2020 - What a Wonderful Year!

By Bill Itzel

2020.  It’s a year that will go down as the most horrendous era in the history of mankind…for those who have no perspective and don’t know their history.  The trials and inconveniences we have had to face this year have been rather tame compared to many other periods in human history, but that truth still gives very little comfort to those who suffered great loss in 2020.  This year has been a year of adjustment for all of us, yet two things have not, and will never change…God is working all of these circumstances for His glory and for our good as His children (Isaiah 48:9-11, Ephesians 1:4-6, Habakkuk 2:14, Romans 8:28).  I don’t know everyone’s story, but I do know mine and would like to share some encouraging perspective from my own year of difficulty.  

On January 1st, I knew 2020 was going to be different and more difficult. Just 2 days prior, I was called into the office of the church where I worked for 3 years and told to clean out my desk that day.  It was not a complete shock to me as we had struggled with a difference in a secondary area of theology as well as ministry philosophy for several months, but the abrupt nature caught me off guard.  I understand their decision, it made sense, but getting fired is not the way you want to start a new decade of ministry.  The church was gracious and continued to pay me through the end of my yearly contract, and their financial help, initially intended to give us some monetary cover in rebuilding our concert ministry, actually was used by God to keep us from going under during the coming shutdown. Now, after less than a year of perspective, I can see that God had so many better things in store for us (Philippians 4:19).  This worked out for our good and God’s glory!

We were excited to grow our ministry back to doing 120 dates a year, as it was before I took the job as a Worship Leader…but God had other plans.  Just as our calendar was filling up, the coronavirus hit, and we had to write “Cancel” over months of dates.  We had just released our "30 Live" CD and were ready to make our 30th anniversary into a very special tour.  Now we had nowhere to sing. We have been discussing for years having more of a presence online, but had never done anything on Facebook live, and very little on YouTube.  Shannon and Karen had been encouraging me for a long time to record some videos at home and put them online. I had always dragged my feet, and now God was giving me a kick in the pants to set up the camera and sing for an online audience.  We wound up recording 22 videos over the course of 10 weeks and gained a whole new audience for our message (2 Corinthians 2:12-17). This worked out for our good and God's glory! 

If we learned one thing in the previous three years serving in a church, it was that our family needed to be more regularly connected to our home church family, not just during the week, but also on Sunday mornings. After being fired on December 30, we started to do some online research to find the right church and found several possibilities. We did not have a concert scheduled for the first Sunday in January, so we needed a place to go that first week. Jessica suggested that we go with her to Belcroft Bible Church. We resolved that our next church would have to be one that preached the word, prayed the word, read the word, sang the word, and made the holy Scriptures the basis for all decisions. Sola Scriptura!  As we walked into Belcroft Bible Church, the first thing we heard was the praise band practicing.  We heard no Hillsong, Bethel, or anything anywhere near the top 40.  Instead we heard the familiar tune of “A Mighty Fortress is our God”. I burst into tears, and immediately felt like I was home.  Two extensive scripture passages were read, theological songs were sung, several pastoral prayers were lifted to God, and after an almost hour long message that I wished would never end, I knew my search was over. Karen and Shannon felt the same way, and even though Belcroft is an hour away from our house, we had found the rare church that had the right low view of man, and high view of God and His word. Our family has grown spiritually since we have been under Pastor Matt White’s preaching and the godly leadership of our elders, and all of the burdens we have carried for 3 years are gone (Colossians 1:9-10, Hebrews 10:24-25).  This worked out for our good and God's glory! 

This year, Ryan started a new blog and asked Matt Auxt and me to become contributing authors. I had previously written my own blog, “Exegeting the Hymns”, but had too many restrictions by our older church on its content.  Now, here was an opportunity to speak without theological compromise, and write without being censored.  I no longer had to please man, and am accountable only to Scripture.  While I miss "Exegeting the Hymns" from time to time, God has greatly blessed our writing, and we pray everyday that our audience will grow.  There is a great need for those who speak biblical truth and give a straight answer in this post-Christian culture.  We have written on some of the most sensitive topics like Critical Race Theory and Black Lives Matter, the pragmatism within the modern church, the secularization of our society, inerrancy of scripture, youth ministry, and I’ve even had the occasion to write about false teaching in much of modern worship (Titus 2:7-8, 2 Timothy 3:16, Ephesians 5:11). This worked out for our good and God's glory!

Covid 19 has affected each of us differently in 2020.  No one in my immediate family has caught it, and all of those I know who tested positive are on the mend.  Wearing masks is not fun, especially when you are loading sound equipment in and out of a building, and have to do it on limited oxygen, but we have been healthy and have been able to sing, so, to God be the glory!  The attendance has obviously been down in every church where we have sung (both by state mandate and those compromised individuals who rightly stay away), and the number of monthly concerts has decreased, especially with this new round of uptick in cases. Even so, God has provided for our every need to this point and I have no doubt He will continue to do so.  We have learned to be more flexible and to trust in God’s Providence for our needs and safety even during a pandemic.  We don’t worry about getting the virus.  Instead, we are more determined everyday to preach the truth about man’s greatest need which is not a vaccine, but a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26).  This worked out for our good and God's glory!

With all the insanity, panic, and madness of 2020, it is only fitting that our latest presidential election would end in sheer absurdity.  It looks like Joe Biden has been chosen by God to be the one “put on the throne” for the next four years.  Most likely, unless God moves on his heart to repent of his sins and submit to Christ, we will be in for increased persecution as the Church.  While this may seem extreme for the United States of America, it is actually getting back to the norm of church history.  I don’t look forward to governmental obstacles to sharing the good news, but I do see a purifying, pruning of Christ’s church as “casual christianity” falls by the wayside, and only those truly submitted to Christ are left standing.  As we are clearly becoming a hated minority more and more every day, true believers are going to be forced to rely on the sovereignty of God…and that is a great thing (Daniel 2:21, Isaiah 46:10-11).  This worked out for our good and God's glory!

This year has not been without its share of sorrows in our family.  My mother, Pat, whom many of you remember as one of the singers in “Simply Faith”, was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.  She has had her second round of chemo in a John’s Hopkins trial, and we are praying for complete healing for God’s glory, but as the 3 Hebrew children said when facing the fiery furnace, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).  God is able to heal, He will heal, and even if He doesn’t, short of her ultimate glorification…we will bless the name of the Lord, lean on His sovereignty, and continue to serve Him with every breath He gives us.  This situation is a gift from God to show the world how a Christian family can rely on Him alone in our weakness, and even give thanks.  What a choice opportunity to magnify Him and grow in our sanctification.  This worked out for our good and God's glory!

I don't know what 2020 has brought your family and I certainly don't know what 2021 will hold, but take this time to reflect and see all of the moments in the past year that God has used to bring you closer to Christlikeness. It is guaranteed if you are one of His children, if you have repented of your sins and follow Him as your Savior and Lord.  Should that not be you, the gospel is clear that you are dead in your trespasses and sins and have the wrath of God on a direct course for your soul.  God is under no obligation to work anything for your good, but if you turn from your sin and trust in Him alone, He will save you and give you eternal life.  There is no better time than today.  If you are His child, re-think all of your times of complaining throughout this crazy year, and realize that God planned this...and did so for many reasons...most of all, for our good and His glory!