Wednesday, January 06, 2016


Fatherhood Takes True Grit

A flash-writing contest entry I just finished.

The cries of an infant awakened me. I immediately slipped into protector mode. I donned my safety equipment and lumbered down the hall. There was no time to wipe the sleep from my eyes. I recognized the cry, and I knew the situation from my training.

Opening the door to my son’s circus themed room I could smell the danger. I slid the safety goggles over my eyes and pulled on the latex gloves. I straightened my plastic body apron and gently positioned the clothespin over my nose. My son was in trouble, and I was ready to help.

I felt like I was entering a combat zone. I confidentially walked to the crib, lifted my 10-day old out and in one swift move, turned to the changing table. Unsnapping two buttons and pulling on Velcro revealed the problem. My instincts had been correct. Off came the diaper, out came the wipes, and then I was attacked!

This time, I was hit by friendly fire. What seemed to be an air-activated gun began firing a yellow liquid at me, first hitting my ear and the grazing my arm. I used the wipe to cover and then ducked. This was the first of many brushes with danger during the ever-changing experience of fatherhood.

One week in, I was finding fatherhood to be life-changing. I was sleep deprived. I had not watched television for days and my wife, and I were talking in high-pitched sing-song voices.

From infant experiences to the teenage years, I've put on many different uniforms to meet the challenges of fatherhood. I have invested in the life of two children, raising them to respect others, believe in themselves, serve their community and love God. I've listened to them, gone to their events, coached teams, and taught driving. I've looked danger - and hormonal teenagers -- in the eye and lived to tell about it. That, my friend, takes true grit.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


First Chapter in Book I'm working on: "The Church Critic"

Since several have asked about my short story that won 2nd place in the Missouri Writer's Guild contest for short fiction, I'm going to share the first page here. Although I wrote it as a short story I really consider this the first chapter of a book and I'm working on more chapter.

Read the first page and you will get the idea of where this story is going. But don't be fooled, I've got plenty of surprises planned along with a climax and ending that you may not expect.

The Church Critic
My page one column for the Plano Herald was provocative and I didn’t care. The text was still making me laugh, even as I read it for the twentieth time.
"I was greeted warmly at the door of Scenic Avenue Christian Church, and then left to fend for myself. Once inside I was asked to move out of my cozy aisle seat by a member who had obviously sat in that seat for 50 years. The choir music was plentiful but missing male voices and rhythm. The offering plate was nearly empty by the time it reached me but by the time it did I was nearly asleep.
"The sermon was a neat 21 minutes. It might have been shorter if the reverend hadn't had to consult his notes so often after losing track of his thoughts. The actual message took two minutes, reinforcing its meaning took 18 minutes. In all fairness, the preacher dove into his sermon with personal anecdotes setting up his theme that -- well, I'm not sure what his theme was but I enjoyed the anecdotes."
When ink is in your veins, there is always something special about seeing text in print. But, I was surprised last week when Don Rigby had pointed his thick index finger and his fat cigar directly at my face and assigned me this new column.
"I'm adding this to your regular beat," coughed Rigby. "You can thank me later."
Rigby's thick fingers were crowded together on his hand. This helped explain why he typed with only his index fingers. His cigar was more chewed than smoked. He smoked one cigar a day but ate two a day.

“Since you are asking me to write a weekly review of local churches you should know, I’m agnostic.”

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Request for Mission Trip Funds for Matthew

A request from our son regarding his upcoming mission trip to El Salvador.

Dear friend:

I am writing because I want to share with you an exciting opportunity I have been given.  I am also hoping that you might want to support me in my efforts to be part of this amazing mission. My church (Ridgecrest Baptist Church) is taking a mission trip to El Salvador over spring break and several of my friends in the youth group are going with the youth leaders as part of this team. We are leaving March 5 and will return home March 12.

I am looking forward to the chance to meet new friends, experience a new culture, and share the love of Christ. We will spend most of our ministry days with Remar Orphanage in San Miguel. The orphanage currently has about 20 children. Most of these kids have been removed from their homes due to sexual abuse.  In additional to some light construction we will also be doing relational evangelism. Our youth band, of which I am part, will also lead some worship services.

I want to ask you to start praying for my team and for me right now. I know this is going to be a challenging experience. This is my second trip to El Salvador and I am excited to go, but nervous at the same time. You can also pray for the people I will meet. This is a third world country and they are very poor. They are in need of many things, but most importantly they need Jesus Christ.

One of my biggest challenges is the cost of the trip. It will cost me $1,000 to go on this trip.  Would you please consider giving to my cause? If you are able to give financially, you will receive tax credit for your donation. Make sure I have your correct address so we can send your contribution statement at the end of the year. Please make your check payable to “Ridgecrest Baptist Church” and mail it back to me at: 2311 E. Kentwood, Republic, Mo. 65738. The deadline for payment on my trip is January 16. If you would rather, you could also directly donate to my mission trip online at

Thank you so much in advance for your generosity. Even if you cannot give financially, please pray. Our team will need every prayer possible. I know God is going to provide and I cannot wait to see what He has in store for me this summer.


Matthew L. Burton

Sunday, September 13, 2015


As Fast as a Speeding Tractor

I’ve read remarkable stories in the world news over the years about fast running humans who have competed against horses, trains and even race cars. Apparently, it is even possible to race the wind and race against time. But one example I’ve never heard tossed around as admirable is racing against a tractor. Yet, that is exactly what I did during the Lockwood Festival back in 1983.

My brother and I grew up in Ash Grove. We paid a visit to the Lockwood Festival that year to participate in a community cross country race at the Lockwood golf course. The first-annual race was set up by some of the local men who, based on appearance, where local farmers.

