Articles from March 2020

Who’s Really in Control?

This is really the biggest question of our day in the midst of this Covid-19 crisis. It is a question that every generation has to decide when tragedy strikes and trouble looms. Our view of God determines how we will live in these days!

Deism believes in a supreme being who created the universe but is not directly involved in His creation. This unbiblical philosophy believes that God passively sits by allowing the events of history to unfold according to fate or natural law. Theism on the other hand believes that God still plays an active role in the world and in history. When the world seems to be unraveling, the most comforting truth we can know is that God is actively involved in everyday life. When we look at the biblical account rather than philosophy, we find that God is providentially in control of everything, even viruses!

We Go to the Bible
Only the Bible gives us a clear picture of who is really in control. The Bible portrays God as not only a powerful God who is the author of all history working out His mysterious will in the world, but also as a loving God who can be trusted. Theologians typically call the governance of the world, “providence.” J. I. Packer provides an excellent definition of providence,

“The unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill, He upholds His creatures in ordered existence, guides and governs all events, circumstances, and free acts of angels and men, and directs everything to its appointed goal, for His own glory” (Providence, The New Bible Dictionary, London: The InterVarsity Fellowship, 1962), 1050-51).

To say it succinctly, the Bible teaches us that God is continually caring for His creation, absolutely ruling over all of creation (including viruses) and powerfully sustaining His creation (Prov 19:21). A brief survey of Scripture reveals these glorious truths.

God governs: The Bible teaches us that God is actively involved in governing all of creation, both inanimate and human creatures. God is called the Ruler of all things (1 Chronicles 29:12), and the blessed and only Sovereign (1 Tim 6:15). The prophet Jeremiah declared, “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?” (Lam 3:37). Daniel wrote that God “does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Dan 4:35, see also 4:17). The great theologian and church father Augustine said of God, “Nothing, therefore, happens unless the Omnipotent wills it to happen: He either permits it to happen, or he brings it about himself.” (see also Ps 115:3, 135:6, 139:13, 16, Prov 16:9, 19:21, Ecc 7:13)

God sustains: Not only did God create all things, but He also sustains the entire universe day by day and hour by hour. God preserves all things that He made and causes them to maintain the properties with which He created them. Scripture tells us that the Lord Jesus actually “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3), and that “in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17). Everything continues because God is lovingly guiding the stars (Is 40:26), the rain (Ps 147:8-9), and even individuals (Acts 17:25- 28). God provides daily food (2 Cor 9:10), and gives us breath (Job 34:14-15, Ps 104:29).

God Cares: If God were not a good God, His sovereignty would be something to fear. But the Scripture is clear that God loves His people. We are not to worry because we have a “heavenly Father” who loves us and cares about us (1 Peter 5:7). Since the God of the universe cares about the sparrow, Jesus says, don’t you know He loves and cares for His children and their every need (Matt 6:25-27). God told His people through the prophet Jeremiah, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer 31:3).

It’s Our Time to Shine
As the world continues to be fearful, this is our time to shine as “bright stars in the universe” (Phil 2:14-15). This is our time to shine faith and trust in our God. How do we do this? We preach to ourselves, we pray and act wisely, and we trust God!

Preach to yourself: Continually remind yourself that God is in control of this coronavirus crisis. The little virus that is wreaking havoc and fear in our world is NOT in control. Because God is in control we can rest and have peace knowing that our heavenly Father loves us and cares for us day by day and hour by hour! When the world around us panics, we remember “that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). Let all of this sink into our hearts. God is working for our good in all of this! As Bible believing Christians, we find our comfort and strength in the fact that there is not even one single event that happens in this life outside the sovereign control of our almighty God.

Prayer & Prudence: When Nehemiah faced the trouble of life-threatening forces against him, he prayed and acted wisely. He said, “And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night” (Neh 4:9). Nehemiah’s trust in the Lord did not cause him to act unwisely but rather prudent. But notice Nehemiah first led his people to pray! Then he acted wisely and used the means that God had given him. The same is true of the Apostles Peter and John when they were threatened by the Jewish Sanhedrin and commanded not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. The first thing they did was pray. Notice that they acknowledged the sovereignty of God as they prayed.

“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them… They [Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles and Jews] did whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness. (Acts 4:24, 28-29)

In both cases, it was the sovereignty of God that led these godly men to pray. Because God is sovereign we know that He is able to answer us. If God were not sovereign our prayers would be in vain.

