The Year that Was
The Year That Was, 2020: What We (the Church) Can Learn
It is probably an understatement to say that this past year, 2020, has been memorable. This year, which mercifully tonight at midnight will disappear into history, has been unlike any year most of us have ever lived through. As the year started last January, there was an assumption that this year would be a little dramatic simply because it was a Presidential election year. But what has come of this year could not have been predicted by anyone.
As I look back on the year that was it is hard to believe, considering where we started in January, where we have ended up. This is a year that saw so many of our assumptions turned on their heads. Last January, most of us had never heard of the Coronavirus. I remember the first time being slightly aware of it was when I read a tweet from someone that said something about it only infecting people who drank Corona beer. I remember chuckling and moving on.
The virus didn’t really seem to have much of an impact on life here in the Rocky Mountains until early March. The first week of March I traveled to Southern California to attend the Shepherds Conference. While there I heard a report one morning on the radio about how the virus was have a detrimental effect on tourism in Southern California which was so dependent on tourists from mainland China. People just were not traveling from that part of the world at that point because of all the restrictions brought about because of COVID19.
The week after I returned from the conference, the ski resort where I am a part-time employee was most definitely feeling the effects of the virus by that point. There were not nearly as many people skiing as there usually are during the busy month of March. As things began to shut down, I remember a good friend of mine telling me, “The resort is going to have to close.” I didn’t believe him, and thought he was a bit crazy, but wondered if he was onto something as more of my usually reliable hours were cut. For me it really hit home on March 15 when the resort closed for the season, right in the middle of what is usually our busiest time of the ski season.
Over the next few weeks Sovereign Grace Community Church of the Yampa Valley, which I pastor, grappled with how to handle all of this until we really didn’t have much of a choice, at least we thought we didn’t. We, along with every other church, were asked to not have in person worship to help stop the spread of the virus, which we were being told in late March, early April, could kill millions of people in the United States alone. So, we did just that. I began doing a daily video devotional and we used Facebook Live on Sunday mornings to broadcast our worship service. It never felt right and it certainly did not seem like worship.
After about six weeks of this, as it became clear that COVID 19 was nowhere near as serious as the “experts” were telling us, we began to gather again, and we have never stopped since. The COVID crisis was really only the beginning of what has been a crazy year. All this craziness has influenced the church. So, as we look back on this year what have we (the Church) learned? We have learned a lot this year but for the sake of time I’m going to limit this to just four of what we will call “takeaways.”
1. People live in Fear
One overwhelming lesson that has been learned this past year is that people live in fear of death. I think this is one reason, personally, that I dislike all the wearing of masks, to me it has become a symbol, a daily reminder that people are scared.
The Bible tells us that the one thing that everyone fears is dying. Why is this? Because people, deep inside their being, know that after death comes judgment. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” This is why I have always said that in an odd way I enjoy bringing the message at a funeral. It is the one time when everyone in the room is thinking about dying and the ensuing judgment to come. But this year with the ever-present reminder from the media of COVID19, and the further daily reminder of people wearing the mask, people are confronted with their mortality but more importantly their standing with the Holy God.
I believe that all of us, whether we are saved or not, live somewhat in fear of dying because there is so much about it, we do not understand. What we have seen this past year is a controlling fear. We have witnessed people willingly give up their freedoms, their liberty in exchange for the illusion of safety. A fear that controls you is a symptom of a larger problem; either you are an unbeliever, unreconciled to God, or you are a Christian, but you are immature. You lack a true understanding of the love of God. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”
If you have are not a believer in Jesus Christ, then you do have something to fear. Only Christ can save you from the dreaded fear of death. Only the righteousness of Christ and His shed blood can take away your sin and enable you to be in the presence of the Holy God. If you are not saved you do have a reason to fear God and fear death because you are in serious danger. Far more serious than the virus.
If you are a Christian, you need to replace your fear with some right thinking about God. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” What is even more astounding and gives one great comfort is that God has appointed your days and mine. He established my lifespan and yours before we were ever born. Psalm 139:13-16 says, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth, Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me; When as yet there was not one of them.”
Another astounding Biblical truth to consider is that every that happens to you and me God works together for good. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” When we die, whether that be from COVID or from a car accident, or from old age, we will be immediately ushered into the presence of God for all of eternity. We who have repented of our sins and placed our trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior have absolutely nothing to fear.
