Truth be Told?

Here’s a typical definition of truth – “That which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.” A more realistic definition and explanation, at least in the sense of people’s common usage, is offered by Psychology Today: “Truth is a property not so much of thoughts and ideas but more properly of beliefs and assertions. But to believe or assert something is not enough to make it true.”
The truth weighs heavily on my mind these days, since it’s so hard to know what’s factual when it comes to this virus that’s spread around the world. How contagious is it? How dangerous or deadly is it? What are the best short- and long-term precautions to take? What does a safe reopening of business look like? Those are just a few of the questions, but the whole situation leads me to wonder what the truth really is. Of course, this is the age-old question, isn’t it?
When the Jewish leaders took Jesus before the Roman governor, Pilate, Jesus said, “the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” In response to this statement, Pilate replied, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38). Since Pilate did not wait for an answer, it seems that he spoke rhetorically. Some believe that Pilate was essentially joking around or being sarcastic; others wonder if he had a genuine desire to know what was true. Perhaps Pilate believed that finding the truth was only wishful thinking. In any case, the idea is that it’s very difficult, sometimes impossible, to know what’s true.
It’s no wonder God ensured that His Word, the Bible, was recorded and preserved as the truth He wants us to know about Himself. In a world where truth can be so hard to determine, it’s comforting to know that truth does exist and that God Himself has given it to us. Jesus confirmed this when He said, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). And the apostle Paul pointed out the source and importance of God’s Word: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
I want to know the truth; we all do. Thankfully, we have the truth and I pray it directs our paths as we navigate the questions and uncertainties and doubts and struggles we all face in this life. Truth be told, that’s all we really need.
Troy Burns

You’ve Got This Girl!

Although this weekend is Mother’s Day (and I’m clearly not a mother), my mind weighs heavily on this whole thing called parenthood. If I’m being very honest, I feel guilty at times for bringing kids into a world full of so much pain, struggle, and disappointment. Of course, being a dad has been my biggest blessing in this life, but then I feel selfish if my joy comes at a cost to my kids.
This has hit me especially hard in recent weeks, given that my older daughter is finishing her senior year in high school, and she’s lost so many of the amazing experiences that are supposed to go along with that rite of passage. She had her last day on campus without knowing it was her last day ever. Her final season of Track & Field? Gone. Her Senior Prom? Gone. Her Senior Trip to Chelan? Gone. A normal, in-person graduation ceremony? Probably gone, too. And those are just a few of her many, many losses. In the big picture, I know she will be fine and that many people deal with far greater tragedies. Still, my father’s heart breaks for her.
I love my daughter so much. She has changed me for the better, in ways that I never dreamed were possible. But I have to wonder, are those things I love about fatherhood somehow meaningless if my girl suffers just for having the misfortune of living during a time when so many good things are taken away? How do I tell her, “God has a plan for you,” when her world is crashing down?
It is truly soul-crushing to see your child in pain and losing so much. Yet, despite a few breakdowns, I must say that she’s handling it much better than I would have at her age. And what helps me a little is knowing that God is a Dad, too; He knows my heartbreak, and then some. He gave up His only Son, who willingly lost everything for the sake of the world He loved so much:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16).
Jesus could have put a stop to His pain and suffering, but He chose to go through it anyway, just so the people He loved would not have to:
He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:7-8)
I’m in awe of the fact that God gives His people so much choice and control when it comes to bringing a child into this world. Yet God is still the one doing the creating, even though we play a key role in the process. My wife and I gave life to our daughter, as they say, but really God was the One who did all of the live giving. And He did it on purpose. He created her for a reason and she will understand it one day:
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (Revelation 4:11).
Sweet daughter, God meant for you to be here. To paraphrase Esther 4:14 and apply it your situation, “And who knows but that you have come to [this circumstance] for such a time as this?” You will do great things for God and His people. You’ve got this girl!
Troy Burns

