Category Archives: comfort

Beware of Bilbo’s tree

Recently, I was thinking and praying about a couple of difficult situations and a peculiar phrase came to my mind: “Don’t climb Bilbo’s tree.” As an avid Lord of the Rings fan, I immediately knew what it meant.


In The Hobbit (both the book and the movie) when Bilbo and his comrades were struggling to survive their trek through Mirkwood Forest they decided to have Bilbo climb a tall tree to survey their surroundings and to assess whether or not they were almost out of the woods (no pun intended).


They selected the largest tree they could find and hoisted the slight hobbit into its lower branches. Bilbo scurried up to the uppermost boughs, enjoyed a moment of feeling a cool breeze on his face, and then he assessed their situation. His heart sank when he gazed outward because he could see nothing but row after row of forbidding trees in every direction. Crestfallen and forlorn he descended the tree and reported to his desperate friends that they were still a very long way from their goal.


Unfortunately, neither Bilbo nor his companions realized that their chosen lookout tree was situated in the bottom of a valley. It was indeed a tall, sturdy tree with a reliable vantage point at the top, but its position in the valley skewed Bilbo’s perceptions when he climbed it. In actuality, the hobbit and his friends were almost out of the dangerous forest, but since his tree was in the bottom of the valley all of the surrounding trees appeared taller than their actual height and blocked his view. Had his tree been on level footing with the rest he would have seen the end of the forest and then scampered down the tree trunk to lead a victorious march out of the valley.


All of this flashed through my thinking in an instant when I sensed the phrase in prayer, “Don’t climb Bilbo’s tree.”


Of course I have no idea what you might be facing today, but it is possible that this caution applies to you too. Don’t be deceived by your valleys—you may be much further through the forest than you realize.


What joy for those whose strength comes from the LORD…when they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs.” (Psalm 84:5-6 NLT)


I will always need you more than ever before!

Ever since I was quite young, hot tubs have been one of my sanctuaries. It’s kind of weird I know, but true nonetheless. Recently, while thinking in the hot tub, I uttered a simple prayer to the Lord, “I need you more than ever before” and then I was immediately struck by the humor in that prayer.

I have ALWAYS needed God more than ever before.

As a drifting, disillusioned college student, I needed God more than ever before.

As a newlywed husband I realized that I would need Him more than ever before if I was going to be a worthy husband for Jessica.

When my three daughters were born, I was keenly aware that I needed His help more than ever before.

In other seasons of success, failure, victory, and trauma I uttered those same words. And then the other night, I prayed them again. I guess I’m always going to need God more than ever before.

I think that’s a good thing. King David felt that way. So did the prophet Jeremiah. I can relate to some parts of their stories. I have had moments of such exhilaration in the Lord’s presence that I was certain that heaven had come to earth, and I have had other moments where I didn’t know if I could go on living. The one constant throughout the highs, lows, and everything in between has been Him. Jesus has been, is, and ever will be faithful.

If you are on a mountaintop in this season of your life, enjoy it. If you are crawling through a valley, keep crawling. There are new beginnings and better days ahead of you, and you are not alone–Jeremiah’s dread champion walks beside you.

“The LORD is with me like a dread champion.” (Jeremiah 20:11 NASB)

“The LORD is near to all who call on Him.” (King David, Psalm 145:18).

Not trapped in yesterday

You would never know it is winter in Los Angeles. The leaves have barely changed colors, the temperature is in the 80s, and everyone around me is still in yoga pants or shorts.

And yet it’s officially winter—the calendar told me so.

Sometimes the seasons of our lives are like that too. The season has shifted and the calendar says the year is brand new, but everything still feels like yesterday.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that life will flow again. We won’t be trapped in yesterday forever. Yesterday ended at midnight, and whether our yesterday was full of victories, draws, or defeats, there is grace for us to get up and run again today. Perhaps you need to write it down and tape it to your bathroom mirror (or write it in lipstick as my wife, Jessica, has been known to do): “Yesterday ended at midnight.”

There is a prayer in Psalm 126:4 that says, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.” This prayer might not mean a whole lot to us until we learn that by late summer the river bottoms in the Negev (the desert country in Southern Israel) become bone dry, and the thought of retrieving water from them is laughable. However, when the winter’s rainy season finally trumps summer, fresh, clean, life-giving water begins to flow into those barren riverbeds once more.

The change over to a New Year is the perfect time to be reminded that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23). Unlike Cinderella who had everything revert back to the past when the clock struck twelve, we have the promise that with every new day there comes new grace and new opportunities for life, love, healing, hope, and breakthrough. Let’s live today to the hilt.

And then let’s let it die at midnight as we run courageously into the mystery and hope of a New Year.

The thing that’s lower than your ‘low’

Have you ever done the limbo and tried to see how low you can go? During junior high roller skating outings my friends and I used to limbo on roller skates, testing our coordination and risking injury as we contorted our way below the ever-lowering limbo bar.

How about in life? Have painful life circumstances ever drug you lower and lower until you wondered, “How low am I going to have to go?” Have you ever gotten so low that you thought, “Surely this is it—this is rock bottom. There is no way that anything could be underneath this low. This is as low as I can possibly go.”

There is actually something lower than your low. There is something deeper than your rock bottom. And you will love it. Psalm 95:4 says, “In God’s hand are the depths of the earth.”

Think about that. Your deepest depths actually have something underneath them—God. His hand is upholding you even when you feel that you’ve gone as low as you can possibly go, and His hand will eventually lift you up.

That’s the next part of the verse. “In God’s hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him.” When we are languishing in the depths it feels like we will never see a mountain peak again, but we will. If we could fast-forward through our life we would eventually see that there was something lower than our low, and we would also see that the hand that sustained us in the lows also lifted us back up to the mountain peaks again.

