5.23.20 Update 11:35 a.m.
As you have no doubt heard, the timeline for opening churches is rapidly advancing. Yesterday, President Trump ordered the reopening of churches this weekend. Governor Newsom has also vowed to have new guidelines for opening on Monday. Whether the President has the authority to execute such an order is suspect but apparently it doesn’t matter to us in California because the governor appears ready to fold due to religious protest. After the President’s press conference, it was noted that recommended CDC guidelines should be followed.
On Thursday, I had a virtual meeting with the deacons in which we discussed implementing a plan that would enable us to reopen on June 7. After Governor Newsom releases his guidelines on Monday and we hear from local health officials, we will start putting final touches on our preliminary plan. Rather than detail what we’ve already discussed, I think it best to wait to see the developments early in the week so we can finetune before we release our plan. I can tell you this much that we will need plenty of volunteers to make this happen and we will need a meeting of volunteers and other church workers and officers before our opening date.
We know our worship experience will be altered. Some will be uncomfortable with restrictions and perhaps in disagreement with some things we must do to make everyone feel safe. I want to emphasize that unless you have a biblical disagreement supported by scriptures for some practice you prefer or dislike, your personal opinions do not supersede the biblical mandate to worship with the church body. The Bible clearly teaches that we are to restrict our Christian liberties when necessary to avoid offending those who are weaker in the faith. The confidence others have in us to be good testimonies of the grace of God is seriously undermined by stubbornness and pride. Refusing to abide by the recommended guidelines and needlessly provoking strife, is not consistent with the Bible’s teaching about meekness and preferring our brothers and sisters above ourselves.
The preceding dour paragraph is not where I wish to dwell. Rather, we should be joyful there is a ray of light that penetrates the darkness of our discontent in being shut up at home on Sundays. If we must start small, let’s do it and work our way through it. The cause of the gospel is too great, and the opportunities are too abundant not to seize upon the hope of reopening our churches. For me, there is some trepidation about the logistics of how we will do services, but the anticipation of seeing God’s people as I preach far outdistances the inconveniences. We should be ashamed or ourselves if we think this trouble is too great. As the author of Hebrews spoke of our Lord, he wrote that we should consider Christ who endured strife against Him. He was not discouraged but did what was required of Him. He follows by saying, you have not yet resisted unto blood in your striving against sin. We have not died for our faith as Christ did for our salvation. Let’s stop our crying and serve Christ!
There is more to come and as I said we will release the plan with our guidelines to restart services very soon. We will do everything possible to resume on June 7.
Tomorrow’s sermon is Men of Sorrows. This is a study of the second beatitude and is Christ’s call for righteous mourning because of our sin. The link follows and will be active at 6:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Please gather your family to watch. You will also receive an email with a link to a printable outline. Hopefully, you will endure only one more Sunday before we see you once again gathered as the Berean Baptist Church.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
05.16.20 Update 5:35 p.m.
I am sure some of you caught my mistake in the last update about how long it’s been since our last church service. I mentioned 28 days but of course this week it will now be 63 days. The days drone on and the discontent festers. Hard decisions are upon us as there are so many competing voices and claims of expertise on both sides of this issue. It has been my position to err on the side of caution. Admittedly, it is problematic when there are inequities in the government’s permission for some to gather while prohibiting church assemblies.
As an example of this, last week a federal court ruled the Kentucky governor’s ban on mass gatherings could not apply to in-church worship services and was unconstitutional. I have an indirect connection to the church that filed the lawsuit that challenged the governor’s ban as I have relatives that attend this church. I read the lawsuit in its entirety and it appears the claims in the lawsuit were legitimate and accordingly the plaintiff prevailed. Though it matters little what I think about constitutional law, I agreed with the suit. Whether or not the Kentucky governor intentionally discriminated against churches may be debatable, yet still the discrimination was real. It’s great the church stood up for religious freedom, but this does not mean their decision to open their doors was necessarily the correct biblical response. It seems to me it could be an example of conservative Christianity’s too often propensity to equate the constitution with the Bible.
On the other hand, if our basis for obeying the ban is our fear of being politically incorrect, neither are we responding biblically. It is a tangled web we are trying to free ourselves from and there is not a clear-cut path to doing it presently. The health concerns are real, else the entire discussion is moot. I don’t believe we are violating conscience or scripture to be cautious for the good of the community. Most pastors accepted the ban for about 45 days, but now a move is afoot in California to restart church services on May 31 regardless of what the government may say at that time. Apparently, God’s patience runs out at about 85 days as these churches are following a pastor who claims God impressed him with this date. Inadvertently, he discovered the date is Pentecost Sunday which he says is a biblically-sanctioned date.
I loathe to follow any man who says God told him something. “God spoke to me” is an excuse to reject the objective word of God for subjective opinions. Many false doctrines have grown out of “God spoke to me.” Connecting Pentecost to anything we do in the church today is beyond scripture.
Having said this, another narrative is developing with some healthcare experts claiming the government’s response was a massive overreach. You’ve heard various opinions about herd immunity and that this is the real answer to overcoming the virus. It seems the government is caving somewhat as this is gaining traction and the reality that the government can’t keep us shut up much longer is beginning to sink in. One of our serious problems is the flood of news that is heavily biased, and much of what we hear is the shaded opinions of news personalities. The tally of COVID-19 deaths is highly suspect in some opinions. I am praying that more clarity on the issue and some compromise will result in resuming church services sometime in June.
