Some have asked about my stance on whether our rights are being violated by Governor Inslee ordering us not to assemble during this phase of the Coronavirus reopening plan. To begin, I’d like to assert that there is a distinction that needs to be made between our rights as Christians, and our rights as United States citizens. These rights may overlap, but they are also, according to the Lord, separate, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Mark 12:17
That said, our rights as Christians, and the ramifications of those rights, always need to be considered first. So, here are our rights: We have the right to become children of God (John 1:12). And… that’s it. But, from that right, we have a calling to respond to life based on that reality. Along these lines, it’s God’s will that we would surrender our bodies, and minds to Him (Romans 12:1-2). It’s God’s will that we’d give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). It’s God’s will that we would become holy (1 Thessalonians 4:3). It’s God’s will that we would be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-19). It’s God’s will that we’d be willing to suffer (I Peter 3:17; 4:1, 2, 19). And, it’s God’s will that we would submit to others (Ephesians 6:6), including government officials (Romans 13:1-7).
During this time in quarantine we have all experienced struggles in different ways – whether through loneliness, financial burdens, educational difficulties, or family strife. But we’ve all also had something in common, we’ve all carried the privation of not being able to legally assemble. That said, as we face such trials, our response is supposed to reflect the reality of our relationship with God our Father. Consider Paul’s words while in prison for his faith. Ephesians 4:1-3 “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” The unity Paul describes is for believers, as a living witness to the world of what God is like.
So, our citizenship in heaven must be considered before, long before, secondary considerations as citizens of the United States. We have a calling to obey the law, and be faithful, respectful citizens – out of love for our neighbors (Jeremiah 29:7). But what if the government is asking us to do things that are against God’s will as revealed in His Word? In that case – “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). I don’t think we’ve gotten to that point. We’re being asked to refrain from meeting, not because we’re Christians, but as part of a general call to avoid public gatherings. We are not being persecuted.
That said, as good citizens of the United States we have a right to voice our concerns and opinions. Yet, these rights, again, should be undertaken with an awareness of our witnesses as God’s children. Therefore, I urge you to prayerfully consider whether what you do or say would be harmful to our neighbors, or conveying a spirit of rebellion.
At present it looks like we won’t be able to gather again until the end of June. The elders and I are discussing plans for what church will be like once we’re back in our buildings. It’s going to be different, at least at first, but it will be good! It will give us more opportunities to see each other’s perspective, to be patient, and put others first – in unity for Christ’s glory. I am prayerfully and expectantly looking forward to that day!
So, may God bless you richly as we continue to wait.
Because of Christ,
What wouldn’t you do for family? I’ve spent the last five days in Woodland, California visiting with my dad and helping my mom while he was in the hospital dealing with COPD and heart-related issues. My dad got to come home the day before I left and we had a good gospel conversation – that helped us to focus on Christ’s love for us and what it means to have eternal life (John 17:3). Thank you so much for all your prayers. It was a difficult, but sweet time.
Driving home, for twelve hours, I had time to reflect on my family of origin and our church family – and this time of trial we’re all going through. Things are not the way we’d like them to be – and yet our heavenly Father is giving us opportunities to draw closer to Him and one another. So, the important thing for us to consider is – what is God trying to teach us, and how can we respond to what He is teaching us?
God has given us an imagination for a reason. It can be a powerful thing – which we can use to dwell on negativity or imagine the worst. Or we can use it to open up to God in prayer, to ask for guidance – and lean into the possibilities He has for us to serve others and honor Him (Ephesians 2:10). As Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” This is what Paul described the church doing in 2 Corinthians 8:1-2. “And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” Instead of their hardships leading to despair, because of Christ, it led to something unexpected – joy and generosity!
So, at present, we’re deprived of things we once, perhaps, took for granted or didn’t value adequately. What are we learning? How can we adjust? How can we grow?
I’m looking forward to things getting back to normal – but because of all we’ve been through – more than anything, I’m looking forward to our normal being different, better, as a church family, as we help others to experience the radical life of God’s family at the heart of the gospel. So, Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
With that hope in mind, I encourage you to take time to read the Word, with the expectation that God will speak to you through His Spirit – to recognize His great love for you and lead you in paths of righteousness for His namesake (Psalm 23:3; John 14:26). Then as you sense Him prompting you to do something – do it, and that, more than anything, will change your perspective (John 14:21).
May God bless you richly in His grace.
