We seem to have found a new thing we love to do.

We went hiking.

I’m not the most “outdoorsy” guy. I like being outside, but I’ve never been one to spend a great deal of time beyond the paved road. But I learned something important. There are just some incredible sights you cannot see from the paved road.

Here’s an example. The picture here was taken from the gravel parking area where the hiking trail began.

It’s pretty and green, but there’s nothing spectacular… just the promise of finding something amazing along the trail.

We chose to follow the trail. It led to a long, vigorous climb full of mud-holes, slippery rocks, narrow paths, steep stretches, many switchbacks, a few tricky crawls… and so much wonder.

One trail led us about 3 miles up and down and around and along to this amazing waterfall.

Another led us up through a spruce/fir forest onto a couple of grassy balds with views like this.

Still another led us up and up and up for almost 4 miles to step out on a rocky outcropping to this.

And through it all, I heard this whisper in my spirit, “You can’t see this from the paved road.”

But something strange happened in the climb. The weight of the challenges of this life seemed to fade. The weariness in our hearts seemed to fade as the weariness in our legs grew. The heaviness of spirit that comes from the good work of walking alongside so many dear friends through their battles of various kinds seemed to melt away with the sweat and the strain of the climb.

And we saw in the wondrous beauty of Creation a glimmer of an abiding spiritual truth: There are wonders to be seen through the weary, agonizing, struggle of life that simply cannot be experienced when life is easy.

I believe it’s at the heart of what Paul wrote to the Philippians in expressing his greatest longing and desire in his life, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3.10-11)

Suffering is a part of this human existence. It is a universal reality in this beautiful, broken world. But Paul’s desire was to experience the transforming power of Jesus’ resurrection that brings life from death, joy amid suffering, and ultimately everlasting life on the other side of the grave.

In those experiences in knowing Jesus – knowing Him more intimately through our struggles and sorrows and sufferings as well as through the triumphs – we see dimensions of His great love and faithfulness that simply cannot be seen in the days of ease.

In this He gives us more of that which we most need – Himself. In this is grace indeed.

Father, I know that days of anguish and struggle will come. Let me see the wonders of who You are in those inevitable moments and I will know that the pain has not been wasted.

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Hold On, Help Is Coming

December 5, 2017

When people hate us and treat us unkindly or cause us pain and grief just because we profess to follow Jesus, it can be overwhelming. I think part of what makes it so difficult is that we often find the greatest challenge from religious people who are convinced that, because we don’t see things the same way as they do, we are absolutely wrong, absolutely against the kingdom of God.

At the end of John 15, we see Jesus assuring His followers that the Helper, the Holy Spirit, was surely going to come and live within them. He would bring to mind all that Jesus had taught them and guide them in every step—even when the opposition was overwhelming.(15.26-27)

But (even though there is a chapter break there, which was added by well-intentioned editors to help us find things) Jesus underscores His intention in telling them these things:

I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.(16.1-4)

Jesus reminded His disciples that He was sending the Spirit so that they would not fall away and abandon the cause.(1) They would likely be ostracized from the center of religious and civic life (for indeed they were one and the same).(2a) People would even try to kill them with the firm belief that they were serving God by doing so.(2b)

Jesus goes to the root of the issue with these religiously zealous people. They did not really know the God they professed to serve. And because they did not know God the Father, they could not recognize the God the Son, Jesus.(3)

But Jesus was trying to equip them for what was ahead. He was preparing them for the hard days when those religious zealots would seem to be victorious over them.(4)

He reminded them that the Helper was coming. He was urging them not to let their fear pull them away from His call.

He told them to hold on.

Help is coming.

So you and I can take the same word, the same encouragement. Hold on. Help is coming. In fact, He is here, within the hearts of all who have believed on Jesus, bringing the very help we need.

It’s not always the way we want it. It’s not always the way we think it should be. But hold on. Help is coming.

I want to encourage you today. It you’re feeling overwhelmed by life, would you take a couple of minutes and listen to this song of encouragement?

Hold on, my friend. Help is coming.

It’s been a roller coaster of occasions over the last several weeks.

There have been so many things to celebrate.

I’ve had two kids finish degrees and I’ve passed another birthday. We’ve celebrated the baptisms and the growth of our faith family. There have been great blessings and sweet victories. I’ve seen relationships restored and new ministry projects succeed. I celebrated the passing of another year of life and yesterday marked twenty-six years of marriage with my favorite human.

What an array of occasions I’ve had the privilege to celebrate with people I love.

But…

I’ve sat with friends as they wrestled with the changes of parenthood and prayed with others for answers that have yet to come. I have prayed against the dreaded cancer and cried with the unwilling divorcée and struggled to make sense of the mind losing its grip.

I left a great ministry activity to drive a couple of hours to be with family in the turmoil, fear, and agony of a precious child that died before it had even taken a breath. I tried to speak words of comfort and hope amidst the indescribable sorrow of such a loss.

The celebrations and the sorrows seem unevenly commingled like a salad with way too much of that one vegetable you simply cannot stand to eat. The celebrations, rich with joy, are yet tainted by the inescapable brokenness of life. The sorrows, with all of their gut-churning sting, are still somehow endured by clinging to the promise that this brokenness is truly temporary.

It’s not supposed to be this way… but it’s broken.

It was all created and made very good… but it’s broken.

There shouldn’t be litter in the beauty of the Grand Canyon… but it’s broken.

We shouldn’t need nursing homes and hospitals… but this world is broken.

There shouldn’t be commercial demands that squelch the creation of art and we shouldn’t have to choose the lesser of evils… but it’s broken.

Love shouldn’t be so painful and marriage shouldn’t be so hard… but it’s broken.

Laughter ought not be tainted with tears and offenses should not wreck families… but the whole thing is broken.

We shouldn’t have to bury family pets or be laid off from long-held jobs… but it’s all just broken.

Babies shouldn’t die and young men shouldn’t get cancer… but it’s all broken.

This world is not what it was made to be.

But it’s also not what it one day will be.

But, in big and small ways, in beauties amid the tragedies, in pleasures among the pains, in the joys mixed in with the burdens, in the hope stirred through the despair, in the celebrations alongside the sorrows… there is an innate sense among us that there must be something more.

The beauty is so rich that we know there must be more.

But the brokenness is so profound that there simply has to be so much more.

He told us there is something far greater yet to come:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21.4)

A number of years ago a young songwriter expressed this idea beautifully in his song, “Beautiful, Broken World.” I encourage you to give it a listen and that you join me in looking for the beauty amid the mess, the joy amid the pain, the celebrations amid the sorrows.