Now, if I might shift the conversation a bit, we are aware that at least the initial return to services will involve new protocols for our gathering. In Kentucky, I understand the permission to meet precludes worshipping through singing. I wonder if a new suit will be filed over this since singing is commanded for public worship in the scriptures—but I digress. The restrictive measures that will be put in place, we don’t know. It could be that we will need to follow distancing guidelines and wear masks. Also, the numbers of people in the building may be restricted.
Sanitation is critical and the reopening of businesses requires surfaces such as door handles, bathroom fixtures, and other regularly touched surfaces to be frequently disinfected. I assume this guideline will also be required for the church. This means we will need a team of volunteers to accept this duty. Our date to return is not known at present but I would like to begin preparations and to hear from you if are willing to help in this area when services resume.
Typically, cleaning is not a major issue for us and is admirably taken care of. However, we can’t expect those who clean now to shoulder the entire responsibility for this during services and neither can they. Please help me compile a list by contacting your deacon if you are willing to help.
Before we resume, other factors must be considered. Congress has been asked to pass legislation that will exempt churches from lawsuits over COVID-19. Without getting into a lengthy discussion of this, one issue is the risk of lawsuits if someone attends church becomes infected with the virus and the church has not properly screened attendees, warned of potential exposure, and has not taken reasonable care to limit exposure. We may even be asked to evaluate attendees on where they have traveled recently and exclude them if they have been in heavily affected zones.
We may say we have taken all precautions but if a suit is filed on this basis, the church must be defended right or wrong. Those who have petitioned Congress on this are aware of potential devastating effects on church finances. Fear of lawsuits should not keep us out of church but let’s be wise in our deliberations of when to resume especially when defying government orders. This is one of the precautions we must consider before jumping and saying the government’s actions are unreasonable in limiting gatherings until the virus is under better control.
There is much more to be addressed in the coming weeks, so there’s no need to keep you longer on this today. Instead, we turn our attention to tomorrow’s recording. The subject this week is Unequaled! This is a companion sermon to Christ, Our Desire preached two weeks ago. I further explain why Haggai prophesied that Christ is the desire of all nations. Our minds are surely too occupied with all the news and fears of COVID-19. Christians must put more time into focusing on Christ. He is our hope in these uncertain times.
Thankfully, we have corrected our video problems and once again our thanks to Jason Guritz, Steve Miller, and our tech support resource asset known as the Bob Statham Call Center. The sermon will be ready at 6:00 a.m. Sunday morning.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
05.09.20 Update 8:45 p.m.
Here we are again for the eighth week with another Coronavirus/church update. It’s hard to believe our last church service was 28 days ago. We still have nothing definitive on when we can return, and I believe we’re all becoming impatient with this ban. Although I’ve been able to keep busy, my work is not nearly as satisfying as when I can see faces when I preach God’s word. I think of Paul in his long absences from churches that he began in the first century. His letters often convey heartfelt sadness from not being able to see those he loved in the faith. At least we are blessed to live in a time of instant communication and can see each other on a variety of media platforms.
I want to emphasize again that I have no crystal ball to determine when Acts 5:29 and Romans 13 will headbutt. Some think we are already there and point to the success of some other countries opening their businesses and other institutions to get their economies rolling. Some believe the response to the disease was all wrong and we never should have been put in this position. I am honestly not qualified to make those decisions. As I tried to explain last week, I think it is unwise to conflate economic responses with religious ones. Even arguing from a constitutional first amendment perspective is not the determining factor for Christians. None of the branches of government rules over Acts 5:29.
I explained to one of our members this week that we as a church have the right to agree with the government and accept their mandate for the wellbeing of all citizens. However, regardless of constitutional law, we will end that agreement when government’s actions are purposely destructive of the gospel. At that point, we will not fall back on our rights as American citizens but on our rights as citizens of God’s Kingdom. When the rubber meets that road, we will see who has the spiritual fortitude to say they do not fear what men can do to them.
As of today, I am not yet holding up a shield to deflect the fiery darts of courts and political parties. I don’t fear waiting too long to respond because with the Lord on our side we’re never behind in the war. When 185,000 Assyrians were already a stone’s throw away from Jerusalem, everyone panicked but God. Apparently, at least for a time, everyone in the city was either an Arminian or their Biblicists cousins. It was a blessing for Judah that Isaiah and Hezekiah believed in God’s sovereignty!
These are exceedingly trying times for us because in our lifetime America’s churches have not faced these hard decisions. However, we do know these times and decisions are not unprecedented because almost exactly one hundred years ago the Spanish flu forced churches to close. I encourage you to read an interesting account about the religious response in 1918 from the 9 Marks website (the link is posted at the end of this paragraph). The move from compliance to impatience almost exactly parallels the shift of opinions that we’re experiencing today. The interesting outcome is that although churches in their impatience finally came around to arguing against the closures on constitutional principles, they never defied the government. Eventually, the order was lifted because the flu was suppressed. I am not naïve enough to believe that our government today is no more hostile to religion than it was then. We don’t live under a rock and have well documented the erosion of religious principles. My point is churches rode out the forced closures long enough to see that it was effective in helping to stop the pandemic.