We arrived at the Lockwood golf course in our running uniforms and our fashionable 1980s style Gortex running suits. We were greeted by the race officials – all in their overalls – at the sign-in desk.  From what I recall, about 40 runners showed up at the golf course. I remember warming up and being eager to begin. You could sense the anxiousness in the crowd of runners as we surveyed the golf course.  One question that arose in our minds was, “Where exactly is the course?”  The golf course was not marked in any way (traditionally, a lime mark is used on the grass and runners follow the line).  No line existed on the Lockwood golf course that year. How were we supposed to know where to run?

Our question was soon answered when an old Ford tractor was backed out of the equipment shed and driven on to the golf course by an elderly gentleman in overalls. A race official stepped toward the group and explained the rules of the race.  The man, in all seriousness, told us that we were to follow the tractor after he blew the whistle.  The grass was wet with dew and he assured us that the tires would leave tracks that we could easily follow.  I flashed a glance, and a small smirk, at my brother. Using today’s lingo, I was actually thinking, “What the heck?”

The old man on the tractor -- clad in a ball cap, flannel shirt and overalls -- sat only 20 yards in front of the runners. He started the tractor again. He put the tractor in gear.  Then the race official blew the whistle and 40 runners took off straight down the fairway right past the tractor.

As I recall, there was a lot of confusion until the old man on the tractor got it in a high gear. Then as he sped toward the front of the pack he started yelling at us to turn around and follow him.  The pack of runners slowed to a trot and the driver made a quick corner around some trees and got the tractor in high gear. He now had the tractor opened up as much as it would go.  My brother ran directly behind the tractor for the entire two mile race.  Occasionally the man would turn around on the tractor, see him just a few yards behind, and shake his head.

After the race, the tractor driver was obviously amazed that my brother had been able to run as fast as his speeding tractor.  When we talked with the tractor driver and the race official two things became apparent. One, they didn’t really understand why anyone would want to run all of the time “just for fun.” But two, they also admitted to not believing anyone could run as fast as a speeding tractor.

Friday, July 24, 2015


Be the Family Leader God Intended You to Be!

Most of us learn by observing the actions of others. But when it comes to leadership in a family unit, not everyone gets to observe a good example growing up.

My own experience as being the "head of the household" has been a mixture of learning from observation, learning from my own mistakes, listening to the advice of those older and wiser than myself, and having the benefit of a praying wife. My children have also done more than they realize to impact my leadership. As soon as they could talk I realized that little eyes were watching my every move and word.

When it comes to leadership in the family there are two principles I have found to be key: 1) wives recognizing husbands as the leader of the family and husbands being willing to take on that responsibility and 2) remembering that little eyes are always watching.


With that first principle I know I cant ask my wife or children to do things I would not do myself. I need to led the way and set the example by doing things I would ask for them, like picking up my own socks, keeping my part of the house picked up, being kind to our neighbors, being generous to others, praying about important decisions, etc. I am no longer a child myself and I no longer need a mother (but I do have a wife.)

I also have to take on the responsibility of leading my family in spiritual matters. There is no way around it. The Bible is clear on this matter: As the main character in courageous says, "where are you oh men of courage?" Men, we have to step up as leaders in our home.

But speaking from experience, woman have to allow their husbands to be leaders. Don't simply take over, or nit-pick the leadership role your husband takes on. My wife and I can speak to this issue from experience. My wife had to make it a matter of prayer to back off and allow me to excerpt leadership. At the same time, I was being negligent in my leadership role. It was a whole lot easier to let Stacey take on that role. But you know what we found: the whole family functioned better when I took on that role.


The second point, that someone is watching all of the time, was driven home a few weeks ago. I was fishing at Bennett Springs with my children, wife and father in law. It was the first day of spring break for my kids. Lauren had already caught her limit so we moved up to the spring where I staked out a great spot on one of the large rocks along the bank, giving me a great angle from which to ask directly in to the spring.

After fishing for 30 minutes with no luck, Matthew and I got our lines tangled. In a moment of absent mindedness, I told him I would come help him and I stepped straight off the boulder in to the spring. To answer the most common question I've receives, yes, the water is cold. My main concern was for the items in my billfold and the cell phone attached to my hip.

I came up out of the cold water with a different attitude than when I go for a normal swim. In fact, my son said just last week, "Dad, I didn't know you even knew those words." See,  that was another reminder to me that little eyes are always watching and listening. I did regain my composure and we had a great day of fishing and laughter, all at my expense. But it reminded me of the example I need to set as a leader in my house. Little eyes are always watching.

When a father does a chore at home or leads the family it is important to be careful about what we say and do. Our Christian witness is on the line. We also set an example for these children in our attitudes about work, the way we treat our wives: little eyes are watching.

At one time, I was not so aware of the eyes that follow me. However, raising two children has helped me to see them. My children are a nightly reminder that I need to guard against what I say, what we do and what we allow in our home. Little eyes are watching.

I can think of one person in particular who impacted life with his example: my maternal grandfather, Orlis Farmer. He looked after everyone in our family. If he ever drank, I never knew it. If he ever swore, I never heard it. What I did know was that he went to church, read his Bible, and lived every day with a steady grace, humility and compassion consistent with Christianity.

In my grandfather I saw a man who was strong because he went to church and lived out his Christian faith. His example was important because my little eyes were watching.

The Bible makes reference several times to the importance of our example. 2 Timothy 1:5  says, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”

Every parent or head of a household has a chance to exhibit leadership and servant hood. Each person also has a chance to set an example for the little eyes in their house, their neighborhood, their community and their church's it is important because little eyes are watching, and learning.