Because of Christ,
I was surprised last Sunday to enter the church and find your smiling faces looking back at me. No, it wasn’t a dream – someone had made black and white life-sized cut outs of your heads. I was so glad to see you. It was a thoughtful blessing, and you all looked great! That said, it also made me miss you and wonder when we’ll be in actual fellowship again.
From what I understand, Governor Inslee plans to allow groups under fifty to start gathering after June 15. This of course is subject to change, and we’ll have to make some adjustments to our regular activities – but it’s good to have something to look forward to. Let’s keep in prayer that all things will progress according to the Lord’s will.
With that in mind, I am hopeful that things will not go back to the way they were – but that through all this we will have changed in Christ. Personally, since the beginning of isolation I’ve grown in appreciation for the psalmist’s exhortation in Psalm 95:6 to, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker…” I’ve come to treasure, even more, the wonders of worshiping the Lord collectively. It can’t be replicated – as it moves us, through mutual encouragement, toward greater faith (Hebrews 10:24).
That said, I have also talked with people outside our usual fellowship that have joined us online during this time – and others who expressed a desire to gather with us when we return public assemblies. These are trying times, but, as Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
It can be hard to have faith in dark times, but it gives us an opportunity to demonstrate what we value most. With that in mind, I look forward to seeing you again soon.
Because of Christ,
In Romans 8:28 the Apostle Paul writes, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (CSB) Sometimes, however, we can read this verse and look at the canvas our lives and see nothing but smudged shades of black -- and wonder, God works all things for good? Let’s face it, some things are just dark. There’s no bright side. And, we know, from other Scriptures, that this is to be expected in our broken world (John 16:33; Romans 8:20-22).
So, how do we make sense, in our minds and hearts, of Romans 8:28? Timothy Keller points out that the key to understanding this verse is the word “together.” God works all things together for the good… In other words, take a step back from our present circumstances. It doesn’t change the truth that the pain we’re experiencing is real – but it does help us to see there are other colors, shades and light around this moment. And, that God has a plan, a purpose, to make the whole picture into something beautiful.
How do we know? Well, we can’t – unless we are called. How do we know we’re called? We love God, we trust Him – even when things are not good, or not going our way. To put it another way, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The blood, the confusion, the pain of the cross was real. This happened, and it was horrible, but it happened for a reason, for us. So, by God’s grace, step back. Know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
Not much has changed since last week. We’re still worshiping online through YouTube or the audio message, both of which are on the church website: fbcelma.org. We’re also continuing to connect through life groups via Zoom. And, this Sunday we’re taking communion at home. (An elder will drop off your juice and bread before Sunday.)
Further, people continue to give generously to the food bank and our mutual aid fund. Thank you so much for your faithfulness and bond of true fellowship in Christ. This has been a hard season, but it’s been good.
May God continue to guide you, direct you, and give you hope – according to His promises, for His glory.
Because of Christ,
How has God been a good Father to you lately? Personally, He has forgiven me. He has provided for my family. He has given me guidance. He has challenged me. He has restored me. He has given me rest. He has protected me. He has listened to me. He has encouraged me and shared His strength.
Because of God the Father’s goodness to you, how are you responding? I’ve been able to forgive. I’ve been more generous. I’ve been more inclined to listen. I’ve been able to communicate the things He’s taught me. I’ve been able to help others trade anxiety for His peace. I’ve been able to pray for those I disagree with. I’ve shared His grace with those who are driving me crazy.
In Luke 6:45 Jesus says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Boy, this is a challenging verse because I don’t always speak what’s good – and when I trace back where those words come from, I realize my heart has not stored up, treasured, God’s goodness.
To put it another way, I find myself declaring things that have nothing to do with the gospel – but here’s the good news, because Christ has come and died in my place, for all our sin, and rose again – I can come to my senses and hit reset with Him at any given moment. I can humble myself. I can ask for forgiveness. I can pray for and serve those who don’t deserve it. I can persevere when I’m tired. I can do and say things that can only be explained because of God’s unfailing kindness to me in Christ.
What are you dwelling on these days? I encourage you to take time to remember, rest in, and proclaim (in word and deed) the goodness of our Father, who never changes. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17
With that in mind, this last week it was a blessing to see a cavalcade of cars rolling by Maxine Marrow’s place to wish her well. It was also awesome to see wheelbarrows full of food being taken from the church to the food bank. And, it was encouraging to hear about people inviting friends and family to worship with us on YouTube or the church website.