If you are in the depths hold steady; there is something lower than your low. And if you are on the heights remember that the same God you are experiencing there will still be present even if storm clouds reappear and threaten to hide Him from your view. The Scripture is true: He will never leave you or forsake you.


In Greek mythology Nemesis was the retribution goddess that brought justice and consequence against those who yielded to pride or exploitation. Her name literally meant, “to give what is due” and she ensured that people got what they deserved.

She was portrayed as a winged goddess with a whip and dagger, the perfect equipment for tracking people down and disciplining them severely.

In our day and age it can often seem like justice is forever postponed or delayed. We know that Nemesis is a myth, but we long for the reality that the myth proclaimed. Why does evil seem so entrenched? Why does injustice so often rule the day? When will oppressors get what they deserve?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that this would not always be so. Indeed, he said, “Evil carries the seed of its own destruction”[1] and it’s true. History is replete with the accounts of oppressive empires that flourished for a season and then sunk into ruins. Today, tourists take pictures of those ancient remains.

Evil will not prevail. Human suffering and exploitation will not get the final word. God is just and the Scriptures remind us that a day is coming when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).

Until that day, we have the honor of extending God’s love and justice to our spheres of influence. We get to see the incremental advance of goodness, kindness, and faith, knowing that someday, like Pharaoh’s army on the seashore, the forces of injustice will be fully and forever swept away. Let’s carry on as unflagging ambassadors of God’s faith, hope, and love.

[1] Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, Philadelphia: Fortress Press: 1963, p.83.

The Mercy Seat

If you had to customize a seat from which you would conduct your business and engage in all of your daily conversations what kind of chair would it be? Would it be simple and comfy or stately and professional? Would it be economical and efficient or perfectly aligned to fit your hips, lower back, and spine? Then, if you had to name your seat, what would you call it?

Personally, I’ve never given much thought to crafting and naming my ideal seat, but there are some people, including God, who have.

Jesus said, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23:2). When Pontius Pilate gave his ruling against Jesus Christ he was sitting on “the judge’s seat” (John 19:13).

Do you remember anything about God’s seat? Do you remember what it was called? Out of all the names that God could have rightly given His seat—out of all the virtues that His seat could have represented—He chose this: The Mercy Seat.

When God gave Moses instructions for the creation of the Ark of the Covenant, He told Him to make a “mercy seat” as the covering for the Ark (Exodus 25:17, ESV). This mercy seat would be positioned in between the gold sculpted cherubim, and God said, “There I will meet with you, and there above the mercy seat…I will speak with you” (v.22).

Is that incredible?

That’s where He sits when He wants to talk to you. That’s where He’s reclining when you pour out your heart to Him and petition Him with your prayers. I would understand if His seat was called judgment. It would make sense to me if His throne was named righteousness, but it stirs and moves and heals my soul to know that He has chosen to call it something else. He sits upon mercy, grace, and love (Hebrews 4:16).

Another name for the Mercy Seat was the Atonement Cover—that’s Jesus! He is our atonement, the one who provides what we are lacking so we can enter right standing before God. This casts a different light on the imagery of Paul’s “Judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Indeed, we will all eventually stand before Christ’s judgment seat, and yet our fate will be in good hands because the judgment seat is occupied by the Mercy Seat.

Please take heart! If you or your loved one needs mercy from God, that’s exactly what He is most inclined to give.

Seventeen years after Alexis Grace

Alexis GraceIf you have tuned into any of these little essays or videos of mine you’ve likely observed that Jessica and I have a daughter that died seventeen years ago. Alexis was three-and-a-half when we lost her, and we’ve thought about her every single day since.

I don’t know why it’s been on my heart to write about her—perhaps some of you need to be encouraged in regards to bereavement and loss, or maybe it’s just part of my ongoing therapy. 🙂 Regardless, I wanted to share a few thoughts seventeen years later.

Jessica and I still miss her daily. There has not been a single day when we haven’t thought of her multiple times, and the emotions are still surprisingly fresh. We are very happy in life and we are probably as healed as people can be after losing a child, but it doesn’t take much digging to have all of the old emotions rush back to the surface. The right sight or smell or memory can very quickly open the floodgates and ruin us.

We don’t understand why Alexis’ life went the way it did. We haven’t been able to make sense of her–or our–pain. There aren’t any neat little platitudes that can put a pretty bow on this part of our life. We haven’t easily moved on. Rather, our recovery has been more like being pulled, barely breathing, off of a battlefield. We’re here and we’ve healed, but we’ll never be the same.

Great good has come from our life with Alexis. She lived up to her middle name in stunning ways and forever introduced us to the amazing grace of God. Our life with Alexis taught us to love people…it focused our priorities on things that truly matter…it filled us with a gratitude for life that has never left us…it bonded Jessica and me in precious and priceless ways…it injected our parenting with a joy and delight that we experience every day with Amber and Madelyn…it made us better human beings…and it brought us into the presence of God.

However, just because good can come from a bad situation it doesn’t necessarily make the bad good. The bad is still bad, and we should always remember that when we comfort or counsel people who have lived through loss. The bad is still bad, and we shouldn’t disrespect people’s pain by only focusing on the good. Having said that, we must also remember that sorrow and death do not have the final word. We are indeed following a God who can create breathtaking mosaics out of the shards of our lives. He’s done that with Jessica and me, and He can do that with you.

Loss will change you, and you might carry a limp forever, but it can also be a portal that opens new horizons and brings you face to face with the eternal, boundless grace of God.