It’s the Same Space

One of the problems with our tendency to avoid feeling sorrow is that we miss one of the key blessings Jesus talks about: the blessing of being comforted (Matthew 5:4).

The truth is life is hard.

There are going to be times when you’re going to hurt.

No amount of effort can really protect you from that.

So the question isn’t “will I experience loss?”  Of course you will.  The answer to that question is yes.  You’ll experience loss.  Everyone does.

The real question is, “in your loss, will you experience comfort?”

And that depends.  That depends on whether you avoid the feelings connected to loss or your mask the feelings connected to loss or you allow yourself to truly mourn.

The blessing of feeling the pain, the blessing of mourning, Jesus says, is comfort.  

Not distance from the pain.  Not numbness of the pain. Comfort.

Comfort is something different from the pain that enters the pain-filled place and changes it.

The word Jesus uses (that we translate “comfort”) evokes the picture of a trusted friend coming alongside you and holding our hand.

It’s the same word Jesus uses when He talks about the Holy Spirit.

In this moment of being comforted, something very powerful happens: this place where you feel pain becomes the place where you experience God’s loving presence.  It’s the same place.

I’ve sat with people in deep grief who have said to me “I didn’t even know I could feel this kind of pain.”

It’s like the sorrow has carved out a new place in their heart, created this all new cavity that wasn’t there before.  And this space that pain makes becomes the space that the presence of God can fill.  It’s the same space.

Jesus doesn’t say, “Pain is good.”

Jesus doesn’t say, “Seek sadness.”

But he does say that there is a blessing in mourning – that sorrow carves out new space in our hearts where nothing except the presence of God will help, but that the presence of God will help – and that in our sadness we will be comforted.

[ You can hear the whole sermon, “Why Are You Crying?” here.]

My Privilege

Two thoughts challenged me, this morning, as I struggled to wake, built a fire, brewed coffee, and began to pray:

First, the recipient’s response to a gift is the surest sign of it’s perceived value.  We witnessed responses that ran the gamut this week: from the mildly amused, “that’s nice” to the emotional, heart-felt, “thank you!”  After preaching all Advent about the Gift to come, I’m now wondering about my response.  Am I barely interested or blown-away-grateful?

Second, worshipping Jesus is a privilege.  Sometimes I don’t feel like going to church.  Sometimes the weight of spiritual leadership feels extremely heavy.  But what I need (though I’m often slow to realize it) is to take my place in our community and to worship.  How fortunate am I?  “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to me on whom his favor rests.”*

May I respond to the Gift I’ve received by embracing the privilege of worship.

*[Luke 2:14]

Never Too Anything

When God is the writer of your story, you’re never too young, you’re never too late, you’re never too unimportant or too stuck for God to birth something new in your life.

When God is the author, you’re never too anything.

There’s always room for surprises.  Because God is always writing birth stories.

The Christmas story is a story of new birth, of God doing a new thing.

Whatever new thing God is doing in your life, whether it’s a new baby, or a new calling, or a new role, or a new relationship…

Or even a new struggle, or a new loss, or a new grief, or a new longing…

God wants to reveal Himself through that.   Both to you and to others.

When God is writing your story, when you submit your life to your Maker, when you submit your story to your Author, know that you’re never too young, you’re never too old, you’re never too stuck, and it’s never too late to receive the surprise birth of Jesus into your life.


While the world

drives and

buys and

plans and

worries and

rushes and

hurries through these sacred days,

holy scripture is erupting in song.


Isaiah is singing.

The Psalmist is singing.

Mary is singing.


They are moved by the mystery and the magnitude of this moment.

Are you?


May you slow down and listen well and join their song.

[ inspired by Psalm 96 ]

March Out Like a Warrior-Champion

The time is near.

Can you feel it?

A bursting-forth of new life, of fulfillment of ancient prophecy, of cosmic change and geographical shifting, of the realization of a plan established in eternity past…

It’s a birth.  A whole new reality.  This will change the way you sleep and eat and think and live.  Forever.  And it’s close.  Her sounds are changing.  She’s bearing down.


There’s a moment, in childbirth, when gears shift and sounds change and intensity builds.  The baby is pressed into the birth canal.  It’s often called “transition.”  My wife calls it “transformation.”  Change is fully-engaged, lunging forward.  There’s no turning back, now.  Life is coming hard and strong.  


Isaiah sees the Messiah.  He comes as a warrior-champion.  He is painted for war, brave-hearted, muscles flexed and hungry for battle.  He will set free those imprisoned in darkness.  His voice will roar victory above the chaos.


