Roses and Thorns

At the beginning of every year I try and give a “state of the church” letter. Like every politician I’m tempted to paint a rosy picture and pretend painful realities don’t exist. And there is some justification for painting a rosy picture, which stems from the fact that our future is rosy. We know that every day moves us closer to the day Jesus returns and makes all things new. Our future is bright. Like my dad, who was in sales, used to tell me: “every no brings you that much closer to a yes.” So…everything is rosy! There are thorns, however, on every rose.

During the past year we felt the thorns. We still do. We did not meet our financial budget and felt new tensions rise. We’ve missed some families. Some family members have lost loved ones and one elder is in the hospital even as I write. Thorns are no fun. “Lord, can you take away the thorns?!” While God indeed answers prayer, he doesn’t always remove the thorns. Sometimes he leaves them for a better purpose. When the apostle Paul asked God to take away the thorn in his flesh God said no. “My grace is sufficient for you.” When we are weak we discover that God is strong. I hope we are learning that lesson this year.

But some things are rosy. Those of us who have endured the hard times and stuck together have learned some things. The love of God is strong, not only for us but in us for each other. We’ve leaned on each other through much of the past couple of years and that has been good.   

The presence of God has become all the more precious. We know a little bit more of what the writer of Psalm 42 meant when he wrote, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” We thirst for Jesus to return and make all the sad things come untrue. We thirst for God to give us eyes to see how all the pain we experience is leading to the glory of God and producing a bounty of blessing for us. 

What will this coming year look like? I hope we will see the Lord at work in us more and more, moving us in worship, stretching us to extend more grace to others, fueling us as we live in community, and shaping us as we commit ourselves to follow Jesus wherever that may take us. May the same be true of us that we saw in the early days of the church after the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. 

Acts 2:42–47

May God bless us in 2022