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There are things that even Google does not understand. We invite you to ask a question and our pastors will try to answer as many as possible and post an answer here. God's Word guides and equips us to know God, to receive salvation through faith in Christ, and to live the Christian life. (2 Tim 3:14-17, 2 Peter 1:3-4)
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Since God is sovereign, why do we pray?

"Since God is sovereign, why do we pray?" (November 11, 2020)

First, we need to know what we mean by "sovereign." For God to be sovereign it means that His will is always perfectly done. That's the clear teaching of Scripture. Look up and savor these rich texts: Job 42:2, Is 45:7-9, Lam 3:37-39, Prov 16:33, Eph 1:11, Matt 10:29-31, Acts 4:27-28.

So one might wonder, if God's will is going to be done anyway, why should we bother to pray for this or that? Let me give three reasons (though there are many more!):

1. We pray because prayer is commanded by God throughout his Word (e.g. Jer 29:7, Ps 122:6, Rom 12:12, Phil 4:6, Eph 6:18, Matt 9:38, 1 Thes 5:17). As the creature, it's always right (and wise!) to obey our Creator. In regard to this question on God's sovereignty and prayer I particularly think of the scene where the disciples say to Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Lk 11:1). In Matthew's fuller description of the scene, we hear Jesus respond, "Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." So here Jesus is teaching us to pray for God's will to be done, even though he knows it will be done! That leads us to a second reason to pray.

2. We pray because God desires to be in relationship with us. Prayer is the God-ordained means by which we enjoy fellowship with Him. God speaks to us through his Word and by the Spirit (always in sync with his Word); we speak back to God through prayer. This truth is so evident as we read the Psalms -- the prayer/song book of God's people. We hear Jesus Himself pray from the Psalms, especially as He needed that sense of the Father's presence as He went to the cross: "I thirst" (Jn 19:28/Ps 69:21); "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt 27:46/Ps 22:1); "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 24:46/Ps 31:5). What a privilege for us to have the Spirit of God living within us, cultivating that relationship with God. We think of Paul's words in Romans chapter 8: "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'" (v.15), and, "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (v.26-27.)

3. We pray because God uses means to accomplish His will. It's certainly a mystery, but somehow our prayers figure into God accomplishing all His purposes. Take, for example, praying for a loved one's salvation. We know that God will use the means of someone somehow bringing the gospel to them. That's what Paul says in Romans 10: "For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'  How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" (v.13-14). So, God uses human means to accomplish His eternal saving purposes -- both in the preaching, and in the praying. We see Paul's believing in this truth as he says to Philemon:  "At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you (Phm 1:22), and to the Philippians, "For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance" (Phil 1:19). Or we hear Paul say with regard to his beloved fellow Jews: "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved" (Rom 10:1). And Paul knows many will be saved (Rom 11:26-27).

So, brother, sister, as you seek to see God do amazing things in this world, for His glory, don't stop praying!

In fact, step it up (Lk 18:1)!

Pastor Gary

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How might we actively love people better? What verses have helped you most?

"Can you give us any insight from practical experience on how we might actively love people better? What verses have helped you most?" (July 30, 2020)

Having genuine Christ-like love for others is something that flows from the Spirit’s work in our lives and God’s Word renewing our minds. We need to recognize that because of our sin nature we desire to be selfish and self-protective. Sadly the effects of our own sin and sin done to us can shut down genuine sacrificial love for others. Therefore, practical love for others starts with a renewed mind. If we can remember these truths as we encounter and engage with others it will help us to actively love. 

We are created in the image of God.

No matter the situation, discussion, or activity, every person involved is made in the image of God. Genesis 1:27, 9:6, 1 John 4:19-21. We see in creation that God has made mankind, male and female in His image. Mankind did not lose that image after fall, for in chapter 9 after the flood we see how serious it is to take a life, “…for God made man in his own image.” Since we are made in God’s image a practical way we love God is by loving one another.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (ESV)

As Christ comes and fulfills the law and points us to the heart of the law we see that it is not enough to refrain from doing wrong to someone, but we are called to actively love one another. Love is not passive, it is the active work of sacrifice and service for another. Luke 10:25-37 is the story of the good Samaritan which draws out what loving God and our neighbor is. Are we showing mercy? Are we giving up of our resources to aid those who might hate us? Our call is to “go and do likewise.” Luke 10:37.

