The Love that Cannot Fail

I was reading Psalm 44 this morning, where God was praised for the past victories He gave to His people. And then the Psalm takes a sharp, dark turn with phrases like these: “But now you have rejected and humbled us” and “You gave us up to be devoured like sheep” and “You have made us a reproach to our neighbors.” A few verses later, as if to express how confusing this turn of events was, the psalmist writes, “All this happened to us, though we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant.” God seems to have forgotten them even though they had not forgotten God.
 
And yet the psalmist goes on to write, “Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.” The writer appeals to God’s unfailing love because He covenanted to show love to Israel. God made a promise and He cannot break it, because He’s God. Interestingly enough, Paul actually quotes from Psalm 44 when he writes the following:
 
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39).
 
What Paul quotes in verse 36 of Romans 8 is verse 22 of Psalm 44, where the psalmist describes a situation in which the outward circumstances have gone bad and God is not making them good again. By quoting Psalm 44, Paul reminds us that suffering has always been part of the experience of God’s people. And suffering does not separate believers from Christ, but actually helps us progress toward our ultimate goal. In other words, it’s ok for the outward circumstances to be bad if the inward circumstances are good. This is true primarily because it’s not possible for God not to love us. We can, indeed, say to Him, “Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.”
 
Troy Burns


Safe Because You’re Guilty

As part of my message yesterday morning, I quoted the following lines from a Relient K song, released around 10 years ago: “’Cause we’re all guilty of the same things; we think the thoughts whether or not we see them through.” I shared these words because as Christians, we don’t need to “go it alone;” we can have genuine community with other followers of Jesus. We might think we can’t or won’t or shouldn’t reach out to others in Christian fellowship, but we should make a decision to step out and seek authentic relationships with other followers of Jesus.

Reaching out in this way is risky and scary, but we all have something to hide, so how dare we condemn and shut out others who are only doing the same thing we are? How can we not be safe people to share with? I’m no better than you and you’re no better than me, not in God’s eyes. There’s too much at stake—for ourselves, for our Christian brothers and sisters, and for a world that desperately needs us—to “go it alone.”

We were created for relationships, and to quote Michael Dye, “It is experiences from hurtful relationships that caused your wounds, and it takes new experiences with safe, caring people to bring healing.” Of course, it can be extremely difficult to trust people once you’ve been wounded, but it’s possible if we make the church a safe place for hurting people. And doing that begins with you, and it begins with me. Broken lives will be restored when one person invests in another person by means of a relationship. Will you help me? I will help you, and together we can grow and love and serve in a church that functions the way Jesus intended.
 
Troy Burns


The Unrest of the Story

It’s Monday morning and it FEELS like a Monday! I’m sleepy and groggy, and yet happy to be in the church office. Just for kicks, I decided to google the phrase, “Does the Bible say anything about sleep?” Wouldn’t you know it? I ran across an article that posed the following questions: “Can a lack of sleep indicate a spiritual problem? Does the Bible say anything to guide us in our sleep patterns? You might be surprised to learn that the answer is ‘yes’ to both questions.”

I like the “yes” answer to the second question, but I’m not so sure about the first one. I’m a lousy sleeper, both in terms of quantity and quality. I don’t want to believe that my problem could be spiritual. Does God love me? Do I really trust Him completely?

When David asks God for relief from his distress, he comes to the conclusion that, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). Does my inability to sleep reveal a lack of trust in God? And what about the troubling words of Solomon: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for He grants sleep to those He loves” (Psalm 127:1-2). Yikes! Am I getting up early and staying up late for no reason? Am I not sleeping because I’m not one of “those He loves?”

While I don’t believe the answer to either question is “yes,” I’m led to reflect on my relationship with God and whether or not I truly find my peace and rest in Him. I also need to get real and honest about how much, and how late in the day, I consume caffeine. I may drink less Mountain Dew this afternoon. Or I may really get serious and cut it out completely for the rest of the day. More likely though, if I’m being honest, I know my best chance of sleeping better tonight is going to bed at a reasonable hour, saying my prayers, and reminding myself that God is in control. I know He loves me and I know He’s trustworthy. The “rest” is up to me…
 
Troy Burns


Old Enough to be A Kid Again

I’ve been a “grown-up” for around 30 years now, but at times it feels like yesterday when I was “just a kid.” I still miss those younger days when I didn’t know so much or worry so much or have to do so much. Mark Twain said, “It is not likely that there has ever been a civilized person 65 years old who would consent to live his life over again.” I understand the reason for those words, yet there are times when I wouldn’t mind living like a child again, even if only for a moment.

I miss having recess during the school day, and snack time, and gym “class,” and field trips. I miss summertime, when it was an actual break and each day seemed endless. I miss riding my bike to my friend’s house in the morning and not having to be home until dinner time or later—and these long absences caused no concern for my mother. I miss playing pickup games of basketball or football or baseball with all of the other neighborhood kids, just for the fun of it. I miss wondering what I would do when I grew up and thinking my dream of getting paid to throw baseballs for a living would actually come true.

