I have no predictions about what will happen to you or me during the next year except for this — we will endure hardship.
In January of 2020, we declared before our church family that it would be a year of Encounter. By that, we meant that we would spend the year creating more opportunities for people to gather publicly and to huddle closer in prayer. We launched a new monthly midweek service with a strong emphasis on the end-of-service response time. We anointed people with oil, prayed over the sick, and asked God to transform lives.
Our second of those monthly midweek Encounter services would be the last time we would meet together physically for eighteen weeks. When we did reopen, there were no groups gathering in the altar to pray together. Instead, we were six feet apart, wearing masks, and leaving empty seats between households.
Did we encounter God in 2020? Absolutely! But it wasn’t in any of the ways we had expected. We made plans for positive experiences of worship and fellowship. God chose for us to be drawn nearer to him through hardship instead.
As I write this, we’ve just announced that we’ll be meeting virtually with no in-person gathering again this coming weekend — the fourth week in a row for us to do so. And based on the rising number of Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in our local area (as with most of the United States), it could be a while before we’re gathering in person again.
So here I sit at my desk, praying over 2021. Every year, we choose a word or phrase that frames how we ask God to move in our congregation. One year, we prayed for Breakthrough — and we saw a lot of it. The following year was a year for Transformation — and again, we watched God change us in powerful ways.
For the last couple of months, I’ve listened as the Holy Spirit has put a phrase on my heart for the upcoming year of ministry…
2021: The Year of Good News
That’s right. Good news. 2021 is definitely going to be a year of good news.
It’s preposterous, isn’t it? 2020 was definitely a year of bad news. Warming and wildfires and giant storms resulting from climate change. A global pandemic that took most nations by surprise. An election year in America that divided us into warring factions. The violent deaths of people of color led to public outcries and protests for justice and equality for all.
How do I know 2021 will be different? I don’t. So let me clarify what I do and do not mean when I declare that it will be a year of good news.
I do NOT mean that we’re going to start seeing positive headlines in the news media or that social media will suddenly become a playground of love and peace. I can’t predict how the economy will move or what political surprises might pop up.
I DO mean that the good news of the gospel will bring refreshing to all who will receive it, and we’re going to be creative in how we share it.
I mean that we’re going to ground our outlook on life in the redemptive story of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ who came to save us, who died for our sins, and who rose again from the grave.
I mean that we’re going to take the long view and attempt to see our circumstances from a heavenly perspective rather than an earthly one. And from heaven’s viewpoint, God wins no matter what.
I mean that we’re going to invite all kinds of people from all walks of life to come and explore the good news of Jesus with us. We’ll have to be creative for a while with virtual gatherings, online content, and person-to-person care, but we’re going to spread good news no matter what happens in the culture around us.
You don’t have to study much church history to see that the earliest Christians were so dedicated to the good news about Jesus and so hopeful about eternity that they annoyed fearmongering political leaders and power players to the point that it led to waves of persecution and martyrdom.
I don’t want us to annoy anyone, but I do want us to demonstrate the resilience that comes with following King Jesus and dedicating our lives to the good news.
Jesus came like Light to a dark world. Like Bread to a hungry people. Like Water of Life to those who thirsted for fulfillment. And after his resurrection from the dead and ascension back to heaven, he left us the task of continuing to bring him to the world around us.
I’ve come to love the book of Revelation, which closes out the Bible with a message of apocalyptic hope. John the Evangelist paints for us a picture of earth and its empires that competes with Dante’s Inferno. But toward the end, he points us to a city within which there is peace under the righteous reign of King Jesus.
The city is described in this way:
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day — and there will be no night there. — Revelation 21:24–25 NRSV
While I know we’d love to escape our world of bad news to some far off heaven, the Bible presents a different scenario…
See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. — Revelation 21:3–4 NRSV
Don’t miss this. While the world burns in chaos, God prepares a refuge for all who wish to enter. The gates on all sides, for all kinds of people, remain open day and night.
No matter what this next year may bring in the way of public health, economic changes, or natural events, we can know this:
King Jesus is good, and he invites everybody into his kingdom.
And that’s very, very good news.