God’s love for us in Christ

The only reason we could extend that kind of sacrificial love is because we know the love of God for us in Christ. As verse 19 of 1 John 4 said, “we love because he first loved us.” God has extend love, and grace to us who deserve His wrath. He has shown us mercy by sending Christ to take the punishment sinners deserve. This extravagant love from God, displayed in Christ now frees us to love others in that same way. To display God in our interactions with others. We have been rescued and redeemed by faith in Christ, so as “God’s chosen ones” we can show Christ-like love toward others. As Colossians 3:12-17 

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (ESV)

Notice also that part of love is to teach and admonish one another. We are called to help each other grow in our understanding and love for Christ. At times the primary way we display that is through forgiveness, or patience. Other times it is to humbly point out wrong and explain the truth from God’s Word. The purpose is always to build one another up. To encourage growth and maturing in Christ. Is that the goal of your conversation? Or is it attention, sympathy or simply being right. If we are to love as Christ loved us we must put the needs of others above our own. 

Acting with the compassion of Christ

Finally, in our interactions with others it is helpful to be filled with compassion. To varying degrees and understandings the effects of sin have been at work on us. It is impossible to traverse through this life without some loss, pain or suffering. Jesus’ action toward the leper in Mark 1:40-45 has always astounded me. 

40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter. (ESV)

Jesus could have healed the leper in any number of ways. A word, a breath, a command to go and wash. Instead, Jesus reaches out a touches this unclean man. The contamination, the disease and the uncleanliness of the leper did not make Jesus ceremonially unclean (Leviticus 13:45-46). Instead of becoming unclean for touching someone unclean Jesus makes this man clean. What power to heal and save our Savior has! And also what compassion, to heal him in a way that was so tangible and powerful. As we interact with one another it is important to understand them, their loss and pain. By doing so we can speak and act in ways that will be best heard and understood by them.

Notice also that Jesus healed him knowing he would disobey. Jesus did not withhold his power to rescue and help based on the man’s future response. If we were only to love those who responded favorably we would have the perfect excuse to be selfish. No matter the response Jesus saw the hurt and pain of this man and “moved with pity” he loved him. Have you tried before to love someone and they rejected it? Are you weary of well doing? Don't give into the feeling of hopelessness. God is able, and the love you extend is not in vain, for our gracious God sees and rewards those acts of faith and love. The Thessalonians felt it, and Paul encouraged them, “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” 2 Thessalonians 3:13 (ESV). 

So let me encourage you with Hebrews 10:24-25 “24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (ESV)

Pastor Tim

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Are believers treated differently in heaven for what they've done on earth?

"Are Saved Christians treated differently in heaven for what they have DONE on earth?" (June 18, 2020)

What an important question to think through! Especially since Hebrews 11:6 gives the foundation of the Christian life saying, “For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Notice that to draw near to God requires two things in this text. You believe God exists and He rewards. We have to have that down in order to draw near to God so it is absolutely essential for us to think about this concept.

Jesus also reveals that, not only will there be rewards in the end, but they will differ for each believer. Consider the parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19:12–25. Jesus shows what the end will look like and how rewards will look different depending on the faithful work of each. Consider Luke 19:16–19 and 19:24–26 specifically,

16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’

24 And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ 26 ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

It is clear that Jesus taught Christians will be rewarded differently according to what they have DONE in this life. But what will this look like? How will God reward Christians differently and base it on their works?

Let me first suggest an excellent sermon on the topic that helped me immensely to think about these things. The sermon is entitled,

“Joy’s Eternal Increase,” by Sam Storms you can find it here:

I try to listen to it once a year because of how rich and profound it is. It expands on how I will answer it below.

