On Bike Rides and Listening to God

It’s easy to live with the mindset that I’d better obey God, or else. I don’t want to go to hell, so I need to do what God says is right, and avoid what He says is wrong. This works for a while, until my desire to live my own way overwhelms my efforts to go along with God’s instructions. At some point, I’m not as motivated by fear or the negative outcomes of living life my way. But what if there’s a different mindset that allows me to rise above all of that? What if there are positive consequences of my obedience, as though God might actually want the best for me? What if there’s an incredible reward for seeking and following my Creator?
 
During my early grade school years, my mother would not allow me to ride my bike in the street. I really wanted to ride in the street, what with its smooth surface and open space to ride fast and far, but I (almost) always stayed out of the street because mom said, “No.” Riding in the street would have given me incredible, though temporary, pleasure. It would also have put me in danger and caused my mom to take away my bike for a very, very long time. It came down to my way or mom’s way, what I wanted versus what she wanted. I avoided the street because I feared the negative consequences, but more important than the fear that motivated me less and less, I trusted that my mom loved me, and cared about me, and wanted what was best for me.
 
As an adult and a dad who’s raised his own kids, I see more clearly the importance of kids listening to their parents. As a child of God, I’m learning everyday about the immense value of listening to my Father in Heaven. God tells me to do something (or not to do something), and I often want to disobey, but I (almost) always follow God because He has told me what to do (or not to do). Taking my own path would provide me with incredible, though temporary, pleasure. It would also put my soul in danger and cause me to experience some very negative results. It comes down to my way or God’s way, what I want versus what He wants. I strive to listen to God because I fear the negative consequences, but more important than the fear that motivates me less and less, I trust that God loves me, and cares about me, and wants what’s best for me.
 
Having a genuine faith in God is to believe Him in every area of my life. While I still fail more often than I’d like to admit, I do my best to obey because I trust Him, even though I might not completely understand what He’s doing in my life. On a deeper level, I have a genuine faith because that’s the only way I can please Him, and because He rewards me when I trust Him and seek Him.
 
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen… And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
– Hebrews 11:1, 6 (NASB)
 
Troy Burns


Yes, I Want That, But…

One Sunday in early August, I presented a message discussing the phrase, “Let go and let God,” with a focus on how we typically take those words to mean that if we turn our troubles over to God, He will take care of things. The hard part, at least for me, is that I try to pass the baton to Him and it falls to the ground with a big clunk. Knowing that I tend to fail in this way, I also shared from an article whose author suggested a new way to understand the idea of letting go and letting God: “Let go (of the outcome you desire), and let God (bring about His will).”
 
I wonder how this approach might improve my prayer life. I’ve come to realize that it’s okay for me to be honest with God about what I want, but that I also need to leave the outcome of my prayers to Him, even (or especially) if that outcome is different from what I would prefer. I guess it boils down to this: Do I want my life to align with God’s will more than I want to fulfill my own desires? Isn’t that the essence of faith when the rubber meets the road? Don’t I need to trust that God’s ways are better than mine?
 
Never was this type of genuine, albeit difficult faith lived out so successfully as when Jesus was about to be arrested, mocked, beaten, and nailed to a cross to die an unthinkable, excruciating death. At that moment, He prayed to God, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). He essentially asked God if there was any other way to pay the penalty for people’s sins, if there was somehow a different path that would keep Him from facing what He was about to suffer. Jesus was honest with God about what He wanted; it was not His desire or preference to experience infinite pain and suffering, at least not on a human level. However, Jesus decided to leave the outcome of His prayers to God. He chose to put God’s will ahead of His own, no matter what. None of us will ever go through anything close to what Jesus endured, yet He still said He wanted to do it God’s way, not His own.
 
One definition of prayer is the alignment of our souls with God. This means that in prayer, our desires can become more like God’s desires, and we can align our wills with the will of God. It also means that prayer is not about making the things we selfishly want happen; it’s about making us want what God wants. Then our spiritual lives become really exciting as our desires are more and more in line with God’s. When Jesus aligned His will with God’s, He went through something absolutely horrific, and He saved the world.
 
Troy Burns


Goodbye for Now

And so it begins… My emotions and dramatic behavior are beginning to spin out of control. Well, I take that back. It actually began on March 2, 2002, when my first daughter entered this world and stole my heart. My most recent emotional breakdown, however, stems from her moving to Arizona this coming weekend as she embarks on her college adventure.
 
It’s hitting me that I will no longer do so many little things for her that I’ve always done. I often make her iced coffees with vanilla almond milk and French vanilla creamer. Last weekend, I bought a container of almond milk, so she would have enough for this week, but then it occurred to me that it was the last almond milk I will buy for a long time. The same is true of the multigrain bread and avocados I bought so she can make her favorite breakfast meal for one more week.
 