God has a plan for us and those around us in these sad and uncertain times – to know His salvation from our sin, and into His glory. May our good Father continue to draw you, bless you, and go before you.
Because of Christ,
To quote Pastor Alastair Begg, “Unless Christ is a necessity to you, He won’t be a reality.” I hope you had a good Passion Week and celebration of Easter and that you’re doing well, physically, but most of all that you’re well in spirit, in Christ. It seems that the longer we’re in quarantine, the more tensions grow in our world, country, community and perhaps our homes. Yet, amid our struggles, we have a great opportunity to redeem the time, to grow closer to Christ through His Word and prayer – and through holding out the gospel to one another and those around us who do not yet know Him. John 14:21; Ephesians 5:15-17
That said, even though it was hard to be deprived of seeing one another on Sunday, I was encouraged to see how many of you joined us on our YouTube channel, and even invited others to worship with us. Personally, I had family members listen in that I haven’t heard from in years. So, as we cling to Christ, and follow Him by faith –we are still partaking in the certainty of His grace. We are even experiencing His blessings in new ways – as we learn about and use technology that may be new to us.
With that in mind, we’ll continue to have audio messages and videos of the service available on Sundays. Thankfully, Maria Cerdena has worked diligently to make both the audio and video versions of the service more accessible on the church website. All you have to do is go to the church website and click on the format you prefer. There’s now no need to download either first.
Further, Life Groups continue on Google Duo, Wednesday night at 6:30 and Thursday at 11:00. It’s been awesome to have people from different groups in fellowship and to have new people join. If you’re interested in connecting with one of these groups, please let me know by calling or texting 360.470.8406.
Continuing with the theme of adjusting to uncertain times, the food bank is grateful for increased financial support, but they are still concerned about purchasing food. Donations of groceries remain important, not only to help those with chronic needs in our community but also to assist our neighbors with potential new struggles. Whatever the case, your giving is much appreciated.
We are so thankful for your continued support and fellowship. The Lord is using this time to help us grow in dependence on Him and one another. Please let us know if there’s anything you need – or if you know of someone else who may be in need. I look forward to the day when we can see each other face to face—and worship together in person. In the meantime, may God bless you richly in His Son.
Because of Christ,
I made an amazing Biblical discovery the other day when I was reading through the Psalms. I discovered Psalm 23 comes after Psalm 22. Amazing, right? I went to seminary, and, I can count, in order. Actually, the amazing thing I noticed was the content of these two Psalms as they unfolded in God’s Word. Psalm 22 is famous for its depiction of the crucifixion of Christ, written about 1,000 B.C. Psalm 23, of course, is King David’s song of praise to God as he walks through the valley of the shadow of death. In the last verse of Psalm 23, verse six, David states, in light of God being his Shepherd… “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Another way to translate “surely” in is “only,” as it’s translated in the Christian Standard Bible. “Only goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life…” That’s quite a statement, especially considering all the trials we undergo that may not seem good. However, in the context of Psalm 22, we recognize that even though we may not see the immediate outcome of our faith – we know God is bringing about something glorious.
That said, as we face new trials and uncertain times – as we fix our eyes on Jesus – we don’t need to be afraid. God’s rod and staff comfort us, as He sets a table before us. It may even be your experience, as it has been mine, that your cup overflows in unexpected ways.
For instance, last week I communicated about the opportunity we have to contribute to the East County Food Bank. In this season of hoarding, I was blessed to see the abundance with which many people shared. Thankfully, this is an ongoing ministry we can take part in. Again, they are looking mostly for groceries, especially canned goods, but monetary donations are also greatly appreciated. (If you write a check remember to make it out to East County Food Bank.)
Another sign of God’s faithfulness, Pam Cardin and a team of volunteers started making masks. This is a great way to bless and protect our neighbors.
Further, I’ve heard of people reaching out in Christ to loved ones. What an incredible time to introduce others to our Shepherd, who is with us now and forever.
So, this Easter season is not what we would’ve expected or wanted – and yet God is causing us to see His provision in beautiful ways. With that in mind, some further adjustments regarding fellowship. We will no longer be conducting Life Groups through ZOOM. If you would like to join, either the Wednesday night group at 6:30 or the Thursday morning/afternoon group at 11:00, contact me at 360.470.8406. We’ll be using Google Duo, which you can get by downloading the free app. Then on Wednesday or Thursday I’ll call you and you’ll automatically join the conversation.