Monday, June 15, 2015


My Top Ten Favorite Bible Verses

I was challenged on Facebook to share ten Bible verses in 10 days. Honestly, I can’t say I have a single favorite Bible verse. The entire Bible is God’s inspired words. It is living and at different phases in life, or even during the year, different verses speak to me.

So instead of me sharing my 10 favorites, I decided to do a little research project regarding search strings in Bible Gateway and on websites in order to determine the Top Ten Bible verses nationally.

There are two ways to go at this, both of which result in slightly different Top Ten lists.

Here are the results according to the Bible Gateway. According to their website, they "reviewed the behavior of some of the 8 million visitors who stop by the site each month, many of them chasing results provided by Google."

Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Romans 12:2   “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Proverbs 3:6 “In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

Genesis  1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Philippians 4:13 “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Romans 8:28   “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.”

Jeremiah 29:11 “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

John 3:16   “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.

Another source, Top Verses, ranks the top 10 Bible verses by how many times each was referenced anywhere on a website. Here is that list.

Romans 10:9 “If you declare with your mouth that "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

2 Timothy 3:16 "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."

Acts 1:8   "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you: and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  

Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, thought faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."

Romans 3:23  "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God   for it is by grace you have been saved, thought faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."

Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

John 14:16  "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'."

John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

John 3:16 “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."

Notice the #1 Bible verse on both lists is John 3:16.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


New Short Story has Journalist as Main Character

I am busy working on a couple of short stories to enter in the Springfield Writer's Guild contest this year starting in July. My goal is to always submit two short stories and honestly, I'm running behind.

This year, I'm working on several stories, all of which I see in my mind as chapters in longer novels. The working title of the first one I want to finish is, "The Church Critic." Here is a taste of how the short story/future novel chapter begins:

Don Bigby pointed his thick index finger and his fat cigar directly at my face.

"I'm choosing you for this new assignment. Our readers love you and I'm adding this to your regular beat. You can thank me later," he said followed by a smokers cough.

Bigby's thick fingers were crowded together on his hand. This helped explain why he typed with only his index fingers. His cigar was more chewed than smoked. In fact, he smoked one cigar a day but ate through two a day.

"Do you have a list of places you want me to visit for this column?" I asked while looking at the large city map on the wall.

"Son," said Bigby, taking the half-eaten and wet cigar out of his mouth. "I pay you to make good decisions on the order of your site visits for this column. All you need to know is your deadline is Tuesday at noon and this new column will run on page one."

At looked at the mock up page in my hand. “So we are calling it, 'The Church Critic' and this will be a weekly review of local churches," I said. “You know, I’m agnostic. I don’t do church.”

"Perfect. It is met to be a critical review,” said Bigby. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015


In a Pickle: Don’t Get Angry and Don’t Run from God

Still think the Bible is just a bunch of old stories that no longer apply to modern humans? Despite human advances in science and technology, arts, communication and most other areas, our base behavior has not changed over the centuries. No one knows this better than our Creator. That is why the example of Moses that we read about in Exodus 2:11-15 can still teach us lessons in the 21st Century.

11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12 Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” 14 The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well.

Obviously, there is a great lesson here about anger and controlling your anger. The Bible has a lot to say about anger and this may be the best advice: "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." (James 1:19-20 NIV) God wants you to control your temper and seek His way to solve your problem.

Acting in anger will not solve a problem; it will only make it worse. Getting revenge is not your job. God will take care of the wrongdoing Himself (Romans 12:19). God is always fair and right. He is perfect, so He is the only One who can perfectly judge someone else. He might not do it the way you think He should, or even when you think He should, but He wants you to control your temper and let Him work things out in His time and in His way. Moses needed to let God take care of this situation in His own way and time, but instead Moses lashed out in anger, killing the Egyptian.

This example also gives us another reminder, sometimes we mistakenly think we can get away with doing wrong if no one sees or catches us. Sooner or later, however, doing wrong will catch up with us as it did with Moses. Even if we are not caught in this life, we will still have to face God and His judgment in the life to come.

Do you have a secret sin you think is hidden from friends or from God? It can't stay hidden forever but you can be forgiven if you repent! Do you think you can sin without God seeing it? Trust me, God knows. We fragile humans fool ourselves in to thinking we can hide from God (ie Adam and Eve).  Is your secret sin negatively impacting your witness or your relationship with God?  If you know the rest of the story regarding Moses, you also know this is a story of redemption and God using an imperfect man as part of Gods perfect plan. There is still hope!

Moses reacted in a very human way to the cruelty and injustice he saw. But his way did not accomplish anything. It even made him a murderer in the eyes of the people he was trying to protect. God's ways are not like ours, but they work. We must submit to his ways of doing things.Moses looked like someone in the perfect position to help the Israelites. But he threw it away by taking revenge himself. God was still able to use him, but had to give Moses time to grow out of his anger, pride, and lack of dependence on God.

If you find yourself in a pickle, don’t take matters in to your own hands or even try to run away from the problem. Instead, turn to God for answers.

Got questions about your relationship with God? Send me and email and I’d be glad to discuss:

Monday, February 16, 2015


A Church Strategy You Can Take Part in: Friendliness

When it comes to picking a church to call home, one friendly person can make a difference.

That is a statement of fact. Not a guess, not even a question. How do I know? According to a Barna Research national survey of people looking for a church, the “friendliness to visitors” is “extremely important” for 71%. If you factor in the 21% that say it is “important,” then friendliness in the congregation is the most important factor!

There is another way I know the reported impact of friendliness is not over-stated. Because a friendly person helped my wife and I when we were church visitors 15-plus years ago.