God is the greatest reward for the Christian. Peter says that Christ suffered for our sins to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). In God’s presence there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). There is nothing on earth the Psalmist desires besides God, whom do we have in heaven but Him (Psalm 73:25–26). And God tells Abraham the He Himself is Abraham’s very great reward (Genesis 15:1 KJV). We have the infinitely glorious and infinitely valuable God as our great reward. But we are finite. We can know God truly, but we will never exhaust the riches and joys of knowing this great and infinite God. And this is good news! Jonathan Edwards said,

“The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the ocean.”

God is the ocean, but remember that He is an infinite ocean, in whom there is no end, no beginning.

Now we may think about our experience in heaven as one where we are continually knowing all there is to know about God all at the same time. We might begin to think of heaven as sort of static and eventually, dare we say, boring. But this is not the case. There will always be more of God to know and enjoy. This is what it means to say He is infinite and of course to say that God is God. Consider for a moment that the angels are in heaven, without sin, and have lived in perfection. And they have moments where they rejoice when a sinner repents (Luke 15:10). Their joy increases in heaven. Their joy is not static or baseline. And I believe the same is true and will be true for us.

What happens is as we come to trust Christ through our being regenerated (John 3:3–5) we now grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and behold His glory, we are transformed and given capacities to know and love God more and more. The Christian life is not static, but one of continually growth in the love of God. And we do this as finite creatures were designed to do. I think about when I first became a dad, how blown away I was when my first son was born and how much I loved him. I didn’t know I could love someone as much as I did. And I didn’t think I could love more than I did. But then my second boy was born, and my capacities to love them both expanded. So it was with the third and forth son. So it is with the love of God in us that is gifted by Jesus (John 17:25–26).

Our reward is God. And the capacity to love and enjoy God more and more is to have more of God. And these capacities will grow and expand forever and ever. We will experience joy’s eternal increase in the presence of God. And the reward for us will be the greater capacity to love and rejoice in God. Here’s the point, those capacities to love God will look different for each person. Some will have much greater capacities to treasure God than me when they die or I die and get to see the Lord. This is how I begin to think about the differences in rewards.

So yes, saved Christians will be treated differently in heaven for what they have DONE on earth. The more they grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus here, and grow in the capacities to know and love and treasure God now in this life, these will continue on in eternity. God will be our reward and He will reward us with Himself, and we will all enjoy Him, but every Christian growing in love for God further up and further in, forever. Nothing will be wasted. It’s worth going hard after God now, as it will be for all eternity. All will be for His glory and our joy in Him.

Pastor Adam

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What should the Christian's response be to injustice?

"What is the Christian's appropriate response to injustice? Is it wrong to be angry? And how do you move past that point when the injustice keeps happening?" (June 1, 2020)

What a big question! There are several avenues that can be addressed here. I want to address what I think is fundamental for the Christian and it’s a view of God in the topic of justice. I get the most help from Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Avenging takes place when injustice happens and you want to make it right and just. Paul commands the believer to leave it to God. Literally he writes, “give place” to the wrath of God, meaning this is God’s place to render ultimate justice, and He will. The struggle for the believer is, “Do I believe this?” Do I believe that God will render ultimate justice and is this enough for me? Will injustice reign forever or will God make it right in the end?

I say this is a matter of faith because he bases the command on a promise from Scripture (Deuteronomy 32:35) when Paul writes, “for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Say it another way, God promises to repay and take vengeance, therefore, you must give place to God’s wrath and not take justice into your own hands. Believe God’s promise of vengeance and let your faith turn to action in not avenging yourself. Rather, give it to God, place it in His hands in prayer, entrust it to Him and believe what He says.

And the two places God will render ultimate vengeance is either Hell or the Cross. We all deserve Hell and God’s wrath is due to every person in eternal conscious punishment (Romans 1:18; 3:23). Justice will be done for every sin. This is what God says, “I will repay.” Our only hope is the Cross of Jesus where the Word tells us Jesus became a sacrifice for our sins and bore the wrath of God in our place (Isaiah 53; Romans 3:24–25). God accomplished justice in dealing with our sin in punishing His own righteous Son.

So I ask myself, do I believe that God will make it right in the end? Is the Cross and Hell perfect justice? Can I trust God with this injustice? I think there is a place for anger, but we don’t let the sun go down on it because we entrust the ultimate vengeance to God (Ephesians 4:26). Our response is tainted by faith in a big God who will make all things right in the end.

