One of the most remarkable and transcendent moments of corporate worship happened in 2015. I was a speaker at a Men’s Conference called “Iron Sharpens Iron.” Their model of ministry was simple–pack out a church with about 1,000 guys and preach to the gospel to them all day. I think we were in Des Moines or Iowa City. But the all-male worship team was singing, “Good Good Father.” There’s not much better out there than an all-male chorus of spirited worship. Heaven came down and the weight of glory fell on the room. Then the soloist sang,
“O this love so undeniable I, I can hardly speak–this peace so unexplainable I, I can hardly think–and you call me deeper still into love, love, love, love.”
There were 1,000 pairs of hands lifted to the sky that day. Tears watered every last one of our faces. Those men had entered the sanctuary with so much pain, hurt, loss, and failure. But as we sang we all realized there was a presence among us deeper than the past behind us. And we knew that no matter how we entered the room that day we would all leave changed. And as we sang, I peered into Heaven’s gates and spoke to my Lord saying – “I love you! I love you! I love you!”
That memory is afresh so potently today because it’s the last day of 2020. And since the morning I’ve been engaged in deep reflection. What happened? What did I see? What did I hear? What did I experience? Perhaps all of us shall spend the remainder of our lives unpacking our experience in 2020. But I’m reminded of an old gospel song that said, “Through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God.” And as I think back on this year that’s my testimony — I’ve learned to trust in Jesus more. Amen.
Breakthroughs seldom arrive before the brink. And I was brought to the brink this year. Shepherd weight is heavy weight. Because you’ve been gifted (yes, gifted) with a burden for the flock. And when they hurt you hurt. When they’re fearful you’re fearful. When they’re mad you’re mad. And so on. And as we went through the ups and downs I was brought to the emotional brink of my life.
Now I’m a cancer survivor. I lost a mom to cancer. I’ve lost my shirt in bad investments. I’ve gone through the tumult of hoping and praying our soon to be born son was going to survive his birth. I’ve been robbed. I’ve had my share of troubles. But this year was that year. Covid. Cancelled plans and dreams. Not seeing your people for a year. Furloughing staff and wondering if we were gonna make it. Navigating a political season that was full of demonic foolishness–ON ALL SIDES. Increased tension racially. Raising black sons hoping they won’t go through what you’ve gone through. Being trolled online. Having people use you as a cathartic outlet and they had no idea they were taking out their frustrations on the current world out on you. Watching friends, business owners and employees, go through the current madness and wishing you could do even more than what you were doing. Talking to my pastor friends all of whom were bouting with anxiety and depression. Then I watched my grandaddy suffer for four months with Covid-19 with a hospital stay where he nearly lost his life several times.
I’ve never contemplated giving up before. I did this year.
I’ve never questioned doing ministry from a different kind of space before. I did this year.
I’ve never questioned myself before. I did this year.
I’ve never been so saddened before. I was this year.
But strong faith is the fruit of tested faith. And though I was in turmoil much of this year I was made aware of how sure God’s promises are. I can’t see that He’s peace in the storm without a storm. I can’t see that he’s a healer when I’m sick without being sick. I can’t see that he’s a well springing up to everlasting life unless marked by pain and suffering. And as I limped along this year in 2020 he was there every step of the way.
The old folks always say, “Count your blessings.” Now I get it. Here goes:
In 2020 I spent more time with my wife and children than I likely would have over the next 3 years. I’m a busy man I learned. In fact I’m more compounded by busyness than most people even understand. I was gifted with a quarantine to absorb my family anew in my spirit and heart.
In 2020 I fell more deeply in love and friendship with April than I likely would have over the next 3 years. Date nights in the Ritz Casita (we make the children think we’re leaving then we pull right back up into the Casita and eat pizza, drink Coke Zero and watch Netflix until we pass out), Easily 1,000 walks with the kids around our neighborhood. Monthly overnight retreats at half-quarantined hotels having a respite away from the craziness. Morning 15 minute chats in bed before the trio awake to wreak their sweet havoc upon our morning. She’s a wonder.
In 2020 I was weaned away from idols that, too often, won my attention away from Christ’s satisfying love. I miss movies. But I watched them too much. I miss Twitter. But I read tweets too much. I miss traveling and preaching and conferencing but it was a distant 2nd place to the fruit of my real life.
In 2020 I learned how amazingly satisfying Andi’s cuteness is. Camden’s curiosity and vigor. And GrandyBoy’s infectious smile and zeal is. In 2020 I learned how unbelievably perfect April Jean Jenkins is for me. She was always perfect for me. But this year perfect became no longer an adequate word for this delight God has given me. In 2020 I learned that God’s grace for me through them is enough.