2. The Church is a Mess
To be clear, the modern evangelical church in America was a mess before this past year. That being said, the events of this past year have made this even more obvious. If I could sum up what passes for the evangelical movement it is “the desire to be well thought of by men.” The year started with the ongoing promotion of CRT (Critical Race Theory) and intersectionality, especially within the Southern Baptist Convention. But this was quickly supplanted by the argument over what it means to really love your neighbor. Leaders within the evangelical movement were promoting the notion that if you as a church are meeting during the “pandemic” then you weren’t really loving your neighbor.
The COVID19 virus brought challenges to the church here in America unlike any of us had experienced in our lifetimes. I never imagined that I would be standing alone in a room preaching to a camara as the congregation I serve sat at home and watched. Many churches closed back in March and April and some of them have never opened back up. Then when those of us who did open back up, once it became apparent that millions were not going to die, the issue then was whether we should sit six feet apart, wear masks, etc… Our little church tried the social distance thing, but nobody would do it. Our people were so desperate to worship and to fellowship that they blew right past the concept of social distancing. The desire of many churches was to simply be obedient to Christ and to continue gather for fellowship and worship.
The church is indeed a mess, but I believe that COVID19 is separating the real church from the faux church. The attractional model of church, this is the concept that you must have more and more things going on to attract people to church, I believe is taking a sabbatical. I’m under no illusions though, it will be back because that is what the sinful heart of man desires. But one thing that is happening is that more and more Christians are understanding the vital nature of Biblical preaching. Our little church has actually grown this year. You know how we have done this? We haven’t, God has. All we have done is be faithful to the expositional preaching of His Word and He has grown His church. I am of the opinion that there is a growing segment within the church today that is increasingly hungry for this. My prayer for 2021 is that there will be more and more small, faithful, Biblically sound churches.
The church needs to simply get back to this admonition from Paul to his young child in the faith, Timothy: “Give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” In Colossians 3:16 Paul had this to say, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” No fog machines, no laser lights, no pastors zip lining from the back of the auditorium.
3. We Are a Deeply Divided Nation
The United States is no longer United. The evidence to this fact was clear long before 2020 came upon us. But this year was unlike any year since maybe 1968. The year 1968 began with the public relations disaster of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in January; a battle the United States Military actually won, although you wouldn’t have known that from the coverage of the press at the time. This was followed by LBJ being defeated in the New Hampshire primary by Senator Eugene McCarthy who was the anti-war candidate. LBJ then withdrew from the race and Bobby Kennedy entered the race. Then on April 4th Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis and two short months later Bobby Kennedy was shot and killed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after he had won the California primary. Later that summer the Republicans nominated Richard Nixon for President and the Democrats held a deeply divided convention in Chicago which was marked by violent protests outside of the convention hall. Richard Nixon narrowly defeated Hubert Humphry in November but the nation was deeply divided over the war in Vietnam.
This past year has seemed a bit similar. We are divided over how to handle a virus. This past summer we saw violent protests, riots, and lawlessness break out in cities all across our land. All of this was to “protest” the death of a man named George Floyd who was in police custody when he died. The Black Lives Matters movement spread all across the land and has effected almost every corner of our culture, including the church. We are no longer a people who have any thing of substance to unite us. The year 1968 ended with the stunning achievement of Apollo 8, which was the first manned spacecraft to orbit around the moon. Astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were circling the moon on Christmas Eve 1968 and as they broadcast the shot of the earth rise, they read from Genesis 1, the creation account. What had been a horrible year ended on a high note of achievement and unity. Unfortunately, 2020 has no such event to unite us. Some say the implementation of the vaccine for COVID19 is an equally monumental achievement, but there are far too many people who are skeptical of the vaccine to say it unites us.
The answer to this is not found in our political institutions. One thing 2020 has driven home is that our political leaders and institutions, for the most part, are not trust worthy The answer to this issue is found in the return of the church to being the church. We are deeply divided because the issue which we are divided over are issues of Biblical right and wrong at there core. So, the answer does not lie with Joe Biden or any other elected official. The answer lies with the clear preaching and teaching of the Word of God from the pulpits of this once great land.
