The Cause and Effect of Caesar Salad

One evening last week, when my wife worked late and I had no time to make dinner for my girls, my older daughter was charged with the task of preparing a large Chicken Caesar Salad for herself and her younger sister. I had already cooked and cut up the chicken; her job was simply to combine and toss the romaine lettuce, Caesar dressing, Parmesan cheese, croutons, and, of course, the chicken. She did a wonderful job and the girls enjoyed lots of yummy salad.
When I returned home later in the evening, I noticed something quite curious and perplexing. In the sink was this large glass bowl with a thin layer of Caesar dressing, tidbits of shredded Parmesan cheese, and crumbs resembling crouton dust. Inside of the bowl were a couple of forks and a pair of large tongs with the same culinary residue. How in the world did these items ever get into our sink? I pondered and I conducted extensive research, but I just could not come up with an answer. Now, of course, this question is ridiculous and the answer is obvious, but this situation illustrates how people often understand themselves and the world in which we live. Essentially, there’s this notion that the universe and the earth and everything on it, including we humans, just somehow came to be, accidentally, over the course of billions of years.
It would never even occur to me that the items in my kitchen sink just happened to be there, that the non-crystalline amorphous solid (glass) shaped itself into a bowl over billions of years, and then somehow the forks and tongs (which also created themselves) just happened to fall into the self-made bowl as well. As crazy as this sounds, it is much, much more likely for this to happen than for our entire universe to have started from nothing and to eventually have evolved into all that we observe today.
Think about just your eyeballs for a moment. Right now, as you read this blog, your eyes are using intricate machinery to refract and focus light from your computer screen onto light-sensitive rods and cones. Then, the light is transduced into nerve signals, which are then carried via your optic nerve into your visual cortex, where the raw information is filtered and patched together into something of which you can make sense. I’m no expert, obviously, but this is what I’ve read about our eyes and how they work. The point is this: if the dishes from a Caesar salad meal could never have created themselves and ended up in my kitchen sink, how much less likely is it for our eyes to be what they are and to function as they do? And this question speaks only of our eyes, two small parts of our incredibly complex and amazing bodies.
These types of thoughts always bring me back to God’s Word, specifically to what’s recorded in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” I cannot bring myself to believe that effects have no causes, whether those effects are dinner dishes or human eyeballs or this whole world in which we live. I know that a creation points to a Creator and I suspect you do, too. So, what shall we do? I will give God the last Word and let you decide:
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
– Acts 17:24-28


Troy Burns

Get Out of the Locker Room (Redux)

Yesterday, a technical issue prevented my sermon from recording properly (meaning we can’t post it on our website). Therefore, I’m using this week’s blog to provide a summary of what we discussed. I coach high school basketball, mostly at the C-Squad and JV levels, and during the pre-game time, and at halftime, we meet in the locker room to draw things up on the whiteboard, review offensive plays and defensive schemes, talk about how to press and break a press, etc. The players seem to understand when I’m drawing on the board and we’re just talking about the game. Then, sometimes (more often than I would like), the boys leave the locker room, start playing on the court, and seemingly forget everything we just discussed. For example, one of my players can actually draw up play “51” himself, but then go out on the court and not run play “51” when I call it. In these situations, I want to scream (okay, share passionately), “get out of the locker room!”
What we talk about, explain, and draw up means nothing if we don’t do it on the court. As Christians, we can experience something similar. We can participate in church services on a Sunday morning, sing songs of praise and worship, partake of the Lord’s Supper, hear a message from God’s Word, spend time in prayer, and encourage each other, which are all wonderful and important things to do. But as critical as these things are, they really work much like the pre-game or halftime speech; we need to “get out of the locker room,” go out into the world, and actually put our faith into practice, day by day, moment by moment. The “game,” if you will, is in our real lives, our homes, our neighborhoods, our work places, and our schools. We must “get out of the locker room” to walk with Christ, go to heaven, and take as many people with us as possible.
This is especially critical when it comes to the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:19-20b, we read these words from Jesus: 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Getting out of the locker room means we put our faith into practice and we understand that we’re simply beggars showing other beggars where the food is. We “let [our] light shine before others, that they may see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). So, let’s not only know God’s Word and what we’re supposed to do; let’s actually do it by getting out of the locker room and shining God’s light in this dark world.
Troy Burns