The good news again this week is the same as last week. I’ve talked with many of you who have told me your faith is increased and you are more dependent on the Lord than you’ve been before. This is certainly not unexpected because we are taught that tribulations work patience and patience experience and experience hope. Hope, as we’ve preached, is steadfast assurance of God’s faithfulness to His people.
Tomorrow will be another chart-topping unusual day for our church. It’s Mother’s Day without mothers at Berean. The day will be unusual but our response to it is not. We will use the day for an opportunity to speak especially to the women in our congregation. We are confident preaching to women will also benefit our men and children.
The sermon this week is Eve, The Model Woman. Over the years, I’ve preached many Mother’s Day sermons but I’ve yet to sermonize about Eve. I’m looking forward to learning something too. I’ll hear it for the first time when you do! We regret there was video trouble in the recording, but thankfully, the audio portion is intact. Sorry you won’t get to see me. Also, there is an outline attachment to your email that might help keep you more interested while trying to fill in the blanks.
The link is posted below and will be active tomorrow morning at 6:00 a.m. We hope all of you have a blessed Mother’s Day!
05.02.20 Update 6:25 p.m.
The government’s ban on church meetings was due to expire at midnight tomorrow but the new directives have no specified end date. As I understand, the local government cannot reduce the state guidelines although they may modify them in certain areas if they don’t conflict with state orders. Accordingly, Governor Newsom’s four phase plan for ending restrictions puts church gatherings in phase 3 which he says could be months away—most likely at the end of the summer. However, yesterday’s briefing was unclear if this estimate still holds true. None of us knows how this will play out, but for now I believe we are probably safe to assume we won’t be able to return to church this month. We’ve updated our schedules to reflect cancellation of services only two weeks out hoping the situation will change. After reading about Sonoma County’s latest easing of restrictions, church gatherings are not in sight. Prayerfully, we will hear much better news in the next few weeks.
These past few days I have been mulling over common misunderstandings of the church. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the numbers of people who have viewed our recordings and commented how each view potentially represents many family members and friends which in turn indicates the numbers of people who hear the sermons is many times more than what we see in our church meetings on Sunday mornings. Those who look for the upsides in the social ban consider these numbers with great enthusiasm because the same phenomenon is happening across churches of all denominations.
I recently read an interesting article about how church growth gurus interpret this information. One commented that “church growth” spiked 300% last month as people sat on couches and around kitchen tables on Sunday mornings. This is the confusion I am speaking of. In no biblical sense is the growth in numbers of those who watch religious programming on TV or the internet on Sundays the growth of the church. I’ve commented several times in these posts that the church does not exist outside the fellowship of the members of the church being present in the same location. There is no warrant in scripture for calling the scattered members of the church the church body any more than calling a physical body that is dismembered a body. We recognize both as parts of the church or as parts of the body but in no sense can these be called a church or body because other disassembled parts are added to it.
To understand how far short an online worship experience falls below the worship experience of the church of the living God, we only need look at some of the factors involved. The first, of course, would be the lack of assembly which is what the word church means. The analogy in scripture comparing the church to a human body precludes any such assignment of meaning to disassembly as I’ve just mentioned.
Secondly, Christianity in consideration of the church is fundamentally built on two relationships. The first is the relationship of the individual members to Christ and the second is the relationship of the members to each other. This is an underlying principle taught throughout the Bible. The most recognizable aspects of this are found in the Ten Commandments which Jesus reduced to two categories—our love to God and our love to our fellow man. The church is built to accentuate these two relationships and cannot be separated from them. The church needs teaching and interaction to strengthen both these relationships.
Thirdly is the lack of attention given the screen in the online “worship” experience. Some of you may be very good at paying attention all the way through, but if I believed in gambling, I would bet dollars to my precious donuts that most of you pause our one hour video at times to take care of your distractions. I’d take even more bets that you less than enthusiastically sing along in the absence of several worshippers around you that do the same. Speaking of donuts, do you eat and drink while you watch?
Fourthly, the distractions play into the attitude of reverence for hearing of the word and for the presence of God with us. I have jokingly spoken to several of you about gathering for worship in bathrobes, pajamas, and flip-flops. I can’t mandate that you sit in your houses in Sunday worship dress and neither would I because this is the point. It isn’t church. We don’t treat it the same as church. At least our church that still believes in some decorum of dress for the services wouldn’t come to worship in our bathrobes. Compare this to the way Isaiah thought of God when he had his vision of God on His throne. Holy! Holy! Holy! He dared not be distracted or irreverent in any way.
Fifthly, there is the grave danger of the issue in my second paragraph. This is to stray away from the outline for corporate worship of the church taught in scripture and substitute for it something that is not the church and then to think we are “doing church.” It’s hard not to fall into the same trap of those who make this mistake since we are often guilty of using the word “church” wrongly without thinking. The doctrine of the church has been taught wrongly for so long that many churches have a soft, mushy unbiblical ecclesiological foundation that cannot stand. People are easily led astray so that many are wondering if the church can recover and resume as it was before. Will the faux “300 percent church growth” be the new church? We know it can’t because it’s not the church.