My wife is making it worse, although she’s as sad as I am (almost). Last night, she said, “Aw, this is our last Monday evening dinner with her.” Tonight, I expect her to say the same thing about our Tuesday meal. When our daughter was young, we enjoyed celebrating so many “firsts” with her; now, we must deal with the “lasts.”
 
I walk through her room and it’s getting emptier. Many pieces of clothing are no longer on hangers. More and more luggage is packed and sitting on her floor, waiting to leave with her. Bins full of dorm room supplies are gathered and waiting in similar fashion. I just asked my younger daughter if she’s going to take care of me, since she’s soon to be our only child remaining at home.
 
What will help me (hopefully) get through this is the same thing that helped me three years ago, when our son, our firstborn child, left home and moved far away to attend college. What allows me to hang on is related to some wise thoughts from a blogger and author named Kami Gilmour, who wrote a book entitled, Release My Grip: Hope for a Parent’s Heart as Kids Leave the Nest and Learn to Fly. In her book, she shares a prayer in which she asked God to keep her from expressing too much extreme emotion, because she wanted her child to know that she was more proud than sad, and that she was more excited than afraid about what was next.
 
I think that’s the secret to surviving our kids leaving the nest. In what to me is the most helpful statement from her book, she writes 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.” I need to avoid being so preoccupied by mourning what I’m “losing” that I neglect to focus on how exciting this new phase of life will be for my daughter. This is especially true when she already lost so many things as a graduating senior in the year of COVID. This season is about her, not about me.
 
I’m in awe of God, who gave me the honor and the privilege of raising this young lady. And I know that while life is changing drastically, she won’t be gone forever. It’s a new phase of parenthood, with lots of coming and going, of saying “goodbye for now” and “welcome home” again and again. Nothing will separate her from my love or God’s love. To quote Gilmour once more, “He still holds her in the palm of His hand even though she’s let go of mine.”
 
Troy Burns


It Just So Happens…

Serendipity: The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way; an unplanned fortunate discovery.
 
“I’m so glad I just happened to run into you at the store! I was having a terrible day and you gave me exactly the encouragement I needed. Or did I just happen to run into you?
 
“That was a horrific accident; if I would have left your house when I was planning to leave, I would have driven into that intersection right at the time of the accident, but I just happened to miss it.” Or did I just happen to miss it?
 
“30 years ago, I was visiting my mom in the hospital and just happened to meet a young lady she befriended who, over the course of various events, would become my wife two years later.” Or did I just happen to meet that young lady?
 
In Luke chapter 10, a lawyer asks Jesus a question that He answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The lawyer’s question was, “Who is my neighbor?” As part of the parable, Jesus shares the following: 31 “A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31). In that verse, the word happened (also translated chance or coincidence), comes from the Greek word synkyrian, which is a combination of two words: sun and kurios. Sun means “together with,” and kurios means “supreme in authority.” So biblically, the word happened (or chance or coincidence) can be understood as, “what occurs together by God’s providential arrangement of circumstances.”
 
Did I just happen to run into an old friend? Did I just happen to miss that horrible accident? Did I just happen to meet my future wife because she knew my mom in the hospital? What appears to be random chance could actually point to the oversight of God, who tells us, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7). What I used to think of as serendipity could very well be the handiwork of God, who makes it clear that He’s in charge of everything:
 
I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. 10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ 11 From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do. (Isaiah 46:9-11)
 
When I experience unexpected events or I run into someone completely by surprise, my first reaction might be, “What a coincidence.” But just because I am surprised does not mean that God is. In fact, He promised that, “in all things [He] works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). In ways known only to God, He takes those things that “just happened”—those chance meetings and coincidences, those surprise circumstances, and even my mistakes and unplanned events—and brings them together to fulfill His purposes.
 
Troy Burns


I’ll Never Pass That Way Again

Just for a moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
And, as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain
 
“Same Old Lang Syne” – Dan Fogelberg
 
 
Some memories cause pain due to the terrible things remembered; others hurt deeply, not because of the memories themselves (of things that were wonderful at the time), but because they will never happen again. For example, my memory of playing baseball with my young son causes me pain not because I didn’t love playing ball with him (I certainly did), but because he’s grown up and those times are lost and gone forever.
 
With one child graduating from college in a few months, and another one beginning her university adventure in a few weeks, I’ve come to realize (if not accept) that parenting involves loss. Some things are lost and gone forever. The adult child-parent relationship is incredible in many ways, but there’s also a loss of what I once had, making it clear that life will never be the same again. For all of the many struggles and challenges of raising kids, my toughest dad moment was undoubtedly walking out of my son’s dorm room in Phoenix after moving him in to start his first experience away from home. I literally walked from one life to another, knowing I would never pass that way again.
 
