“I will not be celebrating Thanksgiving this year. Quite simply, there is nothing in 2020 deserving of my gratitude.” So, honest confession – I haven’t heard anyone utter these exact words; but the myriad of negative denouncements I have heard stirred with more than a spoonful of myopic lament has led me to conclude that this is the soul-sentiment of many a believer. Last weekend I seemingly shocked many in my congregation when I made the almost blasphemous proclamation that the past six months have been the most joyful in my eighteen years of ministry. A few chortled loudly at the declaration, perhaps convinced that I had to be jesting; but the statement was anything but a joke.
Most friends reading this understand that I do not live in a glossy globe of naivety. I am not ignoring reality or pretending that no ill has fallen on my family or our church this year. In fact, outside of 2017, 2020 has been the most grueling, life-altering, and future-clouding year of my life. Never would I have imagined a year of church shuttering; financial uncertainty; bitter infighting over masks, childcare, and – yes – kinds of hand sanitizer; lockdowns; racial divide; political toxicity; and the legitimacy or illegitimacy of a global pandemic. Never would I have imagined former friends on both sides of the aisle labeling me a liberal and a racist in the same week. Never could I have foreseen my refusal to buy into cultural norms and corrupt ideologies publicly decried as sinful and privately used to spread disunity. I certainly could not have projected a scenario where my little girl, at the height of the pandemic, had to be rushed in for emergency heart surgery. On the surface, it’s been a horrendous year. But just under the surface, as I take time to peel away the obvious ugly, I see significant beauty.
I would highly encourage you, Christian, to do the same, but here are twenty realities that I am thankful for that would not be had 2020 gone according to script:
- The shutdown and continued societal impacts have enabled me to linger with my family longer.
Family has always been an absolute priority for me, but seasons of lockdown and new social norms have enabled me to hang with and invest in Danielle and my kids with increased regularity and purpose.
- New rhythms have forced me to slow down and adapt.
For years I have worked hard to established healthy rhythms and accept necessary changes, but 2020 forced thoughtful reconsideration of many ministry norms.
- A reorientation of so many norms has pushed me to consider the things that truly matter.
Under the bevy of opinions and friendly fire, with pastors dropping from the ranks, Christians fighting over nearly everything, and friends compromising theologically or practically, I have been driven to really seek for that which must be prioritized in my teaching and apologetic, while permitting secondary issues to be passionately held in open-handedness.
- Pressing cultural issues, and how they have rocked the church, have helped in expanding my understanding of many critical matters.
I have, out of necessity, taken an even deeper dive into exploring how eschatology, prophecy, critical theory, intersectionality, cultural marxism, political ideologies, and political corruption directly affect the church and how Christians should respond.
- The necessity of a strong online presence and live-stream has gifted us the capacity to reach far more people with the message of the Gospel.
As a church, we have been able to minister through the vehicle of media to thousands of folks from around the world. Every Sunday hundreds join us from various parts of the country for our live stream and already we have picked up listeners for our podcast from more than a dozen countries.
- The countless calamities have actually been used by God to purify His church.
This always happens in times of crisis. Many fall away but the true church presses on in even greater devotion. That has certainly been the case in 2020.
- The reminder of the need for true community among the faithful has deepened the health of the church.
Many Christians have taken the shutdown as an excuse to opt out of prior commitments, but countless others have felt the stinging need for true community which has increased their ardor to plug into the life of the church local.
- The myriad of controversies and viewpoints have birthed numerous robust and profitable conversations.
Yes, there have been toxic, unprofitable discussions across this annual timeline, but so many of the conversations I have taken part in, when seeded by all parties in kindness, care, and a desire to actually listen, have been incredibly helpful.
- The shutdown gave us the necessary time to create more space for worship and kids’ classrooms.
Before COVID 19 rocked our country we had outgrown our worship space and our kids classrooms were overflowing. The past eight months have gifted us the time needed to expand our worship room while building out much larger classrooms.
- The chaos created an acute awareness and fostered deep conversations around eschatology.
I have long stated that “eschatology is a gift to the church in times of chaos” and that proved to be the case this year. There was no small amount of fear-mongering that went down related to the supposed rapture, the anti-Christ, and the “One World Order,” but once more, for those who sought to listen and understand there was much Biblical comfort to be found.
- The relentless assault from multiple sides has strengthened my resolve to fear the derision and judgment of others far less.
This might be my biggest take away from 2020. I understand that to go too far in this direction will result in cynicism, but the constant attacks have been used by the Lord to actually help me not to fear the criticism or hear the slander that used to wreck me.
- Needed personal repentance and the suffering of friends has instructed my heart to care much more deeply for others.
I have not always been empathetic or filled with compassion. In fact, for many years these virtues were virtually absent. But God has graciously brought me to repentance again and again, cultivating within me a deeper awareness of and care for those who are truly suffering.
- The compromise of Christian leaders and churches has emboldened me to speak against destructive beliefs and policies.
Much that has been heralded in 2020 is not only brazenly false but is also diabolically destructive to the Christian message. As a church we could have slid in with other believers and congregations who swallowed the cultural falsities; but instead, by God’s preservation, we have been graced to stand against the blatant mistruths.
- The constant attacks have presented an opportunity to be courageous.
I’m learning to value attack for without it we will never actually exhibit courage. As Lewis said: “Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” Thank God for the gift not only to be courageous but to show our kids what bravery looks like.
- The diversity of opinions on significant issues has taught me how to graciously disagree.
“I believe you are wrong.” I have uttered those words almost on repeat this year, and I have heard them leveled from others against me. At times those words have been birthed from toxicity; but as the year has progressed, more often than not, those words have been bathed in grace. Christians must learn how to strongly yet kindly disagree.
- The need for community has deepened my friendships.
We were never meant to walk alone. We were designed for community and friendship. God has gifted me, and hopefully you as well, with deep, abiding friendships that throughout the fray of the past nine months have served me well and strengthened my soul.
- The wide-spread exhaustion, frustration, and discouragement for others have provided me endless occasions to lend encouragement to those struggling.
I’m very grateful for this as well. I am not naturally geared toward encouragement; but God has been rewiring me and cultivating within a true pleasure in bringing hope and joy to the lives of others. Though I still fail, by grace, I grow.
- The introduction and normalization of masks in society.
This one is weird, I admit, and most who know me know that I am not typically a mask-wearer. But COVID 19 and the mask hysteria aside, it would seem that wearing a mask moving forward for anyone struggling with a slight ailment or marginal cold would be beneficial for those they come in contact with. We almost forget that all the other illness that existed before COVID still, in fact, exists.
- A deeper love for my church family.
Coming into this year I would have acknowledged that the members of BLDG 28 cared for my soul; but the endless tumult has created a backdrop upon which I have seen the true devotion and love that my church has for one another and for my family and this has stirred a deeper and stronger love within.
- The Divinely orchestrated beauty from disaster has been a refreshing reminder of how little I actually control.
I don’t adapt well. I think there is certainly a place for and a benefit in organization and planning. But 2020 did not go according to script which more than almost anything else graciously reminded me that I may plans my path but the Lord directs my steps (Proverbs 16:9).
Throughout this holiday season I hope we will be reminded of all we have from the Lord to be thankful for; and I pray we will actually give thanks. It’s been a good year.