This past year has provided pessimists with fresh reasons to describe themselves not as pessimists, but as “realists”. Over the past two decades, for the first time in American history (other than during major wars), the life expectancy of white middle-aged men has fallen. Suicides and so-called “deaths of despair” from drug overdoses and alcoholism have all dramatically risen. One theory regarding this phenomenon is that people without bachelor’s degrees have found themselves less valued by this country as they experience stagnating wages and growing income inequality.
African-American citizens have also had good reason to despair. In the wake of the widely-viewed videos of the police killings of George Floyd and many others, many black people have wondered if justice can ever really be achieved in America. Here in Columbus, 2020 brought us the highest number of murders in our history. The list of woes goes on!
COVID has killed more than 250,000 of our fellow citizens – more deaths, in fact, than all the American combat deaths in all of our wars combined (apart from the Civil War and World War II). There have been so many hurricanes, energized as they are by climate change, that the World Meteorological Association ran out of their assigned people’s names and began using Greek letters to name tropical cyclones. To this sad list, we could add unprecedented fires in the American West, a deeply polarized electorate, declining marriage rates, and rising rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide among young adults. So, why not despair?
Hopelessness is not a Christian option! Hopelessness is not a comment about the state of the world. Rather, it is a comment about the state of our souls! In Scripture, hope is not a feeling addressed to our emotions. Rather, hope is a decision addressed to our wills! Hope is a decision to believe God for a good future based upon the way God has worked in the past. Hope says, “I have a future! We have a future!” Hope says, “Blessing is coming to me and to us!” Hope says, “What God began He will complete! And what God promised He will fulfill!”
It is hope that sustains us in hard times and it’s hope that causes us to crash through the quitting points, whether it’s the quitting point in our marriages, in school, at our jobs or towards Christianity itself!
As I said, Christian hope is a certain hope based upon what God has done in the past. Of course, the specific thing that God has done in the past that gives rise to a sure hope is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! Edmund Clowney, the great New Testament scholar, said:
Our hope is anchored in the past: Jesus rose! Our hope remains in the present: Jesus lives! Our hope is completed in the future: Jesus is coming!
Vineyard Columbus also has a sure and certain hope for the future based upon God’s faithful activity in our own 35 year history! It was God who grew our church to have the impact and influence we have enjoyed for so many years. It was God who saved thousands of people through Vineyard; God who initiated and sustained the ministries we count precious – the Vineyard Community Center, our food pantries, Value Life, Transitions, Women’s, Men’s, Small Groups, Recovery and Kids’ Ministries, among many others; God who birthed dozens of new churches from our church in the United States and overseas; and God who has always provided us with the leaders we needed to shepherd us throughout our history!
As our present leadership team looked to the future, we realized we had to pray for a new generation of exceptionally capable, gifted and godly Senior Pastors to lead a church of our size and scope. By the grace of God, God faithfully provided the ideal candidates from our own church: Eric and Julia Pickerill!
Not only do they fully embrace our values, but Eric and Julia have a demonstrated track record of multiplying leaders for over a decade through our young adult ministry called Joshua House and then for seven years while planting a successful church internationally in Amsterdam.
Eric and Julia have the moral character to lead us. They have a strong and healthy marriage; they are humble and are completely devoid of self-promotion; they demonstrate sexual purity and financial integrity; and they model the moral courage to challenge wrong behavior. They are kind and gracious people!
Of course, concerning spiritual leadership, we need leaders who listen to God, who model a deep, consistent personal devotional life and who are correctable when they make mistakes or sin. Eric and Julia are spiritual leaders!
In the two years since our Church Council, search committee and Senior Leadership Team unanimously confirmed Eric and Julia to be my successors as Senior Pastors, I have had the privilege of watching them in action. They have been leading our staff, preaching at our services, ministering to our congregation and casting vision for our future. I am more convinced than ever that they are God’s chosen vessels to lead our incredible church congregation in the coming years!
Because of God’s faithfulness in our past, Vineyard Columbus has many powerful reasons to joyfully hope for a bright future – even as we faithfully persevere during this challenging season!