In 2020, the unmerited and inexhaustible grace of God got me through every challenge. I was reminded of his grace by each of the following resources:
New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional. Paul David Tripp pointed me to the never-ending love of God with profound and accessible daily reflections. I intended to read it faithfully every morning but in reality probably read it four or five times per week. But it proved to be like daily bread for my soul. On some days his writings hit me like a ton of bricks; on others, like a gentle breeze.
A Credible Witness: Reflections on Power, Evangelism and Race. Obviously racial reconciliation was a huge topic in our nation in 2020. There were some secular/partisan books on the subject that I found to only bring more division, not reconciliation. But this book richly describes racial reconciliation as an outflow of the reconciling power of the gospel and near to the heart of God. Amen to that.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. During the first quarantine period, my family gathered each evening as I read a chapter or two from Anne Frank. Hearing about her “lockdown” experience, which was far worse than ours, gave us some much needed perspective. It bonded us as a family.
I don’t know how I would have gotten through 2020 without these songs and the worshiping community of Stanwich Church. The worship grounded me in the truths of Scripture while simultaneously drawing me into the heavenlies to remind me that God still “reigns above it all.” (Open Spotify for playlist).
These podcasts provided weekly conversations that rose above the fray of partisan politics and helped me dive more deeply into the heart of God to see how his love can be applied to our current crises. (Only the most recently published episode for each podcast is shown here).
Television and Film:
Parks and Rec. My wife Nancy and I binged this show during the summer months. All of the seasons were filmed before the current U.S. political climate so we welcomed the nightly escape from the present corrosive realities. The plots, relationships, and dialog are pure, clean, fun. “Literally!”
Ted Lasso. What if a truly non-cynical, gracious person was placed into our world of revenge and selfishness? Ted Lasso answers that question. On the surface it’s a farce (be warned about the cussing) but deep down I believe Ted Lasso is some sort of (imperfect) Christ figure.
Formula 1: Drive to Survive. It took me a while to figure out why Nancy and I have become so engrossed in this documentary, even to the point of following current Formula 1 races on the weekends. I think it’s simply because it brings us out of the U.S. and reminds us of all the wonder and drama of the rest of the developed world.
The Social Dilemma. It might seem strange that such a disturbing documentary would be included on this list of examples of God’s sustaining grace. But this movie offers hope, on some level, in the form of a proper diagnosis of two of the major ailments of our society: isolation and division. I consider this movie to be required viewing for all Americans.
One of the best sermons I’ve ever heard was preached in 2004 by the Rev. Charles Bartow, a favorite professor of mine at Princeton Theological Seminary. The sermon was entitled A Gauntlet With A Gift In’t (PDF). I have re-read that sermon many times this year as a reminder that God’s gift of grace is often discovered in the middle of life’s challenging gauntlets.
A sermon on John 9 in which we see five types of spiritual blindness and are invited to ask if we might need to be healed of any (or all) of them:
11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. 12 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” 13 And Gideon said to him, “Please, my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” 15 And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” 16 And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” 17 And he said to him, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. 18 Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay till you return.”
6 When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. 7 And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. 8 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. 9 And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. 10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.
11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies.15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.
16 Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them.
4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.8 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Stamford service audio: 22min
Greenwich service video:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene,2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”