STARTING NEXT WEEK: A NEW SERIES FOR CHRISTMAS!
Starting next week, and for the six Sundays leading up to Christmas, I’d like to share with you a special story my late wife Lana and I wrote called “St. Nicholas: The Believer.” It’s a new story for Christmas based on the old story of St. Nicholas.
Lana had been wanting to tell this story in a fresh way for many years, as most people have never heard the story of the real life St. Nicholas, the one who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. She was putting the finishing touches on the book we were writing right up until the week before she passed away, which will be a year year ago this Friday, November 15th.
So in honor of Lana, and as our gift to you, I’d like to begin sharing this special story with you, several chapters at a time each week, concluding with the final chapters on Christmas Eve. I’m looking forward to sharing it with you, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading it. It’s our Christmas gift to you!
In the mean time, I’d like to share with you one more message in my series, “How to Keep Trusting God, Even in the Face of Significant Loss.” This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned this past year on dealing with loss, called “Making the Most of the Darkness.” You can read or listen to it below.
Making The Most Of The Darkness
by Eric Elder
Click the link below to listen to this message, which I also shared with a group at our church on Thursday night.
Here’s the transcript…
Good evening and if you don’t know me, I’m Eric Elder. The quick snapshot of my past year has been in some ways some of the darkest times of my life, and in other ways, some of the most enlightening times of my life.
My wife passed away a year ago next week and Jason was here and helped me conduct the service here at the church. She died quickly after nine months of breast cancer. I’ve got six kids, three still at home with me and three in college, so it’s been, as you can imagine, a difficult year, but an amazing year at the same time.
I just wanted to encourage you tonight that God’s love never fails you. God’s love never leaves you. Even in your darkest hours, I want to encourage you that God is still with you, and I can tell you He’s been with me. I have preached that and taught that for years. Knowing that going into this, I still get into those dark moments and I wonder how it’s going to turn out and then I remember God’s great love for me and I just know it’s going to be all right. He’s going to work all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (see Romans 8:28).
So I just want to continue tonight in the series that Jason has started in 1 John chapter 4. This is a passage that talks about God’s great love for us, that the only reason we can love others is because He loved us first and sent Jesus to die for us. It is out of His love that comes down to us that we can then extend that love to others.
I’m not going to read the whole chapter to you, but if you need some encouragement that God loves you this week, I encourage you to read 1 John chapter 4. That’s not the gospel of John, the book of John, but later in the Bible, 1 John. It’s a letter that he wrote, and it’s 1 John chapter 4. I’m going to look at verses 17 through 19.
“God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day – our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgment – is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love – love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first” (1 John 4:17-19, MSG).
I can tell you the scariest times in my life have not been those where things are swirling all around me, but actually in the pitch black, in the silence of night. I was at an amusement park and went on an attraction where you just sit in a seat in a theater and they swirl all kinds of things around you. They have little fake rat tails that run across your feet under the seats and they spray water at you and all these things on the screen go by.
But the scariest time of that whole attraction was when they shut off all the lights completely, and it was totally silent, and you had no idea what was coming next. You didn’t know where it was coming from. You couldn’t see anything. And I’ll tell you, for all the other things that came at me, that was the moment when I panicked. Even though I knew I was in a safe environment and they were going to take care of me–I was going to be fine–I just had this moment of thinking, “What is it going to be?” because it was pitch black and it was totally silent.
Sometimes that’s the way we feel in life. Kids, for instance–when are they most scared? At night, in their beds, even though there’s nothing there. Nothing’s going to happen. But because they can’t see, they don’t know.
And we’re the same way, it’s when we don’t see what’s going on, when we don’t know what’s going to happen, we can become consumed with fear, and that’s when we most need to remember, God loved us first, and His love is still there for us, even in the darkness.
I want to encourage you, in those dark times, to make the most of the darkness. Because the truth is, there are some things that can be seen better when it’s pitch black outside.