I miss my innocence and my ignorance of how rotten I can be and how awful other people can behave. I miss that place in my mind where anything was possible and friends never deserted you and people never gossiped and kids weren’t abused and mommies and daddies stayed together forever. I miss that feeling of immortality, even if, deep down, I knew it wasn’t real.

Or maybe it was real and I just didn’t understand. Because I know that God “has also set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and that He loved the world so much that He “gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And when that eternal life in heaven begins, I know that Jesus “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Maybe the things I miss are not gone forever. Maybe I’ll live them out all over again, but really, for the first time.
 
Troy Burns


Of Fireworks and Days Gone By

Last night, our friends invited us to join them at their lake property for the 4th of July festivities. It just so happens that fireworks are legal in that particular county, so anyone and everyone can set off their fountains, missiles, rockets, and so on. Therefore, as the sun set and the sky darkened, I was transported back to the 1970s, when I was still a kid and the world seemed so big and fireworks were not illegal. If you’ve had one of those vivid, realistic dreams where you’re back in your childhood days, you understand my evening at the lake. The only difference is that it was REAL.

Wherever I looked, fireworks lit up the sky. Wherever I heard (if that is a phrase), booming sounds rang out almost continuously. If you would have told me that I’d literally traveled back in time, I might have believed you. As bizarre and surreal as this experience was, it also refreshed in my mind a sense of childlike wonder. Maybe I’m not so grown up after all. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Since I strive to live with a humble, unpretentious trust in God that one could call a “childlike faith,” why shouldn’t I act like a kid in the truly important ways? In Mark chapter 10, verses 13-16, we read the following: 
13 “People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.”
 
I guess I don’t want to grow up when it comes to my complete trust in Jesus and my utter dependence on Him for even my next breath. So, although I can’t go back in time very often (I still think I might have last night), I’ll do everything in my power to live like a child, standing in awe of my Father.
 
Troy Burns


A Tale of Two Trailers

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…no, wait, that quote opens up a famous novel that’s a work of fiction, and yet it feels so much like real life right now. Currently, we reside within the friendly confines of a fifth-wheel trailer. First and foremost, we are beyond grateful to our friends who are allowing us to live on their property. Having said that, however, life in a trailer is much different than life inside a large house.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world…. Next door to the wonderful, large house we just vacated (no, we were not evicted!) sits another fine trailer, hitched to a truck, and ready to embark on a journey that’s completely unlike ours. Our former neighbors are heading to the Oregon coast (my favorite place in the world) for a two-week vacation marked by fun, relaxing times with little or no “real-life” responsibility. You might say they are experiencing the “best of times” while we, despite our immense gratitude, are living through the “worst of times.”

Of course, I’m exaggerating to a fairly absurd degree; we are nowhere near the “worst of times.” I really don’t care how big or small or fancy or plain our living space is, as long as we’re together as family. But in comparison to our neighbors, the contrast is stark. And, as is the case with many things in life, there are spiritual truths and vivid reminders of what’s ultimately important. Life in this world can be wonderful, even better than spending a vacation on the Oregon coast. And life can be terrible, far worse than calling a trailer “home” for an extended period of time.

In short, life on this earth, in whatever home or trailer we occupy, cannot begin to compare to the permanent, eternal home we have waiting for us. As we read in Philippians chapter 3, “our citizenship is in heaven” and as Jesus assures us in John 14:2-3, 
“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going thereto prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” If Jesus has been spending more than 2,000 years preparing a place for us, it will surely be the best of times, and only the best of times, forever and ever.
 
Troy Burns


Of Garage Doors and Power Shortages

We’ve lived in the wonderful home that we’ve rented for four years, which for our family is actually a pretty long stretch. We would stay even longer, but the owners have decided to sell since they live in Seattle and right now, Spokane has quite the hot seller’s market. You may not care about this (you don’t have to move, right?!) but our situation has led to an interesting discovery. As a result of the painstaking task of going through everything thing we own in every room, closet, drawer, cupboard, etc., we found a remote-control garage opener that we never knew existed.

We’ve been lucky enough to rent a home with a three-car garage and two of the spots have one large door that opens and closes with the remote we were given when we moved into the house. Then there’s the third spot with its own smaller door and no remote-control opener, or so we thought. As you’ve probably put together by now, for this entire four years, we have opened and closed that garage door without the convenience of a remote. My wife or I would open the door, pull out the car, stop the car, walk back in and through the garage, close the door, go through the house and out the front door, lock the front door, then get into the car and drive away. When we returned home, if one of our family members was already there, we could text “G” from the driveway to ask someone to open the door and prevent us from having to park the car, unlock the front door, go to the garage, and, well, you get the picture.

