2021: Better? Or More Need of Endurance?

solo oak tree in snow
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
Isaiah 61:3c

I can’t wait for 2020 to be done! 2021 has got to be better. I keep hearing that and I’m just not so sure.

But I know we have need of endurance.

Need Of Endurance

That’s how the author of the book of Hebrews put it, For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised (Hebrews 10:36).

Endurance is bearing up under pressure or strain. It’s holding the weight above your head for 30 more seconds while your arms are quivering and aching. It’s carrying the six-year old all the way back while your legs are shaking. Weight bearing strengthens your body. It also strengthens your soul. But there are no shortcuts. You must bear up.

Endurance is strength in opposition. People who endure stand firm and handle pain because they know that trials can be productive (James 1:2-4). I like to write about about strong moms and strong grace and strength to do the ordinary things. My business card says I’m a spiritual strength trainer. I love to help people stand firm and grow strong.

So it’s not surprising that in this truth-denying climate, with freedom-ceding Covid-19 and a hyper-charged political scene, I hear the call to endure louder than ever.

Because 2020 might have been birth pangs and tremors. Not recovery and aftershock, but beginnings. You have need of endurance.

Because who’s not to say that the year of our Lord 2021 may be an even wilder ride?

Oak Or Squash?

Before James Garfield was President of the United States, he was head of Hiram College. At Hiram, a father once asked Garfield if his son’s course of study could be simplified so he could get through by a shorter route.

“Certainly.” Garfield replied. “But it all depends on what you want to make of your boy. When God wants to make an oak tree, He takes a hundred years. When He wants to make a squash he requires only two months.”

The blessed are the steadfast. The ones who endure like Job and grow strong in their faith like Abraham (Romans 4:20). The ones who feel the pain and scratch with potsherds and grieve their losses as praise, but don’t charge God with wrong (Job 1:22). But they don’t take shortcuts. They cling to God’s promises (Romans 4:20). They’re strong, steady oaks.

The not-blessed are those who squish under pressure. They feel they heat and turn to mush. They don’t stand firm. They spring up. But trials— like 2020 come and under the pressure, they wilt (Mtt. 13:21).

Or, to borrow from Garfield, they seek shortcuts. They don’t stand firm and they’re squash. Squishy, mushy squash.

God Supplies What We Need

So bear up. No shortcuts. Oaks of righteousness endure. Remember righteousness comes by faith. And faith means taking God at his word. His word in Philippians 4:19 says, my God will supply all your needs. So if we have need of endurance, we can bank on the our God—the God of endurance—to supply it. He gives it to the end to all who are saved. And he gives it with such kind purpose.

James 5:11 says that the purpose of the Lord is “compassionate and merciful.” And so his oaks endure.

Because God gives endurance. And because they know He will come through.

Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand...

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

James 5:8b, 11

WHITE HORSE: An Advent Song For Harassed Hearts

I’d like a white horse for Christmas. I wouldn’t mind some Florida sunshine, strong coffee and a stronger back rub, but a white horse tops my list.

Bring me a white horse for Christmas
We’ll ride him through the town
Out into the snowy woods
Where we will both lie down

Underneath white birches
Our faces toward the sky
We will make snow angels
With our white horse standing by

Hush now, baby
One day we’re gonna ride
Hush now, baby
Our white horse through the sky

Bring me a white horse for Christmas
We’ll ride him through the snow
All the way to Bethlehem
Two thousand years ago

I wanna speak with the angel
Who said do not be afraid
I wanna kneel where the oxen knelt
Where the little child was laid

Hush now, baby
One day you’re gonna ride
Hush now, baby
Your white horse through the sky

No bridle will he be wearing
His unshod hoofs they will fly
Keep a watch this Christmas
For that white horse in the sky

Hush now, baby
One day we’re gonna ride
Hush now, baby
Our white horse through the sky

Hush now, baby
Let every angel sing
Hush now, baby
One day we’ll ride again

Over The Rhine, “Snow Angels”

Keep looking up. The baby of Bethlehem will ride.

Is this white horse on your Christmas list?

Advent Darkness

It’s only the first week of Advent, but 2020 has had feel of an eternal Advent with all the waiting for relief and cries for peace and longing for right.