And that brings us to the last takeaway…
4. The Church Must Be the Church
In some ways this past year has been a disaster for much of the church. It was shocking just how quickly the church acquiesced and continued to do so, to unheard of restrictions placed on her. But as I touched on above, in some ways the true Church is being revealed and not a moment too soon.
I am of the firm belief that it is time for the church to stop “playing church” as I like to call it. There is so much that goes on evangelicalism that is fluff and fake. So much of the church treats worship as if it is some form of entertainment. One thing that all the restrictions placed on the church has done is it has made it really difficult for church to be a form of entertainment. When you cannot meet, or when you choose not to meet as Biblically prescribed, if you are an entertainment driven church, that becomes a much more difficult proposition. As I said in my year end video series, if you are a pragmatic, attractional pastor then this past year has indeed been very difficult for you.
The church then has to stop this, and I think it will, at least for a while but the lost love the attractional model so it will no doubt make a comeback. But as we begin this new year with all the above lessons in mind, it is time for the church to be the church. People are fearful, especially here in the United States, unlike they have ever been before. There is so much that is unknown. But one thing we, as Biblical Christians do know is that God is in absolute control of all of this and not only that, but He will also be glorified.
There are numerous things the church needs to do but I’m just going to touch on a few:
First, simply preach the word. Paul wrote to Timothy before he was martyred in 2 Timothy 4:1-2, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” Stop with the comedic routines that are called preaching. Stop with the self-help messages and soothing words. Stop with the therapeutic deism that is spewed forth from far too many pulpits today. Simply open the word of God and preach and teach faithfully.
Second, the church and the saints therein need to be living sacrifices. Romans 12:1-2 says, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Being a living sacrifice means not being like the world. The church today is so desperate for the world to like her that she becomes attracted to any little trend that comes along. If we are truly going to be the church, we have to sacrifice being liked by the world. Those days must end! Much more could be said about this, but I will simply let the Word of God speak for itself.
Third, we must proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ through following the teaching of the Bible, encouraging, supporting, and participating in the work of the gospel both at home and all over the world. Matthew 28:18-20 says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Fourth, we must equip the saints through solid, faithful, Biblical instruction and study. Ephesians 4:11-12 says, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” This is the job description for every pastor/elder. The job of those men in leadership in the church is not to entertain, it is not to make people feel good about themselves, it is not to help them reach their full potential. It is to prepare them “for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”
Fifth, the church is to administer the ordinances of baptism upon a person’s confession of faith, which we see in Matthew 3:13-17 when our Lord Jesus was baptized. The second ordinance then is communion which is for those who are believers, which Paul lays out for us in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. These two ordinances are not salvific, but they also are not to be treated lightly. Far too many churches and pastors baptize just about anyone (I’m as guilty as the next guy of doing this) without making a reasonable effort to ensure that their profession of faith is genuine. Far too many churches treat the Lord’s table with too much of a casual attitude. The Lord’s table is for believers and that must be emphasized as a church commemorates the Lord’s Supper and the great price paid by our Lord.
Sixth, we are to encourage Biblical fellowship among believers. Hebrews 10:24-25 says,
“and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” One of the raging debates this year has been what and who are “essential?” There is nothing more essential than the church and the fellowship of the believers. But far too many professing Christians treat fellowship as something they will do if they have nothing else going on. If you are genuinely saved, then you should have a burning desire to be in fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Church attendance must be a top priority in your life. I see far too many families in the church today who put a lot of things ahead of fellowship with their fellow believers. If you are a Christian church is going to be one of the top priorities in your life. If you miss church, worship, and fellowship it should be for a very good reason.
Seventh, we should nurture the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of the members of the body of Christ. Both to individuals and families, and churches in the name of Jesus Christ. James 1:27 says, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Lastly, we should encourage fellow churches to faithfulness through instruction and study about the Biblical role of the church. Acts 2:42 says, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” It is a personal little dream of mine to see little Biblical churches begin to grow all over the world. If the church I am blessed to lead can have a small part in helping and encouraging other churches, we would be most privileged to do that.
These are difficult times we find ourselves in as the church today. I do not believe that it is going to get any easier. But I do know that God is absolutely sovereign over all things. We must trust our Savior and King no matter what may come. I pray that this has been an encouragement to you, and I ask you to join me and Sovereign Grace Community Church of the Yampa Valley in praying this coming year for more and more Biblically faithful congregations in this land.