That’s Not My Favorite Verse Anymore

I’m as excited as anyone to see our current world situation improve and to have our lives start shifting back to normal. I’m reminded of the joke where someone says, This too shall pass, and another person responds with, “Yes, like a kidney stone!” That’s an interesting phrase—This too shall pass—it sounds biblical, right?
Have you ever “known” something to be true from God’s Word, but then eventually discovered that your belief was not quite accurate? For me, a recent example is when I “knew” that the Bible says, This too shall pass. While the Bible does express ideas similar to that phrase, those words actually do not appear in Scripture, at least not in the way we typically use them.
Why do I mention this? For a long time, my favorite verse in the Bible was this one: “But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). The reason I loved that verse, however, turned out to be a misunderstanding on my part. I thought Job’s words were similar to what we read in James: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
I was wrong. In the context of Job chapter 23, we find out that Job was actually so convinced of his own innocence that he wanted to state his case directly before God, having the confidence that God would find no guilt in him. Job says, “I have kept his way without turning aside,” and “I have not departed from the commands of his lips.” Later on, Job also says, “Let God weigh me in honest scales and he will know that I am blameless” (Job 31:6). I do not share Job’s confidence. I am not innocent and I have no desire to state my case directly before God, because He would find me guilty.
It’s not hard to understand why Job was so confident in his own innocence. After all, God practically brags about him to Satan when He says this: “Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). God doesn’t say that about me because He would be lying, and that’s impossible for Him to do.
Here’s my point in all of this: Job 23:10 was my favorite verse for a long time because I read it as a standalone sentence, quoted at the beginning of a novel I read in college. We can make the Bible say almost anything we want it to say, if we only read individual verses or portions of verses. Now that I understand the context of that verse in Job, it’s no longer my favorite. I am in awe of the verse. I wish I could say that about myself. But I cannot. The verse does not apply to me.
The Bible is true, but we must make the effort to read it properly. Most of it is not difficult to understand, but it’s very easy to misunderstand when we don’t take it as a whole. When I look around at this crazy world, I do believe that this too shall pass, but it’s not because the Bible says that exactly. And I do believe that God will strengthen my faith when I endure various trials, but it’s not because of Job 23:10; it’s because of James 1:2-4 and other similar passages. I guess it turns out that my favorite verses are the ones that I read as God intended them. Go figure!
Troy Burns

On Driving and Living—Doing What We Couldn’t Do

In my 30+ years of operating motor vehicles, I’ve been pulled over by police officers five or six times. That’s not terrible and fortunately, I never received a ticket for even one of those times. Even more fortunately, I was not pulled over on the many dozens of occasions when I would have certainly received a ticket based on the posted speed limit and the speed at which I was traveling.
Had I been pulled over one of those times when I was going, say, 45 mph in a 30 mph zone, I wonder if the officer would have changed the standard for me. Might he have said, “I’m going to the change the posted speed limit to 45 mph; therefore, you were not speeding and I won’t give you a ticket.” As much as I would have appreciated the officer’s grace and kindness, he would not, in fact, could not, change the standard. I supposed he could have written the ticket to himself or paid the fine on my behalf (i.e., met the standard for me), but he could not change the standard.
As in driving, so with living. God has a standard that all of us have failed to meet, whether or not we were “caught” violating that standard. And God will not, cannot, change that standard. And yet there’s still hope for us. Notice what we read in Romans 3:21-25:
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.
We need righteousness to meet the standard, but we don’t have it. The good news is that God’s kind of righteousness has been made available to us as a free gift, if we believe in Jesus and what He did for us. Again, God cannot change His standard, but He can meet if for us. He did something about sin to break its power over us. He sent His Son, Jesus, to rescue and redeem us, to pay the price that we owed but could never pay. He gives us the righteousness of Jesus and He changes us to fit the standard. We can now do what we couldn’t do.
I think I might go for a drive, but there won’t be any need to pull me over…
Troy Burns

Is My Hand in the Cookie Jar?

You may have heard the jokes about preachers’ kids needing to be careful because anything they say can (and will) be used in a sermon illustration. There’s a lot of truth to that, but let me tell you that it also works the other way around. Here’s what I mean: When I’m preaching, I try to be honest about my struggles and the areas of my life in which I need to grow. I believe that’s the right way to communicate to God’s people, but there is a downside.
For example, if I preach on the importance of patience, and then I start whining and complaining when I get stuck behind a driver who travels 10 mph below the speed limit and hits the brakes before using his turn signal, my family can (and will) use my words against me. “Dad, remember how you said you want to be more patient?” Or, “Honey, God is giving you an opportunity to be more patient, just like you were talking about on Sunday.” This is the preacher’s version of getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar, the very jar you just told everyone you wanted to avoid.
In no area of life (at least in my family) has this issue appeared more frequently than in relation to the instructions of Colossians 3:21: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” A while back, I made the “mistake” of admitting—during a sermon on a Sunday morning—that I struggle with this part of being a dad. I have this tendency to annoy my kids by interrupting them, repeating things over and over, and just generally bugging them beyond any reasonable limits.
The verse in Colossians essentially tells me, the dad, that if I continually find fault with my children, they will become discouraged and feel like they can never please me. I must say that I don’t believe my “exasperating” rises to this level; my kids would say they know I’m very proud of them and that I love being their dad. However, there are some principles in this Bible verse that I need to put into practice more consistently. God wants me to be fair to my kids, to avoid provoking anger in them, and to keep them from becoming discouraged.
As embarrassing, and even irritating, as it is to be called out for my failures, I actually do want to know when I’m bugging my kids too much, to the point that I cause them unnecessary anger or resentment. You may not have to admit your weaknesses and shortcomings as publicly as I do, but I would ask you to consider doing so with your own family. When you not only share your struggles, but you give those who love you permission to keep you accountable, something powerful happens.
What we read in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 applies to our families just as much as it does to our friendships and other relationships:
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. 10 For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. 11 Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? 12 And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.
Troy Burns