White horse face

I feel the ache. This week left me second guessing a lot of things I thought I sort of knew. About how to love like Jesus loved and live not by lies and walk in the truth. About the right times to tear and to sew, to keep silence and speak, to love and hate, for war and for peace. In darkness.

This first Advent week my convictions are getting all muddled and despite seeking God’s will, I was the more befuddled.

Because relationships are messy business. So is love. When love is feels cruel it makes you wonder, is the lover deceived or the beloved blinded by feelings? Or are both or neither true?

I don’t know.

A White Horse Comes

But the darkness in the world, in my mind makes me wait more. And that’s what Advent’s about, right? The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

I know Jesus is coming. And I want to be one of those looking up, like Paul was, longing for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). Longing for Him. While I don’t always know how to love His world, I know that I love Him and He loves me. And I know the Baby of Bethlehem will come again and take his children to be where He is (John 14:3).

And that knowledge is hushing my harassed and burdened heart this week. Will you join me in these long last days and short three weeks and bear the weight of sin until He brings his peace to reign?

Will you lift up your head and be on the lookout and get yourself ready for the coming of the King?

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. 

Revelation 19:11-12, 16

Power Outage, Power Source

Power source melting candle on table, dripping wax looks like man

When’s the power coming back on, Mom? the 13 year-old called from somewhere down the pitch black hall.

By 8 o’clock, I hope. For Roboman from the electric company had assured me of that time when I called at 4:45.

Well, Roboman was wrong. He was off by almost a day. We did homework by candlelight, ate sandwiches by candlelight, played euchre by candlelight and by the time we brushed our teeth by flashlight, all the candles had burned out. In the morning my husband rigged up a generator to power the fridge. By noon—guess what?— the gas had run out too.

It all got me thinking as I ran along. Admittedly, I may have been thinking more since—for the first time in months— I ran without my (stone-cold dead) phone. And as I did, I grew downright glad. I was the gladdest jogger around because I have a power source that will never go out. It will never burn up, fizzle out, or run dry.

Do you tap the same source?

Our Power Source

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises… 2 Peter 1:3-4a

Candles burning in dark power outage

Our power source is a divine. Do you see that in verse 3?

Divine power is available to us through knowledge. Namely, it comes through knowing Jesus Christ, who even as I type, is upholding the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).

Have you ever stopped to think about this?

Every day God lights up the Milky Way with yottawatts of power and he never has an energy crisis. And the amazing thing is that His divine power- this power- is available to you. If you are a Christian you have power to progress. This power is available to you! Before you were a Christian you lived you lived your life in the condition of a power cut. You were powerless to please God. But now you have power to progress.

Colin Adams, The Pilgrim’s Progress

All this power is on tap for us who know Christ. And He never has an energy crisis.

No Charge, But You Must Plug In

Here’s more glad news: we don’t pay for this rich source. It is given to us. Gratis, granted. That means it’s a gift.

Knowing God and trusting his precious promises is, if you will, the electrical wire that empowers our life and growth in godliness. In case you wondered, the growth doesn’t come to us when we work like a hamster in a wheel, Kevin DeYoung explains. But neither does our growth in godliness come while we stand still as if riding up an escalator.

No, we cooperate with him. We work out because God is at work in us (Philippians 2:12-13). A vacuum won’t work unless you plug it in. A car won’t run unless you turn the key. We access, if you will, divine power through the twin outlet of our knowledge of him and our trust in his promises.

Promises like it is more blessed to give than receive, and like we will reap a harvest if we don’t stop doing good. Promises like these empower me to give and do good when I’d rather give up and receive.

So God gives the power, but we turn the switch. The car and vacuum are a gift and the outlet and gasoline are too. But to make progress in godliness, we get in the car and push the gas pedal. We make every effort to supplement our faith (2 Peter 1:5). And here’s another empowering precious promise: our effort in this struggle is productive and good.

But that’s not the point of this post. This post is simply to remind you, as I reminded myself in the dark, that we have a power source that will never go out. Oh yes, the people walking in darkness have seen a great light.

Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is power. First Peter 1:3 says that his divine power comes to us through our knowledge of Jesus. We know the gospel, that we are more sinful than we realize and God loves us more than we realize. Both. That while we were still in our sins, Christ died for us. If we know Jesus Christ we won’t be powerless. Growth is possible. Hope is possible. Change is possible.