Trust God: We don’t know what the outcome of this virus will be from a health or economic standpoint. But we must not fear! We must not put our hope in our finances or our health. We must trust that the Lord is good and His will is perfect. We must acknowledge that His wisdom is far greater than our own. With the Apostle Paul we declare, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways (Rom 11:33). God’s wisdom is fathomless; His decisions are unsearchable; His methods are mysterious and untraceable (Is 55:8-9). It is wrong for us to demand from God an explanation of what He is doing in the world (Job 42:3). He does not owe us an explanation. But what is required of us is to put our trust in Him. While we may never have an explanation or even see the “good” of what God is doing, we must resign ourselves to the wisdom of God and not lean on our own understanding, but rest in our hearts having our souls stilled (Ps 131:2).

We can do this because we know our God is ultimately the one in control!

 

Don’t Take a Vacation!

It’s a strange time. Churches were empty of worshipers on Sunday all across America. This was a result of two things. First, it was an act of obedience and submission to our governing authorities who made strong requests not to gather in large groups due to the infectious nature of the coronavirus. According to Romans 13, Christians are to submit to the governing authorities whom God has sovereignly placed over us as long as they do not ask us to do something contrary to God’s Word (Acts 5:29). Second, churches were empty as an illustration of love to our communities. If indeed the coronavirus is as bad as authorities are saying, by not meeting together for a season, we are revealing that the Church is truly concerned about the people of our communities, especially the vulnerable! And because we are not experts concerning infectious diseases, we must be willing to submit ourselves to others who are the experts. If we were to disregard what the experts were saying it would definitely send the wrong message to our communities.

But with all of this social distancing being put into place, the major question is “Can we still be the Church without gathering in a building?” And the answer is absolutely yes! The Church has always been a group of God’s people who were clear about their distinctives. We are a people who 1) worship, 2) fellowship, 3) make disciples, 4) minister to others, 5) evangelize the lost, 6) give financially, 7) pray and so much more. All of this doesn’t have to stop with the infiltration of the coronavirus. Because this is the heart of the Church, these distinctives may just be accomplished in ways different than the norm. The true Church will never take a vacation from what Christ has called us to do. Following is a list of creative ways to continue being the Church in this strange time.

Livestream Worship: Many churches, including Ebenezer, are blessed with the technology to livestream our worship services. The Church is not to take a vacation from spending time worshiping. Over the next few weeks, until this crisis subsides, encourage your families to get up at your normal time, and prepare their hearts to sit in front of a smart phone or a computer and engage in worship. In this way, we continue to be connected to our local church. While we may not be able to gather in the sanctuary together, we can “gather together” virtually online. We are also providing a midweek service that will be recorded for you each week. Additionally, Pastor Mike is posting several short video devotionals on the Psalms, especially for teens throughout the week.  We are trying to provide you with many opportunities to engage in worship and keep your heart sensitive to the Lord.

Don’t Practice Social Distancing with Jesus: While we are trying to keep at least 6 feet away from others, this is NOT what we are to do with Jesus. Praise the Lord that our relationship with Jesus is not virtual. Because the Holy Spirit lives within us, we have His intimate presence with us forever. Use this time away from everyone as a grace from God and spend more time in the Word of God than ever before. If you don’t know where to read, start in the Psalms which are so comforting.

Use Technology to Connect: One of the ways this crisis is going to strengthen the Church is everyone is realizing the importance of fellowship. One dear saint said she cried as she watched the midweek service realizing how much she depended upon human touch and the gathering of the Saints. In this difficult time, we must be diligent not to go into sleep mode or vacation mode. There are many ways you can continue to connect with others. Just this last week, the ladies in our kinship small group gathered via Skype on their phones for prayer. They spent an hour visiting and calming each other through prayer. While not perfect, technology does enable us to enter into a face to face conversation with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Facetime and Skype are just two of the many apps that are great for video chatting. Zoom is a great tool for larger groups who want to video chat. A simple text to others checking in on them and telling them you love them is crucial. I received an email from a church member recently just saying they missed me and were praying for me. It meant the world to me and brought joy to my soul.

Make Phone Calls: While texting may work at some level, actually making a phone call and hearing someone else’s voice is very encouraging. We can reach out to others by simply calling to check on them, praying with them, or even read Scripture together over the phone. Some of our AWANA leaders are planning on calling their students this week to listen to the children recite their Bible verses over the phone. In this way ministry continues, and love is shown.

Give Online: While the offering plate may not be passed, giving is still necessary to ensure that the ministry of God’s Church doesn’t suffer during this crisis. Surprisingly many Christians forget to continue their giving when they go on vacations. Churches often have a significant drop in giving during the summer months because finances are used for other things and as a result ministry suffers. But this doesn’t have to be the case during this coronavirus crisis. Many churches, including Ebenezer, have an online giving option. Offerings can also simply be mailed to the church like the “good ole days.” A committed member can and should find a way to send their offering. It may resort to simply driving to the church and giving your offering to the secretary. It is crucial that the Church continue to give so that the ministry will not suffer, and missionaries around the world will continue to be supported.