A New Normal I Can Live With

I’m as ready as anyone for life to begin its return back to normal, but I must say there are many things I’m enjoying and appreciating about staying home with my family. I only wish we were living this way by choice and not based on restrictions stemming from a global pandemic.
While I can’t stand the cause of the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, I’m thankful for many of its effects, or unintended consequences. After all, God is in the business of bringing good out of all things. I can’t remember the last time we went several weeks having dinner together as a family, just the five of us, nearly every single evening. The same can be said of playing card games and board games together, almost every day, as the crazy Burns clan that I love so much. And even though I’m working from home, it’s wonderful that I can take a break just about any time just to check in with my kids, or make them a snack, or perhaps even have, dare I say, a meaningful conversation?
Life is normally so busy and scheduled and practically overwhelming in the sense of striving daily to get everything done. But I’m finding that the important things are still happening. I don’t need to drive somewhere or go to a building to love and serve God, to spend time with my family, and to maintain relational connections with the other people in my life. My wife still goes to work at her clinic, since she’s a healthcare professional, but when she’s not working, she has much more time to spend with us than normal. My kids are all completing school online, even though they cannot go to physical classes or see their friends on campus. And I’m able to accomplish much of what I need to do from home, in my makeshift office.
The only bad thing about life returning to normal is that life might return to normal. That’s not a typo; normal is not necessarily good. I’m not sure I want life to be exactly as it was before. I want to remember—and put into practice—the valuable lessons I’ve learned from this period of time. I don’t want to waste the pain associated with so many good things coming to a grinding halt. As a husband and a dad, I want to continue having family meals and playing games together when it eventually becomes more difficult to do so. Even my 20-year-old son, who has only one semester of college left and will likely be married soon after that, said that we need to keep having a family game night every week. That’s a “new normal” I can live with!
This whole challenge we’ve been facing as a church and a nation is not what I would call a good thing, but God is causing much good to come out of it, as He always does. 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

I’ll Take Your Experience Over Mine

When I was young and pleaded with my mom to do something she knew was a bad idea, her response would ultimately be this: “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you, too?” As a parent myself now for more than 20 years, I don’t recall ever saying those exact words to my kids (at least not in a serious way), but I’ve certainly expressed the sentiment. Based on my life experience, I often wonder why I insisted on learning the hard way when I was young. And I’ve wondered why my own children have that same desire from time to time.
Then I think back on my years in youth ministry, where one of my primary goals was to motivate teens to learn from my mistakes, as opposed to going out and making them on their own. Some kids seemed to heed that advice; others didn’t. The ones who succeeded are likely much more indebted to their parents than to me.
We all seem to struggle, to one degree or another, with the problem of finding out things on our own, of learning the hard way, instead of trusting someone older than us who’s been there and done that. I can’t remember who said it, but the words have stuck with me for many years now: “Experience is not the best teacher; it’s the most expensive teacher.” That refers, of course, to our own personal experience.
A wise person, however, learns from the experience of others. I really don’t need to make all of the mistakes myself to learn the lessons of experience. I don’t need to jump off a tall building (or cliff, as mom would say), to know for sure that it will badly injure or kill me. I don’t need to drink and drive to understand the terrible danger it would cause for me and others.
When it comes to moral and spiritual issues, though, I don’t always find it so easy to avoid stupid choices, even though I know the negative consequences will come. Maybe I do this because the consequences are not typically immediate, as in the case of cliff jumping or drunk driving. But I could argue that the effects are even more damaging, and more lasting, potentially extending to my eternal destiny.
Ultimately, I believe the answer lies in what I mentioned earlier: trusting someone who’s been there and done that. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15). We can learn from the experience of Jesus because He lived through all of the same struggles we do. And we can learn from Him because he never gave in to temptation. I’m not sure about you, but I’ll strive every day to take His experience over mine.
Troy Burns

