2020 STARTED WITH FEARS THAT WWIII was beginning between Iran and the West. The year is ending with four Arab nations making peace with Israel, Brexit, a new strain of COVID coming from England, a contested US election, and a ramped-up, government enforced lock-down.
Most of the church saw little of this coming. What can we learn from this year?
#1 Not in Control
First of all, 2020 has reminded us of this life is wildly unpredictable. Many of my plans got dynamited to smithereens, just like many of yours.
We think we can control destiny and be ready for all unknowns. We assume with good planning we can eliminate risk. 2020 has blown a hole in all such human arrogance. It’s reminded us that this life isn’t a genie-lamp to be rubbed. This year reminds us to take the words of James 4 seriously:
‘You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. You ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.’
#2 Men Make Poor Gods
Second, men make poor gods. We live in a world that is dangerous because it is fallen. Yes, there is wisdom we can use to reduce risk for us and our families.
We make things worse, however, when we look to leaders to eliminate all risk for us. There is idolatry—not only in safetyism as the worship of a particular virtue—but in expecting other people to make everything safe for you. The Scriptures declare that ‘God is our refuge’ (Ps 46). When we remove the God of Scripture from our society, however, we still look for an ultimate refuge—just elsewhere.
This year, Western Nations have asked government leaders to be their refuge. Inevitably, they have failed and their attempts have plunged millions into depression, loneliness, unemployment, poverty, and death. Ronald Reagan showed more discernment than most when he said ‘One of the scariest phrases in the English language is: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ You must stop giving CPR to the dream that another human can make this existence safe for you.
#3 Gather Means Gather
So far, so bad? The third lesson is our need to gather. I confess that when Western governments first said ‘three weeks to flatten the curve,’ I was optimistic that a few weeks of online service might be beneficial for our congregation. I know, looking back it was naïve of me. It wasn’t just my blind trust in the government that three weeks meant a literal three weeks (as opposed to three weeks being symbolic for three ages). But I was also foolish enough to think that meeting online was enough to meet the spiritual, relational, and emotional needs of my congregation. It wasn’t.
2020 has forced many church leaders to reexamine all the Bible teaches about gathering. ‘When two or three are gathered, I am there’ Jesus says. The church, by definition, is a physical assembly and, as long as we fail to gather, we fail to be the church.
#4 Legitimate Human Authority
Fourth. We must get better at discerning legitimate authority from illegitimate authority. In the book of Esther, Mordecai goes out of his way to support and protect King Xerxes (even though Xerxes was a cruel and immoral man) while refusing to bow before the Viceroy Haman. He knew that one authority was legitimate and should be submitted to while the other should not be.
There are political and social forces spouting weapons-grade nonsense that demand we submit to their laws and influence. Most of these forces involve deception at some level and, as fallen humans, our hearts will eat lies when they’re hungry—if we’re not actively feeding ourselves the truth. Discerning when it is righteous to submit and righteous to resist is something we must get better at. Learning what the limits of civil government should be would be a great place to start.
Fifth, we need to lament. A lot has been lost in 2020, both personally and as a society. We’ve lost loved ones, civil liberties, relationships, ministry opportunities, etc. As we come to the end of the year it is right that we take time to mourn them while holding on to the hope that God can and does redeem evil circumstances and use them for good in our lives. We weep, but then we cast our eyes to eternity. When we step through that veil and into the Everland, nothing will dry quicker than our tears.
We need to pray for bucket-loads of discernment. Christians can be swept up in short, snappy propaganda slogans just like the world around us. ‘Love is love’, ‘Three weeks to flatten’, ‘Black Lives Matter’, ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’.
In themselves, these phrases might be fine. But, when you undress the words, you find less than honest ideologies hiding under the covers. We need to take Pauls warning seriously not to be, ‘infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming’ (Eph 4.14).
#7 ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ Abused
Seventh. I never considered just how much the phrase ‘love thy neighbour’ could be used to do such cruel things to one’s neighbour. Give the devil his due, that was clever of him.
Under the banner of ‘love thy neighbour,’ some Christians have supported policies that have kept their neighbours from being able to receive the emotional and relational support they need from friends and family. Some Christians have continued to receive a paycheck while supporting lockdown policies that have plunged their neighbours into unemployment or poverty. That they have done this without any sense of irony is tragic.
Our neighbours are asking to see their loved ones without fear of arrest. That we give them isolation in the name of safety, while deriding them as Cov-idiots, shows just how arrogant our notions of ‘love thy neighbour’ have become.
#8 People (Still) Need to Hear
Eighth, we live in a God haunted world. Secularism will always break the human heart. We must help people wake up to the reality of His goodness. 2020 has caused people to fear both the loss of liberty and sickness. We point to the one who gives ultimate freedom and ultimate life. When people fear death, it is a good time to preach everlasting life.
#9 Shame Proof
Lastly, we must deal with social shaming. When I was young, I learned how some Eastern cultures were shame-based. The West, I was taught, was guilt-based. A lot has changed in twenty-five years. In 2020 people are now fired from jobs for expressing political, social, or religious opinions on their private social media accounts if they go against the main cultural narrative. Many are afraid to say out loud what they believe for fear of rejection and backlash. Tolerance has become passé.
If you’re a Christian who’s allergic to shame, get over it. We should be ashamed when we sin and break God’s law. We should refuse, however, the shame that comes from a world in rebellion to God. If you dare to speak, the solid, tyrannical, and unmoving herd of the majority will be sending a lot of well-packaged shame your way in 2021. In the coming year, we need Mordecai-like Christians who are scorn proof—men and women who won’t be shamed into bowing before the Haman’s of our day.
For more on the epic of Mordecai and Esther, see Joshua’s book The Girl and the Guardian. Get it in a high-quality hardcover, paperback, or Kindle version Here on Amazon