Rev. Robert Shaw
As we prepare to conclude calendar year 2020 at the end of this month, we’ve asked some of our pastors to answer the question: What did you see in 2020, and what did you learn from it? The fourth pastor to answer that question for us is Rev. Robert Shaw, Pastor of Bethany Church. Here is what he has seen this year:
2020 has definitely been a year in which the Lord has been narrowing the focus of His Church and our pastors.
Before the COVID restrictions were implemented, our church had begun a 40 day fast, seeking the Lord for the upcoming celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. During this fast, a group of us went on a mission trip to Nicaragua. Before we departed, the news was reporting about the virus. Countries began shutting down and limiting travel. I began to question if we should go or cancel the trip. It did not take the Lord long to remind me, “What did I tell you to do?” I knew we were to trust God in obeying what I sensed He had told us, and that I needed to trust Him with our return home. When we returned to the Miami airport, we got through customs without a snag, and boarded our return flight to Charlotte. We learned later that an hour after we passed through customs, other travelers’ entry back in the US were delayed because of random, mandatory testing for the virus. Flights were delayed and missed as passengers were halted in their tracks.
Once we returned to Charlotte, we observed reports from the media practically screaming at people to run for the hills in panic. I struggled with the temptation to fear as I processed the ramifications behind having church services or obeying authorities and cancelling services. After a great deal of prayer, we made the decision to go along with the month-long shut down of church services and we streamed our services. At the same time, we continued meeting at church every night to complete our 40 day fast of prayer and seeking God. As I saw the dismal attendance of those watching our streamed services, I began to explore other alternatives to having church. We chose to have an Easter Sunday service and a Mother’s Day service in the parking lot. I preached from atop a trailer as people remained in their cars with radio stations tuned to our services broadcasting frequency. This experience was scarier to me than the first time I ever preached as a teenager! Once the Governor gave the green light for churches to resume meeting, we did so on Memorial Day weekend. We provided masks, and hand sanitizer to anyone who requested them.
What buoyed most of the members’ faith were those of us who continued to gather in prayer (practicing social distancing). The more we prayed, the bolder we became. During this time, I had been reading a book entitled, The Insanity of God. As if that wasn’t convicting enough, I followed it with The Insanity of Obedience. I was challenged by one fact: 80% of the world’s Christians live under the constant threat of death, rape, imprisonment, or torture – yet none of them quit gathering for worship. They are not reckless in their meeting – but they continue to be obedient. Through prayer, I was reminded of several Scriptures:
Hebrews 12:27 – The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain. (NIV84)
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 – Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition. (NKJV)
Hebrews 10:24-25 – And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (NIV84)
2 Timothy 1:7 – For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (NKJV)
2020 has taught me the following:
- The power of sustaining in prayer.
- The real and powerful testimony of the Word of God (many of the recipients of the NT epistles were in much worse straits than we’ve experience with this virus, yet they remained faithful to Jesus, His servants and the Word of God).
- Lastly, the testimony of the persecuted church around the world.
I realized that God is allowing this shaking to come to the Body of Christ so that our faith will not be founded on the media, healthcare, politicians or government. God is getting us ready for His glorious return. He is getting us in the spiritual shape that matches the rest of the Body of Christ around the world who serve Him despite the threat of death every day. They have truly laid down their lives with Jesus and been crucified with Him.
I also must lay down my life for those in my flock and community and be a Light of Faith, Hope and Courage in the midst of the works of darkness. This has definitely been a year of testing, stretching and refining.
The really powerful thing is that God led us beyond 40 days of prayer to pray every night through Pentecost. In the midst of our trusting Jesus through the fear, we found God’s blessings. Our church attendance has grown, people have come to know Jesus, and our giving has increased.
Many of us have been challenged as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were. Will we bow to the fear and threat of death or walk with Jesus through the fire? God can deliver us – but even if He doesn’t, we will not bow.
Year 2020 has been all about narrowing our focus on what really matters. This has been the message delivered to me and I am still stinging from its challenges.
Thank you, Pastor Robert, for these challenging reminders from this year.
If you are one of our Pastors and would like to share what you have seen and learned in 2020, please send a paragraph or more to firstname.lastname@example.org.