For the last 10 years I have been typing out a collection of goals for my life. Prior to entering the Doctor of Ministry program at Andrews University, I called it a life plan. Now post doctorate, I have retained the university’s name of Ministry Development Plan. Over the last two weeks of 2020, I reviewed the plans I had listed for 202o. Most years I have been fairly accurate in my goals. 2020 wasn’t so kind to my plans. However, to understand what is God assigning me for 2021, I needed explore what God has shown me in 2020.
I realized I don’t love people like I thought I loved. Family members, church members, strangers, news media, social media, politician—it really didn’t matter. When Covid-19 made its entrance, I discovered I had a much more insidious virus of hate in my heart. As hate surfaced, I watched myself join the “us versus them” on every issue of 2020. God keeps asking me: “How do you love someone who you view as hateful?”
As I watched political affiliation and conspiracy theories clash with science and reason, I watched my church divide into the us versus them. Church business meetings made me cringe. How could such passion be turned against each other? I wasn’t seeing the unity in Jesus of John 17.
As I look toward 2021, God has been challenging me. And the question He keeps asking is, “Will you love those who are so passionate and don’t agree with you?”
There is a great danger to push this division in our churches under the proverbial carpet when this pandemic subsides. Every church I have been a member of from childhood until now has its dark secrets that are just pushed aside for another generation. Every church carries dark secrets that are like garbage. Unfortunately, the garbage (if not processed) continues to stink up the whole place.
During the nine months that Covid has altered our routines, some of the stink of the garbage has come to the surface. Our love of self over others – sin’s ultimate beginning – has shown up in so many different ways. Masks or no masks. In-person or online church. Black Lives or Blue Lives. Mail-in or Election Day voting. Democrat or Republican. Trump or Biden. Vaccine or anti-Vaccine. 2020 has clearly shown the polarization of our church.
How does the Christian relate to this in the love and unity described by Jesus in John 17:23 “I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me”?
As I have wrestled with Jesus’ words as they relate to 2020, I have come up with three ways God has drawn my attention to and I am including them in my 2021 Ministry Development Plan.
- Search my heart for the divisiveness in me. I cannot fix my heart, but I can open my heart up to God’s transforming power. Matthew carefully put together his recollection of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Early on he shares Jesus’ words, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Jesus then proceeds through an extensive list of commandments and with each expands the view to God’s perspective. Jesus puts a bow on the gift, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). In that moment Jesus had set up every human being for failure. There isn’t a single one of us who can attain that assessment. I’m thankful that Jesus was simply preparing us for “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). The only way I can love rather than hate is to let God cleanse my heart from self.
- Give to those in need. No matter what side of the multitude of issues that have surfaced in our society and church in 2020, there is an opportunity for individuals and the church to regain our purpose of caring for those in need. I realized one of the greatest losses in my life wasn’t missing worship in the church building. I permitted myself to shelter away at home and I diminished my hands-on efforts to help those in need. When the places I volunteered had to adjust, I just quit going. Self-preservation became the silent killer of my soul.
- Seek to understand those who don’t have the same worldview or ideology. I believe that every Christian saved by Jesus Christ has been called to share the gospel through actions and when necessary through words as well. The temptation is to believe I can save someone and this belief runs deep in my religious DNA. When I introduce someone to the Sabbath and Daniel and Revelation then they will be??? Somewhere along the way, trying to convert them to my denominational persuasion took precedence over sharing the gospel. I replaced an experience with Jesus – what actually saves – with information. In our world of information overload, detailed facts and theories about potential interpretations of Bible prophecy have no meaning if I don’t have a vibrant, meaningful and growing salvation experience with God. To invite someone into that kind of God experience involves understanding someone.
2021 doesn’t have to be a repeat of 2020. We don’t have to be against each other. We can be united as Christ prayed. Jesus knew it wouldn’t be easy. He wouldn’t have been praying for it if it came naturally for us.
Join Jesus’ prayer for unity and let’s give God the space in each of us to work of His salvation.