Finally, to make things more accessible, and so you can hear and see us, Shawn and I are going to make a YouTube version of our Easter service. All you have to do is go to YouTube on Sunday morning – search for the First Baptist Church Elma, WA Easter Worship Service, and we’ll be there. That said, as always, the audio version of the message will be available on the church website.
Thank you for all your doing to live by faith in these days. I’m continually encouraged by your care for each other and those around you. May God bless you richly in the One who did not come to be serve, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45
Because of Christ,
Last week someone sent me a text stating, “The Coronavirus is omnipresent.” It can certainly seem that way, right? However, we know from Scripture that only God is omnipresent (everywhere) – as well as being aware of everything, and all-powerful. Further, He is glorious, gracious, and good. These are important truths to keep in mind because at times like these it can be easy turn in on ourselves – by dwelling on our fears and insecurities. And as a result, react to events and people – by blaming or hoarding. However, God has called us, at this time, and always, to remember who He is, who we are to Him (dearly loved children), and how we’re to respond to those around us because of Christ – that we’re to pray for, bless, and love them.
With that in mind, years ago, I was challenged with the question, “If you moved out of your neighborhood, would anyone miss you, or even know you were gone?” In our current crisis, a similar question I heard asked, with regard to our buildings closing, “Does anyone in our community miss our church, or care if we’re closed?” That’s hard to answer, on a lot of levels. Maybe a better question would be, how can we serve our community in practical ways that reflect God’s love at this time?
Recently, I’ve become aware of one way we can do this. The East County Food Bank is accepting monetary gifts, but even more than that they need groceries. They also wanted to emphasize that their greatest need is canned goods because their normal supplier is unable to deliver. That said, here are items they’re looking for: bean/rice dinners, brown sugar, cake mixes, canned broth, canned chicken, canned fruit, canned ravioli, canned soup, canned tuna, canned vegetables, cold cereal, cookies, crackers, garden produce, hamburger/tuna helper, hygiene items, jam, Jell-O, macaroni & cheese, microwave popcorn, pasta, peanut butter, powdered sugar, spaghetti sauce, and Top Ramen. If you would like to give any of these items you can drop them off at the church, by putting them inside the main church door, and we’ll deliver them for you. If you don’t have a key, you can or call me at 360-470-8406 and I’ll be right over. If you’d like to give financially you can mail your gift to the church, designating it as an offering for the food bank.
We’re in unfamiliar territory, but that doesn’t mean we can’t serve and worship – even in new and impactful ways. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, and the first Sunday of the month – on which we usually take communion. How are we going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper if we can’t gather physically? Answer: we’re going to bring communion to you. At some point between now and Sunday, one of the elders will bring you juice, crackers (or bread), and a short devotion that will help you prepare. On Sunday morning we will gather on ZOOM (instructions below). I’ll share a message from Mark 10:13-31, and then we’ll take communion, at home, together. If you’re unable to connect with us on ZOOM, a prerecorded audio version of the message, including communion, will be available at the church website.
So, here’s how ZOOM works. You download the ZOOM app from the app store on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. (All you need is a camera and speaker.) Next, I’ll email you an invitation detailing the time for our gathering. At 10:15 you can open your invitation, click on the link and you’ll be able to see and hear all those gathered. We’ll spend time visiting, catching up, and making sure people have time to get in – and then at 10:30 we’ll start the service. If you’re late, that’s ok – our lovely ZOOM administrator Corrine will admit you. Also, if you have any questions or problems, please don’t hesitate to text or call her – 360-470-8398.
These days are presenting us with new challenges, but also new opportunities to grow in faith as we serve one another and our neighbors. You’re in our thoughts and prayers. And, we look forward to seeing you soon. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21
Because of Christ,
For some reason, lately I’ve been thinking about our rights and things that are certain. John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” That’s good news! Anytime, but especially in days like these. Our hope is in Someone who never changes, and promises to give us everything that matters most and lasts – no matter what our circumstances, and based, not on our strength or will – but His! Verse 13 continues, we are given the right to become and live as God’s children because we’re, “13 …born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
It’s important to remember in these uncertain times that our lives are not found in the things of this world, but in the hands of a loving Father who “…works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). With that in mind, we know that whatever hardships we encounter they won’t last, and even if the worst happens, it will turn out for the best.
