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.