Archive for Jon Bloom

There Is Hope in Your Struggle for Light

There Is Hope in Your Struggle for Light

In the tiny front yard of our little inner-city plot in Minneapolis live two crabapple trees. My wife and I bought them from the same nursery and planted them on the same day fourteen years ago. But if you were enjoying a late summer stroll down our street today and noticed them, you would wonder why these two trees look so different.

The tree just off the north corner of the house is the picture of a fine-looking young crab. It stands about fifteen feet high with branches spreading in pleasing proportion in all directions. It is just beginning to develop the familiar gnarled beauty of a mature crab tree. As summer gives way to autumn, almost every branch is hanging heavy with its beautiful, deep red fruit — so much fruit, in fact, that most of its leaves have dropped just to make room.

But the tree just off the south corner is much different. At first you might not think it a crab tree at all. It is nearly thirty feet tall and oddly slender. Its branches are full of leaves, and though it’s producing fruit in similar quantity to its north-side sister, the berries are growing almost entirely in the top third of the tree.

So why are these two crab trees so different?

The Altering Influence of Struggle

Actually, for their first seven years of life they weren’t much different at all. Both trees grew at similar rates and proportions. Then something happened that changed the life of the south-side crab. A mulberry tree began to grow in the hedge just a few feet away.

Our neighbors to the south had always carefully maintained the hedge. Then they moved, leaving me with hedge-trimming duty — and a problem. An embankment put the front end of the hedge out of my reach, even with my ladder. As I put off buying another ladder, the hedge front grew and in it the unforeseen mulberry.

This mulberry tree grew with amazing speed. But it began to look nice, drew lots of birds, and people even made mulberry jam from it. So I let it be. But the larger the mulberry became, the more it blocked sunlight from the young south-side crab tree. This forced the crab to struggle for nourishing sunrays. For years the mulberry adversity pushed the crab to grow oddly tall while its north-side sister grew “normally,” basking in unimpeded sun.

The Lord of the Mulberries

Perhaps you’ve had a mulberry in your past. It may be gone now, but its effects linger. And it has shaped you in ways you wouldn’t have chosen. You feel different, abnormal.

Or perhaps right now you’re living in the shadow of a mulberry, struggling for light. Jesus invites you to ask what you wish (John 15:7). He will give you what you ask in faith, for he is the Great Remover of mulberries (Luke 17:6), though do not be surprised if it feels like he’s taking too long.

But whether your mulberry is removed or you’re waiting for its removal, the Lord of the Mulberries is your gardener. Unlike me, he knows where the mulberries grow. He foresaw your mulberry, and therefore your unique growth is not an accident.

Your dimensions as a tree in the garden of God may look different from other trees, perhaps conspicuously so. But there are purposes in your dimensions (Romans 8:28). They will have unforeseen benefits, and you will still bear fruit as you trust your gardener (John 15:1, 5). You also will have a unique ability to comfort those who are struggling against their mulberries (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).

Remember the Mulberries and Be Patient

Those who pass our yard and observe the south-side crab tree may wonder why it is the way it is. So it is with us. Others who observe us, but don’t know our history of struggle, may misunderstand why we are the way we are.

Perhaps they have not dealt with a mulberry. Or more likely, their mulberry experience was different. They may not understand how our mulberry’s shadow affected our growth and so misunderstand our different dimensions. They might judge with wrong judgments and reach erroneous conclusions. We might do the same to them.

Past mulberries can result in painful present misinterpretations, so be careful. Remember the mulberry and the crab tree, and let love be patient (1 Corinthians 13:4). And rather than see each other’s atypical dimensions as defects, look for the gardener’s grace in them. Likely they have benefits we haven’t yet seen.

In the care of the Lord Gardener, all our mulberry struggles change us for good.


Related Resources

A Stable of Desperation

A Christmas Reprise, A Christmas Prequel

This imaginative story, including character names, was written as a sort of prequel to John Piper’s moving story, The Innkeeper.


The first Christmas night was a holy night. But it was not a silent night. All was not calm. After walking a hundred miles, Joseph arrived in an overcrowded Bethlehem, with a wife in advanced labor. And “there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

***

“We are completely full. We can’t take another person.”

“Please, my wife is about to give birth! We’ll take anything with a little privacy.”

Compassion and exasperation mixed in the fatigued innkeeper’s eyes. His tired hand rubbed over his head. “Look, I would give you our own quarters, but we’ve already given them to others. People are in every nook and cranny. There is no room, especially to have a baby.”

Back in Nazareth, Joseph had felt so confident. He knew nothing about assisting in births. That was women’s domain. But God had sent his angel to Mary and to him. God had caused Mary to get pregnant. God had turned the stream of mighty Augustus’s heart (Proverbs 21:1) so that the Messianic prophesy about Bethlehem would be fulfilled. Surely God would provide their needs when they arrived. After all, this Child was God’s Son!

But now Joseph was growing desperate. Bethlehem was overrun with people. The Roman census got the Messiah to Bethlehem, but it left him no place to lay his head.

“Are there other inns here?”

“No. Bethlehem can’t keep two inns in business — usually. You don’t have any family in the area?”

They heard Mary cry out in pain.

Nearly frantic, Joseph spared his words. “No. Please! Is there anyone who could take us in?”

“Everyone I know is already housing guests.”

Joseph pleaded this silent word: Please, God! Please! We need a place! Give us a room! Send your angel! Do something!

The two men looked vacantly at each other for a tense five seconds. Then Joseph choked out, “Please, we’ll take anything!

At that moment a woman appeared behind the innkeeper and said, “We have a stable in the back.”

“Rachel, this man’s wife is about to give birth! We can’t put her in the stable!”