Pastor Adam

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Should Christians Celebrate Jewish Holy-days?

"Should Christians celebrate Jewish Holy-days?" (May 12, 2020)

The text I go to first in thinking about this question is hearing from the Apostle Paul as he says in Colossians 2:16–17,

"Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ."

Paul talks about a “festival” referring to the Old Testament festivals required for Israel to keep as God’s Covenant Community, festivals like Passover (Leviticus 23:4–8; Deuteronomy 16:1–8), Pentecost/Weeks (Leviticus 23:9–14; Deuteronomy 16:9–12), Tabernacles (Leviticus 23: Deuteronomy 16:13–17), Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26–32), to name a few. 

And it’s amazing to see how Paul thinks of these festivals. He says in Col. 2:17 that “these are a shadow of things to come but the substance belongs to Christ.” The Festivals in the OT were shadows of Christ who is the fulfillment and substance. The festivals were pictures pointing to the person of Christ. He was and is the real thing to whom all those festivals pointed! So, if you have Christ, you have all that the festivals were designed to give, but oh so much more!

A good example is Passover. Year after year God’s people celebrated God’s delivering His people by redeeming them with the blood of a lamb put on the door of their house. The people remembered God’s past deliverance from both the angel of death and their Egyptian slave masters because the angel saw the blood of the Lamb and passed over the house, not killing the firstborn inside. 

For Paul, Passover foreshadowed the time when Christ would come in to the world and it would be said that Christ is “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, 36). Passover and the meaning behind it helped prepare the way to understand what Jesus does in His own life, death, and resurrection. Paul even says of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 5:7–8,

"For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."

The Passover lamb was the shadow, the picture that displayed and pointed to Christ who was sacrificed once for all to save us from eternal death. And Paul even says, let us celebrate the festival, but in a new way as God’s new Israel. Later on in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 Paul will explain the New Passover we celebrate in Christ, in the Lord’s Supper. We celebrate Passover in the new way that Christ taught His disciples when He celebrated Passover (cf. Matthew 26:26–29). And now we do this as we come together and celebrate the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20). 

So I believe we do celebrate Passover and all the festivals but in a new way, because they are fulfilled in Christ. We no longer have just the picture, we have the person, Christ Himself! He is our new Passover lamb. He is our new tabernacle (John 1:14). He is the first fruits (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23), He has made THE atonement on THE Day of Atonement, the crucifixion (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17).

So should we celebrate the Jewish holidays? I think the answer is yes, but we celebrate them in the new way as God’s new covenant people (Jeremiah 31:31–34). We have the person, not just the picture. And we do so as we celebrate the person Christ on His Day. Personally, this is one of the reasons why I think Sunday, the Lord’s Day is so important for believers. It is a New Sabbath for the New Covenant people of God, the Church (Hebrews 4:9–10).

Consider how we celebrate Passover by celebrating the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day. We celebrate first fruits by celebrating Christ as the first fruits of the Resurrection. We remember His atoning death that every Day of Atonement pointed to. We are His new Tabernacle/Temple in the church that He has promised to be there present among us as we give thanks to Him and for Him. I think the timing has changed in that we celebrate Christ as God’s people weekly. We celebrate the festivals that pointed to Christ by celebrating all that Christ was for us and we do so together on every Lord’s Day.

Pastor Adam

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Did God create the Coronavirus or did He allow it to happen?

“Did God create the Coronavirus, or did He allow it to happen?” (May 8, 2020)

I told the young lady who submitted this question that it’s a profound question, and, in one form or another, a question being asked by a lot of people. We first have to realize that God is the only Creator. He alone is un-created – everything that has ever come into existence is by His doing (Gen 1:1; Acts 17:24; Rev 4:11). And… that includes Covid-19.