We can also argue about who benefits most from the social ban. Is it God or Satan? Those who fear and worry about whether the church can survive would lend themselves to Satan as the cause. If so, they will never see the persecution of churches across the centuries and the suffering of God’s people as anything more than God’s failure to affect His perfect plan for the church. I see it much differently. I see God in His providence strengthening the true church and weeding out the tares that Satan sows. I know this is a kingdom reference but while the church and kingdom are not the same, Satan has his plants in both.
I need to mention as well that in God’s providence He demonstrates other parts of His perfect plan. He shows us that government is ordained for such problems as this (Romans 13). Worldwide pandemics are not in the purview of the church. Neither Berean Baptist nor any other church nor cooperation of churches is ordained with power to mandate a civil solution for this problem. If we can’t solve it, who will? God gave us government for the protection of the world’s citizenry, which if you haven’t noticed, we are still a part of and will be until we are taken to heaven.
I don’t understand the anger of some Christians over the government’s order when it is clearly tied to the current problem, is not declared a permanent ban, and is not an underhanded sinister plot to rid our country of churches or the freedom of worship. This is not to say that Satan doesn’t take advantage of all his opportunities, but we never need fear that Satan will succeed when the scriptures teach the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church.
I am like you. I desire the ban to be over. I want to be in church. I want to see you and fellowship with you. Until then, I can learn to be content in the state I am. Since God is in control and Satan cannot destroy the church, what use is there in me trying to rush God’s timing? It will be over when God determines it will be over. Berean Baptist is His church and not an hour goes by that He is not watching every transpiring event that affects us.
Understand that if God ordains government for our good—even bad government—we will not prosper by defying our government. For our government to suspend our ability to assemble, it must have a compelling reason. Sixty-six thousand deaths in the U.S. as of today is more than a compelling reason. Restricting churches from meeting today ensures we will have the ability to meet later. If we are dead, we can’t meet. If we are convinced we are not faced with an Acts 5:29 mandate, but rather with a Romans 13 providential order, we know what we must do.
If you have difficulty with this, pray for patience. If the government’s interests were to trample our religious freedoms, it would have also censored the spread of the gospel through other means. The mixture of church people on the capital’s steps protesting with those who blatantly defy the health precautions enacted for the safety of all is poor testimony. Their reasons for protesting are primarily economic. I have no quarrel with protesting the economic hardships this has brought to many. All Americans have the right to disagree with the government. I see religious objections and economic ones as two separate issues.
Let’s not conflate religious objections with the economic. Our economic welfare is not on par with and neither supersedes our duty to God and fellow man. Much of the Christian protest is over the state mixing church services together with other gatherings under the label of nonessential activities. I don’t understand the angst over this as if the state’s intent is to purposely belittle people of faith. We are needlessly offended. Constitutionally, the state has an impartial view. Is education belittled because children are prohibited from going to school?
Once again, I don’t like this any more than anyone. As we look at scripture, we must understand where God’s providential acts of empowering government for our good overlaps with the authority of the church. When God makes pastors health care experts and perfect prognosticators of pandemics, then we can step out of the overlap and claim unbridled authority. If social gatherings are permitted for others but not for the church, the inequities must be addressed. The scriptures tell us to obey our government until there are new compelling reasons to do otherwise. Until then, thank God there was enough wisdom in our government to prevent a New York experience in Sonoma County. Are there Christians in New York that are supernaturally protected from the virus? There could be but do you find anything in scripture that says you will be?
Churches must be careful not to handle this like a political football. Everything we do concerning the church must have a biblical foundation and not just a personal opinion. Church people don’t always see eye to eye, but if we are to argue and be angry over issues that might affect our fellowship, we best be sure we haven’t ignored, misinterpreted, or trampled the scriptures as we do.
This is enough for now. My wife always wants to know why I write books for these updates. The reason is simple—I don’t get to preach to you enough!
This week’s message is titled Christ, Our Desire. I am preaching from one of my favorite texts in the Old Testament. Have your Bible ready and click on the link that follows. The message will premiere at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. Your living room is not church, but you can worship!
Keep the faith,
Pastor V. Mark Smith
04.25.20 Update 11:58 p.m.
It’s hard to believe we are at the sixth week of our church hiatus due to the COVID-19 outbreak. For some of you the weeks drag on, but I find them zipping by as we’re closing in on the month of May. The switch in ministry is challenging and I still stay busy and time is filled with studies and preparations for preaching. I have no insight as to when this will be over and our church services may resume, although I have heard it’s likely the ban will be extended this week. Mother’s Day is approaching on the 10th which will be another significant date missed at church if the ban is not lifted. Accordingly, it is unfortunately necessary that we cancel the annual Mother’s Day Banquet event. Even if the ban is lifted allowing services on the 10th, the time is too short for our ladies to pull it together. All mothers will be happy to know that fathers will hopefully get their full due on Father’s Day.