Of Moms, Daughters, and Hats

My wife is a mom and a daughter, in that order, but for this week, the roles have reversed. Kelly is in Florida, wearing her “daughter hat” and missing her own little ladies something fierce. Removing her “mom hat”—relinquishing her role of caring for her girls in order to care for her father after surgery—is incredibly difficult for her, not the caring part but the relinquishing part.
You see, my wife is a mom, put on this planet, it seems, for just that purpose. To share a few thoughts that remind me of her mama’s heart, here are a few quotes:
  • “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” – C.S. Lewis
  • “I didn’t lose myself when I became a mother. I discovered an even better version.” – Source unknown
  • “The loveliest masterpiece is the love of God in the heart of a mother.” – Source unknown
  • “Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise.” – Andy Stanley
The “mom” part of my wife, the part that wears the “mom hat,” gave up a great deal to leave town and go far away for an entire week. But the “daughter” part of her did the right thing and honored her dad.
Ephesians 6:1-3 says this: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
We typically view moms as responsible for the well-being of their children, but what happens when the roles are reversed? Moms are daughters, too, and God takes seriously how we honor (or dishonor) our parents. As just one example of this, in Mark chapter 7, Jesus delivered a stern rebuke of the Pharisees when He accused them of using their religion as an excuse for not taking care of their parents.
So far as it depends on us, we must fight to honor God in this area. Scripture is very clear that the way we treat our parents has significant ramifications, not only for our physical lives, but our spiritual ones as well. With this in mind, let me say this to my beautiful bride: Your girls miss you, Kelly, but they know you’re coming home soon. Your “mom hat” still fits and we can’t wait for you to put it back on. But we’re so proud of you for honoring your father and taking care of him and doing something that could be eternally significant. And thank you for the example you’re setting for your girls, because that’s what great moms do and someday your daughters will remove their own “mom hats” and take care of you.
Troy Burns

A Summer Reunion: Fly Away, But Come Back!

You can sum up our holiday season in one word: “Family,” or, perhaps, five words: “Our whole family together again.” After 18 years as an in-the-house-every-day member of the Burns clan, our oldest child, our only son, left the nest and started learning to fly at his university in Arizona. Letting him go was a grieving process for us and a rather joyful experience for him. As I said about parenting in a sermon earlier this year, “One of your greatest accomplishments is for your kids not to need you anymore. And one of the saddest, most difficult times in life is when your kids do not need you anymore!
But our son did come home for a long visit during his winter break from college. And one of my new “favorite moments ever” is having our entire family reunited in our home during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season. It’s not the exact same situation, but some thoughts from Kami Gilmour, in her book, Release My Grip: Hope for a Parent’s Heart as Kids Leave the Nest and Learn to Fly, really hit home with me. She shares about the rare opportunity she had to embrace the sacred timing of all five of her kids, from different parts of the country, coming home for a weekend together.
She writes: “For 24 hours my nest would be full—all of the kids under one roof…. I knew I’d sleep well with the peace and completeness of everyone at home.” As they all enjoyed some wonderful time together, she continues with this: “I was in awe of these amazing humans, so full of life and dreams and new beginnings. And I was in awe that God had given me the privilege of being their mother. I’d released my grip, but my kids weren’t gone forever. This was a new season of parenthood with a new normal that consisted of a steady rhythm of coming and going, of saying “goodbye” and “welcome home” again and again. Nothing could separate them from my love or the love and presence of God. He still held them in the palm of His hand even though they’d let go of mine.”
Our son will return home in late April for his extended break between school years. We are so proud of him and so excited to see him thrive in his new young adult life, but we also miss him dearly and long for the next time we’re all together again. We don’t just love him, we like him. We truly enjoy his company and we treasure the adult relationship we are building with him. So, with even more zeal than I had as a child, I want to scream, “I can’t wait for summer!”
Troy Burns

Last Man Standing

Eye of a Hurricane definition: The region at the center of a hurricane about which the winds rotate, but which itself is relatively calm.
My father-in-law lives in Florida and had to evacuate when his home looked to be in the path of Hurricane Irma this past September. On a seemingly unrelated note, since my son now lives far away from his family, I’ve managed to survive (so far) as the only male in our household, except for our dog, Murphy. As a result, I’m frequently surrounded by pure, raw, unadulterated emotion. My girls don’t “save the drama for their mama,” they join in their mama’s drama and share it all over the place with their dad. I often live in the region at the center of a hurricane about which the winds rotate, but which itself is relatively calm.
Lest you think I’m complaining or poking too much fun, and while I do miss my son terribly, I must say that I’m learning to enjoy life as the calm “eye” in the midst of raging storms, i.e., the Burns girls’ ever-present and widely varying range of emotions. I get to suffer through crying, with or without explanation, along with sisters screaming at each other, mom yelling at sisters to stop said screaming, and various expressions of the “sad” emotion. But I also get to experience a laugh-until-you-cry-and-can’t-breathe type of fun I rarely knew as a child. I get to comfort my girls when they’re hurting and cheer them up and make them laugh when they would prefer to stay mad or sad.
God created families and made them special beyond anything I could ever have imagined. The concept of family was introduced in the very beginning, as we see in Genesis 1:28a, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’” God’s plan for creation was for men and women to marry and to have children, and I’m so thankful for that plan. Life with my girls is wonderful and challenging; it’s crazy and keeps me sane; it’s a whirlwind and my safe place in this world. And I wouldn’t change a thing.
Troy Burns

