Dark Side 5

John 11:35-36

As much as we may not want to face the facts, death is part of life. We are all put on this earth for a limited time. At one point or another we must each perish, the old life giving way for the new lives that follow. We are not always spared times of loss.

In times of grief and sorrow, in times of loss, there is little that can be said that provides comfort. Sometimes the only thing we can do is to cry along with others who are crying. We share in the sadness.

In the story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus Jesus shows his compassion. What does Jesus do? What do others realize?

The story of Lazarus in John 11 is a tremendous reminder of what we can expect during the dark times in life. We will not always be spared our grief. We will not always have days of happiness and delight. There will be times when we lose loved ones or we face our own troubles. What we can rely on is the fact that we will not be alone in the dark times.

In John 11 Jesus is summoned to the home of his friends – Mary, Martha and Lazarus – because Lazarus is sick. But Jesus delays his arrival, and when he finally comes he discovers that Lazarus has died.

Although Jesus did eventually bring Lazarus up out of the tomb, a reminder I believe that Jesus gives us eternal life, at first he simply grieved with the family. Verse 35 is known as the shortest verse in the Bible. Yet in these two words we have a message of God’s compassion.

Jesus loved Lazarus just as he loves each of us. And Jesus wept along with the family, just as he weeps with us when we face troubles.

There are times when we wish that we will never die and that no one we love will ever perish. There are times when we wish that no bad thing will ever happen to us. But that is not the way of the world.

There will always be sorrow and loss. But we must remember that God is the Lord through the dark and the light. He is with us in the days when we are blessed with joy and gladness. He is with us when we have pain and sadness. Let us take comfort in knowing that we are never alone.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How do you know you are not alone, even in the worst times?

Dark Side 4

John 10:27-28

My wife and her sisters like to tell the story of the time their father slipped on the ice. The girls, young children at the time, were seated in the car waiting to leave for a family gathering when their father came out of the house carrying pans heaped with dinner rolls. As he neared the car he suddenly vanished from sight.

He had slipped on the ice beside the car and gone down on the snow-covered yard. But he had not dropped a single, precious roll – his arms outstretched, balancing the pans in his hands.

Jesus has a few things to say about God’s care for all of us. What image does Jesus create? What does Jesus give us? What security do we have?

Jesus is often called the Good Shepherd. And the image is fitting. The image of a flock of sheep is a peaceful image. The sheep are helpless animals, easily lost and unable to see much beyond what is right in front of them. The shepherd stands over the sheep, watching the horizon for dangers and prodding the sheep to the good pastures.

Jesus serves as that person who watches over every one of us. Like a shepherd Jesus can guide us to the good places we need to be. Like a shepherd, Jesus can see beyond what we can see, to divert any tragedy that may be coming our way.

Just as a flock of sheep will grow accustomed and familiar with the shepherd that tends them, we too should be familiar with Jesus. We should listen to his voice and follow where he leads.

But what strikes me most in this passage is the conclusion of verse 28. No one and no thing can snatch us from the hands of Christ. No matter what tragedy or catastrophe assaults us we are safe in the arms of the Lord.

We may have our moments of fear. We may get bumped and bruised. But we must know in our hearts that God will never let us go. We shall never perish.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What will it take to remember how secure you are?

Dark Side 3

Zechariah 3:1-2

If it had been left up to us I would have remained as a staff member at our previous church, preaching about four times a year and working to guide others in their own ministry. But the situation changed and we had to leave our other church. That departure, as much as it grieved us, allowed us to begin a very fruitful ministry where we are now.

Many people quote the old adage – “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” We felt defeated at the time but now see that God was prepared to bless us in the situation.

The prophet Zechariah is given a vision from God, a message to those who believe. Who is standing before God? What does God say to Satan? Who is Joshua?

According to the scholars Zechariah recorded his vision in approximately 520 B.C., five centuries before the birth of Jesus. Yet, this encounter seems to be a sign of what will come. In Hebrew “Joshua” is actually “Yeshua,” which translates into Greek as “Jesus.”