We were close to giving up. We were visiting big churches and simply not connecting. One smiling face made the difference for us. That one man showed us to a small group, remembered our names, helped us connect, called us in the middle of the week and then greeted us again the next week.

My wife and I were blessed by his kindness and effort. He always said he was the one that received the blessing, to know that his kindness kept us in a church and helped us connect.  Research nationwide proves friendliness is an essential factor that every church desires to have – but many do not.

A quick search of Google for the exact phrase “friendly church” turned up 546,000 results just a few weeks ago. That is a big number, but in my own experience, most churches are pretty friendly with themselves. They meet and greet their members and their invited friends but other folks are on their own.

Every church needs to develop a strategy to be friendly, without being smothering.

To succeed at “friendliness,” every church needs the involvement of its members. What can you do to aid the church in its hospitality ministry? What can you do to help create a culture of friendliness at a church? Try these three ideas on for size.

The 10 most important minutes in church friendliness happens after the service. Yes, you read that correctly. Do you simply leave the church when service is over or can you seek out the visitors you shook hands with and get to know them better? Invite those visitors to your small group, or even lunch.

First time visitors often show up right on time or early. They use the front entrance and generally sit in their seat looking at their bulletin, waiting for the service to begin. In churches with large buildings, the visitors may look bewildered and lost in the halls. When you spot those signs, the least you can do is offer your assistance or offer a greeting.

When you spot a visitor, either before or after the service, try this for an introduction: “Hello, my name is David. I don’t think I’ve met you yet.” Usually, they will volunteer that they are visiting. Learn to avoid asking, “Is this your first time here?” It may not be or they may have been members at the church longer than you!

Hospitality (which is what our friendliness effort really needs to be) is not evangelism. Hospitality is a way to help the local church body demonstrate a caring Christian community. Hospitality helps prepare the way for hearing the joyful proclamation of the good news in a service. Hospitality covers more than just group gatherings in worship. It extends to Sunday school classes, passing in the hallway and even Wednesday night meetings.

Would you like to have the lasting impact on a family that one man had on our family 15-plus years ago? Truth is, you have that type of potential right now. Hospitality and friendliness needs to be part of our focus every time we step our foot in the church.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Changing the World, Starting in Hammond, Louisiana

My son wrote this for our church mission magazine about his first mission trip.

By Matthew L. Burton

My first mission trip experience – a construction trip with other youth from Ridgecrest to Hammond, Louisiana – was not what I expected. The bus trip was longer than what I had thought, the sun was hotter than I would have preferred, and the entire experience was more memorable than I had hoped.

Our church worked with World Changers, which is an organization that partners with Lifeway to do mission trips all over the country. These mission trips are project-based and focus on doing construction for people in need. In the process, we can share the gospel with them and their neighbors.

When our work groups were first organized I’ll admit to being a little mad. We were only guaranteed one person from our church in our work group. We had all been told this would happen ahead of time, but it was hard when it actually happened. I remember the first day and how all my friends were being split into groups with people from other churches and states. I wanted to go out and do the work with my friends and have a fun time doing it.

My group was assigned to build a wheelchair ramp for a man who, due to illness, was now wheelchair bound. We got to work on building the ramp in the muggy Louisiana heat. Every day after lunch we would walk and talk to the neighbors and homeowner. We also played basketball with some of the kids in the neighborhood and invited families to a block party we hosted in the middle of the week.

Then that is when it hit me: I was not here to just have fun and work with my friends. I still got to see my friends in the evening and have some fun, but that should not be my focus. I was here to spread the love of Jesus to the people of Hammond.

After I realized that truth, the last two days were easier. Seeing the look on the faces of the homeowner and the neighbors after we got the job done and took the time to talk to them was awesome.

This is the main lesson I learned on my first mission trip: “I am not here to be comfortable and to have fun 100 percent of the time. I am here to get work done for the Lord.”

Although I did have fun at the right times on this trip, I truly learned that I should go out and be the vessel God commanded us to be and make disciples who make disciples.

Saturday, January 03, 2015


Treasured Memories of Doling Park

During the 1970s, students at Ash Grove’s elementary school annually enjoyed a year-end picnic at Doling Park complete with sack lunches and Hiland orange drink. Doing Park in north Springfield became synonymous with cotton candy, dime pinball, skee ball, the Wild Mouse roller coaster, bread eating ducks and roller skating.

I drove to Doling Park last week. The setting has changed -- the rides and games are gone -- but my past memories remain crystal clear regarding the fun times I had in that unique setting.  I recall spending hours -- and probably several dollars of dimes -- playing skee ball with Jerry Dyson, a childhood friend. The skee ball machines at Doling Park were uniquely worn and sometimes generous, providing us with a free game or two. Hitting the elusive 100 point hole was cause for celebration, even if we did climb up the ramp occasionally and manually drop a wooden skee ball in the appropriate hole. Whether we were playing games, running around Doling Lake, or simply having a sack lunch, the day trip to Doling Park always provided hours of fun and independence.

Nowadays, instead of school outings to Doling Park my family goes to Silver Dollar City. One of the greatest attractions there are the roller coasters. Somehow, during my junior high years, I was able to conquer my extreme fear of roller coasters, a fear that may be traced back to Doling Park. I can still recall the sheer terror I felt as a second grader riding the Wild Mouse. After surviving the curves and dips on this rattling ride I was never sure why I actually paid money to experience terror. Other rides -- like the small train and the merry-go-round -- induced far less fear and marked the extreme limits of my thrill-seeking for years to come.