Let’s Continue Being the Church
I’m essentially calling the Church to continue being the Church. We will look back months from now at how we responded to this crisis. Hopefully we will be able to say that we were fearless, putting our hope in the Lord. But also, I hope we will also be able to say that we were purposeful; that we intentionally went out of our way using creative means to be the Church connecting to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

Our Response to the Coronavirus: Fear Not!

Dear Church Family,

The coronavirus is clearly a worldwide crisis that is already affecting many in our own country. We cannot avoid the nightly news that tells us the virus is spreading rapidly. You may be wondering what are the practical steps we will take at Ebenezer? I would like to share with you what we are planning and how all of us should be responding as believers from a scriptural perspective.

Don’t Panic: What separates us from the world is that in the midst of all of this trouble we can have peace! We are commanded by God not to fear. One of the most used commands in Scripture for the believer is “fear not.” Some form of being fearless is used over 300 times. As believers we should not allow the turmoil of our lives and the difficulties (no matter how big they are) to cause us to fear. The Apostle Peter writes to believers who are experiencing incredible persecution from unbelievers. His instruction to them is, “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy” (1 Peter 3:14). May the same be true for all of us concerning the coronavirus.

Stay on Mission: Nothing, including the coronavirus, should cause us to lose focus on why we are still here. The Lord has called us to love one another and to be mission minded with the goal of making disciples. The Apostle Peter continues exhorting those who were experiencing life threatening persecution by commanding them to “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:14-15). Applied to our situation, as believers we can stand strong and give the world the true hope of Jesus Christ. We have a unique opportunity to share the Gospel of Hope in the midst of a culture that is hypersensitive about sickness and death.

Be Smart: First, we must get the best information possible. Our church staff continues to consult our network of informed doctors and leaders as we institute practices to prevent the spread of any sickness, and strive to help our church family be loving and smart. For example, according to one doctor in our congregation, the coronavirus is especially susceptible to hand sanitizer, so we will be making it available for regular use.

Make Helpful Changes: When we gather at Ebenezer for weekly worship and activities, we would like to institute a few new practices. We don’t want to overreact but neither do we want to underreact. So, the following practices will be instituted at Ebenezer immediately:

Corporately at Ebenezer:
We are strengthening our already rigorous sanitization processes and procedures throughout the church with the following:

  • The ushers will be opening the front doors for everyone as they enter the building on Sunday mornings to prevent “many hands” from touching the door.
  • During our greeting times in the Sunday Worship services, we’ll ask you to greet those around you without using a handshake or hug for now.
  • The back rail of each pew will be cleaned weekly.
  • Door handles throughout the church will be sanitized many times throughout the week.
  • Classroom tables & chairs will be sanitized several times throughout the week.
  • As always, the nursery toys, counters, and tables will be disinfected every week and additional times as needed.
  • Hand sanitizer will be available in the lobby.
  • For communion we will use pre-filled and sealed cups with wafers instead of passing the open communion trays.

Personally at Ebenezer:
We ask that each of you do your part while attending Ebenezer in any capacity:

  • Please do not let fear keep you from attending corporate worship services and activities.
  • We ask that you be cautious about shaking hands and hugging at church for now.
  • We ask that if you have a cold or are feeling sick in any way, that you stay home and watch the service on our website which is broadcast live every week at www.aplaceforyou.org/sermons. Please do not bring your sick children to church.
  • For your own benefit, refrain from touching your face with your hands and teach your children the same.
  • Please use the hand sanitizer available in the lobby.
  • Please also wash your hands thoroughly in our restrooms.

Trust & Pray: Finally, may we view every affliction in life as an opportunity to trust the Lord. The Apostle Paul teaches us in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 how to respond in the midst of affliction.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11 – “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.”

There are two lessons for us to learn in the midst of our affliction. 1) Affliction is designed to teach us that we are helpless in our own strength and we must depend and set our hope on God rather than ourselves. 2) Affliction teaches us to pray. May we never underestimate the power of the “prayers of many.” Our God is our refuge and strength and a very present help in times of trouble, therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea. (Psalm 46:1)

May the Lord continue to bless the ministry at Ebenezer Bible Fellowship Church. May we continue to be a beacon of hope for our community and a light unto the world.

Fearlessly Ministering With You,
Pastor Tim Gibson

 

The Most Important Meal

One of the most heartfelt stories in the Bible is the third post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His disciples on the shore of Galilee early in the morning (John 21:1-14). When Jesus appears to them this third time He prepares for them one of the most memorable breakfasts ever recorded. Experts say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It proved to be so with the disciples as they learned how the resurrected Jesus was going to relate to them from that day forward. He was going to love them, restore them, and empower them for ministry.