In 2020 I realized how stupid and Satanic nearly ever media engine is (I’ve never appreciated good ole local news engines more than this year)
In 2020 I realized how fleeting and failing this world is and how overjoyed I am that there’s a better world coming after this one.
In 2020 I realized that I preach and teach for an audience of ONE. Jesus is His name.
In 2020 I realized that the team I work with everyday is exactly who I want to work with and without them this year I, quite literally, would not have made it.
In 2020 I realized that my home is just a safe and sweet place to be at (didn’t fly or travel much this year like the rest of us)
In 2020 I realized that hanging out with my small group guys and diving in prayer, scripture, and accountability is, outside of my family, life’s most fulfilling enterprise.
In 2020 I realized just how important Southwest Church is to the Coachella Valley and how honored I am just to be a part of her.
In 2020 I discovered more who’s with me and for me and I hope to show them the same love and support. I also learned there is but one life–I might as well be ‘me’ and sleep good at night. AMEN.
In 2020 I learned that the church really is about people. Not people + ____. (fill in whatever here, a building, a superb income, etc.) One is blessed to journey alongside saints. And we’ve been given some of the best right here in this desert. To Ms. Ann, I love you my dear. To Shannon Johnston, thank you for being my constant encourager. To Bob Harrison, thank you.To Dawn Ferraro, your care for us is amazing and I thank you for your friendship. To Sarah, thank you for befriending our family. To Karen & Tom, we love you so. Wow. Just wow. To Sharon Claytor, you have boldly stepped into Jackie Jenkins’ place as a prayerful watch over me. I can never repay what you have done for us. To Greg Brown, thank you for loving me and being yourself around me. To Ms. Margaret, perhaps you shall ne’er know how integral a role you’ve played in our lives. To Marco Corral, your quiet courage blesses me. To Tim Kuhl, thanks for being my partner in the gospel — may our partnership grow to unforeseeable leaps and bounds. To Kanjii & Mwendi Mbugua, thanks for becoming our friends. To Brad Kinney, you’re my brother for life. To Gerrit, thank you for being my brother. To Dick Heckmann, dear pal I miss you so much. But I’ll see you in the morning. Thank you Dick for giving your heart and life to Jesus. I miss so dearly our lunchtime chats. I promise to take care of the girls best I can. To Phil Cordova, thanks for showing us all what a Christian is. And thank you for reaching out. To Chris & Debbie, your partnership in the gospel is a treasure. To Albert and LaRosa thanks for being our fam. To Steve & Kristen Coble, how we love you. to Chris Davis, thanks for being my friend for 12 years and counting. To Gabe Garcia and Kari, thanks for being courageous. To Dan Myers, thanks for being so trustworthy. Thanks for hearing me out and taking care of me. To Kenton Beshore, thank you Pastor for upholding me and speaking to my tears. Thank you for the wisdom. To Ray Johnston, thanks for being the greatest encourager. To Jack Hamilton thank you for being a Dad to me. To my Daddy Richard Sr., you shall ever remain the greatest influence on my life. I love you Dad! To Kim Harrell, thank you for being a safe place for me. To Natalie, one day I shall get to say, “I knew her way back when…” You are only on the cusp of greatness. I’m honored to be one of those that support your journey to God’s platform He has ordained for you. To Shawna, thank you for being my friend and so faithful at Southwest. To Joseph, I’m just glad we get to be a part of your coming greatness. To Daniel, you saved our bacon. To Jeremy and Nathan and the whole comms/production team, you’re freaking studs. To Kristen, thank you for letting me pray with you. To Chrissy, I’m not suppose to have favorites so I won’t say much else…but I love ya. To Diana, you’re my partner! To the 12 — and great adventures we shall have you and I. To the people of Southwest, we are not nearly done. I love ya. Let us rise up and seize the moment for this glorious gospel, eh?
Anyways God is good. And I’m full of Christ’s love this day. I cannot help but think back some 20 years ago or so. Grandad was running revival at Collis Hill down in Terry, MS. The church was packed out on the last night, Friday. And the old man was full that day. He preached about God’s love. If any of you have heard my grandaddy preach you know he doesn’t take long. They used to call him and my great grandfather, Rev. Willie Jenkins, Sr., the original sons of thunder. He started talking about the cross and what Jesus has done for us. And before you knew it about 400 of us were standing on our feet shouting God’s praise whilst the old man was leaping into the air shouting, “I love him! I love him! I love him!” And as I shouted I remember asking Jesus, “O grant that I might know this love for you that my grandad has some day.”
That day has come. Thank you 2020.