FOUR YEARS we have gone without realizing this great power of convenience, this incredible time-saver and hassle-preventer that was right under our noses. This whole deal, while probably hilarious to everyone outside of our family, brings to mind all the of power we have as Christians that we tend to neglect or fail to harness:

  • We have the Holy Spirit, and because He is God and has all the power of God, He can help us to overcome our inadequacy and live a life that honors God.
  • We have the Bible, the living and active Word of God, that gives us God’s power for salvation among many other things.
  • We have the power of the blood of Christ, shed upon the cross, that assures us of God’s power to forgive sin.
  • We are God’s children with the power of access to God’s throne in heaven. We can come to God with our prayers, anytime and anyplace, and expect Him to hear and answer.
I hope I don’t go another four years without realizing the great power I have at my fingertips. And I hope I don’t go even one day without tapping into the power I have from God for the things that matter so much more than garage doors.
 
Troy Burns


The Same Dad Only Different

We did it! Or, should I say, he did it. I’m talking about high school graduation, but as you probably know (and I’m trying to learn), the day was all about my son, despite my efforts to make it about me. Watching him walk across the stage, my emotions embarked on a roller-coaster ride ranging from extreme pride and gratitude to choked-back tears of grief over what I’m “losing.” But could it be that my loss is really a gain?

Kami Gilmour is a mom who’s a Christian and has wrestled through the challenge of having her kids grow up and leave home; she’s gone through that pain and grief and deep heartache that comes with letting go. So, she started sharing her stories on Lifetree’s

SoulFeed blog. This led to her writing a book: Release My Grip: Hope for a Parent’s Heart as Kids Leave the Nest and Learn to Fly. I highly recommend this book, especially for those like me who have a child graduating and heading off to college.

There’s so much I love about Gilmour’s writings, but if I had to narrow it down to one quote that’s helped me the most, it would be this: “Be fully present to support them and look forward to the future through the lens of their life, not backward through the lens of my life.” While I grieve letting go, my son is excited to leave the nest and experience the freedom of young adulthood. While I long for the days when he needed me, he is eager to live in a much more independent way. While I sit here wishing he had chosen a college close to home, he is beyond thrilled to live in a completely different part of the country.

I hate to admit it, but I really should be excited for him because 30 years ago, I was excited about the same things. As a dad, I want to raise strong, independent young people with a foundation of good morals and values, who will live exceptional lives with little help from me. So why should I be sad when that goal is accomplished? Be careful what you wish for, right? No, I don’t believe the goal was wrong, I just need to get used to this new phase of life where I become friends with my son and get to know him as an adult, even while I hope to set a good example and still have some influence. I want him to CHOOSE to love me and to WANT a relationship with me. That’s ultimately my dad’s heart and it sounds very much like another Father I know.
 
Troy Burns


Of Back Pain and Eternal Life

Since my family must move from our rental home by the end of June, we spent our holiday weekend doing work. Lots and lots of work. In fact, my lower back seems to be “telling me” that perhaps we did too much work. I know that Proverbs 16:31 says that “Gray hair is a crown of splendor” but what about my back? It must be experiencing something similar to whatever causes the grayness on my head, but I don’t know a term for an aging back. Lumbar-challenged? Vertebrae-ging? Ligament-ia?

This painful ordeal reminds me that nothing on earth lasts forever. Specifically, it confirms that I can’t take anything with me, especially not my aging, deteriorating body. The Bible has its own way of saying, “You can’t take it with you.” In 1 Timothy 6:7, we read, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” This is not a bad thing, although I sometimes try to hold on to what was never meant to be more than temporary. I really don’t want this world, or the things of this world, or this old body of mine, to last forever. And I certainly don’t want the suffering associated with this life to stay with me beyond the grave. God has something much, much better in store. As Max Lucado writes in the form of a prayer: “Father we believe that when we see you, any suffering that we endured on the face of this earth will be worth it. We believe that the first five minutes we stand in heaven we will know that anything we endured on this globe will be forgotten. Father help us to understand. And when we cannot understand, help us to trust.”
 
Troy Burns


In Praise of the Creation?

During my trip to New Life Northwest last summer (that Youth Minister-Joe-guy talked me into it), we went on an afternoon excursion involving a trail hike to a large waterfall. That powerful, cascading water was a beautiful sight to behold, for sure, but what sticks out in my mind is a man dressed in “hippie” type clothing—sort of a dress for men with tie-dyed designs and the like. He had some “peaceful” music playing (maybe sitar?) and smelled strongly of incense. As he approached the area at the base of the waterfall, he stopped, looked up to the skies, and then raised his hands in an apparent act of worship.

I grew sad as I realized this man was likely one of the guys we read about in Romans 1:25: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.” And then, I grew even sadder as I realized and admitted that I’ve done the same thing, only in different ways. This guy was just more obvious about it as he lifted his hands in praise of…water. But I’ve served the creation ahead of the Creator in less conspicuous ways. Just to name a few examples, I’ve placed people above God, I’ve put too much stock in the things of this world, and I’ve allowed my recreational pursuits to overshadow my genuine worship. Perhaps my hippie friend can help me remember my priorities and what’s really worth my full devotion. When I’m tempted to put someone or something in God’s place, I’ll lift my hands to worship water and be reminded, instead, to elevate the One who made it.
 
Troy Burns