Yes I Have To, But I Want To

In our current situation of staying at home and social distancing, I must say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to spend time as a family, just the five of us, playing games and watching movies and eating together. It’s ironic that the one activity I would choose most in the world is, right now, about the only “social” activity allowed. I actually want to do what I have to do. This leads me to consider the question: Why does it take a health crisis for us to enjoy so much quality time as a family? Why can’t we do this more often when life is normal? It’s easy to do the right thing when it’s practically the only thing. It’s simple to say I’ll make a point in the future of gathering our family just to spend time with one another. But I know when the busy-ness of life resumes, it will be extremely difficult to do this. But, again, why must it be this way?
Before studying the Bible and theology, I earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and learned a great deal about life from those who lived before me and took the time to write about their experiences. Perhaps you’re familiar with the play, Our Town, which shares the idea that we live life without really appreciating what it has to offer. In a well-known quote, one of the lead characters, Emily, says it this way: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?” And from a less “literary” example, in one of my favorite movies, the following quote is shared: “Almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. Only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant, total amazement.”
More often than I want to admit, I live life without appreciating it. I fail to realize life while I live it. I’m asleep when I could, and should, be awake. I will change this. I will choose not to waste the pain and heartache and fear and worry and uncertainty that marks so many of our lives right now, including mine. Instead, I’ll learn from it by deciding to focus on the truly important things, not just now when the choice is practically made for me, but down the road when life is crazy, when options are many, and when distractions are almost innumerable.
Most importantly, I will make the very most of each day by doing what God wants me to do. As we read in James 4:13-15:
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
Troy Burns

Of Dark Clouds and Silver Linings

Silver lining: A term to emphasize the hopeful side of a situation that might seem gloomy on the surface.
I don’t need to write about the contagious virus situation in our state, country, and world; you’ve likely read, seen, and heard a great deal about that. But I am a person who needs to “look at the bright side” and remember that “every cloud has a silver lining.” It’s not some special, noteworthy quality I have; it’s just the way I’m wired. I know that even the worst events or situations have some positive aspect to them, and it helps me to navigate this crazy life.
Dark cloud: My son’s college year came to an abrupt end, meaning that he missed out on his spring break trip and, instead, needed to pack up and move off campus very quickly, while my wife and I made rapid, almost immediate plans for me to fly to Phoenix and drive back to Spokane with my boy.
Silver lining: I had 48 hours of quality time with my favorite young man in the world. We ate (too much), and laughed, and had some great conversations, and drove, and drove, and drove…. I’m not sure it gets much better than the adult relationship you have with a child you’ve raised.
Dark cloud: My older daughter’s senior year of school, track and field, and potentially even prom and graduation, are on hold and in danger of being canceled altogether.
Silver lining: She gets to continue her senior year through online classes, which means she will graduate and finish high school. She’s also completing regular workouts to stay in shape in case her track and field season resumes. She’s adapting and persevering and learning to make the best of a tough situation.
Dark cloud: My younger daughter’s basketball season ended almost before it began. She was the best player on her team and was finally excited about the sport again after a very difficult experience last spring and summer.
Silver lining: Even as I write this, at this very moment, she’s outside playing basketball with her big brother, who’s at home when he normally wouldn’t be. Her brother is her hero; if she had to choose between playing ball with her brother or her school team, she would pick her brother every single time (not that she doesn’t love her teammates at school, but c’mon, it’s her big bro)!
The above examples are not nearly all of the dark clouds hanging over my kids, but neither are they anywhere close to all of the silver linings that give them hope and help them experience something positive during troubled times. Is there a spiritual lesson in all of this? I believe there is. In what might be the most “silver lining” passage in the Bible (at least that I can recall), James writes this:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4, ESV)
Notice that we are to count it all joy when we meet trials, meaning that the trials are not inherently joyful; in fact, they are typically quite the opposite. You could even call them dark clouds. But although trials are extremely challenging, we are to count them as joy, as silver linings, because they test our faith and lead us to be stronger and more firmly established in our faith.
Troy Burns

Accidentally On Purpose

From time to time, I think of people brought into this world in ways that were not intended or desired. Teen pregnancies come to mind, as well as those “casual” situations where two people are not committed to one another for life. And then there are times when people under the influence of alcohol or other drugs do things they may normally not have done. In fact, without going into detail, I was most certainly an “accident” when my mother became pregnant with me. Is there a chance that I should not be here on this earth?
Were some of us born, but should not have been? As far as God is concerned, the answer is “no,” and this scenario is just not possible. When a human being is conceived, a soul is created by our Maker, no matter the circumstances that led to the physical conception. We are not simply bodies with minds and emotions; we are spiritual beings. If you ever feel like I do sometimes, please understand this: You are not an accident; you were made on purpose. As the Psalmist wrote in praise to his Creator God (Psalm 139:13-16):
13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
Obviously, human beings bring new humans to life by their physical choices and actions. I am absolutely stunned and amazed that God would give people this much power and control. But the true act of creation happens when God makes our souls (and it goes without saying that He designed the overall reproduction process). Each one of us was deliberately planned, specifically gifted, and placed on this earth because God wanted us here. Are you an accident? Not a chance.
Troy Burns