If you’ve ever walked past a house during the day and you look in the windows but they’ve got a curtain up, a curtain like this, it’s really hard to see anything that’s going on inside because of the daylight, you can’t really see.
I don’t know if you can see me behind here [I’ve walked behind a curtain]. Can you tell how many fingers I’m holding up? No? Nothing?
You can’t see in. But if you walk by the same house at nighttime, and Jason if you want to turn the lights off, if you walk by the same house again at nighttime and the lights are on inside, it’s amazing, especially with sheer curtains like this. But when the lights are on in the house [I’ve walked behind the curtain again], can you see me now? Can you tell how many fingers I’m holding up now? [The people respond as I hold up different number of fingers: 5, 2, 3, 1.]
Quite a difference, isn’t it?
I’ll tell you, when Lana died, for those first few days especially, I felt like I could glimpse into heaven like I’d never seen before. It was so dark on this side, but it was so bright on that side. When we were married, we became one, and even death doesn’t separate love. And I felt like I could see into heaven, and she was dancing with Christ, and because, in some supernatural way I was one with her, I was there with Him as well.
It was dark on my side, but I could see in the windows better than I could ever see before. Thankfully, I was able to keep my eyes open and say, “OK, I’m going to make the most of this darkness and I want to learn about everything about heaven that I can.” And I looked at passages about heaven and when exactly are you there? Is Lana there right now or is she dead in the ground? Is she dancing with Jesus or is she in some waiting zone?
And the conclusions I came to may not be the same ones you come to, but I have no reason to believe that Jesus was saying anything other than the truth when He told the thief on the cross:
“Today, you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
And whatever “today” is to God, because He is outside of any constraint of time, Lana is there with Him today. She was there that moment. She was there with God. God loved her, and God loves me, and that was a reminder that God is with us all the time. But again, it was because of the darkness that I could actually see.
There’s another story I want to tell you, too. This was when I was driving in California last year. It was September and we dropped our daughter off in California for school. So our whole family took a road trip and went to see my brother and my sister who live out west. Lana and all of us, we took a big drive.
We dropped my daughter off and then we drove down the coast, down Highway 1 that winds along California along these cliffs with hairpin turns. I had been there before–beautiful scenery, incredible–so I wanted to take the family on this drive, a couple hour drive to where we were going to spend the night.
But we got a late start for the day and it was getting closer to nighttime. Then the fog rolled in, some rain came up, and all of a sudden it was pitch black. We were practically alone on this road of hairpin turns, because no other car would dare drive on it, except someone random from Illinois who didn’t know any other way to go.
I was amazed how dark it was. There were no cities. There were no streetlights. There was no gas station. You’re out in the middle of a desert and mountain, so there are no houses, nothing inland. It’s ocean on the other side, so there’s nothing out there–it’s pitch black. And it was terrifying. It was probably the most terrifying drive of my life.
It was probably also the longest eight-hour “two-hour drive” I’ve ever made in my life and literally took us forever to get there. My wife was in a lot of pain from the cancer. We were just trying to get to the hotel. I had given up on the “scenic” idea a long time ago but this was the quickest way that we knew to get there.
Every once in awhile I would have to pull off to the side of the road. It was so tense. It was so difficult for me to drive and to see. And when I did, the first time I pulled off, I got out of the car and I just sort of “shook off.” I said, “OK, God, You’re going to have to help me.”
And I looked up. The fog was all around us, but it was totally clear above me! And the sky was full of stars–more stars than I had ever seen in my life. I live in the country here and I thought we had the place that had the most stars of any place on the planet Earth. But this place had ten-fold, a hundred-fold what I had ever seen before, because there were simply no lights anywhere for miles and miles around. The sky was just filled with stars.
And I thought of that, as I was driving in the car, I would have closed my eyes in fear if I wasn’t driving, but I was driving in the car, wanting to close my eyes, cowering in fear. But when I stopped, opened my eyes, and looked up, I saw a sight I had never seen before. Incredible.
