Category Archives: Perspective

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.

Thankful for the fight!

Do you do the whole let’s-go-around-the-room-and-share-what-we’re-thankful-for thing on Thanksgiving Day?

It’s a great practice, and if you’re like me you probably express thanks for God’s grace in your life, your loved ones, and the many blessings of freedom we get to experience in America. However, if we were able to transport the Apostle Paul into our Thanksgiving Day gatherings and plop him down on our sofas, I think he would add something unique to the conversation. I think he would stand and say, “I’m thankful for the fight.”

In his famous words in 2 Timothy 4:7 he said that the fight of faith was a good fight.

I think there are three things that make a fight good:

  1. A fight is a good fight when we’re fighting for something good.
  2. A fight is a good fight when we fight well in the fight.
  3. A fight is a good fight when we win the fight.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are destined for all three:

  1. We are fighting for the greatest good in the universe—the expansion of God’s kingdom in the hearts of every man, woman, and child on our planet.
  2. We have the revelation of Scripture and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to help us fight well in our part of the battle.
  3. Finally, we are promised victory. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I don’t always love the fight, but I’m grateful for it—and I can concur with the Apostle Paul that it is indeed good. Can you?

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.

Do we truly understand what a ‘blessing’ is?

How do you define a blessing? When you pray for God’s blessing in your life what are you seeking and anticipating? Peace? Rest? Healthy relationships? Prosperity on all fronts?

If God’s goal for our lives were peace, ease, and prosperity then I would agree that those things would be His ideal blessings for us. However, if His goal includes something else (and Scripture certainly indicates that it does), then it is probable that His blessings will include some other things as well.

According to the New Testament, God’s desire for us is ongoing transformation into the image and nature of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 4:19; Romans 12:1). Since this is the case, then God’s blessings must necessarily include some things that will help us transform.

If a high school sports team has a goal to become state champions, their coach must assign them grueling tests and workouts that will develop a championship heart in them. They must be stretched, pushed, and challenged until they become champion caliber athletes. When the goal is a championship the coach cannot bless them with endless rest days and easy workouts.

The same is true for us. If God wants us to grow He must bless us with situations that cause us to grow. This isn’t fun and it’s never easy, but it is necessary. Perhaps our prayers of gratitude should go beyond thanks for the sweet and easy things. Perhaps we should add: “God, thank you for the battles that teach me how to fight…thank you for the trials that force me to grow…thank you for the tests that refine and grow my faith…and thank you for your commitment to never stop transforming me. I accept these blessings—none of them will be wasted on me. By your grace, I will transform. Amen.”

Love, not answers

I am a “fixer” are you? My nature in nearly every situation is to try to help people “fix” whatever problem they’re facing. Perhaps it’s because I’m a dad or a pastor, or it might be from all of my years coaching various sports teams. Regardless of its origin, it is part of my nature to try to remedy broken situations.

That’s why it kills me when I can’t.

The most difficult situations for me are the ones that I can’t fix with wise words or encouragement. And that’s terribly problematic given my life vocation because in pastoral ministry I am constantly faced with both natural and spiritual problems that I’m not able to fix. I can hardly ever fix a spiritual problem on the spot. Sure, I can point people toward the ultimate answer, Jesus Christ, but that doesn’t always fix a problem in the moment. And quite frankly, people probably need my counsel far less than I think they do.

Fortunately, God is teaching me something in this season of my life that is freeing me from the pressure of being a self-perceived fixer. He is teaching me that sometimes love, not answers, is the best offering I can give. Yes, people need counsel. Yes, they need wise instruction, but sometimes they just need to step into a moment or an atmosphere of love.

Lately, when I leave a meeting or an interaction wishing that my prayer or counsel had changed everything in a moment, I am sensing the Spirit whisper to me, “Love-fueled listening and affirmation is never wasted.” It’s never a waste of time or effort to love and support a person. Even if we can’t immediately fix their problem or move them more quickly through their process, we can sustain them along the way. We can be a voice of faith, hope, and love that whispers in their ear, “You’re going to make it! You’re not alone in your struggle. I’m not the fixer but I know who is and someday you will see His remedying power again.”

If you have the answer for someone, great let them have it! But if you don’t, you still have what they need. Love.