In order to get the full intended impact of the story, the details are important to know. After the second resurrection appearance, Jesus told His disciples to go to a mountain that He had designated and wait for Him to come to them (Matthew 28:16). But being impatient and maybe overcome with their failures, Peter led seven of them to go down to the sea to go fishing. There are several indications in the story that this fishing trip may have been an abandonment of their calling and a decision to go back to their former career as fisherman. These disciples were disobedient, distraught, disoriented and needing direction for their lives. They had left the mountain and descended into the sea.

Chaos on the Night Sea
There is an interesting comparison when you consider that the disciples should have been on the mountain but instead they disobediently fond themselves in devastation on the sea. Because the sea of Galilee is approximately 650 feet below sea level, the disciples inevitably went “down” into it. A brief survey through the New Testament gives an indication that there aren’t many too good things that happen on the sea where storms typically bring chaos (Matt 8:23-27). It should not surprise us that the disciples’ fishing excursion into the night ended in disappointment. Even though they were the expert fishermen John says, “they caught nothing.” This is a lesson that every true disciple of Christ must learn. When we move away from the mountain of obedience down into the sea of disobedience, we can be sure that our lives will not turn out as we had expected. And in fact, the Lord may very well bring about failure as a form of discipline to us.

Not a Whip but Loving Restoration
The story turns dramatically for good when the resurrected loving Savior appears on the shore. One would think that Jesus would come to these weak disciples with a stern rebuke. Instead of calling them “knuckleheads” (like I would have done), He initiates a gentle and loving call to them by calling them “children.” Just like them, when Christ becomes our Savior we enter into the family of God never to be lost (Jn 6:39). When Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, they haul in a huge catch of 153 fish. (It is just like fishermen to make sure we know exactly how many fish they caught.) Immediately the disciples knew that it was the “Lord” standing on the shore. Peter, with passion, dove into the water and swam a hundred yards to meet Jesus. He could not wait to know the love of Christ and to have his life restored with Him. The same is true for all of us as disciples of Jesus. He never meets us with a whip on the shore, but invites us to come to Him to be forgiven, restored, and empowered to do ministry in the world for Him (Jn 20:21). Incredibly Jesus had a meal waiting for the disciples when they arrived on the shore.

Serving Christ in the World
The last time Jesus did a miracle like this with the disciples (Luke 5:1-11), He was actually in the boat with them calling them to follow Him. The fact that Jesus was now on the shore possibly represents to His disciples how He will relate to them not on the earth, but as He is on the shore of heaven looking down and providing for His disciples as they serve Him in this world. The rest of the story reveals how the resurrected Jesus relates to His disciples and empowers them to serve Him.

Impossible Without Him: The first lesson they learned is that doing ministry will be impossible without Christ. In their disobedient fishing excursion, the disciples learned quickly that they had no ability or power in themselves. But Jesus had the power to help them. From that day forward, Jesus was going to empower them not to catch fish, but to be fishers of men. The great haul of fish was simply a foreshadowing of how the resurrected Savior was going to empower them to haul in men with the Gospel. The same is true for us today in every aspect of ministry. It is Christ in us and His power that enables us to do anything for Him (Jn 15:5). And it is in our obedience that the Lord blesses us and provides everything we need in this world to do a great work for Him.

Fellowship: Jesus did not just prepare a breakfast for the disciples to be loving, but to show them that fellowship with Him on a regular basis was vital. Jesus had promised them that He would never leave them nor forsake them (Matt 28:20). There on the shore (as now in heaven), the resurrected Savior promised to have continual communion with His disciples. The same is true for us as we serve Christ in the world. We must be eager to have breakfast with Jesus every day and fellowship with Him in His Word on a consistent basis. In those fellowship times Jesus feeds our soul.

Nourishment: It is hard to do anything when we are famished and weak. In order to strengthen the hungry disciples, Jesus gloriously cooked a meal for them on the shore of fish and bread. He fed them and nourished them. Feeding His sheep is what Jesus does and He always does it well. I’m sure that was one of the best breakfasts the disciples ever ate! In the same way Jesus wants to nourish us regularly in order that we might be strengthened for the ministry ahead of us. During that glorious breakfast, Peter was quite aware of his denial of Jesus three times earlier. But Jesus lovingly restored him by asking him three times if he loved him, and each time Peter acknowledged his love for Christ. In return, Jesus said to Peter, “Feed My sheep.” Weak shepherds are useless to the master. We must be nourished on the Word of God and grow strong in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus (2 Peter 3:18). It is during those breakfasts with Jesus that we are reassured of His forgiveness and restoration. Only then will we be able to serve the Lord adequately in this world.