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Have Serious Fun… and 3 Other Life Changing Principles I Learned from Cancer | Jim Burns

Have Serious Fun… and 3 Other Life Changing Principles I Learned from Cancer | Jim Burns

I married Cathy 47 years ago and after a 10-day honeymoon, started working as a youth pastor in a church. We were both from somewhat dysfunctional families and we were the first to become Christians in our family. Yet we had the misconception that because we were Christians, our relationship would be great. It wasn’t. That first year we would argue on the way to church and then I would speak to the students about the “joy of a Christian family” feeling somewhat hypocritical! We found ministry was sometimes difficult and marriage was sometimes difficult and when you combine the two, it makes for a lot of complications. Well, after 47 years of marriage, parenting and ministry, we still say we have a “high maintenance” marriage. But we have learned a few things along the way that have helped greatly, and I want to pass them along to you.

First a quick story: I got a call from my doctor some time ago. He said, “Jim, I need you in my office this afternoon…and bring your wife. That’s not usually great news. It wasn’t. He told me I had cancer. I had the audacity to ask the surgeon if I could postpone the surgery to finish my speaking season. I know, I probably needed counseling. He went ahead and scheduled the surgery. I never really my thought I was going to die, my mother-in-law did. She told my wife, “You and Jim have lived a great life together and if he dies, you are still young enough to get remarried.” GOTTA LOVE THE MOTHER-IN-LAWJ. The night before surgery I got up in the middle of the night and wrote down 13 key phrases or principles I wanted to pass on to my children before I would die. About a year after the cancer surgery a good friend of mine asked me to share some of those phrases at a pastor’s conference. When the talk was finished, they chose to have a spontaneous time of questions and discussion. It lasted almost 2 hours. It was then I realized my struggles, joys and challenges were also the same. Later I started sharing these 13 principles and I realized these phrases were for most everyone. Simple phrases but not always easy.

That night before surgery I wrote down these four principles and eleven others that I put in my new book Have Serious Fun and 12 Other Principles to Make Each Day Count.

  1. Have Serious Fun – I know I should write that the family that prays together stays together, and I believe that; but I also believe that the family that plays together stays together, as well. I wrote my PhD dissertation partly on traits of a healthy family and one of the number one trait, was play. Fun is often the missing ingredient to good relationships. Times of fun together, opens a closed spirit. It’s the glue that can bring a family together. Play builds happy memories. Play reduces stress. The Bible backs up this research with the proverb that says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22) Another version says, …but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” How’s the fun factor in your life? After facing my mortality with cancer, I had to make a conscious decision to choose more fun in my life. How’s the fun factor in your life?
  1. Practice Thank Therapy – Thankfulness is an attitude that transcends circumstances. Here’s the truth: Your circumstance may not change but your attitude can change and that makes all the difference in the world. I remember reading and struggling with 1 Thessalonians 5:18. “In everything you do give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I don’t usually struggle with the Word of God, but I must say, it was difficult to practice “In everything.” I was supposed to thank God for my mom’s death? My three brothers going through divorce? Infertility? And I could name a hundred other personal issues. Then I read it again. It didn’t say for everything, it said in. It was hard to say thank you God for mom’s death, but I could easily say, in mom’s passing she was now with Jesus. She wasn’t in pain any longer. Even in her death it brought my father to God. Thankfulness is a habit. Since cancer, I have tried to make it my reflex reaction. Here is what I do, almost every day, I write down 20 reasons in my journal why I am thankful. It doesn’t take away the circumstances, but it helps me greatly with my perspective and my attitude. Would you say that you are more of a grumbler and complainer or a more grateful person? Your answer quite often will make the difference of your happiness.
  1. It’s the Pain of Discipline or the Pain of Regret – We all have pain in life but the ones who practice this principle have a much better kind of pain, the pain of discipline. Paul gave Timothy great advice, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of Godliness.” (1 Timothy 4:7) How interesting that Paul used an athletic term of training and discipline. Why is it that so many pastors, like me, at times struggle with discipline? Maybe it’s just personality or life choices or people pleasing but living with discipline is not always easy. Angela Duckworth’s, TED talk on GRIT has been viewed millions of times and basically, she says that people who succeed in life aren’t always the most intelligent or talented but rather it’s the people who “persevere with passion.” The Bible speaks to this thought: Endure patiently (Rev 3:10) or “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trail because having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

  1. Glorify and Enjoy God While Serving Him Forever – After my cancer diagnosis, things that mattered a lot before cancer, didn’t matter as much. I kept thinking about a creed written in 1646, the Westminster Confession. I learned about it in grad school and then promptly forgot about it until my cancer episode. It asks, “What is the chief end of humankind? From an eternal perspective is there a more important question? Probably not.

The answer: To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Here is a truth: We will all die. Some sooner than others. What if we lived our lives to the fullest with the eternal perspective? Life would be different, and life would be better. Anne Lamott once said, “My deepest belief is that to live as if you are dying can set us free. Dying people teach us to pay attention and to forgive and not sweat small things.” Here is what this principle has taught me:

  • “Live one day at a time.” (Matt. 6:34 TLB)
  • Pick up the phone tell someone I love them often
  • Watch more sunsets
  • Put aside unnecessary worry. 85% of the things we worry about never happen.
  • Drop all grudges, bitterness, and resentments and forgive.
  • Bless someone today in word or action.

I’d never wish cancer on anyone, but one thing I know is that writing these four principles in my journal along with nine others has been a life changing experience.

Have Serious Fun in available through ChurchSource at 30% off. Learn more HERE.

How to Use this Resource

  1. Apply it to your own life situation
  2. Each principal in the book has a section with personal reflection and group interaction questions.
  3. Preach through life changing principles.
  4. Use it for life groups, Sunday School classes and home fellowships
  5. Purchase the Have Serious Fun Course on and Jim virtually can lead your small groups with his content and group discussion guide.

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