But when it comes to all things that bring about death, we need to realize that they also came about as a consequence of mankind’s rebellion against His Creator. Paul writes: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin…” (Rom 5:12). Sickness and death and natural disasters and lethal viruses, under God’s sovereign hand, came as God’s judgment against sin. Now the whole Creation is groaning under the weight of this curse (Rom 8:20-22). So, yes, God allowed the Coronavirus to happen, as He has allowed all evil consequences of the Fall (including our own inherited sinful nature, which condemns us to hell, if it were not for God’s gracious intervention in giving us new hearts through Christ). But it’s not like Adam’s fall or the Coronavirus came as some surprise to Him. He didn’t just allow these things to continue on, once they came about; He ordained them – for His inscrutable, but ultimately good, purposes.

His ultimate purpose, I believe, is to reveal the full spectrum of His excellencies (1 Pet 2:9), to His glory. Without sin and death, we could never know God’s mercy and His grace. It’s at the cross where Jesus, the eternal Son of God, died to remove the curse of sin and death (Gal 3:13), and where God’s glory is on fullest display (John 17:1). And we're forever grateful (Rev 5:9-10).

People are scratching their heads these days, asking, “How could a good God allow such a horrible thing as Covid-19?” He does all things ultimately for His glory – an eternal glory -- a glory that extends beyond the pain of this present world, and a glory that we can share in as we become forever joined to Christ through faith. Jesus stepped into this sinful, disease-ridden world and endured the cross – the ultimate pain at every level – so we might forever delight in our perfect Creator and Redeemer in Paradise. How’s that for a thought to help banish the Corona Blues?!

Pastor Gary

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What is the meaning of life?

"What is the meaning of life?" (April 29, 2020)

The apostle Paul gives the answer when he writes in Colossians 1:16, “All things were created though Him and for Him.” The “Him” in the text is Jesus Christ. Everything was created through Jesus and everything has been created for Jesus. This means that we were created for Jesus Christ and this is what life is all about. We were made for the glory of Jesus Christ! This is the meaning of life.

What does it mean to be made for the glory of Christ or to live for the glory of Christ? The meaning behind the word is “Weight” or “Heaviness.” We glorify what we see as weighty, or valuable. And in this case, Christ is infinitely valuable. So to glorify Christ means to display Him as supremely valuable with our lives. There are other things in life we value, but Christ is to be the supreme value. How do we value other things? How do our lives display what we value, or glorify?

Certain questions might help us. What do we make much of or value? What do we spend our time or money on? What do we think about most often? What are our desires? What do we want our children to have? Money? Fame? Happy family? Good job? These things are not bad in and of themselves. They just aren’t ultimate and they are not ultimately what we were made to glorify—God is. We were made to desire God and His glory most, and to spend ourselves ultimately for Him and His Kingdom (Matthew 6:33). So that all things, our time, money, family, work, leisure, hobbies, food and drink, all things would be enjoyed for the glory of God in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:31).

You and I were made for the glory of Jesus Christ, to display Him as supremely valuable with our whole lives. This is the meaning of life!

Pastor Adam

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What does the "Free" mean in Evangelical Free?

What does the "Free" mean in Evangelical Free? (April 29, 2020)

The word "free" has two main meanings and a few important implications for us.

Historically, the Evangelical Free Church came from Scandinavia where the church was controlled by the state. Free meant that they were not directed or controlled by the state. This is a privilege we have in the United States that many of our brothers and sisters around the world do not enjoy. It should motivate us to prayer and praise-- prayer for God's Word to reign and nations to surrender to the true King (Psalm 2), and praise for granting us the joy of gathering as believers because we desire to, not because it is demanded by the state.

"Free" is also connected to our theology. The organizational structure of the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) is that each local church is autonomous or free from hierarchical control. The denomination does not tell us what sermons to preach or what music style to adopt for worship. Instead, we are a movement centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, united in the essentials of the faith to engage the world with the Gospel. The autonomy does not mean we as a local church are in this alone. The denomination helps guard the essentials of the faith, ordain ministers of the Gospel, and unites local churches in larger Gospel initiatives. The autonomy does mean that each local church is dependent on all the believers to be active and serving so the Gospel can be proclaimed. We are congregational in governance which requires active participation of our members. The Articles of Incorporation of the Evangelical Free Church succinctly say that the EFCA "shall be an association and fellowship of autonomous but interdependent congregations of like faith and congregational government" (II.A.). Therefore, we desire everyone to be growing in Christ and actively serving the local body of Christ so that together we can engage our community and the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Where might the gifts God has given you serve to build up the church and empower the Gospel to be proclaimed? (Eph 4:11-16)

Pastor Tim

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Does the tribulation come before or after the rapture?

