By Rick Lawrence
Vibrant Faith Executive Director
Jesus is at home in the dark.
And that means we can be, too…
This week the Pew Research Center reported that almost a third (29%) of American adults now identify as “Nones”—or “religiously unaffiliated.” That percentage is up from 23% just five years ago, and from 19% a decade ago. On the American religious landscape, it feels like the sun is setting, not rising. Darkness is creeping through our once-bustling Sunday school rooms and sanctuaries. In our Winter/Spring season of Vibrant Faith Catalyst MasterClasses we have Mark DeVries and Rob Dyer of Ministry Architects leading a course titled “They’re Not Coming Back: Embracing a Paradigm Shift In Ministry”—an insightful, important, and strategic primer on ministry imperatives for the encroaching darkness. We need reminders like this course that Jesus never “spins” the darkness—He prefers to penetrate it with light…
So, here is the good news—the best news… Jesus is at home in the dark.
The Dark Beginnings
Soon we’ll celebrate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the light penetrating the darkness. A well of living water bubbling up from a manger. When He was old enough to understand, little Yeshua’s Jewish parents told Him the fantastical story of His birth and how a repressive occupying regime, led by a paranoid madman, had targeted Him for execution while He was still a toddler. The madman’s advisors warned him of the threat this little boy represented to his future power, so the ruler ordered the extermination of all boys under the age of two. Yeshua’s family grabbed what they could and raced to flee the wave of violence before it washed over them. Many did not escape, and dozens of innocent children were ripped from their parents’ arms and murdered in front of them. Yeshua’s “birthday story” was shocking, gruesome, and traumatic.
The little boy grew up in Egypt, a refugee in a foreign land where His parents scratched and sacrificed to scrape by. They were second-class citizens, systemically denigrated and disregarded. Eventually, after the madman’s death, the family risked everything to return to their hometown. They saw neighbors and friends who’d lost their little boys to the purge—Mary and Joseph knew little Yeshua had been the target. Tension over His impact and identity was often thick. He was not like the other boys in town. He was precocious but never arrogant, hard-working but not driven, curious and bold and at peace with Himself. Some were drawn to Him; others were repelled by Him (including His own brothers).
Later, after He had taken over his father’s carpentry business and was well-established in the community, He decided to leave all that behind and take to the road as an itinerant rabbi, living off the generosity of strangers and gathering followers along the way. He spoke and acted with authority, and that evoked both awe and withering abuse. His critics kept up a perpetual stream of the latter—a determined assault on His identity, using weaponized lies in an attempt to thwart and, later, destroy Him…
“You’re a law-breaker!” (Matthew 12:1–14)
“You’re a glory-hound!” (John 7:4)
“You get your power from Satan!” (Matthew 12:22–37)
“You’re a blasphemer!” (John 10:33)
“You’re disrespectful!” (John 18:22)
“Who do you think you are?” (Matthew 21:23–46)
The Dawn of the Dawn
Yeshua (Jesus’s name in Aramaic, likely how He most often heard it) was targeted by this toxic stream of abuse for three years—every day, every hour. And so, in John 15, when He warns His friends repeatedly that they will be hated and persecuted and rejected because His enemies will become their enemies, He is describing an encroaching darkness. And if He left them at the end of John 15—if there was a period instead of a semi-colon—the darkness would be deep indeed. But then there is John 16, the promise of Jesus’ presence guaranteed by the coming of the Advocate, the Spirit of Jesus…
“…It is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me… “There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me’” (John 16:7-15).
There is a way forward into the darkness, Jesus is saying, and it is lit by His presence. In the face of our challenges, we are given the gift of intimacy. Yes, it will be hard, He is saying, but every hard thing, every dark thing, means we get to face it together—I in you and you in Me. Intimacy with Him is our great prize, and in so many ways the darkness helps to facilitate that intimacy.
The Pew study has in it echoes of John 15, the raw reality Jesus told us would characterize our normal, everyday life. But the promise of John 16 is our light in the darkness. We are strengthened and encouraged by His presence to move through the darkness, and when we do we discover His glory. The mission of Jesus in the dark is the mission of Vibrant Faith as well. Our passion is to come alongside you with training, coaching, resources, and targeted research—the tools we need in our journey through our John 15 darkness.
As the year comes to an end, as the Advocate prompts you, I’d like to invite you to join in our mission. We are a small, dedicated team that is deeply invested in helping your congregation to thrive. If you’d like to give to Vibrant Faith an extra amount to help fuel this mission, please do. You can donate right HERE. It’s an honor to journey together in the darkness, with light spilling out from one another lighting our path…
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith. He’s the general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, including The Jesus-Centered Life and the new daily devotional Jesus-Centered Daily. His new book, The Suicide Solution, was just released.
Journey with us toward the light of a brighter, more vibrant faith in the radical, life-changing way of Jesus.