Special event days, holidays, etc. are not what the church was made for although they do give us extra times of fellowship. The current schedule serves to remind us how much fellowship is truly needed and what a hole it leaves in our lives when we are unable to gather. At least this ban has put new appreciation in our hearts and hopefully has caused us to focus on the need of corporate worship. I have preached several series on the doctrine of the church in past years, but in none of those series could I graphically demonstrate how Christians are so radically changed to desire the company of other Christians. If this ban has not revealed this to you, we need to start another series on the church to find out what happened and why you are missing this critical piece of the Holy Spirit’s work in your heart.
Our membership is very much aware how much we emphasize Lordship salvation. When I was growing up, Baptists never challenged Lordship salvation as they do now. When I was young, we would never have doubted the necessity of believing that people must repent of all their sins and place their faith in Jesus Christ. We believed that saving faith included the volitional element of obedience to Christ, and yet that volitional element is secured in the persevering faith granted by God Himself. There is no such thing as saving faith that does not produce a heartfelt, genuine, insistent desire to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Master. There is no such thing as making Christ the Lord of your life. He makes Himself the Lord of your life when He saves you. This is not optional in saving faith.
I know some will not like this next statement, but I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that people who claim faith in Christ can at the same time willfully reject the church and care so little about it. I don’t understand how saved people can dismiss church time and use it for their time when the scriptures plainly declare the church is Christ’s body and He gave Himself for it. I don’t understand how anyone can believe that a God-given faith that applies the righteousness of Christ to our hearts in justification is not a faith that is wholly enough to affect our sanctification. I don’t understand it because it doesn’t exist in the true faith of Jesus Christ.
For too long, Baptists have fallen back on the idea of backsliding and of using it as an excuse for bad behavior and for meager to non-existent commitment to the faith. Lack of desire for the church of Jesus Christ is at best the character of an ignorant slothful Christian who hasn’t learned better and at worst is the evidence of an unconverted sinner. I believe there are far more in the latter category than the former. Sadly, many pastors spend too much time trying to raise the dead while thinking they are awakening the sleeping. At some point, we must pray for salvation not rededication. If we spend inordinate amounts of time trying to preach the redeemed into service and to the services, we are most likely dealing with people the Holy Spirit is not dealing with. Those who have no evidence of change are not those who belong to Jesus Christ.
As I reflect on nearly 60 years of Christian service, I remember my youth when there were many in the church that made countless trips up church aisles continually rededicating their lives because they got stirred up and convicted in revival services. After these many years, most of them have fallen out of church or have never improved upon their poor performance as Christians. My theology of this has changed and I now see the backslider as more often a person who was outwardly reformed but not inwardly redeemed.
I think what you are reading today is the thoughts of a pastor who has a pent-up desire to unload the whole boat on your wharf. Maybe this is not the best time since people are looking for hope and encouragement. My point would be if you don’t find that hope in your church and in your faith, there is nothing I can do for you. If you agonize over missing church—if you are miserable about being away from church—thank God, you are right where you should be!
I won’t see you in church tomorrow, but you are on my mind. You will see me in the following video with a message entitled Bankrupt Believers. The message is about pride and it’s opposite. Listen to hear what it is. The conclusion is that our worth is found only in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Have a blessed day in family worship and remember our church family as well. The video will premiere at 6:00 a.m. to accommodate our viewers in the Eastern time zone.
04.18.20 Update 6:45 p.m.
We continue to pray for our church during this extended period of absence from our fellowship. This past Wednesday evening, the deacons and I had a virtual meeting via Google Meet in which we discussed our contact with nearly all the members of the church. If you are getting these emails but have not yet talked to your deacon, please be sure to let us know. It may be because we’re missing a telephone number or an email address. We don’t have as easy access to church records since our secretaries are obeying the shelter in place orders, so we apologize if anyone has been missed. We went through the entire membership and there were only a few we’ve been unable to contact. Meanwhile, I am happy to report of those contacted there are no serious issues other than what all of us are experiencing as our lives have been turned upside down.
During our meeting, we were able to connect with Jason Guritz and his family who have been traveling for several months with Jason’s job. They are out of the country and unable to come home, but we pray they will be able to return after the ban is lifted depending on the job requirements. As I mentioned in one of the sermons, it is amazing how quickly God can bring the world to its knees. Who would have thought Jason’s family would be thousands of miles away and unable to return? The technology is there but God shut off all access. In this modern age of science and medicine, who would think that we are not far enough advanced since the last global pandemic one hundred years ago to stop this latest threat? Is it not true that we are fearfully and wonderfully made? The human body is so far above human comprehension that scientists can do nothing other than propose impossible theories about how life exists. Why can’t they see that all God needs to do is turn one switch in the body and the entire human race succumbs. When it comes time for God to say every knee shall bow to the name of Jesus Christ and every tongue must confess that He is Lord, do you think it will be any trouble for the Almighty God to bend our knees?
In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, the apostle Paul wrote: In everything give thanks… During this terribly trying time, is it difficult for you to obey this command? Considering how God orders everything that comes to pass and seeing how quickly He moves without asking counsel, I give utmost thanks that all His moves are done in consideration of how they will affect me. I am not asked to understand them; I only need to believe they are and will be for my good. If I can’t trust God for this, how can I trust Him with my eternal soul?