And so He comes, this warrior-king, through blood and water, waging the war that will defeat death itself, a newborn baby, born in a barn.


[ based on Isaiah 42:10-16 ]

The Struggle is Real

We’re spending much of this week of Advent in Psalm 89, which is a long and layered song.  We could draw insight from this passage for a long time.  Today, I’ve been thinking through this Psalm in four movements which include two big surprises:

Movement 1: verses 1-4

At the start, this song is all about the love and faithfulness of God.  Ethan (the writer) says, “I will declare that your love stands firm forever.”

Movement 2: verses 5-18

Next, the adoration of God moves from personal to cosmic.  Ethan reflects on God’s power over all of creation, “You rule over the surging sea…”

Then, the writer focuses on one man as a unique recipient of God’s power and faithfulness: “a warrior,” “a young man,” David, who is anointed by God, promised unparalleled success, favor, lasting power, an ever-enduring throne.  Ethan has God saying of David, “…His line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun.”  Like the sun!

Movement 3: verses 19-48

But suddenly, there’s a surprise in the story: God’s promises are not realized, God renounces his covenant (which He, Himself established and said He would “not violate” in vs. 34), David experiences rejection, ruin, shame, and his enemies rejoice as God “cast(s) [David’s] throne to the ground.”  This section is, simply, hard to take.  What do I do with this?

Movement 4: verses 49-52

The writer’s response to the reality of what he’s witnessed is to struggle.  It’s the age-old dynamic of faith: he struggles to reconcile what he believes with what he has seen.  That’s the struggle.

He questions God: “Where is your former great love?”

He pleads with God: “Remember your servant…”

He rails against God: “…they have mocked every step of your anointed one.”

And then, at the very end, there’s a second surprise: resolution.  Maybe it’s the fierce cry of a determined soul; maybe it’s the desperate cry of a breaking heart.  I don’t know.  But Ethan simply ends with this: “Praise the LORD, forever.  Amen and Amen.”

May God sustain us as our beliefs and realities collide, leaving us, often, in chaos, searching for shalom.

The Whole Longing for Wholeness

It’s complete, this redemption through Jesus.  Total.  From start to finish.

This hope of redemption encompasses emotional realities like shame and fear: those heavy-hitters that often go unnamed by us and unnoticed by others because they’re so close to our core.

This hope of redemption also includes the physical, our bodies, as part of “the whole creation” which, it turns out, is not sitting idly by.  It is “groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Paul to the Romans 8:22).  Why is it groaning?

The birthing mother groans under the pain, but there is more than pain.  There is longing.  There is longing for what will be, for what was meant to be to come into the world and live.

Don’t silence that longing.  Don’t distract it with busyness.  Peel it raw.  Give it room to seethe and breathe so that it – so that you – may be made whole.

Like Those Who Dreamed

The deep need for redemption that Jeremiah laments

Why does Jerusalem always turn away?  They refuse to return…no one repents… (Jeremiah 8:5 & 6),

and the hope for redemption that Isaiah proclaims

The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed… (Isaiah 54:6),

becomes the redemption that is celebrated by the Psalmist years later:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.

Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.

Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.  (Psalm 126)

May God give us courage to turn away from our sin and to long for redemption.

In our shame and despair, may we remember the promise of redemption.

And when the day of redemption comes, when our best dreams are restored, may we celebrate with song of joy.


Advent Week Two, Dec. 6 – Dec. 12: 

Isaiah 54:1-8

Jeremiah 8:4-12

Psalm 126

Romans 8:19-23

Luke 1:46-55

The Redeemed Need Not Remember Their Shame

Shame, when you feel it, invites itself to stay.  It moves in.  Puts its feet up.   This will be no brief visit.

Disgrace, if you’ve landed there, is even longer-lasting.  It’s a darkness from which few ever truly emerge.

But what if you could?

What if there were a true and sound pathway out of the darkness of shame and disgrace?  What if there truly, actually, physically, emotionally, spiritually is such a thing as redemption?

In today’s reading (Isaiah 54:1-8), Isaiah says this to Israel:

“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.  Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
  You will forget the shame of your youth
 and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.

For your Maker is your husband— the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.


Advent Week Two, Dec. 6 – Dec. 12:

Isaiah 54:1-8

Jeremiah 8:4-12

Psalm 126

Romans 8:19-23

Luke 1:46-55