Written by Peggy Lundy - Heartland Church - Fort Wayne, IN
Photo Credit: Janet Mueller
For most of December, one word had been reoccurring with uncharacteristic frequency. Multiple times a day, I had seen it in print, heard it in music, or read it on social media. Maybe it was because of the holiday season or the type of year we’d just had. Regardless, I had heard it a lot, and it was beginning to annoy and irritate me.
Why should one word cause me such frustration? Because I had given up on that word. I had decided it was empty and impossible. It had become illusive and imaginary. I was disappointed, discouraged, and despondent. And every time I heard that word, I wanted to scream or growl or both.
It’s only a little four-letter word. It is, however, a very powerful word — as powerful as sunlight pouring through a window when heavy drapes are thrown open. It’s blinding and painful and annoying. But God is relentless when He speaks. He will not stop until we listen. And He was speaking to me. His persistence began to penetrate my darkness, and I began to see and hear again. He was offering me a gift. And even though I continued to push it away, He kept offering. Finally, realizing I was fighting a losing battle, I began to open up to His gift. The days got brighter, my heart got lighter, and the future didn’t seem so dark anymore. Hope had come in like the sunlight. That one pesky word didn’t seem so irritating any more.
Looking ahead into 2021 can feel ominous, dreadful and downright scary. But, we have hope. The kind of hope that’s steadfast and sure. It doesn’t disappoint and it doesn’t lie. It is as eternal as the God who gives it.
Every time I’ve experienced uncertainty in my future, God has always highlighted Scriptures to encourage me. Two of the most significant are Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 15:13. This is how I repeat them to myself. “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you a future and a hope.’ ” And from Romans, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may abound with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
And yes, both of those verses popped up, more than once, during the days I wasn’t listening. I believe God is reminding us we don’t have to manufacture our own hope or find it hidden in our circumstances. Hope is part of His nature, and He wants to share it with us so that our future, no matter how uncertain, is filled with joy, peace, and provision.
He is offering the same gift of hope to every Christ follower as we take on the adventures that await us in 2021. Will you join me by receiving His gift?
Written by Fr. Joe Boysel - Holy Trinity Anglican Church - Hudson, OH
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
—Matthew 5:14–16 (ESV)
In his book Alienated America Timothy P. Carney calls the Church, “America’s Indispensable Institution.” A commentary editor for the Washington Examiner, Carney shockingly notes that active participation in religion in general, and in Christianity in particular, leads to all sorts of positive personal outcomes, such as: stronger marriages, greater economic prosperity, longer lives, and an overall greater level of happiness. Simply put, going to church is good for people. Carney demonstrates this through many different sociological studies, citing data from every imaginable angle. He is so convinced that the church is America’s most important institution—the glue that holds our society together—he baldly states, “that only the most stubborn enemies of religion deny [it].”
The corollary is likewise true. While religion is demonstrably good for people, secularism—people living as irreligious members of a society—hurts them. As Carney puts it, “the irreligious suffer.” Now it’s true that there are many happy individual atheists/agnostics in our country and around the world; that’s not the point. The statistical reality is that, for an American, life outside of religion is far more likely to lead to dysfunction and misery than adding the single ingredient of participating in weekly worship. Carney’s analysis of Gallup’s research data leads him to conclude, “that very religious people have better lives than similarly situated non-religious people.”
But there remains one stunning caveat; he writes, “Interestingly, the ‘moderate religious’ fared worse on almost every [metric] than both the very religious and the nonreligious.” In other words, “being highly religious seems correlated with happiness, but being a little bit religious does not.” The problem, of course, is that America has been on a slippery slope of becoming more and more secularized for a very long time. We’re still religious, but less so all the time. Yes, this is certainly a problem exacerbated by the policies enacted in the halls of Washington and Columbus, Albany and Lansing, Tallahassee and Sacramento, but that’s not the biggest part of the problem. America has become more and more secularized because we’ve become quite comfortable with tepid Christianity. Unfortunately, the more irreligious we become the more miserable we will become and the more our society will begin to break down into further disrepair.
We are all hoping that, over the course of this coming year, our world will at last emerge from this long pandemic nightmare. By God’s grace, we hope to see more and more people vaccinated against COVID-19 until, one day, the virus will be nothing more than a bad memory. Indeed, we all look forward to the day when we will talk about COVID-19 like we do polio and measles now. “Ah, remember back when?” we’ll all say. “Wasn’t that awful?”
But I wonder, what sort of America will emerge with this new reality? Will our societal and spiritual health match our physical wellbeing? Will we discover that the long hiatus from church, for so many people, created a craving for return? Or will it be just the opposite?
After the pandemic will we find a society primed for revival or ruination?
What’s more, what will we find of those who clung to their faith through the pandemic? Will we be ready to engage the world in mission? Will we be ready to move beyond the walls of our parish buildings to encounter the secularized corners of our nation with the hope of the Gospel? Will we be ready to face the future with optimism, believing that we have been called for such a time as this? Or will we be content to lament the “good old days,” back when people used to believe in God and went to church?
As the calendar turns over a new year I want to urge us all to be thinking about the importance of putting Christ first in our lives. That means putting Christ first on Sunday and then putting him first on Monday too. Putting Christ first means putting both worship and mission front-and-center on the priority page of our lives. After all, people need the Lord and our nation desperately needs the Church.
As always, I send this with,
Love and Blessings,