I believe the good news in this as pastor of Berean is that you have been taught this and you believe it, and as the cliché goes, I am preaching to the choir. Our worldview through the Doctrines of Grace can never leave doubts that in His divine providence God orders all things that come to pass in a way that benefits those who are special objects of His divine love and grace. There may be trouble now but, in the end, there is a crown of righteousness laid up for us in the glories of heaven.
In tomorrow’s message, I will discuss the very practical aspects of deepening our faith through our increased knowledge of Jesus Christ. The subject is The Habitation of Faith. The video will be posted and ready to go at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. Let’s have our Bibles ready and open to Ephesians chapter 1 for the call to worship. Join Tate in the singing and then we will hear the message from God’s word. Until then, pray for each other and for God’s word to have success as the message is heard. The link to the message follows this post.
See you in the a.m.
04.11.20 Update 7:00 p.m.
I hope everyone is getting ready for Easter Sunday. Once again, we are not able to meet this week, but we are committed to provide a worship experience for our families. I am thankful to report the views of last week’s message were 111 as of Thursday. Since the video premiered at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday, the views mounted quickly on that day rather than days before as they did with the video on March 29. This means our members were watching at approximately the same time, as the count for the views was greatest between 9 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. This accomplished our goal of most of our members singing, praying, listening, worshipping, and thinking about the Lord during the same hours.
I received many welcome comments about the service. One of these caused me to think about the numbers of people represented by the 111 views last week. Jim Andrews wrote that his family was watching with two guests which made seven that viewed the broadcast in his home. Others such as the Kosinkis and the Guritzs that have multiple family members, correspondingly multiply across the viewership to make these 111 views potentially represent 500 or more people. As you know, we don’t approach those numbers in church on Sunday. Don’t take this the wrong way but why aren’t you in church on Sunday when this is what the Lord commands? When this social distancing order is over, logically, we should see a great increase in attendance. Of course, there are views from outside the area that I am aware of, so we probably won’t put out 200 extra chairs the first Sunday back! Keep this in mind that we serve the church best by being present.
Other thoughts that come to mind were prompted by some articles I’ve read about how churches are focusing on their internet presence. You may have heard of the church in Southern California that President Trump tweeted that he was going to watch their service. They had 1.3 million views last Sunday correlating to his tweet. I’ve noticed these churches are in full production mode trying to make their online “church” just like their “physical” church. I quote this line from the Challies’ blog about worship at his church in Canada: “It is for ecclesiological reasons that we would not typically broadcast a service since we believe that assembling as a church requires physically assembling. Under normal circumstances, our concern with broadcasting a service is that it would allow people to think they are genuinely participating in church when they are actually only observing it. Those who only watch church from afar simply cannot be full participants.”
I found it quite interesting that Challies’ church will not livestream their entire service anytime regardless of a social distancing order. I wonder how many of our Baptist churches that claim to uphold biblically based ecclesiology would be consistent enough to do what Challies’ church does? I know there are arguments that abound about shut-ins etc. that can’t attend church because of physical issues, but is it wise to give them a full-on, top to bottom church service that makes them think they are participating? The truth is watching a video is not church. Biblical ecclesiology demands assembly. Let’s not pretend otherwise. Pondering this, I remembered that none of our posted videos are recordings of our entire service. They record the sermons, not church. They are an outreach like passing out an in-depth, detailed tract. They are video gospel tracts and never pretend to be anything else.
These comments made me reflect on my initial sadness that we couldn’t provide more participatory music, more special music, more prayers, more scripture reading, more this and that so that we don’t look more amateurish at this than we are. Now, I am content. We won’t do much more because our ecclesiology says we can’t give people church on their screens at home. We can give them a few things that help remind them of church. We don’t need to be polished—I mean preaching to an empty room surely dulls my shine!
You might find this interesting too. Jason G. who is video editing, posting to YouTube, and analyzing viewership advised that average viewing time was 42 minutes. The entire video was about 59 minutes. Since I refuse to believe anyone would dare cut out part of the sermon, they must be cutting the singing and the call to worship. I don’t think you should, but hopefully it tells me that our well indoctrinated church knows this is not church. We need to be in church and then it will have our full attention. My analysis could be off because I suppose some are treating the video like they do church. They show up late! You know who you are!
The sum of this is that I will be happy to see warm bodies in the pews. I like sights and sounds. I like the commotion and I will put up with some disturbances just to see people again. Meanwhile, we soldier on with our much inferior substitutes.
The Resurrection Sunday sermon is Why the Tomb Was NOT Empty. The video link follows and will be active on Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. Again, I urge you to watch with your family at approximately 11:00 a.m. You can’t go to the beach in the afternoon anyway.
Until we meet again,
4.04.20 Update 6:50 p.m.
It’s now April and tomorrow is our third Sunday without church services; but who’s counting? I am! It doesn’t take long under these circumstances to realize that as a church we are not meant to be separated from each other. The New Testament word for church, ecclesia, means assembly and a church can’t be a church without assembling. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking we have any sort of corporate worship as taught in the New Testament when we are not together. A body unassembled is not a body—it’s body parts that can’t truly function in the capacity we were intended to as the body of Christ.
