In Defense of Fun

I often reminisce about my days in youth ministry (nearly 5,000 such days, given that I served in that role for more than 13 years). The torch has been passed to Chad, who is doing great things as God works in and through him. But I still remember so many days that were painfully challenging and difficult, yet also marked by the most fun I’ve ever had in ministry, or in any job for that matter.
 
There have always been those who look down on the fun element of youth group meetings, activities, and events. I even heard one longtime member of a sister church say something like this: “The youth rallies are just for fun now. There was a time when rallies were judged by their biblical teaching; now, they’re just for fun.” I could not have disagreed more. The rallies were certainly fun, but they were not just fun. The events in which our students participated were indeed a blast; however, they were also filled with powerful praise and worship music, convicting messages from God’s Word, and deep, meaningful conversations that eventually led to new souls entering the kingdom. New lives were kick-started in a way that’s rarely seen among adult church members and visitors.
 
Here’s the deal: effective youth ministry uses fun to open up hearts to relationships, but it also demonstrates love in sharing the good news of the gospel. Having fun helps students to invite and bring their friends to various activities and events. Then, smiles and laughter abound, newfound friendships are built, and open hearts lead to life-changing, eternity-altering decisions. I would go so far as to say that fun is an effective tool for ministry. As Glenn Procopio writes, “The power of fun is that it disarms people of their verbal weapons and their destructive attitudes. Words can’t do in a year what laughter can do in a few minutes.” So, go ahead and have some fun. You might never be the same.
 
Troy Burns


Helping Him to Help You

When my son was young, he would “help” me mow the lawn by walking right in front of me and holding the handle, but what he didn’t know was that his dad was really doing most of the work. When my younger daughter was little, she “ran” the Bloomsday road race with me, primarily by riding on my shoulders while I did most of the actual running. And when my older daughter was young… well, actually, never mind because she never let me help her with anything! Let’s just say she had a number of bike-riding mishaps that didn’t need to happen if she would only have stopped to let her dad help.
 
These memories remind me of the strategy an ancient farmer would use to train an inexperienced ox: by yoking it to an experienced one with a wooden harness. The straps around the older animal were tightly drawn, meaning that he carried the load. The yoke around the younger animal was loose. He walked right beside the more mature ox, but his burden was light. This picture helps us understand what Jesus told us in Matthew 11:28-30:
 
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
 
Jesus essentially says, “I will walk alongside you. We are yoked together. But I will pull the weight and carry the burden.” Just as my young children did not realize how much of the work-load I handled for them, I sometimes wonder how many burdens Jesus carries for us that we know nothing about. We tend to remember that he takes on our sins and our shame and our debt, but as Max Lucado writes, “Are there others? Has he lifted fears before we felt them? Has he carried our confusion so we wouldn’t have to? Those times when we have been surprised by our own sense of peace? Could it be that Jesus has lifted our anxiety onto his shoulders and placed a yoke of kindness on ours?”
 
Do you sometimes need to stop and let your Dad help? You only need to ask, or at least to realize that the “help” you give Him is practically nothing in comparison to the work He does for you. Can you help Him to help you? And can you thank Him for the burdens He carries so effectively that you hardly even notice them?
 
Troy Burns


A Life I Can Live With

I don’t need to tell you that we live in an uncertain world with much to fear and worry about, if we choose to do so. And I must admit that I make that choice, more often than not. I want to be like my son, who’s rarely afraid and even says, “I think fear is one of the dumbest feelings there is.” He doesn’t say it to put me down; he’s simply tougher and more courageous than I am. I need to take a lesson from him because a life of doing nothing is, obviously, no life at all.
 
Martin Luther King Jr. talked about those times when we have a great opportunity before us, perhaps to stand up for a great principle or cause, but we refuse to do anything because we’re afraid. We want to stay alive longer, or we don’t want to lose our job, or we’re afraid we’ll be criticized, or we may even have a legitimate fear of physical harm or death. As a result, we refuse to take a stand. For that type of situation, King said the following:
 
Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.
 
These words convict me, since I frequently allow fear to control me or paralyze me or otherwise prevent me from doing things I really want to do. But if I avoid living for fear of dying, am I really living at all?
 
What makes this worse is that I’m well aware of the fact that worry changes nothing, and that most of my fears are over things that will never occur. Summarized one way, here’s a breakdown of the things over which we fret:
  • 40% never happen
  • 30% regard unchangeable deeds of the past
  • 12% focus on the opinions of others that cannot be controlled
  • 10% center on personal health, which only worsens as we worry about it
  • 8% concern real problems that we can influence
I’m no math whiz, but that sounds like 92% of my fears and worries are pointless! But can I (or will I) live like that’s true, while also understanding that even my legitimate fears should not keep me from truly living? Can I avoid “dying” while I’m still alive?
 