So, we have Jesus standing before God being accused, or tormented, by Satan. But God will have none of it, and instead rebukes Satan and claims Jesus as a man snatched from the fires of hell. If you continue reading in Zechariah 3 (Zechariah 3:3-9) the symbolism of Christ is even more apparent.

But what has this to do with us? How does this address the dark side of existence?

Zechariah’s vision here shows us the mercy and love of God. No matter how much Satan may accuse and pester the faithful believer God refuses to fall into his trap. Rather, God is merciful and caring, ready to bless the faithful believer.

We can be like Joshua in this vision. We may feel tattered and beaten by life. We may feel that Satan is beside us kicking at us and picking at us, whispering all manner of foul things about us to God. We may feel not only accused, but condemned and hopeless.

But we must trust that God will bless us. God will be with us to protect and care for us no matter how near Satan might stand or how fierce his attacks may be. We are loved by God and so, we are secure in God’s presence.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can remind you that God is with you even when Satan attacks?

Dark Side 2

Isaiah 45:5-7

I don’t like spiders. I don’t like snakes and rats, and don’t even get me started on bats. But even though I don’t like these creatures I am aware that these are all part of God’s creation.

The prophet Isaiah presents God’s words on all that He has created. What does God say of Himself in verse 5? What does He do for each of us? What should we realize about God (verse 6)? What has God done?

If we believe that God has made all things then we must believe that God has created those things that bring unpleasantness. As verse 7 tells us, God has created the light and the dark. God brings goodness and also can bring about disaster.

So, what do we do with all this? How are we to feel about the bad that happens in life?

So many people believe that God is fickle and can strike us down in His wrath whenever He chooses. They walk on eggshells every day, worried that the smallest offense can bring doom. Many blame God for all the misfortunes in life. They think God causes their problems as a test for them to endure. You may be one of those people.

I do not believe that our troubles are set up as a test from God, an obstacle for us to overcome and a chance to prove our loyalty to the Lord. I believe God has made all things and all things are good. Sometimes we misuse them and cause these good things to become bad things.

Many things are simply the working of the universe, the powers of nature and life which God has put into place. God made the wind that brings us cooling breezes in the summer, but also dumps treacherous ice and snow on us in winter. It is not an act of malice. It is simply a force which exists.

We must just know that God is master of all things. When we face the troubles of life, even those which seem insurmountable, we must know that this is part of life. But we must also remember what is said in verse 5 – God strengthens us even if we have not honored Him.

The dark times in life are an opportunity for us to turn to God to find strength. They are times to draw near to the Lord and be lifted up by His incredible love.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you turn to God in times of strife?

Dark Side 1

Psalm 90:11-12

In all the years of raising three children – the oldest now 19 – we have rarely had to punish any of them. The reason for this is because we taught them the proper way to behave. We expected them to behave properly. And when they did misbehave we did punish them.

They learned that we were serious about our expectations and bad behavior was not permitted. It was the threat of punishment, the surety of what would result, that prevented them from misbehaving in the first place.

This does not mean that our children are good people simply because they fear our wrath. It is part of our family love that we share. They know what is right and they respect the authority we have, knowing that our expectations are an expression of our love which desires them to be happy, successful people.

The psalmist speaks of the power of God and an awareness of what God can do. What does the psalmist say of God’s anger? What is asked for? What will be gained?

The psalmist acknowledges that God has the capability of becoming angry. God can exhibit wrath. In his acknowledgement he is speaking of the awareness that there is a dark side to life and the Almighty. Punishment, pain, anger can all exist. And in that acknowledgement the psalmist points out that it is God’s right to be able to punish the wicked if necessary.

That awareness causes the psalmist to seek direction from God. Rather than simply cowering in fear of what God can do, the writer asks that God teach rather than simply punish.

The psalmist is seeking the presence of God as a guide in his life. And with that teaching will come the wisdom needed.

As we face the difficulties of life, as we experience those times of great pain and sorrow, we should draw near to God and seek His direction. We should see that in the dark times of life we need the presence of God. We should seek His wisdom.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Can you ask God for a heart of wisdom?