.” Or maybe, “if I only had more money,” or “if I could live in this house,” or “if I could take these types of vacations.” We often misunderstand true happiness and we seek joy in the things of this world, which were never able to bring that about.

Max Lucado writes: “There is a great dissatisfaction across the land. Hand after hand reaching out to quench thirsts and scratch itches. But the thirst lingers, the itch remains.” As one man told him, “I learned that once I had what I wanted, I found I didn’t want what I had.” The same can be said of King Solomon, who discovered that a life not centered on God is purposeless and meaningless. He was the wisest and wealthiest man of his time; he could do everything he ever dreamed of doing, he could buy anything he wanted, and he could experience any pleasure he desired. And he set out to do just that. Yet in Ecclesiastes 2:10-11, he summarizes his pursuit of anything and everything:

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
    I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
    and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
    and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
  nothing was gained under the sun.
Solomon figures it out, eventually. Near the end of Ecclesiastes, he shares what his life experiences have taught him: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” We can live our way or God’s way. As we will investigate in our new “Follow Me” series, we must die to ourselves and live a new life in Christ. It costs us everything, but we will never lack joy and we will always have purpose.
Troy Burns

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