Since I’m writing this blog for our church website, I need to find some spiritual insight from all of this reminiscing and grieving over things that are no more. Maybe it’s this: as followers of Jesus, we can look forward to the time when we will live forever in a new heaven and a new earth, where God “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). When I think about my kids, especially in their younger years, I’m pained by the things that are lost, that have passed away. But if there’s one thing I don’t mind passing away, it’s “the old order of things.” When that day comes, I’ll have nothing to mourn, no pain to feel, and no tears to shed. Knowing this paradise with God is promised, I have to believe that a day is coming when my painful memories will never hurt me again.
 
Troy Burns


I Can Wait (and Wait)

As a high school freshman, too young for a driver’s license and too old to grow up in a cell phone generation, I would wait (and wait) for my mother to pick me up from sports practices. Rarely could we set a definite pickup time since mom was always busy with five kids and I never knew exactly when my practices would end. What’s more, we could not easily call each other due to the aforementioned lack of cell phones. To complicate matters further, I would sometimes ride the activity bus if I could catch it in time, and with no ability to inform my mom of these bus trips, I forced her to wait and see if I arrived home before she knew whether or not to drive to the school and get me. On such occasions, we both waited (and waited).
 
I grew frustrated, even maddened, by the waiting and the eager expectation of hoping every car that rounded the corner was my mom’s. I could not understand what took her so long sometimes; answers didn’t come easy. But I never, ever doubted that she would arrive at some point. She saw more than what met the eye and her impending arrival helped me to endure those helpless feelings of being stuck and waiting (and waiting). In my mind, it was as though she could see me and hear me without being there. I felt near to my mom, so I could wait.
 
Those experiences and memories taught me something about waiting on God. Over the long months of dealing with the virus and its related restrictions, closures, delays, and cancellations, I’m reminded that I can wait for God if I know that He sees me and hears me. There’s so much I cannot even begin to understand; answers don’t come easy. But although God may not be there (in the sense of a tangible, physical presence), I feel near to Him, so I can wait.
 
As Sam (Leslie) Phillips sang in her song, Answers Don’t Come Easy:
 
Oh, and I can wait; it’s enough to know you can hear me now… it’s enough to feel so near you now, And when answers don’t come easy, I can wait. Mind’s eye can only see so far, and reason can only guess, but knowing you see more than what meets the eye helps me see through my helplessness.
 
Of course, God tells us to wait for Him and He makes incredible promises to those who do just that. So, I can wait (and wait) and it will be worth it.
 
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:14)
 
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31, ESV)
 
Troy Burns


The Rest of the Story

During the evening hours, if I sit on the couch to watch a show with my wife, I often doze off halfway into the show (if not sooner). Then, in the middle of the night, maybe around 3:00 a.m., I wake up to use the restroom and cannot get back to sleep. How can sleep come so easily during the regular evening hours, and yet elude me in those wee hours when I’m exhausted and can barely think straight? Then there’s my son, who can get into our car and fall fast asleep before we even make it out of our neighborhood. Thankfully, this only happens when he’s a passenger, not the driver!
 
I know I’m only talking about sleep, but these experiences cause me to wonder about the whole concept of rest. A line from next week’s reading in the Core 52 book jumped out at me: “It’s senseless to thank God for the job we have but not rest on the Sabbath when He promised it would increase our productivity.” As my family would attest, I have trouble just sitting still for a minute, let alone truly resting. Life is typically so busy that when I have an hour or two of downtime, I don’t feel grateful as much as guilty. How in the world can I devote an entire day of every week to rest? And is it really possible that I will get more done in six days of work than seven?
 
Many of us have no time for the things that matter the most, and that means we’ll never find rest for our souls. I’m sure God did not need rest, but He took a day off, anyway. Here’s what the Bible says about that: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:2-3).
 
To be a little corny, you could say that’s the “rest of the story” of creation. God did not rest because He was exhausted; He rested to celebrate His creation and to put in place the principle of the Sabbath. This means that creation’s greatest productivity is within a cycle that includes rest. That’s the answer to my question of whether it’s possible to get more done in six days of work than seven. It may or may not help me sleep, but it will certainly focus my mind and heart on what matters the most, which will then lead to rest for my soul.
 