Roller skating at Doling was like traveling back in time to the 1950s. Springfield had two modern roller rinks --Skateland and Skate Corral -- both of which featured slick concrete floors and modern disco lights. That was not the case at Doling Park. The character of this arena was in its worn wood floor and the airplane hanger style building. By the time I was in the sixth grade I still had not mastered roller skating anywhere else except on those wooden floors at Doling.

As a youngster, the whistle of the teacher would beckon us back to the school bus and for our trip back to Ash Grove. Now, the demands of life, family, church and civic groups pull at my free time. Oh, to have one more chance to run around Doling Lake scaring the ducks and geese, stopping only to peak through the iron and wire gates deep into the cave, before scrambling on toward the picnic tables. Unfortunately, I can’t call back time or restore my youth, but my memories allow me to recall my days of youth and fun trips to Doling Park. If a close my eyes real tight I can still imagine being a child at Dolin, spending dimes on skee ball, roller skating, and having a carefree day with friends. Those are treasured memories.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014


It Really Is a Wonderful Life

I realize it is several weeks until Christmas, but the other day I caught myself daydreaming about some of our family holiday traditions.  For our family, the Christmas season would not be complete without watching, "It's a Wonderful Life.”  It represents a unique American vision. It is not a vision of Christmas -- despite the last, tear-wrenching scene in front of the tree -- but of how society ought to be, and can be within our church family.

I once read an analysis of the movie that got me thinking. Professor Ray Carney of Boston University said this movie shows that, while life can be "an enriching Norman Rockwell experience, it also can be smothering, where you end up marrying the girl you went to high school with, and you never get to go to Europe. It tells us George is one of the most sad and lonely and tragic characters ever imagined."

Nothing in the movie seems as sad as the professor's analysis of it. How could George Bailey be a tragic figure when he's the richest man in town? He makes Mr. Potter, the old miser, look like a pauper -- because George Bailey has loved and sacrificed and built and given and stood alone a time or two, and, well, he has lived.

No, he never got to be a tourist in Europe, but he didn't go through life as just a tourist either. It is hard to imagine "It's a Wonderful Life" being made in a decade when "The Hobbit,” “James Bond" and racy R-rated movies set the tone for American movies. Yet, this wholesome movie was one of the most sensual vignettes in the history of movieland. Donna Reed manages to seduce Jimmy Stewart without taking a stitch of clothing off.

The scene – with both of them trying to talk on the same telephone -- is full of irony and double meanings. "He says it's the chance of a lifetime," she breathes, passing on a message about a business deal from another suitor on the other end of the line to George. She is indeed holding out the chance of a lifetime: love, trust and family.

The movie is a celebration of the middle-class virtues, which are not typical enough in this decade. Think of all those who make a difference in your town. In fact, just like in the movie, you never really know how a kind word you have said, a gesture of kindness you have made, can impact others, especially children.

The most unsettling aspect of the movie's popularity is the realization that nostalgia for certain values tend to set in just when they are disappearing. Happily, nostalgia can also bring those values back, for there are fashions in values just as there are in clothes.

As I set working on this column I am inclined to count my blessings. I have a great family, healthy kids, a job, a roof over my head, good health, a God that loves me and many close friends. Yes indeed, it is a wonderful life!

First written by David Burton in 2003 for publication in Cross Country Times newspaper in Willard, Mo.

Monday, October 27, 2014


Online Plot Generators Come Up Short

I'm working on my two short story ideas for 2015 by developing plot outlines and characters. While doing a little online research I discovered something called a "plot generator." It promises to come up with a short story for you! All you have to do is enter a few names, adjectives and place locations. Even you are really lazy, it will come up with those for you.

So I gave it a try and put in a few names and details related to a story I'm calling "Tragedy at Coleman Corner." I think the story that was generated leaves something to be desired, but I'll let you decide. Here it is:

A Short Story
by David Burton

Duncan Early was thinking about Zarilda Farmer again. Zarilda was an intelligent school girl with big nose and sweaty hand.

Duncan walked over to the window and reflected on his old-fashioned surroundings. He had always loved rural Coleman Corner with its outrageous, obedient one-room school. It was a place that encouraged his tendency to feel Excited.

Then he saw something in the distance, or rather someone. It was the an intelligent figure of Zarilda Farmer.

Duncan gulped. He glanced at his own reflection. He was a confident, honest, tea drinker with bloody nose and soft hand. His friends saw him as a tiny, terrible teacher. Once, he had even rescued a tight grandmother from a burning building.

But not even a confident person who had once rescued a tight grandmother from a burning building, was prepared for what Zarilda had in store today.

The snow flurried like sitting birds, making Duncan sad. Duncan grabbed a polished chalkboard that had been strewn nearby; he massaged it with his fingers.

As Duncan stepped outside and Zarilda came closer, he could see the bumpy glint in her eye.

Zarilda gazed with the affection of 8177 sympathetic hushed horses. She said, in hushed tones, "I love you and I want love."

Duncan looked back, even more sadness and still fingering the polished chalkboard. "Zarilda, you are my student," he replied.

They looked at each other with feelings of guilt, like two sharp, solid sheep thinking at a very bold funeral, which had piano music playing in the background and two friendly uncles running to the beat.

Duncan studied Zarilda’ s big nose and sweaty hand. Eventually, he took a deep breath. "I'm sorry," began Duncan in apologetic tones, "but I don't feel the same way, and I never will. I just don't love you Zarilda."

Zarilda looked confident, her emotions raw like a sore, slimy school bell.

Duncan could actually hear Zarilda’ s emotions shatter into 9470 pieces. Then the intelligent school girl hurried away into the distance.

