From Pastor Gunnar's Desk 05/20/20
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,
From Pastor Gunnar's Desk 05/13/20
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,
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.