I have always found a new year to be kind of a bag of mixed emotions. Certainly, there is something exciting about looking ahead to a year full of untapped promise, but there is a kind of ominous side to a new year as well. Like walking in the dark, we don’t really have any idea what lies ahead of us.
A year ago we were charging into a new year with all kinds of excitement and enthusiasm. After all, in ministry how can you not be excited about everything you can do with the number “2020”? Be honest, how many of you pastors preached a sermon last January titled, “2020 Vision”?
But then March hit and with it the Coronavirus pandemic. Most of us had never heard that word, but within a matter of a few days we had to pivot and try to figure out how to BE the church when we couldn’t MEET as a church. Besides navigating Coronavirus, several of our churches (and their congregants) were blasted by the Derecho storm (also another word most of us had never heard until 2020).
No doubt about it, it has been a difficult year, one that has tested our trust in God and his sovereignty. An interesting trend I’ve noticed recently is that people can’t wait for 2020 to be done because they assume that 2021 will be easier. Maybe… Maybe not. I don’t know what the new year holds, but I do know that you’ll need to trust God just as much in 2021 as you did in 2020. Let me give you a little primer on trust from Proverbs 3:5-6.
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
There are two distinct parts involved in this decision to trust. First there is total reliance on God. Notice that little three letter word, all. All your heart, all your intellect and will. Not part, all. Nothing held back, no back door exits. This is a total reliance on God.
Secondly, in order for that to happen, you must go on to the second part of this decision, which is the total renunciation of self. “And lean not on your own understanding.” You are not trusting with all your heart if you are depending on your understanding. In other words, if you are using your solutions, you’re not trusting. Charles Bridges, a Christian leader who lived several hundred years ago, said in reference to this scripture, “The trust called for here is not only entire, it’s exclusive.”
Let’s take it a step further. Verse 6 tells us, “in all your ways acknowledge him.” The word “acknowledge” means to bring pleasure. To acknowledge the Lord means to bring pleasure to him in everything I do. That means the little things as well as the big things.
So what is the result of all this? The last part of verse six says, “And he will make your paths straight.” The term “make your paths straight” has an interesting Hebrew meaning. The same phrase is used one other time in the Old Testament, in Isaiah and there it is translated, “He shall make a highway.” In other words, he doesn’t just give you a hint of what his will might be, he makes a highway.
Corrie Ten Boom was a World War II prisoner of war, who God used in an incredible way to spread the message of how, in the hands of God, even the most terrible things can be used for good.
She had an embroidery of a crown that she took with her to her speaking engagements and she would hold up the embroidery and show the beautiful picture of a crown, then she would turn the embroidery over showing the tangled, confused mess of all different colored threads on the back side of the embroidery. Then she would quote this poem she had written.
My life is but a weaving,
between my God and me.
I do not choose the colors,
He worketh steadily.
Oftimes he weaveth sorrow,
and I in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper,
and I the under-side.
Not till the loom is silent,
and the shuttles cease to fly,
Will God unroll the canvas,
and explain the reason why,
The dark threads are as needful,
in the skillful weaver’s hand,
As the threads of gold and silver,
in the pattern he has planned.
2020 has looked like a mess in many ways and who knows what 2021 will look like. But I do know this. You can trust the Weaver…
In the District Superintendent’s report at District Conference last summer, I announced that the District Board of Administration would be exploring the possibility of merging with the Northwest District. If you missed that report, you may want to watch it to get the full context of why we are considering this merger. You can watch the report here:
Or you can read the report in the District Journal, which you can download here:
Since District Conference, the following meetings have taken place:
Through our many meetings and conversations, the following timeline has emerged:
We want to be as open and transparent as possible during this process, so please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns or other comments you may have. I really believe this merger has the potential to launch us into a new season of Kingdom growth and expansion!
Your Partner in the Gospel,
Wow! What a year 2020 has been! As if dealing with the challenges and uncertainties of COVID-19 for the past 6 months wasn’t enough, many of you reading these words have had your lives upended by the derecho storm that cut a massive swath through Iowa on August 10. The fact is that dealing with the challenges of 2020 is taking a toll on us. Some of you probably feel like the circus performer who posted an ad in the paper reading, “Lion tamer seeking tamer lion.”
