2021 in Review: God Shows Up in Spite of All

I’m writing this during the winter storm of February 3, 2022. So far it’s turning out less disruptive than what we’d prepped for, when earlier forecasts had said we could get nearly half an inch of freezing rain. That would have caused power outages everywhere. Another disruption would almost feel par for the course, though.

I look back on the past twelve months, and I can hardly believe what we’ve gone through — or what God has done in it. Just yesterday an old acquaintance who’s becoming a new friend here in Dayton how our new ministry has encouraged him. It is totally God at work.

Honestly, though, I’ve been frustrated too. I feel far behind on major goals. It’s February already, and I’m just now writing a “2021 in Review” note. I’m praying to launch a new “Heat to Light” ministry, equipping pastors to guide their churches from the heat of today’s cultural conflict to the light of spiritual transformation, and I ask myself, “Why can’t I seem to get going? Why can’t I get this person’s email answered? email? Why can’t I get time to re-think the website? Why can’t I do this other thing that needs doing? ”

But then I look back on the past year, and I see there’s a reason. Many of them, actually: a series of major disruptions, some of them good, some very difficult. I know that for a lot of people 2020 was the hard year. For us it was 2021. God showed up anyway.

Challenging Months for the Family

The first disruptive event was a very, very good one, when Sara and I went to Mississippi to visit our first grandson. He was six weeks old. I was instantly hooked on being a grandpa.

Then one month later, we got word that my 97-year-old dad had come down with the disease that would end his life “a few weeks to a few months from now,” the doctors said. We went to visit him several times in those last weeks. Hard times. Good times, too, though. It was about time, and Dad really wanted to be at home with the Lord and with Mom.

But Sara and I also took another trip in April, this time to Oklahoma, to help our daughter move into her new home there. Lisa’s husband was due home soon from a very long Army deployment “somewhere hot and sandy,” and it was up to her to move them into their new home at their new duty station where they knew almost no one. With an infant son. So of course we helped.

Dad passed away in May, a time that was both grievous and good. He was spiritually and emotionally ready for it, and I guess we were, too, as much as we could have been. The whole extended family of was there, my siblings and their spouses. Some of us had traveled there a lot lately, so we decided to wait some time before we gathered again for his memorial service. That turned into another big trip in August.

Challenging Months for Me

Meanwhile I’d been under doctors’ testing and care for numbness in my left leg. Early in July that flared into an incredibly painful case of sciatica, requiring an ambulance ride, and then two days’ pain management treatment in the hospital. After that it was physical therapy, lots more testing, several surgeon visits, and finally back surgery just before Christmas.

That happened just in time for me to recover sufficiently for another really great trip to see Lisa, Morgan, and grandson Shepard for his first birthday party in January.

Meanwhile this summer I took the good advice of our son, Jonathan, and switched from Macintosh to Linux for my home and office computer platform. I don’t know how often people take such a huge leap of computer learning the same year they turn 65.

It’s been kind of fun, actually. This new system is faster, more powerful, better customized to my working needs, much less expensive, and with much better privacy and security. So I really like it — now that it’s all settled in and working right. The transition wasn’t always as smooth as we’d hoped, though.

Also meanwhile, I was keeping up on my day job, where I wrote 111 articles for The Stream and edited I-don’t-know-how-many more.

God Shows Up in New Ministry to Pastors

Disruptions. Some good, some hard. Frustration. And yet peace, knowing that God has His timing, and He’s been doing a very good work in spite of it all.

Some of these delays began to make sense when The Stream’s publisher asked us to find new ways to help and encourage pastors. Under my leadership that’s become the “Pastors’ Corner,” still under development, but with tight connections in mind to further outreach I’m praying for, which you’ll see below. God didn’t let me rush that outreach ahead of His timing for that to happen.

I was learning, too  — studying how to build ministry in new ways, spending helpful time with an executive coach I’d contracted with, and even being contacted out of the blue (God showed up here!) by a strategy consultant from Columbus who offered me advice and direction I desperately needed.

God Shows Up in New Local Outreach

The best of the year, though, was launching a new Apologetics Fellowship for the Cincinnati-Dayton area. (See my short video here to sense the heart of it, please.) It was simple, really. And it was God at work.

It started when a new friend, Cade Cover, and I had lunch together. He’s with the apologetics ministry Ratio Christi at the University of Cincinnati, I’m located in the Dayton area, we both know people who like learning how we know the Christian faith is true, and so together we decided to invite them to a Zoom gathering.

Response That’s Far Beyond We’d Asked or Imagined

From there it took off. It was amazing, far beyond anything he or I could have orchestrated. I could not believe the energy in the group. When I asked them if they’d like to meet once every three months, it was unanimous: “No! Once every month!” Some of them are leaders, too. God will work through them; He already is.

A pastor in Cincy joined us, and by September, with our help and encouragement his church had already hosted its first apologetics conference. (The photo above shows our fellowship in a breakout session afterward with keynote speaker Alisa Childers off camera.) A large church in Dayton started Wednesday night apologetics classes, and consistently had 50 or more people come for it. This church was already on track to do that, but we were there to help, and now by partnering with us, they’re in a position to help other churches launch apologetics ministries.

National-level leaders in apologetics have looked at this group and said, “We’ve never seen anything like it.” I never have, either. It’s a simple plan, simple enough to spread nationwide, though we’re not pushing for that (yet).

Hopes for a New Outreach to Pastors This Year

That was God at work, showing His glory and goodness, proving it wasn’t up to me in my weakness but up to Him in His power. “My grace is sufficient for you,” He told the Apostle Paul in 2 Cor. 12:9, “for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

I still have hopes and dreams and plans, though. My heart is for the Christian church, facing anti-Christian hostility in this day such as we’ve never seen in this part of the world before. I believe, by God’s grace, I can help pastors equip their churches to face the questions and the challenges with full confidence.

God has gifted me with a great team of advisors and a great network of friends to call upon to help in various ways. That includes my prayer and financial partners, for whom I am very grateful. I believe it’s an urgent ministry, and the time to advance in it is now.

Please Pray

So this is what I ask you to pray. I really feel a need for the disruptions to calm down for a year or two. I know they’ll never cease; I’m just asking God for a calmer period for a while. Pray for my health and for Sara’s, please, and for our two kids and their families.

More than that, please pray that God would be glorified in what I do, or (as in this past year) far beyond what I could think of doing.

And as the freezing rain continues here today, eventually to turn into snow (perhaps where you are, too), know this could still turn into a disrupted day, with power outages and the like. If it does, I pray that I will see God’s hand at work in that, too. It’s about Him, and about making His glory and goodness and gospel known to all.

Tom Gilson

Vice President for Strategic Services, Ratio Christi Lead Blogger at Thinking Christian Editor, True Reason BreakPoint Columnist

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