Category Archives: comfort

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.

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Nemesis

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.

 

 

Not alone in your darkness

narnia5guardianPsalm 97:2 says that “clouds and thick darkness” surround God, and that’s great news for you and me when we go through our times of cloudy skies and Stygian gloom.

You are not alone in your darkness.

I know it feels like you are. It feels like you’re suffocating and like there is no end in sight. It feels like things will never change and that all of your former hopes were mere illusions bent on mocking you.

Hold steady.

The Scripture employs a strange contrast when describing the atmosphere around God. Sometimes it says that He dwells in unapproachable light, and at other times it shows Him shrouded with the dark. Both descriptions are accurate.

He is present in the dark, but He eventually turns the lights back on.

If you took a moment to recall your history, you would inevitably remember times when darkness had swallowed up your light and you didn’t know which way was up. Then you would also recall how you made it through those times—how God helped you through those times.

One of my favorite literary scenes of all time comes from C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy when Shasta, lost and despairing, encounters Aslan in a dark wood. For a while Shasta thought he was all alone in the dark, but then he perceived a presence beside him. After a while he felt the lion’s breath, then he heard the voice, and eventually he saw the face of Aslan, the High King of High Kings in Narnia.

It’s a picture of Jesus of course. He is there in the dark even if you can’t perceive Him. Eventually you will. After a while you will feel His warming breath, and then you’ll hear His voice, and eventually you will see Him again. When you do, the lights will come back on and you’ll realize you are much further along in your journey than you ever imagined you would be.

Identifying with Princess Leia

lukeswingingNearly every great adventure film has a scene where the hero/heroine grabs a rope and swings across a dangerous chasm. They are usually running for their life, with their enemy bearing down upon them, and yet they still find a way to look beautiful while they dodge bullets and float gracefully to the other side.

The best chasm-swinging scene in all of movie lore is the epic moment from Star Wars Episode 4 when Princess Leia clutches Luke Skywalker’s neck, kisses him for luck, and then swings away with him to safety.

I never forgave Luke for getting that kiss instead of me, but now years later I find myself identifying a little more with Leia than with Luke. Don’t get me wrong I still want to be a hero, and I want my wife and daughters to be able to hold onto me during tough times. However, as I review my life I realize that I haven’t survived my dead ends solely because of my own heroism—I’ve been carried more times than I can count.

King David (a hero of Skywalker proportions) understood this too. In Psalm 63:8 he wrote to the Lord, “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”

Even though this life of faith is an epic adventure that pulls the courage, toughness, and valor out of us, we will never survive it by our own grit and determination alone. Some chasms are just too wide for us to cross, and our souls need something larger than us to cling to. We need to be like Princess Leia and learn to lean and rest and allow God’s right hand to carry us through.

When you’re feeling illegitimate

Illegitimate [adjective, noun il-i-jit-uh-mit; verb il-i-jit-uh-meyt]

Adjective

  1. Not legitimate; not sanctioned by law or custom: an illegitimate child
  2. Unlawful; illegal: an illegitimate action
  3. Irregular; not in good usage
  4. Obsolete

Noun

  1. A person recognized or looked upon as illegitimate

Verb

  1. To declare illegitimate

Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel like you’re not legit? Like other people in your same role(s) in life are more legitimate than you?

Sometimes I don’t feel like the real deal. Sometimes if a church shopper visits Grace and then opts for another church or pastor, I think, “Makes sense—that other pastor is probably a truer pastor than me.”

Isn’t it a bummer to feel that way? It’s also a dangerous way to feel, because to the degree that we feel illegitimate, we will try to find legitimacy. And if we aren’t careful we can go to illegitimate places to legitimize our legitimacy. Make sense?

If I don’t feel legitimate I can look to my talents or accomplishments to extract a sense of value or worth. If I doubt the legitimacy of God’s work in my life, I can move outside of my relationship with Him to try to authenticate my life, and those are almost always dangerous moves. We can never find legitimacy illegitimately. There is no external award, degree, or accolade that can forever heal our soul’s deep need for legitimacy. Legitimacy comes from our heavenly father.

And Jesus knows all about this.

He encouraged me the other day when I was having a “poor me, I don’t feel legit” kind of a day. I realized that Jesus lived His entire life under the banner of illegitimacy.

  • People questioned the legitimacy of His birth.
  • When He assumed His role as Savior of the world, people mocked him asking, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”
  • He was seldom recognized for who He really was…and yet in a world that screamed “illegitimate” Jesus modeled true Sonship.

He knows how you feel, and if you’ll look to Him and follow Him, He will heal the haunting echoes in your soul. You. Are. Legitimate.