This being said, we still need some sort of contact with each other to get us by until we can see each other again. We are blessed to live in a time that we can talk to each other across distances and even see each other if we take that extra step towards face time messaging, Skype, Zoom or other social platforms that permit visuals as well as audio. Some of it I don’t use and don’t even understand. For more information, tackle a teenager! Or lasso one, which will help you maintain six feet distance.
Our best option is video preaching which most of the membership and others who attend were able to view last week. This week we have another video in which we’ve added music for you to sing at home. My thanks to Melissa and Tate Jarrell who helped put this together so you could enjoy singing some worship songs tomorrow. It’s not possible for us to implement a full music program due to the time-consuming rigors of video editing to make words available on the screen. This takes several hours to accomplish. Our thanks to Jason Guritz who is editing the videos remotely from Costa Rica and uploading them to YouTube. We’re still working out some bugs in the recording aspect here locally, so please be patient with us.
The social distancing order for Sonoma County is now in effect until May 3. I understand many are predicting it will need to be extended again but I am sure this won’t be known until we get much closer to that date. This of course means Easter Sunday will be spent in our homes. Accordingly, we will continue to produce videos and intend to add a little more music next week.
I continue to hear good news from members of the congregation who are concerned about others and are lending a helping hand. Yesterday, Jorge Henriquez contacted me to let me know he has a source of food for any members that might be experiencing economic hardship. If you have a need, please contact him at his email address, email@example.com. We also want to keep in touch with each other to pray and network between us to meet other needs of our people. If you are waiting for someone to call, don’t! Reach out first—be proactive to help or be helped. You should have your deacon’s phone number, and his email address is listed at the bottom of this page. Start here and your needs will be shared.
The video link for tomorrow’s message is at the end of this post. The title is “Christ, the Sure and Steady Anchor.” The link will be active at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. At 9:00 it is livestream and may not give you the ability to back up if you join the video late. After the original runtime, you may pause or restart as you would any video. If you have trouble, please let us know.
We urge you to gather your family at our normal worship time of 11:00 a.m. for viewing. There is no supernatural magic trick to the timing and viewing early or late does not invoke any curses. Neither is watching on time a talisman for protection from Coronavirus. It’s simply a way of knowing the entire church is thinking of our Lord and each other at the same time.
I would also like to add if you have a brief comment to make about your worship time and/or would like to send a family photo of your worship experience, we will post these comments and pictures for others to enjoy. Pajama worshippers may be censored!
Tithes and offerings may be mailed to the church at:
Berean Baptist Church
6298 Country Club Dr.
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
If this is not convenient for your situation, please let us know for other options.
Enjoy the video and we’ll talk soon.
Christ, The Sure and Steady Anchor
Note: If you receive the video link by email, it will take you to our channel on the YouTube site. Be sure to check the subscribe button to receive updates when new videos are available. If from our web page, make the video full screen and a YouTube button on the lower right will take you to the YouTube site.
3.30.20 Update 11:45 a.m.
I am sure most of you are aware by now that the president has ordered the ban of gathering in groups of ten or more is extended to April 30. We were praying that we could be back in church by Easter, but now this is inadvisable if not impossible. The Lord has His purpose and we will accept it. I’ve been asked a few times what I think of defying the ban. I trust God for safety and protection but at the same time He expects us to use wisdom. Defying the ban would be the worst public relations nightmare for the church we could imagine. We would be considered uncaring, reckless, and irresponsible. Most of the time I don’t care what the world thinks. However, this is not about the public’s understanding of our theological positions. This is about public health safety which they will never agree is open for compromise in what they see as a blind faith attempt to satisfy ourselves. We will serve the community best by taking our opportunities to show our love in other ways. “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of the faith.” (Galatians 6:9-10). We have some members helping those who can’t get out and many offering to help, if needed.
I am happy to report results from yesterday’s virtual church service. I see we’ve had 112 views as of this morning and I heard that many of you were watching at the normal church hours. I think this is good as perhaps for the first time we can applaud that being there in spirit actually means something! I’m working on some additions to our recording for next week which I will update you on as soon as I have more info.
Meanwhile, I need to address church finances. We are not a cold calculating prosperity preaching church. We don’t ask people to step out on faith and give in hopes your pockets will be lined. I don’t usually need to talk about giving and I wouldn’t now except for the logistics of receiving offerings at this time. I am thankful that you are concerned about your tithes and offerings and this question was asked in our meeting on March 15th. At the time, I thought we would be back soon, and you should hold your offerings until then. Things have changed and it’s best that we work out a plan to receive your offerings. I was hesitant about mailing checks, but that issue has been resolved. If you can do this, it is our best option. Some have already mailed theirs.
Another option is online giving. We are set up to receive donations online, but we would prefer that you not use this option unless necessary. We lose part of the offering to processing fees. For example, if the entire church used this option, we would forfeit about $600/month in fees. We are considering a third option which is drop off at the church at limited hours. I’ll let you know if we need to do this.
We are not sure of the economic impact on church families because of the ban. We are sure that God’s plan of finance for the church does not change. Tithes and offerings belong to the Lord. The tithe (10%) is proportional based on income for the very reason of economic differences in our people. Always be faithful with the correct proportion according to what God gives you. Tithes are not sacrificial giving—and don’t forget we should practice some sacrificial giving.