I believe I can, if I remember and trust in what God said in Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” I also need to live out the solution to worry, found in Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
 
I will never rid myself of fear, but God can help me live in spite of my fear. He is with me no matter where I am, and He wants to take on my worries and give me the peace and strength that comes only from Him. Now that’s a life I can live with!
 
Troy Burns


Growing Up as a Grown-Up

If you’ve had the fortune (or misfortune) of reading my blogs, you’ve likely noticed that I’m a big baby when it comes to my kids growing up. My wife and I have worked hard to raise strong, responsible, independent young people, but then I whine and complain when our kids start to become the very adults we hoped they would be.
 
There’s a reality I simply struggle to grasp: raising children involves loss. As much as I love fatherhood, and as much as I cherish the memories of those little kids running around our house, I mourn the fact that those kids are sailing on ships that will never return. I grieve because I have lost something.
 
Spending time as a family helps, but not always enough. For example, we enjoy watching movies together, but those fun times have not minimized my sense of loss. If anything, they make me sadder. The Toy Story movies are a case in point. The original movie came out in 1995, four years before my son was born. Toy Story 4 was released in 2019, the year my boy turned 20. The four movies spanned my son’s growing up years. He dressed up as “Woody” when he was little; now he’s in his third year of college and dressing up only in his basketball uniform. As Toy Story’s main “human” character, Andy, grew up, so did my son. In Toy Story 3, Andy’s remaining toys were accidentally donated to a day care center, while Andy prepared to leave for college. In the most recent movie, Toy Story 4, the whole franchise seemed to be crossing a finish line, as if to punctuate the ending of my son’s childhood.
 
I want my kids to grow up, but I don’t love it when it happens. I guess I’m still growing up as a grown-up. Somehow, I need to embrace the adult stage of my children’s lives. And there are things that help. I love the relationship that my son and I are building, now that he’s a teenager no more. I love that his morals and values and work ethic are in line with what I’ve tried to teach and model for him. The greatest words I’ve heard my son speak (actually, he wrote them in a card) are these: “I’m thankful for the way you raised me.” I want to anticipate a wonderful future and focus on the adult friend I’m gaining, not the childhood son I’ve lost. And as always, God’s Word helps me focus on what’s most important:
 
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
 
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 John 1:4)
 
Troy Burns


Some Days Never Come

Have you ever run into an old friend and had a great conversation, just like old times, with an ending that goes something like this?
 
Hey, we should get together for lunch some time!
Let’s find an hour to grab coffee in the next week or two!
We should have our families hang out soon!
 
All of the above are “someday” scenarios about which we know the truth: some days never come. When my son was young, probably around four years old, he would walk downstairs to my office, where I was working from home. He was dressed up in his Seattle Mariners uniform—with his glove on one hand and his bat in the other—and ask me, “Dad, can you play baseball with me?” I could almost physically feel the dagger sinking into my heart. “I’m so sorry, buddy, but I really have to work right now.” To which he replied, choking back tears, “I wish you could play baseball with me.” At that point, the literal dagger sunk.
 
As you might imagine, on many such occasions, even if I was desperately behind on work and about to miss a deadline, I would take a little break and play ball with my boy. Why? Because some days never come. Each time that scenario (or one like it) would play out, I often spent time that I didn’t “have” because I knew that loving my son and spending time with him was more important than my work schedule and the other demands of adulthood.
 
As Max Lucado writes, “the rewards of risky love are always greater than its cost… The seized opportunity renders joy. The neglected brings regret.” So, play with your young child, even if you don’t have time. Go to lunch or coffee with your friend instead of talking about how you’ll do it one day. Write the letter (or text or email) to that person you know needs to hear from you. Make the apology. Ask for forgiveness. Or, better yet, forgive someone else.
 
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. – James 4:13-14
 
Some days never come. Take advantage of the one that’s called, “Today.”
 
Troy Burns


A Season for Dreams

Our young people knocked it out of the park yesterday with our Christmas program, The Greatest Story Ever Told! Our service centered around this performance, so I gave just a short devotional talk that’s not posted on our website. With that in mind, instead of writing my typical blog, I’ll summarize a few points I shared for this week of Christmas.
 
I absolutely love Christmas time! I actually feel different this time of year. It’s like there really is something in the air. Christmas is a season for recalling memories, and making new ones, evoking the sense of dreams: past, present, and future. You could even call Christmas a Season for Dreams.
 