“I was asked today ‘Does the tribulation come before or after the rapture?’ I know there are different views!” (April 29, 2020)

Before I give my response to this particular question, it’s important to note that when it comes to matters of eschatology (the study of the end-times), there are many Christ-loving, Bible-believing men and women who differ greatly in their views. The answers to questions on the nature and timing of the millennium (Rev 20:6), and the rapture of the Church, and the events that are to precede the return of Jesus, simply aren’t as clear as the answers to so many other (and I would say, more important) questions on the Bible’s teachings – like on the nature of mankind and sin, and God’s plan of salvation through Christ. So it’s been our church’s (and the Evangelical Free Church of America’s) motto to “major on the majors, and minor on the minors.” This doesn’t mean that we don’t diligently search the Scriptures for the answers to questions of eschatology, but we do so with a spirit of humility, and of love toward our fellow believers who may come to different conclusions.

Having said that, let me share where I’ve personally landed on this question of the rapture. First, let’s make sure we understand what we mean by the “rapture of the Church.” It’s the taking up to Jesus of all presently-living believers, and resurrected believers, at the time of his glorious return “on the clouds.” The primary passage for this is 1 Thes 4:13-18:

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

I personally believe that this taking up of the Church to her Lord will take place after a period (likely seven years – the seventieth “week” of Dan 9:24-27; Matt 24:21; Rev 7:14) of great tribulation on the earth. Those who espouse a pre-tribulation or mid-tribulation view of the rapture essentially need to see the return of Jesus in two phases: the first, in effect, invisibly and secretly to remove his Church before God’s wrath is unleashed upon this rebellious world, and the second, visibly, when he returns to gloriously rule with his people.

To me, the plainest interpretation of passages relating to Jesus’ return is that it’s a single return, in glory. To those who question how God could allow his people to experience his wrath in those last days, I would reply that his faithful people have often had to experience very, very hard times when his judgment has been leveled against evildoers. Think of the faithful remnant of believing Israel at the time God raised up the Babylonians to bring his judgment against idolatrous Israel, and Jerusalem and the temple was destroyed. Those faithful believers whose children starved to death during the siege weren’t spared that trial. In a sense they were collateral damage. But, like those the author of Hebrews mentions, they had their sights set on a better city – an eternal one (Heb 11:16). So with believers who may suffer during the tribulation period. Though they wouldn’t directly suffer the wrath of God (as that wrath had been absorbed by their Savior, the Lord Jesus, on the cross), they may suffer through the consequences of living in this rebellious, fallen world. Yet, we know our eternal destiny – Paradise with our Savior. So many of our brothers and sisters this very day, in places like North Korea or Iran, are paying the ultimate price in remaining faithful to the Lord. The call of Jesus is to take up our cross and follow him. That will likely involve suffering and persecution, at some time and at some level.

A verse that pre-tribulation rapture advocates usually point to is Rev 3:10: “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” This is seen as a promise to believers that they won’t have to suffer through the great tribulation, and though the rapture isn’t explicitly mentioned, it’s implied. I would say that this ignores the fact that these words are directed to a specific church (the church in Philadelphia – not in PA!) at a certain time – when John received his revelation from the risen Jesus and transmitted these words to the seven churches there in Asia Minor. I don’t believe it’s a general promise to all believers, but to specific believers under certain circumstances. It’s notable that to another one of those faithful churches, the one in Smyrna, the risen Jesus says this: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:10).

Oh boy, there’s so much more we could say here! This short response barely scratches the surface. But as I’ve always quipped to my “pre-trib” friends: if you’re right and I’m wrong, I’ll gladly shake your hand on the way up!

Pastor Gary

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What Did the Early Church Teach From?

