What Got Me Through 2020

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:

Books:

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.

Music:
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).

Podcasts:
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).

Episode 209: What If You Weren't Afraid Anymore? The Mockingcast

Jen Pollock Michel on Vocation, Writing, and Habit Cultivated: A podcast about faith and work

A Conversation with Jasmine Holmes about Mother to Son Signposts with Russell Moore

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.

Sermons:

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.

Meals With Jesus: Breakfast On The Beach (Easter 2019)

John 21:4-19:

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 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. 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.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.

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.”

Advent: Prepare

Stamford service audio: 22min
Greenwich service video:

Luke 3:1-6:

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,during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 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.
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,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Nothing on Earth: Finding Contentment in a World of Comparison (Week 1)

Sermon Audio: 26min

Psalm 73:

Truly God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
    and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
    and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
    and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
    and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
    I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

16 But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I discerned their end.

18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
    O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
    I was like a beast toward you.

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
    you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord God my refuge,
    that I may tell of all your works.

Christ, The Greater Covenant

Sermon Audio: 20min

Hebrews 8

For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

For he finds fault with them when he says:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Story As Spiritual Revelation

Sermon Audio: 21min

2 Samuel 12:1-7a:

And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David, “You are the man!

John 1:1-14:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.