I’ve heard when you’re down in a well, even in the daytime, if you go down in a deep, deep well, you can see the stars up above. Of course, normally, you can’t see any stars when the sun is shining–except one star, the sun–but you can’t see any of the others. But down in a well, in fact, the deeper you go in the well, the more stars you see.
It’s one of those natural phenomena, just like the curtain here, the veil that I showed you, it actually is the dark that allows you to see things that you never saw before.
A third story I want to tell you is about a cocoon.
A cocoon, you might think, for a caterpillar–my kids and I were walking down the road this morning and we saw a little caterpillar–imagine all those hundreds of legs or however many they have, they’re grounded for life, or so it seems.
They’re walking along, as slow as a snail’s pace, literally, and then they crawl into here to die. They spin this little cocoon. This is their last hurrah. And they come in here thinking that that’s it, that’s the end.
But the changes, the transformations that take place inside this dark, claustrophobic place are amazing. And when that caterpillar comes out, it doesn’t have those hundred legs. It’s not grounded. It can fly, it can flit, it can float. It can go faster than it had ever gone before. It can go higher than it could have ever imagined.
This is certainly an analogy for our transformation into heaven. In an instant we will be changed, the Bible says. We’ll get new bodies. We’ll be like the angels, the Bible says (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 and Mark 12:25). I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be.
But this is also, I think, an analogy for our life, the ones who are left behind, as in my case, or you if you’re in a dark place right now.
I read about a woman who had gone through a similar grief. She had lost her mother. And she said she went into like a cocoon state for about two years. She said it was dark and horrible for her.
But she said when she came out, she couldn’t believe the transformation that had taken place in that cocoon. She said she felt more alive, more radiant, more compassionate, more gracious, more loving than she ever had before she had entered that cocoon. She made the most of the darkness.
It wasn’t necessarily the things that she did, but what God did in her, and what God can do in us, if we allow Him, in those dark times.
C.S. Lewis’ wife died of cancer also. He married her knowing that she had cancer, what they said was terminal–they hoped she would be healed, but she wasn’t. He married her anyway and she died. He wrote several things about this, but he wrote a quote that I love and it says:
“Grace grows best in winter.”
Grace grows best in winter. Sometimes we grow more gracious and loving in the winter seasons of our life than we do when the sun is shining. There are lots of things that grow well in the summer and in the light. But there are certain things that seem to just grow best in winter, in the darkness.
I want to read one more passage for you, and this is from Romans chapter 8, because maybe you’re in a dark place right now, or maybe when you go home tonight, you’re going to feel like you’re in a dark place.
I want to encourage you that God still loves you. In fact, He may be doing a transformation in you that you’re even unaware of, and not to give up on Him because He’s certainly not given up on you. So this is Romans chapter 8, near the end of the chapter. Paul says:
“I’m absolutely convinced that nothing–nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable–absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us” (Romans 8:38-39, MSG).
Paul says nothing–nothing–absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love, because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
I want to pray for you, that God would embrace you with His love–that you would feel it, and that you would make the most of the darkness.
Whether it’s the illustration of the veil, and seeing into heaven, or whether it’s the illustration of the well, or a starry night with fog all around, or the cocoon, where it may be dark, but you can trust that a huge transformation is taking place, I just want to encourage you and remind you just to let God embrace you with His love. Let Him make the most out of your darkness.
Father, thank You for carrying me through this past year, Lord, even those darkest nights, and Lord, even those that may be yet to come, I pray that You would help me to remember how much You love me. And I pray for those listening to these words, God, that You would help them to know that You love them, too. God, I know You’re embracing them with Your love. Your love never fails. Your love has been demonstrated in Jesus when He first loved us and came to die for our sins, so we could be free of them. And Lord, that same grace that saved us is the same grace that sustains us. God, I pray that You would embrace each person in this room, and each person listening to this later, that You would embrace them with Your love, a love that can overcome fear, a love that never fails, and a love that can never separate us from You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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