"A great question got brought up in my Life Group. What exactly were they teaching from in the early church since they didn't have the bible as we know it yet? Were Paul, and others, simply teaching the gospel message pointing to how Jesus fulfilled the OT law?" (April 22, 2020)

It’s true that the early church didn’t have the Bible as we know it today in its entirety. Today we have the entire complete Bible in a complete canon with all 66 books with both the Old and New Testaments. What the early church was missing, at least early on, was the 27 books of the New Testament that were yet to be written. But what they had was the Bible that Jesus had and taught from—the Hebrew Bible—or what we today call the “Old Testament”.

In our English Bibles, the “Old Testament,” or Hebrew Canon, refers to the first 39 books listed from Genesis to Malachi. I had a professor who would almost never refer to those books as the Old Testament, but he would refer to it as “Jesus’ Bible.” He thought using those terms might suggest to people that the Old Testament is “old” as in outdated and unnecessary for the Christian life. I like using the phrase “Jesus’ Bible” and oftentimes use it myself when referring to the “Old Testament”.

Oftentimes in the New Testament we hear Jesus and the early church refer to the Hebrew Bible as, “the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 5:17), “Moses and the Prophets (Luke 24:27), “the Word” (John 17:17), “the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44), and often it is simply referred to as “the Scriptures”. We see this in the teaching of Peter (Acts 1:16, 1 Peter 1:10–11; 2 Peter 1:19), Philip (Acts 8:35), Paul (Acts 17:2; Romans 15:4), and others (Acts 17:11; Acts 18:24–28) teaching from the Old Testament “Scriptures”.       

The early church taught from the Scriptures because that’s how Jesus taught them, from the Scriptures, Jesus’ Bible. We find this, for example in Luke 24:25–27, Jesus says to His disciples,

O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses (the first five books of the Bible) and all the Prophets (the rest), he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

Jesus speaks of the Scriptures here referring to the Hebrew Bible. And He rebukes His followers for not believing all of it (cf. Matthew 5:17–20)! And specifically, Jesus says His followers should have understood the good news of His person and work from all the Old Testament. He focuses on the fact that it was necessary He suffering on the cross, be resurrected from the dead, and enter into the glory the way that He just did! Then, Jesus does a Bible study with them in all the Hebrew Scriptures. Luke notes the results of the bible study in verses 31–32,

And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”

When did their hearts burn? While Jesus was speaking to them as He opened the Scriptures, the “Old Testament” Scriptures, Jesus’ Bible. This is when they recognized Jesus, and their hearts burned with worship for Him. He does the same with the eleven apostles in Luke 24:44–49,

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

So when the Apostles and the early church taught, they taught and preached from the Hebrew Scriptures Genesis through Malachi, in our English Bibles. And the New Testament churches sought to see, savor, and show Christ in all the Scriptures and how it was necessary for Him to die, rise from the dead, ascend to the glory of the Father, rule and reign as King in heaven until all His enemies are made His footstool (Psalm 110:1).

And we believe this is our task too! When we preach, especially in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, we preach Christ just as the early church did. We want to see Him in all of the Bible, savor Him, show Him to others from the Scriptures, just like He taught His followers to do!

Pastor Adam

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What does the Bible have to say about the age of accountability for sin?

“What does the Bible have to say about when people are accountable for their own sin? Let’s say a 13-year-old dies in a tragic accident, and it is likely that he/she has not accepted the Lord Jesus as Savior, would they be condemned to hell?” (April 22, 2020)

Short answer: yes. This question gets at the biblical teaching of “original sin” – that every human being born since Adam is “born in sin,” i.e. born with a sin nature, inherited from our original ancestors. David acknowledged this as he wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51:5). The Apostle Paul put it this way: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2:1-3).

It’s because of this hopeless situation before the perfectly holy God that God sent His only Son to pay that penalty for sin we deserved to pay (which, ultimately, is an eternity away from his presence in a place Jesus called hell). Also, because of the life and work of Jesus, the believer can now not just escape sin’s penalty, but can be counted righteous before God, as Christ’s merits are credited to our accounts (Rom 5:16,19). The great exchange!