“I heard,” she answered. “But there’s no more time and it’s better than the street, Jacob. I’ll get some blankets and clean straw.” She looked at Joseph, “I’ll meet you in the back. I can help with the birth too. Tell her it will be okay. God will help you.”

“Thank you!” Joseph said. Thank you, God! he said in his head.

But as he turned toward Mary relief collided with regret inside of him. Rachel’s help was a gift. But a stable? That’s the best he could provide for his trusting wife and the Son of the Most High? How could God’s Son be born in a stable?

“Joseph!” Mary’s cry was more urgent.

No more time. With gentle swiftness Joseph picked Mary up and carried her toward the back of the inn.

Mary's breathing was labored. “They have a room?”

Joseph felt a stab of shame. But Mary needed reassurance. “All they have is the stable. It’ll be okay. We’ll make it clean, and the innkeeper’s wife is going to help us. God is providing.”

“Thank you, God!” she whispered. And then clutched Jacob’s neck tightly as another pain seized her and pushed the Light further into the world.

***

A stable was not where Joseph wanted to be that night. It held no romance for him. He was only there out of desperation.

But the stable was not about Joseph or Mary. It was about the Son of God making himself nothing (Philippians 2:7). He had come to humble himself to unfathomable depths. So he borrowed a stable for his birth. Later, after an excruciating death to make propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10), he would borrow a tomb (Matthew 27:59-60).

And in that is a Christmas word to us. There are times, while seeking to follow God faithfully, we find ourselves in a desperate moment, forced to a place we would not choose to go. It’s then we must remember: we are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Our lives and circumstances are not ultimately about us. They are about Jesus Christ. The Father has purposes for us and our hardships that extend far beyond us. And often what appears like a misfortune or a lack of provision in the moment later proves to be a means of great mercy.

So maybe what we need most this Christmas is not less turmoil, but more trust. For God chooses stables of desperation as the birthplaces of his overwhelming grace.


Recent posts from Jon Bloom:

Christmas: The Dawn of Death’s Destruction

The Apostle Paul wrote, “O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Anyone grieving the death of someone they love deeply will say that “sting” hardly begins to describe the pain.

And Christmas often heightens this pain. Certain decorations recall hands we will never hold again. Gatherings make visible precious absences. Sweet voices now stilled echo in our memories as we sing or share stories.

But this is not a bad thing. Christmas is actually a very good time for grief. Because sorrow has a way of disbursing fantasy nonsense and pointing us to what the birth of Jesus was all about: death’s destruction (1 Corinthians 15:26).

The sting Paul is talking about is not grief. He knows “sorrow upon sorrow” (Philippians 2:27). He is talking about something far worse: condemnation.

“The sting of death is sin” (1 Corinthians 15:56) because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). And physical death hardly begins to describe this death. Like all of us, Paul would have preferred to not die physically (2 Corinthians 5:4). But he knew he would (2 Timothy 4:6). The death Paul spent his life trying to save people from was spiritual death.

Paul’s main concern was the “wrath and fury” (Romans 2:8) people would experience if they stood before the “judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10) still in their sins (1 Corinthians 15:16-20). He believed the worst possible thing a human being can experience is to be “accursed and cut off from Christ” (Romans 9:2). He believed Jesus, who said,

do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

This is the main issue in life. We must be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20) and have our sentence of hell cancelled (Colossians 2:14). And the only way to do that is to receive the free gift of God, which is the forgiveness of sins and eternal life through his Son, Jesus (Romans 6:23).

That’s why Jesus came. His whole purpose for being born was to die,

that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14–15)

But not just to die. Jesus was born to be raised from the dead (Revelation 1:18). He is the Resurrection and the Life and whoever believes in him “though he die yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem it was the dawn of death’s destruction. It made possible the fast-approaching time when,

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:8)

If you’re feeling grief this Christmas, then know that what you’re experiencing is very much a part of Christmas. Jesus came to deal with your grief. Hear with fresh ears the angel’s gospel: that Jesus came to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). And if sin is removed, death’s days are numbered and your numbered tears (Psalm 56:8) will be wiped away.

May the Resurrection and the Life infuse your Christmas grief with hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).


Recent posts from Jon Bloom:

Show Them the Light in the Bleak Midwinter Night

Original

Isaiah 9:2,

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

Where I live Christmastime is cold. Just days ago Minneapolis was wrapped in a frigid blanket of snow 14 inches thick. Though the drab brown city was transfigured into a winter wonderland, every Minneapolitan longed for warmth.

Where I live Christmastime is dark. High up in the northern hemisphere the sun makes his appearance for less than 9 hours and hangs low in the southern sky. When the long dark descends every Minneapolitan longs for light.

Where I live, nature plays out, like a Christmas pageant, a parable of the human condition.

Since the collapse of Eden, the whole world, from Equatorial Africa to the polar reaches of the Nordic lands has endured the bleak midwinter of man’s alienation from his Creator. But, like Narnia, our long winter has had its Christmas. Ever since the Everlasting Light shone in the dark streets of Bethlehem, the gospel spring of God and sinners reconciled has been advancing, soul by soul.

Christmas is for seeing the light of Jesus Christ, savoring the heart-thawing warmth of his redeeming love, and showing him to others. And if you would like to use the book, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, to help people do just that this Christmas, this is your last chance to order deeply discounted cases in time for your celebrations. If you place your order after December 14th, we cannot guarantee that you will receive them before the holiday arrives. So now’s the time.

No one knows for sure what time of year Jesus was born. But up here where it’s cold and dark, late December seems the perfect time to remember his coming. Because of him, as the prophet said, one day there will be no more cold and no more night (Zechariah 14:6-7).