But we won’t have this power without knowing him. So we press on to know him. In His power, we press on.

That’s why my three non-negotiables for health in any fraught—or not—days stay the same. Especially #3: Go hard after God. I mean seek His face. I mean listen to him speak in his Word. Put down your phone, turn off the news, and press on to know Him.

I have too many impoverished friends. Friends, we will never—never— experience divine power if we don’t know Jesus Christ. Oh you might be a “strong person” and carry on with lots of props. But when the cords are pulled— when your health fails, your nation fractures, and your family is all a shambles —what then?

What is your power source? From whence then comes your help?

God Wants To Be Known

Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He is our keeper (Psalm 121). God’s power never goes out.

Advent Candles burnt to nothing

But we unplug from the power of God when we leave our Bibles on the shelf. Going about life without striving to know God is like unplugging from the power source then complaining that we feel anxious and alone in the dark. Complaining about God being silent when your Bible is closed is like complaining about not getting texts when your phone is turned off.

Tim Challies puts a bow on it: Apart from this, speaking by his Son, through his Spirit, in the Bible, God does not promise that He will speak in any other way

In other words, we can all believe that God will speak to us through the Bible. And all this JoyPrO stuff is about how God does speak and how when we listen we gain divine power when we seek.  

That’s the one thing. It’s the one habit I hope I never shed. Till kingdom come, I want to keep knowing Him and his power. Because all other powers, even the sun itself, will grow dark.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? Then Peter answers his own question: You ought to live holy and godly lives.

Don’t Make Excuses

So we’d best not make excuses. First Peter 1:3 doesn’t allow it. We cannot say, “If only I had more time or more money or a better church or better family I could be more godly and have a stronger spiritual life.” There is no good excuse.

Because God promises that you have ALL YOU NEED for life and godliness. Which means if we don’t have it, we don’t need it.

But we can’t expect God to give us what he did not promise us. He did not promise us the power to cure disease, or create world peace or even to change a child’s heart. But take his promises to the bank. If he tells us, Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you, believe it. Seek first his kingdom.

And keep seeking. His Kingdom and Himself. Don’t settle. Because Christ wants us to grow- in spiritual life and godliness.

Don’t Make The Fatal Mistake

Because God’s powerstore is always available through our knowledge of Him and of his precious promises, we can’t slack. I’ll leave you with C.S. Lewis.

I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. As we say ‘I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.’ And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble.

But this is the fatal mistake. Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 201-202.

The Father intended us to be remade in true righteousness and holiness, to be conformed to the image of Jesus.

And to that noble end, He freely gives us all the power we need.

 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being

Ephesians 3:16

In Days Fraught: “We Should Not Be Too Taken Aback”

Electoral College USA Map, Trump-Biden Fraught election

Fraught?

Fraught is the word of the week. As in headlines like, “How is TV news going to cover the weirdest, most fraught election in US history?” Or, “How to talk to kids about the election and fraught politics.” Fraught, fraught, fraught. Fraught.

Election or not, our lives are fraught.

So just what is “fraught”? It’s an adjective and its strong synonym is UNEASY. The word worked its way to us from the Middle Dutch noun vracht, which meant “load” and which is also the source of the word freight. As in baggage, burden and load.

Merriam-Webster defines fraught as,

1: full of or accompanied by something specified —used with with a situation fraught with danger; The paper was poorly researched and is fraught with errors.

2: causing or characterized by emotional distress or tension : fraught relationship

We agree: these days are fraught. Being fraught is nothing new.

But this might be. That sometimes God consumes like a moth what is dear to us, that the Giver of all good gifts sends moths.

God Sends The Moth

I’m here to say that God sends the moths (Psalm 39:11). God sends consuming moths to drive us lay up treasures where no moths destroy (Matthew 6:19ff).

I’m here to say that God shakes the earth. God shakes the earth that what might not be shaken will remain (Hebrews 12:26-27).

I’m here to say that God makes crooked (Ecclesiastes 7:14). God makes crooked and when we acknowledge him he makes our paths straight (Proverbs 3:6).

And I am here to remind that no evil will befall you if you make the Lord your refuge; that our faith may be endangered by security, but secure in the midst of danger; that inordinate grief betrays false gods and misplaced love.

