This picture was taken on Sunday, December 13, 2020. It was taken the last night of Christmas In The City, just moments after the last show had ended. I had no idea it was being taken, but I’m glad it was taken. It captures a pivotal moment in the history of my life.
Anyone who lived through the year 2020, will agree that it was one of the most difficult years anyone has ever experienced. This was due mostly to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. I battled COVID personally as it ran its way through my household and quarantined us to solitary confinement for 14 days straight. But I also battled it professionally and vocationally as a Pastor. It could quite possibly be the most difficult year of ministry that I have ever experienced, the effects of which I am still feeling to this day. Though we’ve progressed, depending on your perspective, the pandemic still lingers and is not over.
The year 2020 forced myself, our Leadership Team at He’s Alive Church, and other Pastors and Leaders everywhere into making decisions we never anticipated making. It still continues to this day. It did not take long for decision fatigue to set in. Even worse, was the fact that none of the decisions we made was going to please everyone. In fact, many of the decisions would displease others, and set you on a course of alienation or criticism of some sort, threatening once, long-held relationships and plans. The stresses of such decisions remain in full bloom to this day, and some of those effects will unfortunately last a lifetime.
Just after midyear 2020, the hot summer months were nearing a close. August had made its way back around the calendar. Our Christmas In The City Leadership Team had just met and decided to carry on with one of our Church’s biggest Outreach events, Christmas In The City itself. We would reformat the show to create the safest environment possible for all who would attend during a pandemic year. But like any other decision in 2020, there would be a plethora of criticisms directed my way.
CITC is a large-scale Christmas Production that uses Creative Arts (one of the Principles of our church) to display and communicate the life-saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. It combines music, dance, drama, comedy, and many other creative mediums in its message. It is a huge undertaking, but it brings so much joy and many divine moments to all who experience it, whether watching it or participating in it. It truly makes every moment of hard work worth it once you experience it on any level.
Going into the show at the apex of a pandemic year left us not knowing what to expect. There were a few nights where the crowds were very small and dismal. There were other nights where the crowds were pleasantly large and they packed the room to capacity.
On the smaller nights, this could have the potential to leave the cast very discouraged and disheartened. But these were some of my favorite nights. They served as great reminders that, while you are trying to reach and encourage people with the Gospel, ultimately, you must know that your true audience is an Audience of One, God the Almighty. Sure, we could spellbind a crowd, but is God pleased with the condition of our hearts as we proclaim His fame and renown? On these nights, as much as any other, though there were few people in the room, I truly sensed His pleasure with our cast, as we gave as much energy to the few and to God’s message, as we did to the hundreds.
Moments and nights like that can seem deflating from a worldly perspective. But they always have great value from an eternal perspective. Sometimes, what you feel like is your lowest moment, can be your most defining moment. So often, God can take what feels like worldly rejection and use it as heavenly protection. But it’s not protection from a world that corrupts, it’s protection from a corrupting self. It’s protection that reminds you to seek not the applause and adoration of man, but only the applause of the Christ who redeemed you.
The 2020 Christmas In The City was one that would require our entire cast to come together, work together, fall together, and rise together. It produced its challenges, but it also had some of its most satisfying rewards and blessings in all the years of its existence.
Enter this picture. We had just struck the last note of the 2020 season. I had just finished thanking our cast, and all who attended, for a courageous and life-changing year. The Tech Team had decided to empty the snow machines. I turned to walk backstage, and with a tear in my eye, I think this is the first real breath I took in the year 2020. It was the first moment of 2020 that anything felt right in my world. Let me be clear, there was plenty still right in my world throughout the entire year, in spite of whatever was going on, pandemic included. I still had way more to be thankful for than I could ever count. It’s just that this was the first moment I let myself feel it in full.
The year had been littered with questionable decisions, daunting tasks, successes, failures, some wins, and some mistakes and things I wish I could have done over. But through it all, God, as always, had been faithful. You will notice the cell phone in my left hand in the picture. It is the only time I have ever walked out on stage with a phone in my hand. On that phone were all the emails, texts, and messages I received throughout the year that criticized or said it couldn’t be done. I took it out as a reminder that, while you can use dejection and criticism as a learning tool, you should never let it define you. I took the phone out as a reminder that God is faithful, and that He says all things are possible, even when man says they’re not. This picture captured the first moment of the year that I felt like I could breath and say, “We did it Lord. It’s done. Thank you for the adversity, the blessings, and the joy!”
Though I’ve been criticized for it, which is fine, Christmas In The City, or any other type of creative venue, is one of the few times I feel like I’m doing what I’ve been put on planet earth to do, which is to produce content that displays and communicates the Gospel in a creative way that reaches into people’s hearts and encourages and transforms. Strangely, this picture captured the first moment I had truly felt like I had done anything right all year. I know that’s probably not true, it’s just the first moment I felt that way. It’s one of those few divine moments that are caught on film.
With this year’s Christmas In The City only a month away, I can’t help but think there are a few more divine moments awaiting all of us as we enter into this Season. I am excited, expectant, and hopeful! I hope you will join us by praying for us, buying tickets and bringing someone with you who needs to hear this message, and letting as many as you can know about it. It’s a brand-new show, but the same life-changing message is laced through every bit of it, from beginning to end. Let’s breathe and take it in! God can do the impossible!