Troy Burns


Jumping Kids and Waiting Dads

One of my favorite memories is when my young children demonstrated a complete, unquestioning trust in their dad. My son, as a small toddler, walked out onto a diving board with his swim instructor and jumped into the water where I was waiting to catch him in my arms. My older daughter did a similar thing when she climbed several stairs and jumped down to me. Had my kids focused on anything else besides their dad, they would have lost faith and likely would not have jumped. But they were willing to take those leaps for one reason: they knew without a doubt their dad would catch them.
 
I always think of this when I read the passage in Matthew chapter 18, where Jesus is asked who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and He responds in this way: “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2-3).
 
Young children trust their parents completely, unless and until something breaks that trust. I want to live out that childlike faith in God, even if it’s difficult to do in any other aspect of life. I especially want this because so many things are uncertain. I hate that nothing is really ever for sure. I want to know for certain, every day, that I will live another day, and that my wife will be there with me every day, and that my kids will come home safely each and every night. But while I know these things are likely, I also know they’re not for sure.
 
In our current world situation, things are even more uncertain than normal. Not only is the virus a great unknown in many respects, but the related precautions, rules, and restrictions make it difficult to count on much of anything. To paraphrase an old saying, the only thing that’s for sure is that nothing is for sure.
 
Much of this life troubles me, scares me, and makes me realize how uncertain everything is. If I focus on anything besides my Dad, I’ll lose my faith. But God is my Father just like I am my children’s father. So, I still want to jump into His arms because I know He will catch me.
 
Troy Burns


I’ll Leave the Light On for You

A house is just a building; a home can be another thing altogether. I remember an old movie where the main character, a widower, described life with his wife as something that gave him the sense of coming home, only to no home he’d ever known. I’ve told my own wife many times (especially on handwritten notes or cards) that she makes our house a home. We even have this sign placed near the entryway into our house that reads, “What I love most about my home is who I share it with.” Home is an incredible thing when it’s all that it’s meant to be.
 
The story is told of a woman who hated her father, ran away from her home when she was 15, and planned never to return again. For quite a few years, she in fact did not return. But there were those nights, especially around the holidays, when she would drive down her old street, look at her house, and see the Christmas tree in the window along with the porchlight shining in the dark, as if to welcome anyone who might approach. It seemed that the light was always on.
 
The girl would not dare to go in, however, because of all that had happened between her and her parents. The porchlight continued to shine, though, reminding her of better times and memories of her mom and dad. And somehow, someway, she’d find herself there on Christmas Eve, parked on the street across from her parents’ house, drawing comfort from that little yellow porchlight.
 
Then one year, the girl who was now a woman grew tired of spending Christmas Eve in her car. She decided to take a risk and go home. Thankfully, she received a grand welcome with arms open wide to draw her close. As she hugged her mom in the doorway, the woman spoke of the porchlight and how it had always seemed to remain on, no matter when she drove by. Her mom smiled and her eyes filled with tears as she said, “You know, I always left that light on for you. Just in case you came home.”
 
Home. That’s what we try to create as husbands, wives, parents, and children. I know this world is not our home, but the people we love can give us a glimpse into what home is supposed to be. It’s the place where stories are told, lessons are taught, and memories are made. For the woman in the story—and maybe for all of us—home is a place where the light shines in the darkness. For me, home is the place where dreams come true, every single day.
 
Troy Burns


God is Good (All the Time)?

The first year I took our students to summer camp during my youth ministry years, a leader from another church would yell out, “God is good!” to which a large group of kids and counselors would reply, “All the time!” Then the leader would scream, “All the time!” to which the group would answer, “God is good!” This would continue for a few rounds, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the young people really believed that, and how many were just joining in with the other campers. The reason I wondered was that I had many questions myself. As a “mature” adult, I had to admit I wasn’t so sure. Was God only good and always good?
 
It’s difficult to believe in the goodness of God when we can’t find any tangible evidence of it. It’s certainly hard to believe that God is good all the time. But as a recent article pointed out, “faith is believing the Word of God and acting upon it, no matter how we feel, because God promises a good result.” That’s where we experience God’s goodness: He doesn’t often take away the bad things, but He does work for the good in all things, whether good, bad, or indifferent.
 
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).
 
A couple of weeks ago, during a message from our series, Getting Rid of the Gorilla, I shared that I don’t always understand what God wants and doesn’t want. There are things He wants me to do (or not do) sometimes, and I really feel like I can’t obey Him properly. In certain situations, I don’t want to do what God tells me to do, or I want to do what He tells me not to do. But for all of my failures and weaknesses, I strive to obey God, anyway, because that’s what I signed up for when I answered Jesus’ call to discipleship. I put my trust, my very life, in His hands because I believe He is good and He loves me and He not only knows what’s best for me, He wants what’s best for me.
 
All the time? God is good!
 
Troy Burns