Not even a cup of tea would calm Duncan's nerves tonight.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Do Not Lose Heart

The news headlines these days are downright depressing. Ebola outbreaks, hurricanes, famine, wars, threats of war, rogue nations with nuclear weapons, growing hatred for the Jews worldwide, expanding terrorism that knows no boundaries, the crumbling moral foundation of our nation, leaders that fail to lead, a growing debt that threatens to cripple our nation and our ability to respond to danger, and cancer that seems to be impacting friends at a younger and younger age.

The answer isn’t just turning off the news reports or the Internet (although taking a break from the 24-7 news cycle can be good). The answer is developing a different perspective or paradigm about what all this bad news means.

In my Bible reading this week I read a series of verses that impacted me in regard to my outlook when reading all of this bad news. Here it is: 2 Corinthians 4:16–18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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.”

Let’s chew on that text for a while. Paul’s God-inspired words still have meaning for us today.
First off, he tells us: “do not lose heart.” The news is depressing much of the time and reading all of the bad news can get you down. Part of the reason it is depressing is because we feel helpless to do anything about it. But still, we need the reminder: “do not lose heart.”

Then Paul tells why we should not lose heart. “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Paul makes the assertion here that inward renewal overcomes the outward destruction and ultimately overcomes even death itself.  Seen in the perspective of eternity, the Christian’s difficulties whatever they may be, diminish in importance. By comparison the eternal glory is far greater than all the suffering one may face in this life.

Paul puts it on a personal level for those who are saved and have Jesus as their personal savior. But the same words could also be applied to our fallen world.

Then Paul delivers the information we need to explain what we can do and inspire us to change: “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.”

You see, we often have our eyes fixed on what is seen: Ebola outbreaks, hurricanes, famine, wars, threats of war, rogue nations with nuclear weapons, growing hatred for the Jews worldwide, expanding terrorism that knows no boundaries, the crumbling moral foundation of our nation, leaders that fail to lead, a growing debt that threatens to cripple our nation and our ability to respond to danger, and cancer that seems to be impacting friends at a younger and younger age. You get the idea.

In focusing on the things that are seen we end up focusing on the temporary things of life.
Instead, Paul tells us to change our focus to the things that are unseen yet eternal. We are to focus on the spiritual and on God’s kingdom.

Know what else is neat about focusing on the things that are unseen yet eternal? We tend to talk about the things we are focused on! So change your focus and go tell someone about God’s kingdom and what must be done to enter it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Lazarus: Now That is a Testimony!

I’m sure you have heard people give powerful life-changing testimonies before. I’m thinking of people who were taken out of an alternative lifestyle or saved from a life of drugs or crime when they met Jesus Christ. The truth is, we all have a powerful testimony because anyone who has given their life to Jesus has been saved from death.

It doesn’t get much better than that does it?

If you are saved, there is no need to waste time wishing you had a “better testimony.” Your testimony is your own and it is powerful because Jesus has saved you from the wages of sin, which is death.
But still, some testimonies are special.

Take Lazarus for example. You are probably familiar with his story in John 11:1-44. Lazarus is sick. His sisters send word to their friend Jesus to come heal Lazarus. Jesus waits and Lazarus dies. But when Jesus does show up and He calls Lazarus out of the tomb, grave clothes and all!

We never read about what Lazarus thought of being called back from Heaven or what he experienced during that time of death. Many people think the story ends when Lazarus is given new life by Jesus. But actually, the story of Lazarus has one more chapter that often gets overlooked.

Check out this verse in the Bible (John 12:9-11): “Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.”

Did you read that last part: “for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.”

Turns out Lazarus had one of those fantastic testimonies and he was out sharing it. I would have loved to have heard Lazarus give his testimony!

It is fun to speculate about these things, but don’t miss this part: Lazarus’s testimony was moving people to follow Jesus. But better yet, his story reminds me that I need to be out sharing my own testimony and how Jesus has saved me from death too!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Something New: Seven “I Am” Statements of Jesus

One of the best things about reading through the New Testament with a group of 10th grade boys is that I get to learn right along with them. I’ve found over the years that I can still learn new things even when I read something in the Bible that is familiar to me. This was the case when we recently read the Book of John and all of the “I am” statements by Jesus caught my eye.

In the Old Testament, “I Am that I Am” is the common English translation of the response God used when Moses asked for his name. “God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:14). No doubt, Jesus is communicating through John that Jesus is in fact God, the great I Am.

Is Jesus the great “I AM” of your life? That is the most important question. He also wants to be your “I Am” in seven other distinct ways. Here are those seven “I Am” statements.

1. “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35). In other words, just like manna from heaven, Jesus is the One who spiritually sustains us.

2. “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Literally this means that those who join Jesus as one of His followers will not be ignorant of spiritual matters but will have the power of understanding especially of the spiritual truth that brings eternal life. In Him we gain spiritual understanding and wisdom for living.

3. “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (John 10:9) Salvation is found through Jesus, He is the gate to the Kingdom, and no one can enter except through Him.

4. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) A few would be willing to risk their lives to protect their sheep, but our Shepherd knowingly and willingly died to save us, because there was no other way. Jesus is our good shepherd and He paying our entrance fee with His life.

5. Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) Here we learn that even though a believer experiences physical death, he will still have life.  Whether we die before the rapture or are taken live in it, He has guaranteed our eternal life with God.

6. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) There is no other way into the presence of God than by accepting the Lord’s death as payment in full for our sins. Jesus is the only one who can do this for us

7. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) It’s important to understand that salvation is not a fruit bearing event, so in this statement Jesus was talking about our life after we’re saved.  This statement reveals that for the balance of our life on Earth, the things we do in His strength, out of gratitude for what He’s done for us, are the only things that matter.