Welcome Home

This past week, my son was home from Phoenix for his Thanksgiving break from college. He still calls Spokane “home,” but the reality is that for two-thirds of the year, Phoenix is now home (I can’t believe I’m admitting that). They (whomever “they” are) say that “home is where the heart is,” and there is certainly much truth to that. My heart is always with my son; when he’s not home, my heart hurts.
Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Although my boy is definitely not homesick when he’s in Phoenix, as he suffers through the still-hot weather and swimming pools on campus, it’s also true that he enjoys coming back to Spokane and seeing his girlfriend and his family (yes, sadly, in that order). So, for now, I will revise what Mr. Frost wrote and put it this way: “Home is the place where, when you want to go there, they want to take you in.” I pray these words will always be true, for my son, for me, and for his mom.
Of course, these thoughts lead me to consider the fact that this world is not my home. As God’s Word assures us, “This world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come” (Hebrews 13:4, NLT). And surely some of you remember the old song:
This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
I hope my son always feels like our home is his home, no matter where he lives. I will say, “Welcome home” whenever he walks through my door. And I hope I always feel like my heavenly home is my real home, no matter how much I might be tempted to hold on to the things of this world. I know that Jesus will say, “Welcome home” when I walk through heaven’s open door.
When I finally reach my heavenly home, I imagine it will be much as it’s described by one of my favorite preachers and writers, Brian Jones: “Jesus will smile, hold out His arms, and suddenly all the pain and suffering you’ve endured in this life will be lost in His grasp as He utters the words you’ve been longing to hear: ‘Welcome home. Welcome home.’”
Troy Burns

Darkness Lit Up

Have you experienced utter darkness, to the point that you can wave your hand an inch in front of your face and detect
zero motion? Me neither, so let’s just end this blog right here! Of course, I’m kidding or I wouldn’t have asked the question.
I did, in fact, experience this very thing at Ape Cave, a lava tube located just to the south of Mount St. Helens in our great state of Washington. According to the Washington Trails Association, this cave was formed nearly 2,000 years ago from lava streaming down the southern flank of Mount St. Helens. As the outer edges cooled into a hardened crust, the inner molten lava was able to drain away before it hardened, leaving behind a tube. After discovering the cave in approximately 1950, a logger told his spelunker friend. That friend explored the cave with his sons and their friends, who called themselves the Mount St. Helens Apes. Thus, the name of the cave.
So, there’s your little northwest history lesson for the day, in case you’re not familiar with the cave. What really stuck out to me, though, was just how incredibly dark it was inside of that lava tube. And what struck me even more was how bright and helpful a tiny amount of light could be. When I didn’t have light, I wanted to follow the one who did have it. So it goes for Christians living in this world. We are often surrounded by darkness and the only light is from God, displayed through us, a light that draws others to us and, ultimately, to the Source of that light.
2 Corinthians 4:6 tells us that “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” Once we have that light, we have a responsibility to let it shine.
In Matthew 5:14-16, these words of Jesus are recorded: 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Notice that the light is related to our good deeds, meaning that the way in which we live our lives in this dark world can serve as the bright shining light that points people to God. And notice, also, that the purpose of shining our light is to lead others to make much of Jesus. So, shine your light in the darkness and watch people follow the One you follow.
Troy Burns