Every Christmas Eve, along with the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke chapter 2 in the Bible, our family reads the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” A couple of lines from that poem take me back to my childhood years, and all of those Christmas Eves when I went to bed anticipating what the morning might bring:
 
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
 
The idea of sugar-plums dancing in my head focused my mind on the dreams I might have on that wonderful, special night before Christmas. As a child, my dreams swirled around the gifts I hoped to receive, and that was so exciting. As a parent, my dreams centered around the gifts I wanted to give my kids, and that was even more exciting as I imagined their coming joy.
 
I also dream about my kids, with high hopes for their education, and careers, and future spouses, and children of their own. And I dream about the way this world would look if people would decide to live God’s way instead of their own.
 
Last Saturday was a day that dreams are made of. It was the kind of day that’s rare for us now, since our oldest child, our son, is away at college most of the year, and even when he’s home, our kids are often going in eight different directions. But not this past Saturday; our son was in the house and our nest was full. Our whole family was together and while Christmas music played in the background, we all rolled out dough and made designs in that dough with cookie cutters, and we baked cookies, and we frosted and decorated those cookies, and we watched a Christmas movie together. Then, later in the evening, while Kelly and I were upstairs going through the gifts we had bought for our kids, we could hear all of them downstairs, just laughing and dancing and singing and enjoying each other like the good old days when they were younger and we were all together all the time. I was transported, in my mind, back to those wonderful moments we had as a young family, moments I would give anything to experience again. It was almost like the sense of living a dream. Or, as I said earlier, it was a day that dreams are made of.
 
Those are just some examples of why Christmas feels like a season of dreams to me. But the Bible also says something about dreams related to Christmas and what we celebrate this time of the year.
 
Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, listened to his dreams. Four times, in two chapters of the Bible (Matthew 1 and 2), God tells us how He communicated with Joseph through dreams. God told Joseph to take Mary as his wife, to move to Egypt, to return to Israel, and to avoid Judea. In these passages, God used dreams to guide Joseph in marrying Jesus’ mother and protecting her baby from the evil men out to kill Him.
 
These dreams were critical: had Jesus lost His life as an infant, He would not have grown up and died on the cross to take on the punishment that we deserved. And, of course, Jesus would not have risen from the dead, and we would not have the hope of victory over death and eternity in Heaven.
 
As we enter into Christmas week, let’s think of this holiday season as a season for dreams, not just the dreams of wonderful memories, or the dreams of giving and receiving gifts, or the dreams we have for our kids, or the wonderful times we have as families. As incredible as these dreams are, let’s be even more mindful of the dreams that allowed Jesus to be born, and to be protected as a baby, so that He could grow up and die on the cross in our place, paying the price that we should have paid.
 
Troy Burns


Why Can’t I Be Sad?

I ran across an article entitled, “Mamas, Please Quit Mourning Your Children Growing Up.” It grabbed my attention, not because I’m a mama (hopefully that’s obvious), but because I actually do mourn my kids growing up. Why does this author tell me to stop mourning? Who does she think she is? (I’m only half-kidding when I ask that.)
 
My son is in his third year of college, way down in the state of Arizona, and I still haven’t recovered from my most difficult day as a parent. That was the day, over two years ago, when I walked out of his dorm room to leave him and go back home, nearly 1,400 miles away, as the last part of the dreaded freshman year drop-off.
 
Now, I have to admit the author’s point is valid. She reminds us that we have children to raise them and prepare them for the future we want for them. I would add that even more importantly, we prepare them for the future God wants for them. With these goals in mind, when they reach the point of entering into that future, we should be happy and grateful.
 
But as a dad, why can’t I be sad? I still grieve over the loss of an incredible blessing I enjoyed for 18 years: my favorite young man in the world living under our roof, eating all of our food, making us laugh until we cried, and playing (and watching and talking) sports with me every possible moment. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the blessings I enjoyed, and lost, when my oldest child left the nest and flew away.
 
Looking back, when I watched my boy take his first steps, and showed him how to tie his shoes, and taught him to ride a bike, I never dreamed that one day he would wake up as an adult and live under a roof that was not mine. Of course, I knew that day would come, but I can’t recall ever thinking about it, much less preparing for it. So here I am, still grieving even while I celebrate the fact that he’s becoming the very adult I hoped he would be.
 
I find some comfort in Ecclesiastes chapter 3, which reminds us “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” There’s a time to be born and to die, a time to weep and to laugh, and a time to mourn and to dance, among many other things. That same chapter of the Bible tells me that God has set eternity in the human heart, and that everything God does will endure forever.
 
I don’t get to see my son every day, not by a long shot. But he’s still here on this earth and he stays in touch pretty regularly. And those times when he does come home to visit on break from school? Well, those are about the best days I could ever have. And even though I’m sad to have lost something by his growing up and moving out, I know we have a life to look forward to beyond this world. My love for my son, just like God’s love for me, will endure forever.
 
