Upon arriving at the one-year mark of the beginning of the worldwide pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus, it is important to look back and look forward. It is natural not only to look back and reflect upon what we have endured but also to look forward with intentionality to determine how we will navigate the course ahead. With the advent of the vaccine and the momentum that is gaining in its distribution, along with the promise of Spring, it would seem as though many are looking forward to brighter days. In the midst of the pandemic last year, we were told of dark days ahead and, in fact, lived through times of darkness in our world, as well as in our own personal lives. We have experienced upheaval, confusion, hostility, fear, sickness, suffering and loss. While each person’s experience was different, we have all dealt with our own level of personal struggle through this time.

Throughout this period of darkness, we as the Body of Christ at Immanuel have been intentional about shining a light into our community. This light, described in John 1:5 as “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” is the Light of Christ. Immanuel has shown the Light of Christ through this pandemic in many ways. Our school being open daily for our students to learn together in person with their teachers and fellow students is a light that pierced the darkness. Continued worship -online, outside, and particularly weekly in-person worship since July 4 -has been a light that has pierced the darkness. Our Christmas concert titled “Love was Born a King,” along with Advent, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day worship, was most certainly a light that pierced the darkness, particularly in the short days of winter and in the midst of greater COVID-19 restrictions. We began to serve our neighbor more intentionally throughout this pandemic.

Many volunteers made hundreds of phone calls on four different occasions throughout this past year to check on our members’ well-being. Our school partnered with our sister school, St. Paul Dorchester in Chicago, in December to help hand out food for their community drive-thru food giveaway. Thanks to our partnership with Jewel Food Stores, we delivered hams and turkeys and hams, oh my! Our Good Samaritan Ministry worked tirelessly with limited volun¬teers to meet the needs of thousands of people from day one of this pandemic, helping with financial, food and clothing needs. We hosted Drive-Thru Community Meals through the fall and very frigid winter months feeding hundreds. These are but a few instances where the people of Immanuel shone the Light of Christ and lived out the words of 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” I know with great certainty that there are stories of which I am unaware that happen along deep individual relationships where many of you are living out this verse with intentionality during this pandemic. And for that, I say with deep gratitude and affection, THANK YOU!! Thank you for being the Light of Christ and piercing the darkness and bringing out His marvelous light!

The power of oneIt is with great expectation and joy that I look forward to this coming Holy Week and Easter, where we witness, experience, worship and thank our Lord Jesus Christ who entered into the deepest of darkness as He went to the Cross to suffer and pay for the darkness and penalty of our sin. As Jesus hung on the Cross, darkness came upon the whole earth as described in Luke 23:44-45a, “It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed.” Shortly thereafter, Jesus breathed His last; and in the midst of darkness, our victory was won on the Cross! However, three days later, the darkness was lifted in the early morning sunrise, when Jesus rose from the grave! Darkness and death could not contain Jesus, for He is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed! The light has pierced the darkness and has completely overcome the darkness, because of the intentionality and purpose of Jesus winning salvation for us all! The “Power of One” made an eternal difference for us all! I pray that you personally experience that light of Jesus as your Risen Savior this coming Easter! I pray that He breaks through and shatters any personal darkness that resides in you! You see, where Jesus is, there can be NO darkness!! That is true for you, too! Jesus is YOUR light! May you feel the personal “Power of One!”

For that reason, we must look forward now, with great intentionality, with that same focus of Jesus that we employed during the pandemic, by shining the Light of Christ continually; but we must also turn our personal and collective focus toward the Power of One! First toward the Power of THE ONE, Jesus Christ, but also with intense focus on “The One” person in your life who is not currently walking with Jesus. Christ has given each of us and our Immanuel community our marching orders to carry out and live each day on His mission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

“The One.” That is the reason that 13 members of our Church and School Ministry Leadership team, along with various lay leaders representing our three major boards (Board of Directors, Elder Board and Board of Christian School), retreated on March 12-14 at Immanuel over three days totaling just over 25 hours. We called upon the assistance of our new coach, Daryl Cripe of The Amplio Group, and his colleague, Andrew Graff. As we entered the weekend, none of us knew exactly what we were committing ourselves to, but each of us knew that we needed to intentionally begin to understand how Immanuel will be a church that continues to lead as a light that breaks through the darkness in our community. We do not wish to watch and wait to see what other churches will do so that we can mimic their paths. We feel compelled by Christ through His Great Commission to forge the pathway ahead in order to gain more for the Kingdom of God. So with that in mind, each of us opened ourselves up completely to the work of the Holy Spirit. We began in a brief but powerful heart-changing, Spirit-moving worship. Seemingly randomly, we were joined in worship by some of our eighth-grade class. But as you know, nothing is random with the Holy Spirit. As our hearts were being convicted, broken and laid bare before Christ in worship, He brought around us the very focus of our present and future -our young people! As I worshipped, I was asking the Lord to show me His direction for Immanuel, and it was as if the Holy Spirit said to me, “Look around! Open your eyes! Your focus is right behind you!”

Throughout the weekend, our coach Daryl showed us startling statistics of our younger generations relative to the importance of faith and church in their lives. Unsurprisingly, the data showed that the younger generations, Gen X (ages 45-56), Millennials (ages 26-44), Gen Z (ages 11-25), and soon Gen Alpha (ages 0-10), do not consider faith and church of great significance in their lives. The startling part was the degree to which these statistics are increasing downward through the younger ages. For instance, for 11–25-year-olds polled, 26% identify themselves as Christian and 43% identify as “NONEs,” having no religious affiliation. Maybe you know of someone who might fall into these categories. Maybe someone who is dearly close to your heart might align with these statistics.

Power of OneConsidering this information, as it correlates with our surrounding Palatine Community, and even in our own Immanuel Community, it is imperative now more than ever for us to take seriously living out the Great Commission. The pandemic has changed behavioral patterns on all fronts. The pattern of people attending worship, Bible study, serving and sending their children to a Christian school has changed, but more importantly, the pattern of people placing less importance on having a relationship with Jesus.

While Immanuel did an amazing job of shining the Light of Christ during this pandemic, our work is not done. With these statistics and patterns in mind, there exists a greater darkness ahead for the salvation of people that we personally know. We must increase with great intentionality our focus to personally and collectively put our mission into action, so that we ourselves are always “living out on mission” with the people in our lives. This will require a change of behavior in us. We cannot wait for others to make a change. We must change, so that we can make an eternal change for someone dear in our lives. Will you be willing to think of who “The One” might be in your life, who is not presently walking with Jesus? More importantly, will you be willing to do whatever you can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to actively become more involved in that person’s life in order to care, reflect and witness to them the love of Jesus, as the Lord makes opportunity for you to do that? Remember, Jesus commanded it. He didn’t suggest it.

So, our retreat team worked through the weekend to develop strategies to put into action that keep “The One” in mind in order that Immanuel can position itself to live out more fully the Great Commission that our Lord gave us, and that which we claim to be our very own Mission Statement.

Please pray for the two teams that were formed that will continue to seek the Lord’s guidance in attempting to formulate living out God’s mission on two initiatives that we hope to present and implement in the coming year. As I shared in worship, more will be shared as more develops and takes shape. For now, please pray that the Lord will continue the work He began with these teams during our retreat weekend. Please pray for the Lord to move mightily among them, and also amongst each of us, so that each of us is willing to do whatever it takes to bring more people into a relationship with Jesus.

God’s peace and blessings to you!
Pastor Warren