The Most Selfish Person in the World

My wife and I had the privilege of attending Family Life’s “Weekend to Remember” conference over the past couple of days. We had a wonderful time of rest and relaxation, away from the normal “busy-ness” of life and the seemingly endless list of chores to do, people to see, planes to catch, and bills to pay. One thing that stood out was the speaker asking each couple to turn and face each other, and then repeat the following words: “You are now looking at the second most selfish person in the world.” Of course, the implication was that the spouse doing the looking was actually the most selfish person in the world.
If you’ve lived as someone’s spouse for any length of time, you understand the truth about our selfishness. When you get married, many blessings come with this incredible, God-ordained relationship, but one of the negatives is that you discover just how self-focused and self-centered you are. You seek to “win” the argument and you prefer that the household chores be done your way and you want the toilet paper roll to be loaded in the “right” direction. Generally, you expect your spouse to meet your needs and desires in just the way you want. We human beings have been this way from the time when people first walked the earth.
When Eve ate the fruit in the Garden of Eden, the fruit that God specifically commanded her not to eat, her primary temptation was what the serpent said: “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Eve wanted to be like God; in reality, she wanted to be God in her own life. Then she also gave some of the fruit to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it (Genesis 3:6). As a speaker noted during the marriage conference this past weekend, “Those are three of the saddest words in Scripture: and he ate.
I want to be done with this selfish thing. I’m tired of living—more often than I would like to admit—for me, myself, and I. Lord, help me to live for You, according to Your Word:
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:23-25).
Lord, give me Your power and Your strength to “get rid of myself.” Lord, enable me to lose that ugly part of my life that’s selfish in nature. Lord, save me from myself and grow me into the likeness of Your Son, who made Himself nothing and took the very nature of a servant and humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:7-8).
Troy Burns

Turning 27 (in Friend Years)

Halloween brings a variety of thoughts to mind, but for me, it mostly means “friends.” Specifically, it means our oldest friends in the world (our oldest “couple” friends, that is). Exactly 27 years ago, on Halloween night in 1990, the four of us hung out together for the first time. Since then, we’ve spent nearly every Halloween together. That may sound strange for a pastor to say, but it became a tradition for us that had nothing to do with the dark side of the holiday, and everything to do with great friends and lots of yummy, spicy chili.
And just to name a few of the other wonderful times we’ve shared, we’ve eaten countless meals together, gone on multiple trips to the Oregon Coast together, laughed together, cried together, helped each other through five pregnancies and childbirths (the ladies), and played a million games of “H-O-R-S-E” (the guys, with one guy winning almost every time; I won’t say which guy). Most recently, we sent our oldest children off to college together (well, not to the same college, but we certainly suffered through the “sending” experience together).
Brian is a fun-loving, hard-working, hard-playing man who loves Jesus and his family. He’s the kind of guy who asks me how I’m doing rather than making the conversation all about himself. He’s always genuinely glad to see me, makes me feel at home, and compliments me far more than I deserve. Well done, Brian, well done!
Heidi is an amazing person herself, but I believe her best quality is the type of friend she’s been to my wife, Kelly. Heidi will forever be one of my favorite people on the planet because she listens to my wife, cares for my wife, and brings her up from the depths of despair when the need arises. Kelly endured a really terrible stretch of life this past summer and the person who helped her survive it the most was Heidi. Well done, Heidi, well done!
In honor of our oldest and greatest “couple” friends, I want to share a few friendship quotes:
“True friendship is when you walk into their house and your Wi-Fi connects automatically” (Author Unknown).
“True friendship comes when the silence between two people is comfortable” (David Tyson Gentry).
“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow” (William Shakespeare).
“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you” (Elbert Hubbard).
Thank you, Brian and Heidi, for sharing your Wi-Fi password and making silent time together comfortable and loving and accepting us just how we are even though you know everything about us. Here are a couple more quotes from an even greater source than the ones above:
“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (God).
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (God).
Thank you, Brian, for sticking closer than a brother. Thank you, Heidi, for loving Kelly all the time and being born, it seems, to carry her through the really tough times. Thank you, both, for all of the wonderful memories to last a lifetime and beyond. Here’s to 27 more years!
Troy Burns

Dear God, Never Mind

I want my kids to feel like they can talk to me about anything and not be afraid of how I might react. In fact, one of my biggest “pet peeves” is when my youngest daughter does this thing where she’ll say something, and I don’t quite hear her, so I ask her to repeat it, and she says, “Never mind.” Grr. I really don’t care for those words, “Never mind,” especially in this situation, where I want to hear from my girl. I know I can handle anything she needs to tell me, and I believe I got this quality from my Father God.
When the psalmist had concerns about God rejecting him and not showing him love, mercy, and compassion, the psalmist did not say, “Never mind.” He spoke up. He wrote words like those we read in Psalm 77:7-9:
“Will the Lord reject forever?
    Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
    Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
    Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
It seems awfully bold to me that this person would ask such questions of God. In fact, it frightens me. But should the psalmist be afraid of being totally honest with his Creator? If he was, wouldn’t that be much like him saying, “Never mind?” Wouldn’t he be doing the very thing my daughter does when she avoids sharing something with me? If I can handle anything my girl needs to tell her daddy, why in the world would I believe that God cannot handle what I, His child, need to tell Him? The next time I want to say, “Never mind” to God, I’ll say, instead, “Here’s all of my mind.” I suspect He knows, anyway.
Troy Burns