A 2020 Christmas Message.
In January 2020, I was watching a YouTube message from Pastor Erwin McManus (shocker, I know). He was challenging his congregation to view every obstacle in life as an opportunity. An opportunity in which to adapt, learn from, and eventually thrive in. How often do we view things like trouble, pain, suffering, or hardship though the lens of presenting us with an opportunity? Because we will certainly experience our share as we traverse through the seasons of life. I know I don’t usually see it that way, but I’d like to start to…There’s never an opportune time, right?
I was just beginning to wrestle with this mindset, and then March 2020 happened. 2020 on a whole presented us with an incredible opportunity. One to run and hide, become discouraged or depressed, or resort to just survival mode. In contrast, one major thing it also presented us with was an opportunity to deepen our resolve, develop our personal faith, and to make it real. Maybe more real than it’s ever been. Will it be refined, strengthened and come through tested as gold?
The big question I kept coming back to this year was “Can you thrive in a season of fear, hardship and adversity?” And the answer I keep coming back to is yes. I say yes.
I’ve always hated the word survive. I’d rather substitute it with thrive instead, every time. It disheartens me when someone tells me that they’re just trying to survive. I agree that there are seasons when it just feels like life is beating you down, wearing away at our morale, and is wringing us out. What does it look like to flip the idea, and instead wring life? To squeeze and savor every beautiful moment, gift, and experience we can from it. How does one thrive in a year like 2020, for example, when everything around us suggests the opposite?
This year, we experienced a drought of sorts. Certainly a drought of Good News. Morale was down, outlook was rather dismal, fear was prevalent and palpable, and the church faced extremely unique challenges. Again, an opportunity. Which begs the question, how do we personally respond? What will our resolve be? Will our faith survive the drought?
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).
You and I can thrive personally (that also means mentally, emotionally and spiritually). Our soul and spirit can thrive, even in times like this. The beautiful pentecostal church that I was a part of for 15 years consistently prayed for revival—for our local communities, our country, and our world. But my pastor always followed that up with the statement that revival starts with us. A personal revival precedes a corporate revival. Sure, miraculous things can happen at any time, but It starts with me. I need to be revived first, before I can expect the whole world to experience revival. Furthermore, this is something I can control and work toward. This is something I can ask God for, and achieve with his help.
Are you going through a personal revival? Some days I am, and some days I’m not.
I can say that in 2020, I was able to reverse the general consensus, environment and atmosphere and go through a time of personal creative revival. I wrote and released a book about about dreams and motorcycles. I’ve been wrestling with this project for the past 5 years. I carved out time to write and reflect every morning for 4 months (May – August) and greet the sunrise every morning. A personal time, a time of revival. Thank God, I was able to establish this discipline and rhythm. Waking up was a joy. I would go on an early morning prayer walk, make my coffee, and then open up my laptop to download the insights and observations that God was giving to me. I was able to enter into a moment (a season) of spiritual rebirth and renewal. Now, I’m able to look back on a terrible year and see it as one of the most special and fruitful summers of my life. My roots were planted by the stream, and my leaves remained green in the oppressing heat of gloom and uncertainly. Completing this challenging book, now I was able to offer and present it to my friends, the same way I am with this letter.
I’ve been challenging my friends lately to build something in the next decade of their life. What will it be? Whether it be great or small, make it something significant. Make it personal, and let it give you purpose and a season of revival. Now we can add to this, and take it a step further: Build something in a season of adversity. Because that’s what we’re currently living in. Now the stakes are even higher. When we build, we bear fruit. When we build, we thrive…even when the world tells us it can’t be done. This year was totally disruptive, totally inconvenient, and totally uninspiring in many ways. But personal revival starts from within.
Which brings us to the Christmas portion of this Christmas message.
The word that hit me this year when reading the Christmas story was “inconvenience.”
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.” – Luke 2:1-3
Nine months prior this, an angel of the Lord appeared before an unassuming teenager to announce that she would be the mother of the Savior of the world. Boldly and even miraculously, she willlingly accepted this call on her life and said “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” But could she have predicted or imagined the timing of it, or just what lay in store for her?
Did you ever think that maybe Jesus came at a bad time? An inconvenient time?
A census just happened to be decreed. This means having to return to the city of your birth to be counted for Mary and Joseph. This is no small detail in the story—it results in the reason Jesus was born in Bethlehem and not Nazareth (in Galilee). The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the town of Joseph’s ancestors, was a 90+ mile trip. I’m fairly certain that Mary was not planning to be riding on donkey through the rocky and hilly terrain of the Judean countryside while being 9 MONTHS pregnant.
What thoughts must’ve been going through Mary and Joseph’s mind when they were traveling? Do you think Mary in her humanity ever said to herself, “Man, this is really brutal and uncomfortable.” Talk about scary, talk about unpredictable, talk about inconvenient. The events and hardships surrounding this difficult journey probably didn’t make much sense at the time. And by the way, it’s going to get better…Mary, you’ll be delivering your baby in a barn, beside a few smelly animals.
God’s timing, most of the time, is inconvenient to our schedule.
I looked up the definition of inconvenience: “Causing trouble, difficulties, or discomfort.” Ha. 2020, anyone?
So, in that spirit, I say to us, let’s tackle 2021. While I definitely hope that it is, I’m not going to automatically assume that next year will be better or easier than 2020. May we tackle it nonetheless. Tackle it with faith, resolve, joy, generosity and gratefulness.
I’m on a group text with a bunch of old college friends. One of the more popular texts from this year was from our friend Dale. It was a quick video message telling us to simply “go after it”, after he’d just finished a long morning run. He was sweating and tired and out of breath, yet satisfied because he tackled it and pushed himself. It encouraged and resonated with us because it was good advice. Maybe it was just the words we needed to hear at that exact moment in the middle of a pandemic.
The best is yet to come. Because personal revival awaits…
Lots of love,