How was Easter for you and your family?
It was great. Most of my family was in town from Minnesota, so we spent the weekend together. We enjoyed the weather—we were outside all weekend.
I always think about pastors immediately after Christmas and Easter. All of the buildup and activity can be exhausting. What is the next week like?
It’s my favorite Sunday of the year, but there’s a lot of preparation from the entire team that goes into planning all of the services. When it’s done, there’s a sigh of relief, but we are always excited to see what will come from the seeds that were planted. It was great to see so many faces that I haven’t seen for a while, and to see other people that I’ve never met before. So it was a really exciting weekend. Between the Good Friday and Easter Sunday Services, we were really encouraged and we are looking forward to kicking off this new series.
The Miracles of Jesus is seemingly a familiar topic, but I’m sure you have been seeing some things with fresh eyes. What are your expectations?
What I want us to discover together is that the Lord is still performing miracles today. There’s a participatory aspect about it for us. In fact, that’s what we’re going to be talking about this coming Sunday. More importantly than that, the miracles of Jesus demonstrate his authority and power over the devil, over sickness, over nature, and confirming that he is indeed the Messiah, the Son of God.
Miracles are one of those tricky topics, especially for someone with a deep need. Sometimes we aren’t quite sure how to pray.
We are told in Scripture to pray for healing. In fact, on the final Sunday of the sermon series I’m going to be addressing that topic — what does it look like and how do we respond if our prayer for a miracle is not answered in the way we would like it to be? I think there are times when we lay out a plea and say, “God if you don’t, it’s going to wreck my faith. It’s going to destroy me.”
We are going to be looking at Jesus in The Garden of Gethsemane, when he prays that this cup would be removed from him. And also the Apostle Paul, who prayed on multiple occasions that the thorn in his flesh would be removed. And yet it stayed. I believe that the Lord still heard and answered those prayers, but he didn’t answer them in the way that especially the Apostle Paul was hoping they would be answered.
So I think it will be a good ending to the series for some who think, OK, every one of these miracles up until now has had this kind of fairytale ending. They all get essentially what they’ve asked for, what they prayed for. So what about me and my life? I’ve been praying to be healed from this sickness for years. Or, I’ve been praying for a loved one to be healed. I’ve been praying for decades for my son or daughter to return to walking with the Lord, and that hasn’t happened yet. How do I respond?
You always hear about foxhole prayers — God, if you will just fix this crisis then I’ll serve you the rest of my life.
And when we do that, we let the enemy take root in our minds and hearts because we think we have done something that would prevent God from answering the prayer the way we want him to. God, is it because I said it this way? Is it because I did something back when I was a kid or a teenager? No, ultimately as followers of Jesus we are surrendering our will to his. And his will is not of this world, not of this earthly kingdom. It is transcendent above our own. So we surrender and submit that to him.
We are really good at inventing our own theology in times like that, aren’t we?
We kind of picture God as being this genie in a lamp. If we rub the lamp the right way and we make the wish the right way and we say the right words, then all of a sudden our wish will come true. But that’s not the way God operates. He does things for his glory and his glory alone.
Are you seeing a conscious connection between this series and the Ephesians series that we just finished?
In the Ephesians series, we looked at several different aspects of the church, both from a theological and a practical point of view. As we look at how the Holy Spirit was moving in the early church, I think through this series it will open the eyes of our hearts, as the Apostle Paul prayed, that they will be enlightened to see that God is still active today. He is not some distant God that is sitting up there, playing chess with humanity. He is active and still working, still speaking in our lives. I think so often we don’t hit the pause button enough to allow ourselves the opportunity to recognize that. Part of this series is to show us that Jesus’ power, his authority, his rule and his reign are all still active. The Holy Spirit is still active and working within the lives of believers in the church.
That fits nicely into the timeline of the pandemic as well, right?
There been so many stories, not just in our church but other churches around Rockford, of people recommitting their lives to Jesus, or people coming and committing their lives for the first time. We literally have people all over the United States and the world who are streaming our online services from home, wherever that is. It’s encouraging to see what the Lord is doing. He is telling true believers, OK, even in this, I am still at work. And even in this, I am still in perfect and complete control. Are you going to follow me even in this? So I think it’s a great testimony and example for the church to continue to be the church even in the midst of this.
How could our church family pray for you and Pastor Josh during this series?
You can continue to pray for all of the staff. The Lord is doing a mighty work here at First Free Rockford. I believe that. I’ve been able to watch it from up front. I am very excited for what this next season is going to hold for our church. I have felt like through the pandemic, God was kind of saying, All right, buckle up. Get ready. Because once we get through this, the floodgates are going to open. I’m going to do a mighty work in and through this church and this Rockford community and around the world.
So I ask that you continue to be in prayer for the pastors and the ministry staff, that we would be submitting ourselves to the will of the Father. That we wouldn’t take one step apart from him, but we would participate in what he’s calling us to do. And that we would continue to listen, and ask, OK, Lord, what’s next?
The Gallup organization released a statistic last week. For the first time, fewer than half of American adults belong to a church, synagogue or mosque. How do numbers like this inform you as a pastor?
When I started in this role, the very first book that we read as elder boards was The Great Evangelical Recession. The book was written in 2013, but all of the statistics were right on in terms of what’s happening before our eyes today. It was basically preparing the church for a post-Christian America.
We will continue to strive to be authentic. We want all of our sermon series, our Starting Point class, Bible studies, life groups, adult communities, to focus on the real effects and application in our lives. We may know the right answers, but it actually takes hands and feet to put them into practice. So as we continue to see numbers like this, we realize it’s not just head knowledge, but it’s also a heart knowledge which leads to hand knowledge—acting out our faith.
That’s why every Sunday I end with, “Now go and be the church.” Because living in a post-Christian America, the field is ripe for harvest. Monday morning needs to be just as much of church as Sunday morning is. The way that’s going to happen is not just by our words but also by following that up with our actions.
Ultimately, I think it’s an opportunity to continue to bring people into relationship with Jesus Christ, but it’s going to be different. And we need to prepare ourselves for that. At the same time, I believe people are searching and they are interested in spirituality more than ever. So I think that works to our advantage, because we know the one, the way, the truth and the life, who presents true hope to a world that’s in desperate need of it.