Troy Burns


Following the Trailblazer

When I was young, my family would drive over to Lake Stevens to visit my Uncle Harry and Aunt Nettie. (Later, I would find out they were not my aunt and uncle, but our families were so close that the honorary titles were given to them.) Along with playing outside all day and all night, taking hikes around the lake, and just exploring the nature that surrounded us, I loved to pick blackberries from the bushes that seemed to grow everywhere on or near their property.
 
There were also plums to pick, but harvesting them was not so simple. Dad had to cut his way through branches and bushes and thickets to earn that privilege, literally carving a path from Harry and Nettie’s property to the magical place where the plum trees grew. I loved following Dad as he blazed and created a trail that previously did not exist.
 
While looking back fondly on these adventures, I’m reminded of the story about a man on an African safari deep in the jungle. The guide before him had a machete and was whacking away the tall weeds and thick underbrush (much like my father did on our quest for plums). The traveler, who was hot and exhausted by that point, asked with frustration, “Where are we? Do you know where you’re taking me? Where is the path?!” The veteran guide stopped and looked back at the man and replied, “I am the path.”
 
At Lake Stevens all those years ago, my Dad was the path. In life, we often ask our Father in Heaven, “Where are you taking me? Where is the path?” And He, like the guide in Africa, doesn’t tell us. He might give us a small clue here and there, but if He told us everything, would we really get it? Would we truly understand where we were? No, like the traveler on safari, we are unacquainted with this jungle known as life on earth. So rather than giving us an answer, Jesus gives us a much greater gift. He gives us Himself. He is our path.
 
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
 
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
 
Troy Burns


Let Go and Let God?

I like to be in control, to the point that I struggle even sitting in the passenger’s seat of a car instead of the driver’s seat. This presents great problems for me, since so much of life is way beyond my control. What’s more, those times when I believe I’m in control are often revealed to be mere illusions.
 
In an effort to improve in this area, I often think of the old cliché, “Let go and let God.” This sounds great, the whole idea of turning my troubles over to God and trusting that He will take care of them. But I’ve failed frequently to release everything without attempting to regain control. What’s worse, even when I do let go, I sometimes feel like I hand the ball off to God and He drops it. But maybe I’m handing off the wrong ball and maybe I’m asking God for the wrong thing.
 
I gained a little understanding—and some hope—when I ran across a brief article in Guideposts, written by Julia Attaway. Regarding the cliché I mentioned earlier, she wrote, “I’ve finally begun to understand that the phrase means something different. Let go [of the outcome you desire], and let God [manifest His will]. These words are convicting, and difficult to live out, but I think she’s right.
 
Letting go means I don’t know best. It means I’m not in charge. It means my greatest hopes and dreams and desires might not be from God. On the other hand, letting God means He knows best. It means He’s in charge. It means He has dreams and goals for me that may have nothing to do with my personal agenda. It takes genuine faith to do this, but as we talked about in our church service yesterday, we can take that leap of faith and obey even when we can’t see the outcome.
 
As with so many of our struggles in life, Jesus provides the greatest example of how to overcome. Just before He was arrested, leading to His trial and torture and crucifixion, He said this: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus endured the most horrific experience in history, but He trusted His Father God with the outcome. He let go [of the outcome He desired] and let God [manifest His will].
 
Troy Burns


Now I Lay Me Down to… Sleep?

I saw a meme recently that fits me to a T: “Why is it so much easier to fall asleep on the couch unintentionally than to fall asleep on the bed intentionally?” When I lie down on our couch in the evening to watch a show with my bride, I often doze off before the program ends. However, when I wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom and then try to get back to sleep, I often lie awake for hours. I’d love to figure this out, because no matter how exhausted I am, I very rarely sleep well.
 
For me, the culprit is likely the “racing mind” that’s quite common in poor sleepers. In fact, respondents to the Great British Sleep Survey revealed it to be the most frequent cause of their sleeplessness. The problem with me and my fellow insomniacs is that the more our thoughts race, the more alert we become, even if we feel extremely tired.
 
It’s nearly impossible for me to turn off my thoughts, and yet sometimes I feel as though my sleeplessness demonstrates a lack of faith. That might sound strange, but if my faith is strong and I truly believe that God is in control of my life, shouldn’t I be able to shut down my mind and trust that God is in charge?
 
In addition, doesn’t God tell me the following? “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). My “racing mind” boils down to anxiety, and God commands me not to be anxious about a single thing, but to bring it all to Him and experience the peace that comes with it.
 
I don’t know the “nuts and bolts” of how this actually works, but I need to trust that it does. And God reminds me of this: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). If I can focus on God’s thoughts instead of my own, and remember the promises He makes to me, my racing thoughts will come to a halt and I just might be more rested the next time you see me.
 
Troy Burns