But there is the requirement of faith. We must hear and believe this gospel in order to have eternal life. We must call on that name of Jesus (Rom 10:13-17). Now, ultimately only God knows a person’s heart, and to what extent they have called on the name of Jesus – those who die and who belong to Him (and thus go to be with Him in heaven) will have been those who, by grace, possessed saving faith, even if that faith may have been very immature. In tragic deaths of young people, all we can do is entrust them to our merciful God, and say with Abraham, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen 18:25). This question also reminds those of us who are parents how important it is to ensure our children know the gospel from the earliest of ages, and to pray diligently for God’s gracious work in their hearts.

Pastor Gary

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Why was it necessary for Judas to betray Jesus?

"I have wondered for years why it was necessary for Judas to betray Jesus in order for the Jewish leaders to arrest Him? Couldn’t they have arrested Jesus without Judas turning on Him?" (April 2, 2020)

This is a good question! It would seem that with all the commotion of Holy Week and Jesus’ very public ministry that the Jewish leaders wouldn’t have needed a “mole” in order to facilitate his arrest. But they needed to do so in a private manner, so as not to agitate the crowd in town for the Passover feast. They were always afraid of inciting a riot, and thus bring the iron fist of Rome down upon them (after all, that was Pilate’s chief job – to collect the taxes and keep the peace in that far-off corner of the Roman empire). Here’s what we read in Luke 22:1-6:

1Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover.2 And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. 3 Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. 4 He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. 5 And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. 6 So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.

 Judas, being one of Jesus’ inner-circle, would have had intimate knowledge of where Jesus would lodge, and his personal coming’s and going’s when out of the crowds’ (and the Pharisees’) eyes. He slipped out of the upper room where they had celebrated the Passover meal (and where Jesus had just washed his feet!) to go tell the authorities where Jesus would be (John 13:27-30). We read in Luke 21:37, regarding the Twelve’s accommodations during Holy Week: “And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet.” Jesus and the Eleven would have left that upper room, and, in typical fashion, made their way to their lodging (quite likely a campsite), outside of the city in a wooded and private area. We read in John 18:1-3:

1When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.

It’s ironic that all this secrecy between Judas and those who paid him those wretched 30 pieces of silver in order to secretly apprehend him without a scene, has now been known the world over for 2000 years. And it all worked according to God’s perfect, sovereign plan (Matt 26:55-56; Acts 4:27-28).  

Pastor Gary

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American right to gather for church vs the Christian's submission to civil authorities

"How does the American right to gather for church and the Christian's submission to civil authorities and a laying down of their rights work in this unique time of the pandemic?" (April 2, 2020)

There’s no question that one of our most important commands in Scripture, and one of our greatest joys, is to assemble together to worship our great Creator Redeemer God (Ps 95:6-7; Heb 10:24-25, 12:22-24). So the question is: when our government tells us NOT to assemble, is that a matter of saying, with the Apostles in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men”? On the surface, the answer might seem to be, “Yes, this is one of those occasions.”

But other biblical passages and principles must be taken into consideration. One is that it is the Christian citizen’s duty generally to submit to our governing authorities, understanding that human government is a gift of common grace from God, for everyone’s good. One must remember that Nero was the Roman Emperor when Paul and Peter gave these apostolic commands:

1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (Rom 13:1-5)

13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Pet 2:13-17)

Another pervasive Scriptural command is to love our neighbor (Lev 19:18; Mk 12:31; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; Jas 2:8). Through his parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus would go on to show that our “neighbor” is anyone around us in need (Lk 10:29-37). Choosing to obey our government in sheltering in place, and not gathering in large groups (as we would for a worship service), is a way to express love for our neighbor, because as we put ourselves at risk of contracting the virus, we in turn put others around us at risk.

Now, if our government only forbid churches not to gather, and didn’t prohibit other large gatherings (as is the case in normal circumstances in many countries, like China), this would be another story. We wouldn’t endanger the physical health of our “neighbors” by going to church, so then, I would be inclined to say, with the Apostles, “We must obey God rather than men.” But under these extremely unique circumstances I believe that being a good citizen and a loving Christian translates into finding other ways to come together to worship, as we, and so many churches, are doing. When pastors like Rodney Howard-Browne (not a sound preacher, by the way), in Florida, defy the State’s injunction against large gatherings, they do much to damage the reputation of the gospel in our country.

Pastor Gary