Monday, September 15, 2014


Sweeping America: Making God in Our Own Image One of Three Forms of Godlessness Described by Plato

During 2014, there has been a rash of high-profile Americans pubicly “remaking” God in their own image. Most recently it was a “Christian” singer who said she was gay and proclaimed that “her” God was okay with it. Turns out, the theology that she uses to justify her behavior and demand acceptance from fellow Christians is nothing new. Plato actually described and condemned it in his great final work, “The Laws.” I was required to read “The Laws” in one of my final political science classes in college.  In “The Laws,” Plato identifies three forms of “atheism”  (or what we might today call “godlessness” or perhaps “secularism”).

The denial of divity is what Plato describes as the first form of atheism. This is the idea that there is no God or are no gods and no supernatural reality. Today, this is usually want we mean when we use the term “atheism.”

The second form of “atheism” described by Plato does not deny divinity. However, it says that God or the gods do not concern themselves with human affairs. Sometimes you will hear people use the term “deism” as a label for this view. I do know some people who would fall in this category as well as some historical figures who are said to have been “deist.”

Then, just as Plate described, there is the popular third form of “atheism” in America that accepts that there is a God and that God is concerned with human beings. However, this “God” is soft-spirited, easily appeased and makes no stringent moral demands of humans. This “God” wants us to like ourselves so it is fine with him if we do pretty much as we please. He is an “I’m okay, you’re okay” divinity.

The mortal threat to Christianity today does not come from Plato’s first and second forms of atheism, but from the third. Few believers are likely to be led astray by the arguments of the first or second form of “atheism” because the defects of those arguments are easy to see.

However, many believers  are being led into Plato’s third form of atheism which is belief in an imaginary God made in the image of man with our traits of expressive individualism and me-generation liberalism. It is a convenient “God” that is always willing to say, “do whatever you feel like doing, darling; I love you just the way you are.”

Be careful America: we serve a mighty and Holy God that cannot stand sin (as discribed in the Bible). Our Holy God is the one that gets to determine what is sin, not us.

Friday, September 12, 2014


The Original Word of Mouth Marketer

I’ve been working on some materials for a presentation I’m giving on “word-of-mouth” marketing. There is a ton of research on marketing methods. Everyone is looking for that magic bullet that gets people to a program or moves them to action. The fact is, there is no magic bullet. However, there are lots of marketing tools: social media, media releases, tv and radio, newsletters, etc. None of them can do the job of marketing for your organization on their own.

Another interesting fact pops up in all of the research: “word-of-mouth” marketing is, hands down, the most effective at getting people to act or respond to a request or need.

What is “word-of-mouth” marketing? Well, have you ever had a friend call you to tell you about a great new restaurant or a new store in town. By the end of the phone conversation, you were ready to make reservations for dinner, or pack up the family to go shopping. These simple conversations with our friends and co-workers will direct us to good doctors, fine dining or the best family movie this season. The word of a friend or an associate is accepted as trustworthy, and influences our decisions much more than any known form of advertising.

Just when we thought our brand new logo and jazzy radio commercials were sure to bring people to our programs – it turns out the “word-of-mouth” marketing is even better. The key is to give customers and supporters something to talk about since “word of mouth” marketing is basically getting people talking on your behalf.

Turns out, Jesus was a master at this! He apparently understood human nature very well. He performed miracles, fulfilled prophecy and taught about having a relationship with God which gave his followers lots of things to talk about themselves. He also called disciples and he gave them a clear “word of mouth” marketing directive:

Matthew 28:18-20 – “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

There you have it, the “word of mouth” marketing directive from Jesus. If it was good enough for Jesus and the spread of his church, it is surely good enough for our organizations! But at the same time, as believers, let’s not forget to use our mouth to talk about Jesus and his church.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


What is truth? The Question that Still Haunts Pilate

What is truth? It is a great question. It also happens to be the question Pilate asks of Jesus in John 19:38. It is a question that still gets asked today. There are all sorts of people around us that don’t know what “truth” is, and they don’t know what “truth” involves. Some don’t believe in universal truths and others believe we can each create our own “truth.” Instead of seeking truth, many chase after idols, their desires, and every new fad or trend that comes passing by them.

But the question still begs a good answer. What is truth? Could the historic portions of the events between Jesus and Pilate in the Bible help to provide a contest?

When Jesus was asked that question by Pilate, he didn’t answer. Could it have been because he knew Pilate’s heart was hardened? (Think of the Pharaoh and Moses). Pilate is a reminder that the truth cannot simply be told to an adult and they be expected to believe it. It was evident that Jesus was already not believed among those He had already been around in His ministry. It is possible to be blind to the truth.

Another thing I think of when I hear the question is about “having trust” in another individual. Discovering the truth is easier when there is trust. This begs the question: do you trust Jesus? He already loved you even before you understood love. If you know Jesus you know, you can trust Jesus. Ultimately, love and trust work together and each one makes the other easier.

So I go back to the original question asked of Pilate: “what is truth?” Could Pilate trust Jesus? Did Pilate have a child-like faith? Could Pilate simply be told what the truth was of God and be expected to believe it? If Jesus told Pilate to set Him free because He was the Son of God, would Pilate have done it? Honestly, I think the answer to all of those questions is “no.”

Pilate, I am sure, was an intelligent man. He was a man of position because of his leadership and because of his devotion to the Roman Empire. He knew his job, and he was involved with the people around him. He lived in a world where trust was of no use to him or those he served. The Jewish culture around him was allowed, under Roman rule, because it was necessary to continue running a society that the Romans had conquered. The Roman Empire needed the influence of the Jewish leaders to make it more practical to govern. All of these things contributed to Pilate and his meeting with Jesus that day: influence, politics and corruption.