So, last week someone asked me about what happened to First Baptist Elma (then called Elma Baptist) during the Spanish Influenza outbreak in the early 1900s. Our records indicate that in 1918 the church closed October 13 through November 24. Not a good time in the history of the world or our country. Millions died, partly because people didn’t isolate quickly or extensively as WWI raged and young men were forced to travel and lodge in close quarters. Eventually public gatherings were prohibited and churches like ours were closed. Yet, after the quarantine Elma Baptist experienced growth – people believed for the first time and were baptized. We don’t know why God is allowing COVID–19, but He can use it to turn us and our neighbors to Him, for His glory.
That said, as we adjust to this season, here are a few updates. The church office, in compliance with Governor Inslee’s mandate, will be closed. Charlotte can still receive messages and prayers requests through emailing her at the church address, through private messaging, and by calling her (if you can’t reach her another way). You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call or text at 360-470-8406. Further, you can still stop by to pick things up – but Charlotte and I will be limiting our presence on campus as much as possible.
In any case, even though we are not able to gather physically, we can still connect through technology. There’s a bit of learning curve in this regard for many of us – but elder training and some life groups are starting to connect via ZOOM. Likewise, we are continuing to work on ways to experience a live service on Sunday mornings through YouTube or Facebook. That said, audio sermons will continue to be posted by Sunday mornings. I encourage you and your family to take part.
With that in mind, please continue to text me questions, prayer requests, and praises or stories of God’s faithfulness. We miss you, and love you – and look forward to seeing you soon, according to God’s good purposes.
Because of Christ,
I’m going to be sending out weekly updates on things going on (or not going on) at First Baptist Elma for the foreseeable future. We are certainly in uncharted waters – however, in this uncertain season we also, by God’s grace, have new opportunities to worship, love each other and our neighbors – in ways that demonstrate our faith in Christ, who is in control. We want to be careful how we live, but also make the most of every opportunity to glorify Him in these days (Ephesians 4:15-16).
That said, our ministry of the Word will continue to take place online. If you had trouble accessing the message last week, start by going to www.fbcelma.org, then click “listen to the latest sermon,” next click the most recent sermon (the outline and discussion questions will appear), next click “listen to this week’s sermon” at the top of the page, and finally download the message. (If you don’t have a media format to play the sermon follow the instructions listed at the left of your screen.)
We are currently working on ways to worship together through a live feed on YouTube or ZOOM. This is a process. We want to make sure it’s done well, and legally.
With that in mind, we have a chance to worship in new and creative ways. Last week my family and I looked up worship songs on YouTube. Each person picked a song and said why they picked it – then we sang together. After that we listened to the message, prayed through Psalm 23 and closed by singing the Doxology. It wasn’t the same as worshiping face to face with all of you – but it was sweet in its own way.
Though this season presents obstacles it also provides opportunities. One thing I would like to add to our online gatherings – to help us stay connected and growing in the Word – is that after the message you can text in questions to 360-470-8406. Before the next sermon we’ll post a recording of your questions and my best attempt to answer them. We also wanted to let you know that it’s possible, and important, to make offerings through mailing them to the church, bringing them to the church during office hours, or giving online at our website. Finally, as far as services go, we are praying and considering ideas about how to gather (at an appropriate distance from one another) for Easter. Stay tuned.
So, how do we follow the Lord’s command to love one another in isolation? I encourage you to call people you usually fellowship with at church or go the extra mile and contact one or two people you don’t know super well – just to see how they’re doing, and touch base. The elders and I will also be calling everyone in the church to catch up and see how we can pray for you. Even though this time is not ideal – we can also grow in community in unexpected ways.
That said, our mission of loving our neighbors in Christ-centered ways can likewise grow and expand. This doesn’t have to be a big deal, but you never know how God will use – stopping by and see if people are ok, taking time to listen, and offering to share things, like toilet paper.
Throughout church history it has always responded to plagues and pandemics differently than people who don’t yet know the love of Christ. Though this season is difficult in many ways, we have an opportunity to shine like a city on a hill, and perhaps reaching many through following in the loving, self-sacrificing steps of our Savior. May God bless you in rich and unexpected ways.
Because of Christ,
Gunnar began serving as pastor at First Baptist Church, Elma in July 2012. He and his wife Corrine – and their three children Trinity, Eli, and Ian moved to Washington with a vision to help build a vibrant community of people who know the truth of God’s love for them in Christ, and express that love as they gather, and go out into the world. A veteran of youth, college, and young adult ministries for almost twenty years – Gunnar enjoys being in God’s Word, obsessing over sports, and spending time outdoors with his family.