I’m writing this post to reassure my fraught self and your fraught self that God strikes with severe mercy—he shakes our sense of security and sends moths to devour our treasures—because our Lord God will not share his glory with another or his praise with idols (Isaiah 42:8). In his grace, our Lord will not permit us to have stability apart from Himself.

In other words, I’m here to say that God sends these fraught days.

God Sends Fraught Days

Why? James answered well: “that you may be perfect [mature] and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1.4).

That’s good, right? Who wouldn’t want to be mature and complete lacking nothing?

But what if those only come at the cost of days fraught?

Our current trials may be discipline. Covid-19, the political scene, and our increasingly tense relationships could be God’s moths. He might bring these circumstances so that we tighten our grip on him or he could be bringing it to loosen our grip on our treasures. But in both cases God is working in and through these fraught days to make himself our chief treasure.

Consider the Psalmist in Psalm 39. He believed that what he was enduring was a result of divine discipline for sin.

When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, you consume like a moth what is dear to him; surely all mankind is a mere breath!

Psalm 39:11

Erik Raymond explains,

In other words, God sends the discipline and the circumstances act as a divinely dispatch moth to consume his treasure! This is good because in sin we are, like Achan, hiding treasures in our tent (Josh. 7.22). God intends to unfasten us from these fleeting treasures and to refasten us, wholly and completely upon himself.

Regardless of whether our specific sin prompted these fraught Trump v. Biden post-election days or if God’s more general goal that his children grow in holiness was the cause (Hebrews 12:10), we can rest assured. For we know that if we are patient and trained by our trials, these fraught days will yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).

Therefore, we should not be too taken aback.

We Should Not Be Too Taken Aback…

I, for one, do not want to miss the forest for the trees in these fraught days. God’s ultimate purpose is that we trust in Him (Psalm 37:4-7, Isaiah 26:3-4, Proverbs 3:5-6). Our work, Jesus said, to believe in the One He has sent (John 6:29). To trust him.

We tend to feel like our times are more fraught than times past; as if Noah and Job, Joseph and Moses had fewer reasons for discouragement and unease. So I’ve come back to this bit by J.I. Packer a few times in the past couple fraught days.

The same wisdom which ordered the paths which God’s saints trod in Bible times orders the Christian’s life today. We should not, therefore, be too taken aback when unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things happen to us now. What do they mean? Why simply that God in His wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and is dealing with us accordingly. 

Perhaps he means to strengthen us in patience, good humour, compassion, humility, or meekness, by giving us some extra practice in exercising these graces under specially difficult conditions. Perhaps He has new lessons in self-denial and self-distrust to teach us. Or perhaps He wishes to break us of complacency, or unreality, or undetected forms of pride and conceit. Perhaps His purpose is simply to draw us closer to Himself in conscious communion with Him…

J.I. Packer, Knowing God, InterVarsity Press, 1973, p. 86

Perhaps His purpose is simply to draw us closer to Himself in conscious communion with Him…

Free From Fraught

As I write this votes are being recounted in my hyper-divided swing state of Wisconsin. Our nation is on a razor edge. The tension is tangible, this fraught-ness that is new. Oh sure, I’ve been disappointed before.

But this is gloom goes far beyond the two men atop hundreds of thousands of contested ballots in light blue and pink states. As much as I spout hoping in God, I’ve been more skim milk than real cream since election night. Kind of weak. Rather fraught.

But I know there is a good design in it all of this. To quote from a Puritan named Thomas Boston,

It speaks comfort to the afflicted children of God to consider that whatever the crook in your lot is, it is of God’s making and therefore you may look upon it kindly since it is your Father who made it for you. Question not but that there is a favorable design in it toward you.

By some miracle of grace, that is what saints do. We trust that there is a favorable design in our fraught days. I am drawing near. He is drawing me near. And I’m more aware of the treasure it is to commune with Him.

We trust, and we watch for the divinely dispatched moths. They might fly in with coronavirus closures and kids stuck at home. Or they might appear in the mail with late arriving ballots or on the wings of a Twitter bird that does not tweet away.

We trust that God in His wisdom sends moths to eat away our idol hopes and make something of us which we have not attained yet. Yes, we trust that God is at work. Perhaps simply to draw us closer to Himself.

And we are drawn and to him who takes our fraught upon him, who daily bears our burdens, and we are not too taken aback.

And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
    My hope is in you.

Psalm 39:7