I think the Bible makes it clear that Pilate did not believe that day. He had been hardened by the life he had lived. I do want to believe that Pilate was curious of Jesus. The Jews had come to him to have someone executed for reasons he did not understand or believe. He knew his laws did not apply (this was a religious matter) but he also saw the political realities. However, Pilate could not believe. He could not believe because he was unwilling to take that first step of faith. The fact that God already knew what action Pilate would take is of no consequence. (Sounds like the Pharoh and Moses again) Pilate's act of allowing Jesus to be crucified because of his unbelief allowed God's people to be saved from the bondage of sin. The miracle was our salvation.

What evidence did Pilate have that Jesus was who He said He was? What evidence could Jesus give? Was Pilate willing to research this and find out? Pilate could not and would not believe because he was unwilling to seek the truth. If you are unwilling to believe, then you will never know the truth. What is truth? Believe in Jesus as who He said He was. Seek Him out and have Faith enough to trust Him and the truth will be revealed to you. Seek the truth, and you will find it. (John 8:31-32)

Tuesday, September 09, 2014


What is the key to Leadership?

What is the Key to Leadership? Honestly, based on my experiences in 2013 and 2014, I now have an answer but it isn’t what you are probably expecting to hear. I would urge anyone seeking instruction on leadership to look first to the Bible before any of the self-help books that have been written.  I'm going to share my answer at the end of this blog. But first, I have a few observations.

I've been reading a lot of content recently about leadership and leading change. I often get to the end of the article or book feeling a little empty. I mean there are good points and observations but seldom a "hard and fast" rule and never a silver bullet that works in all situations. At least I’m not finding a solution in books or one-day classes. Books and conferences provide good principles and take away sentences that make people feel good but normally they are things that are difficult to do on your own or in your own power. Most of us have constraints on what we can do either due to finances, supervisors, or other time demands on our life.


Take Bill Hybel's book "Simplify" for example. From the cover of the book: "When we spend our lives doing things that keep us busy but don’t really matter, we sacrifice the things that do. ... If you crave a simpler life anchored by the priorities that matter most, roll up your sleeves: Simplified living requires more than just cleaning out your closets or reorganizing your desk drawer. It requires uncluttering your soul. By eradicating the stuff that leaves your spirit drained, you can stop doing what doesn’t matter—and start doing what does."

Hybels basically says we must live with "margin" in our lives so we can respond to needs when they arise but also have time to rest. Well, that is easy to say if you are the CEO of a very large organization with lots of staff doing work you tell them to do, hired help at your house, and grown children. Sort of reminds me of politicians who tell us "I feel your pain, I understand your needs," and then they leave the rally in a limo with a speakers check for $500,000 and go back to an $18 million dollar home with a maid. They don’t understand the challenges my wife and I face with both of us working jobs that are more than 9 to 5 jobs just to make ends meet, teenage children that are busy with activities and need us to drive them around and help with homework, all while juggling church and family responsibilities that are important. Giving as advice to “simplify” is, well, a little too simple.

I’ll admit that living with “margin” is a great goal but when your child needs to be driven to band practice and you have to wait to pick him up after school and you are the only person available to do that … your “margin” gets eaten up sitting in your car. Typically, I spend that type of “margin” time thinking about things I need to get done and expanding my “to do” list.


Then there are plenty of secular leadership programs and books that talk about leading change, leading people, and rallying people to pull together as a team. The marketing for these leadership events sound like a silver bullet. Here is a recent example I received by email: “Using experiential learning exercises as a metaphor for what it takes to lead a high performing team, this professional development workshop will help you explore the interpersonal and organizational advantages of working together. You will leave the class understanding the need for organizational change, able to identify leadership strategies that create a thriving culture for change, better able to adopt and accept change, able to understand the needs of those faced with adopting change, and equipped to use communication strategies that create awareness, acceptance, adopting and advocacy of change initiatives.” Whew, I’ll be ready to change the world after this class!

As with any conference or program, there are many fine examples of training that has helped and you can even find people who will give you a success story or two about their leadership success. But often times, these success stories come at the expense of a wife and/or children. They also often have a lot of “I” in them and statements that suggest that if you can just dream it work hard enough, it will happen.


Let me suggest that there is really only one thing that matters more than all of the other studies and suggestions: prayer to enlist God’s help. That is it. That is the key to leadership.

Without it, we are just people tossing around ideas and theories that sometimes work but often do not. We can have good ideas of course. We can even find success that merits patting ourselves on the back (and allowing others to do the same). But the fact is, God is the author of our successes. God sees the big picture, God knows what is coming next and God does speak to us (through the Holy Spirit).

I discovered this past year while serving my church in a leadership role that every team presents a different challenge. No list of ideas for building consensus in a team or even running focused meetings works in every situation. In fact, I found that when I was more dependent on God and less dependent on me, things worked out better. Therefore, I should add that a second key to plugging in to prayer and allowing God to take the lead is humility. We have to admit we don’t have the answers and we have to admit that we need God’s help. We have to admit that we can’t and shouldn’t make decisions based solely on our own muscle or brain power.

Without prayer, without seeking God in leadership moments, we are just like a squirrel gathering nuts in the fall. We scurry around, hides nuts, bury nuts and eat nuts in a flurry of activity but lacking foresight in regards to what winter has in store, unable to influence any of it, and really unable to impact it. Yes, as a leader we do have to do the work and get others to join in the fun but if we are not humble and seeking God in prayer, we are just wasting our time.

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