Coming Into Focus

by Jonathan Haefs

*On Sunday, at our annual SVCC family meeting, I briefly reflected on 2020. Below are the thoughts I shared in the form of a letter.

My Dearest Shades Valley,

Last year, I began my annual letter to you talking about the car accident I experienced in January 2020. Specifically, I talked about how moments such as that break into the normal routine of everyday life and bring into sharp relief the things that matter most. They’re like putting on new prescription glasses, allowing us to see our life and loves with new focus. Little did I know that the rest of 2020 would be like one collective car crash, likewise, unexpectedly bringing into focus the loves of our lives. Let me explain what I mean.

Like Amos, I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but on Sunday March the 1st of 2020, I stood before you, set aside the sermon I had prepared, and instead, called us to prayer with these words, “I feel we have been and are in a season of concentrated spiritual warfare from the enemy.” Little did I know the enemy was just getting started. Before March concluded, Covid-19 would cause us all to enter into a new daily reality that would not only prove difficult but divisive. Quickly, our country was not only grappling with a pandemic, but also with social unrest rooted in our long history of racial injustice. Then, rounding out the year was the most volatile U.S. election I’ve experienced in my lifetime. 2020 didn’t just feel like a car crash… it felt like a 20 car pile up! A wreck that just kept going. But surprisingly… unexpectedly… as 2020 shattered the normal routine of everyday life, it brought into sharp relief, indeed it let us see with 20/20 clarity, the things that matter most. It brought our loves into focus.  

The pandemic brought into focus how much we need the church. I thought my three-month Sabbatical in 2019 taught me how much I needed the local church, but that was like experiencing thirst, while 2020 was more like a desert! At least when Israel wandered through the wilderness, they got to do it together! BUT, Shades, just like the Lord provided water for his people wandering in the wilderness, he is providing for us too! The year did not just bring into focus our need for community but also the beauty of the community God has graced us with. So many of you volunteered to be run errands so the most vulnerable in our church could stay home. We experienced more giving to our benevolence fund than ever before enabling us to help those experiencing financial hardships. Many of you even shared your stimulus checks with those in need. The staff and many of you got creative in order to maintain community connections and minister to one another. From backyard movie nights, to picnics in the parks, to beer train birthday parties… the lengths to which you all went to see and serve one another brought the beauty of this community in sharp relief. Through the lens of 2020, I have seen more of you Shades Valley… more of your love, more of your sacrifice, more of your grace. Through you, the church has come into greater focus for me.

The social unrest rooted in racial injustice brought into focus how much we need the Gospel. The Gospel declares ALL PEOPLE are created in God’s image, and ALL may be re-created in Christ so that people from every tribe, nation, and tongue will populate new creation forever! Thus, the Gospel kills racism with its beginning, middle, and end. And last year, I was confronted with how much I have personally neglected that Gospel reality. I have neglected it by not guarding against racism in my own life, thinking it’s a non-issue for me (something I don’t do with any other sin). I have neglected it by not consistently proclaiming it to you. And I have neglected it by not proactively living in line with it before our watching world. BUT, Shades, I have and will continue to repent of my faults and failures. I have and will continue to call us to be a Gospel people who embrace and celebrate the nations as our brothers and sisters in Christ. I have and will continue to rejoice as I see this reality realized in and through you. Shades, 2020 did not just bring into focus our need for the Gospel, but also the glory of the Gospel shaping you! Through you, I saw the opposite of what was so common on the news. I saw people of different races, backgrounds, education levels, vocations, and ages sacrifice themselves for one another. I saw you care for one another, weep with one another, and literally feed one another bringing the glory of the Gospel into sharp relief! Through the lens of 2020, I have seen more of you Shades Valley! Do we have a long way to go when it comes to being shaped by the Gospel? Absolutely! But, this year, I have seen the Gospel’s shape come into greater focus through you.

The election brought into focus how much we need our coming King. Our politics are polarized, dividing friends, families, and even churches. It is no secret that Shades is politically diverse, but we shall not be divided. For what unites us is not sharing a political party, but a shared commitment to our King. “Jesus reigns” is our confession, and we long for his kingdom to come! Providentially, we spent most of last year looking at our world through the lens of Revelation… now that’s a pair of glasses that will bring things into focus! Revelation confronted us with the beastly character of earthly power and how the church is corrupted when it compromises to share in that power. Instead, Revelation called us to cling to Christ, testifying to the world that he is our confidence because he is coming! AND, Shades, I have seen such confidence in you. 2020 did not just bring into focus the need for our King, but also your confident faith that he is coming! Last year, my conversations with you were so different from those I had with people who do not hope in Christ. Their words were always laced with fear, anxiety, and a hopeless resignation. But you spoke with confident faith, solid peace, and unwavering hope in your coming King. I am not saying that you did not struggle last year! Far from it! But even the way you talked to me about your struggling brought into sharp relief the firm foundation of your faith! Shades Valley, through the lens of 2020 do you see what you have shown me? The focus of confident faith is our coming King… Jesus! Your confident faith has brought him into greater focus for me!

Shades, in many ways, 2020 may have felt like it came crashing into our lives, wrecking our normal, but like a pair of glasses giving us 20/20 vision it brought into focus the reality that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Nothing crashes or wrecks that normal!

May that give us the focus in 2021, no matter what comes, to go into the world in peace, have courage, hold on to what is good, honor all men, strengthen the fainthearted, support the weak, help the suffering, and share the Gospel. May we love and serve the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit, and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all… enabling us to bring him into focus for our world.

I love you all,

Pastor Jonathan