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.]

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.

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

Christ, the Kiss

The song (Psalm 85) about the past continues with a promise to listen in the future.  And this might be a risky promise, a dangerous one to make, depending on the character of the God who is hearing the promise.

Is God holy or loving?  Righteous or graceful?


There is no contradiction, no confusion.  There is, instead, this beautiful image of union:

Love and faithfulness meet together;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other (vs. 10).

Come, Lord Jesus.

Again, and Again

The Sons of Korah sing Psalm 85 while looking in the rear-view mirror.

I94_North_Dakota_March_2005__soul-ampThey’re reflecting on where they’ve been, on the road they’ve taken, on the missteps and the catastrophes and the grand vistas and the sun rises.    And two things stand out:

  • First, God has restored all that has been broken and lost.  Hallelujah! As you review this last year, may you take great comfort in knowing that nothing surrendered to God is wasted.  Nothing.
  • Second, they need God to restore them again. Restoration is not a one-time event.  They (and we) need it again and again.  “Restore us again, O God our Savior!” they cry (v. 4).  “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you (v. 6)?”   May this Advent be a season in which you, and those you love, come to life again.  May you be restored and revived again and again and again.

Here are the passages our community is reading together this week:

Advent Week One, Nov. 29 – Dec. 5:  

Isaiah 45:1-7

Psalm 85:1-7

Psalm 85: 8-13

John 1:1-18

John 1:19-34


Cyrus, God’s Anointed

Our first Advent reading this year is from Isaiah 45:1-7.

This is a powerful declaration of one of the primary themes of Christmas: God’s passionate desire to be known by us and to know us.  As you read this, take note of all the ways God is making Himself known to His people.  Remember that God’s ultimate act to know and be known is the incarnation: His literal coming to earth, in the flesh, as a person like us, named Jesus.

There’s a detail in the first verse of chapter 45 of Isaiah’s prophesy that you might just overlook.  You’ll notice that Cyrus is referred to as God’s “anointed,” as one through whom God will make Himself known.

Here’s what’s wild about that: Cyrus is the Persian king!  Cyrus is the dude who is conquering Israel.  He’s the “bad guy,” but God is going to use even him to get His message across, even though Cyrus does not acknowledge God (v. 4 and 5).

What do you do with that?

You might re-evaluate the stuff in your life that feels like it’s bad.

The wonderful, messy, mysterious truth is this: God can reveal Himself to you even through that stuff.