Recently, as I wrestled with the temptation to succumb to discouragement, I recalled something that Chuck Swindoll called, “The 50/20 principle,” so named because it flows out of Genesis, 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Years earlier Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery and, after a long, challenging journey with lots of detours, Joseph ended up as second in command over the entire nation of Egypt. That placed him in position to save untold numbers of people from starvation during a 7-year famine. When Joseph’s brothers feared that, at long last he was going to seek revenge for what they had done to him years earlier, he reassured them that their sovereign God had it all well in hand the entire time.
The 50/20 principle is simply this: “In his sovereignty, God gets good results from bad circumstances.” No one would ever say that a pandemic or a destructive storm is good, but our sovereign God will use it for good if we let him.
Having said that, however, there are three really important factors in the 50/20 principle that we need to remember:
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! –Amos 5:24 (NIV)
If you listened to the video I posted last Friday on our district Facebook page, you probably don’t need to keep reading because this article is, by an large, repeats what I said in that video. I just wanted to communicate on as many platforms as possible that the people of God absolutely must be serious about living, promoting, and insisting on justice in our fallen and broken world.
The name of George Floyd and the phrase, “I can’t breathe” are ringing in our ears, reminding us yet again that the sin of racism is alive and well. The streets of Minneapolis have erupted, filling with protesters demanding justice. Don’t get sidetracked by the fact that a relatively small number of people have used this as an excuse to loot and destroy property—the fact is that the vast majority of protestors are motivated to peacefully seek justice.
Justice… It’s a word that has been used often of late, and not just in reference to George Floyd, who is merely the most recent in a long string of those who have been victims of the sin of racism.
Hearing this word repeated and seeing it in print over and over in recent days has driven me to the scriptures to wrestle with the concept of justice. The word is used 134 times in scripture so apparently, justice is a big deal to God. It’s not just something that is important to Him, it’s one of the words that we use to describe his character; it’s one of his attributes. Justice is not just something God does, it is an integral part of who he is. He can’t not be just.
So, what does it mean when we say that God is just? His justice means that he can’t do or cause anything that is unfair. When it comes to justice, the key word is “fair.” You’ve probably heard the phrase, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” It means that God doesn’t grade on a curve based on heritage, pedigree or appearance. God is fair and impartial and we all stand equally in need of his grace.
So let me make three applications:
May the words of the prophet Amos come true in our generation, “Let justice roll on like a river!”
It was just six weeks ago that the COVID-19 pandemic began to rock our worlds, changing the way we work, relate, recreate, and shop. I could go on with that list, but you get the idea. Coronavirus, a word most of us didn’t even know a couple of months ago, has totally disrupted our lives, including how we do church. We all long to get back to normal, don’t we?
I get it. But maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to get back to “normal”, especially when it comes to the church and how we approach our mission. For too long we have depended on people coming to us. We have poured our efforts into worship services, children’s and youth programs and other ministries that take place in our buildings, hoping that people would come and consider the claims of Christ. Then, six weeks ago, all of that was taken away from us and we were forced to get creative and find ways to “go and tell” instead of hoping that they would “come and see.”
When we finally do get to start meeting together again, we are going to face the temptation to go back to the way things were before COVID. We’ll tell ourselves that we don’t need to worry about our digital presence anymore because we can meet in person. And people will be free to come to us, so we can curb our efforts to find ways to connect with them where they live. Time to get back to “normal,” right? I hope not.
It occurs to me that we are in a similar position as the children of Israel when they were faced with crossing the Jordan and entering the promised land. You remember the story, don’t you? The 12 spies came back with the report that the promised land was even better than they had imagined. But 10 of the spies pointed out that there were giants that would have to be defeated, so the majority got cold feet and thought it might be best if they just went back to normal (Egypt).
It’s interesting that they remembered Egypt being better than it really was. It’s not that Egypt was so great, but it was predictable. They had learned how to survive in Egypt and crossing the Jordan to take possession of the promised land was just too risky.
We have gone through an incredibly steep learning curve over the past several weeks, trying to figure out how to be the church in a season when all of our favorite tools have been taken away from us. We have taken significant steps to have a meaningful online presence, have found ways to do discipleship when people can’t gather, and have creatively penetrated our communities with meaningful acts of service.
When we finally can start meeting together again it would be so easy to retreat to “normal.” For the sake of people who need Jesus, don’t do it! We have stepped into the Jordan, there’s no going back!