Dear Church Family,
In conversations with Steve Lepse, he and I decided that it would be good for me to reflect-back upon my time with you as well as to share some of my hopes and my dreams for the future of First Free in my portion of the annual report. As I do so, I pray that all of you will be encouraged by what I write and reassured of our family’s love for this congregation and desire to see you grow and serve Jesus well in every way.
When I look-back on the past two years, there are certainly things I find very encouraging. I have watched numerous individuals serve sacrificially to meet the ministry needs of this church. Whether it was working to set-up excellent video and audio presentations of the worship services so that we could praise the Lord “together” during the pandemic or developing a sound safety plan for gatherings once things began to open-up again, many of our brothers and sisters worked hard and used their gifts to meet the various challenges we faced. I hope you’ll praise the Lord with me whenever you consider those who serve the church in these and other ways. Their efforts bless us and are truly an act of worship.
There have also been some milestones over the past year. We have begun and successfully fostered the Ministry Apprenticeship Program. Each of the three apprentices is about to graduate from their respective programs and begin their “professional” ministry. Over the past few months, I have had the pleasure of speaking (as a reference) with various prospective employers / churches around the country. Friends, whether you recognize it or not, you all have played an important part in preparing these young couples for ministry. With your generosity, patience, and encouragement, they have been allowed to learn and develop in the context of real church ministry. Praise the Lord! Moreover, we also were able to celebrate Del’s ordination in January, and he too will be graduating in the spring. This is the culmination of years of hard and faithful work. These are all milestones for which we should celebrate and thank God.
Allow me to share one final reflection with you. Over the past two years, we have covered and studied a wide portion of the Bible. We have completed sermon series through Jonah, Ruth, and Nehemiah in the Old Testament and Philippians, 2 Thessalonians, as well as a good portion of Luke in the New Testament. In addition, we have also completed topical sermon series in regard to the hard sayings of Jesus, the pursuit of racial sanctification, and the Lord’s Prayer. In all these, we have pursued what God’s Word truly says; we’ve regularly put ourselves under the authority of the Bible. Friends, this is our calling as Christians. Scripture is our compass (Psalm 119:105). It’s how we know what the Lord’s will is. I do hope you’re as encouraged as I am when you reflect upon the biblical ground we have covered over the past two years. It will not be wasted.
I will conclude with some of the things I’m praying for you in the coming weeks, months, and years. To begin, I’m praying that as things begin to open-up the church will be filled by those who are excited and eager to fellowship in person again. I hope there will be warmth and laughter and love in abundance—that visitors will see this and be moved by your witness (John 17:20-23). I’m also praying that the church will break-out into the community. I am praying for a partnership between First Free and Passages Charter School, a resumption and continuation of our outreach to and care for the residents at the Schneider Apartments, as well as a growing support for the ministry of Care for Real. Finally, I’m praying that First Free will continue to be a biblically faithful witness in Andersonville and throughout Chicago until our Lord’s return—that those who live in darkness will through your ministry come to know the Light, who is Christ Jesus (John 8:12). Amen!