Questions are welcome. Please contact me or your deacon if you need help.
3.28.20 Update 11:30 a.m.
Today’s news is mixed as it appears our plans to meet again on Easter Sunday are in jeopardy. We haven’t made a final decision yet and we remain hopeful that next week will see an improvement and lives may begin to return to normal. Health professionals and our governor don’t think so and it may be that demands for social distancing are increased. I’ve heard for those of you living in Rohnert Park that the police department is going to step up enforcement against violators of the ban. The outlook for Easter does indeed look bleak. Keep praying that God will turn this around soon.
I do have some good news to report. Yesterday, I met with Steve Miller and we recorded a new sermon for Sunday morning. The title is Climate Change in which I discuss the God who controls this world and some important lessons we can learn from this time of turmoil. I’ve just asked you to pray that God would end this soon, but we don’t know all the reasons our country and the world have been plunged into this catastrophe. We pray with limited knowledge knowing that God will end this when His timing is right. It is important to know that He is not shaken by this. The world has experienced pandemics before. History says there were up to 200 million that died in the Black Plague in the 14th century. The world has been through two world wars and the explosion of atomic bombs that killed more people in one day than in the several weeks of the worldwide pandemic of Coronavirus. This too shall pass.
The link to the new sermon will follow this post. It is available for viewing tomorrow. It can be watched today because I wanted everyone to have time to find the link and be prepared for tomorrow. Save it for tomorrow unless you are so anxious to see me you can’t wait! Seriously, I know it is not me you want to see. You want to hear God’s word.
Next week the link availability will change. You will receive a link that will not be active until Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. My intent is to help us not to forget that Sunday is the Lord’s Day and should be used for worship. I also want to emphasize again that listening to a sermon at home is not the same as being in the fellowship of the church and interacting with others and with the sermon. When recording this, I felt it for sure. Preaching to an empty room drains much of the emotion that energizes the preacher as he sees the effects the word of God has on worshippers. The Holy Spirit is with us supernaturally when the church gathers. I look forward to seeing you sitting in your places again in each of our services.
More updates will follow as we get closer to Easter. I hope the next empty room recording is the last, but if not, we will march on as good soldiers of the cross and we will accept God’s good timing as our good pleasure. “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Sunday Morning Sermon: Climate Change:
3.25.2020 Update 4:30 p.m.
I trust that everyone is doing well except for the cabin fever we endure. This past week has made me appreciate more than ever what my wife has gone through for many weeks being mostly confined to the house. I am anxious to be gathered with all of you again. I’ve heard from several about their home services this past Sunday. The mood is upbeat and if we can’t fellowship with each other, we know there is always sweet fellowship with our Lord. Thankfully, I haven’t heard of any illnesses among our church members. Please don’t forget to let us know if you have special prayer needs.
We are still cautiously optimistic about resuming services on Easter. Most of what I hear is negative although I’m sure you are aware the President believes the country will be up and running again by that time. I know if our local government does not agree it is not likely many of you would risk being in public. I still have great concern for my wife whose liver disease and diabetes would make recovery from the virus a miracle. I’m thankful we believe in a miracle working God which always gives us reasoned hope that others don’t have.
I am happy to report we have another plan in place for Sunday sermons. I’ve reached out to Steve Miller who will help me video record a new sermon from the pulpit for this Sunday and for as long as necessary barring any unforeseen complications. We will record the sermon on Friday afternoon and have it ready for viewing on Sunday morning. Jason Guritz will upload the sermon for us. I’m sorry we won’t have music—you will need to provide it at home unless I can get Steve to agree to sing for you acapella! The message will be in the video section of the sermon page. Note that the title is Climate Change. Gary will send out a link by email and I will update this page with the link as well.
I want to express my special thanks to those who have checked on us and offered help. We have many offers. Randy and Linda live close and they’ve included us if we need anything while they are out. Many thanks to Lino, Jorge, and Steve Bianchini who graciously arranged supplies from Costco yesterday. Lino brought them over and I never realized how glad I would be to see him! We have great people at Berean. I don’t think a pastor could be taken care of any better anywhere. Because of Pam and the danger to her, I’m very cautious about going out although I’ve made a few runs for groceries. Still required to do those frequent lab visits with her to Kaiser as well. If you risk yourselves for us, what greater love is there that a person lay down his life for his friends? Surely the love of Christ is evident in our church. Please continue to pray for Pam. We also continue to pray for you. I am happy to report she’s felt a little better this week. I also appreciate those who call and talk to her and the numerous cards she receives. She loves to hear from you.
I encourage you to check on each other. You shouldn’t have any trouble thinking of someone to contact but if you do, think about those who sit close to you in church. Reach out and let’s make a network that holds us together. Wait…we already have one. We are members of Christ’s body and that makes us united to each other. Keep faith, love, and hope in your heart. This is the great doctrinal triumvirate of our Christianity.
3.21.20 11:20 a.m. Update
Tomorrow morning will be our first Sunday without services. We are following the government’s orders that we should distance ourselves from each other so as not to promote the spread of this dreaded virus that is increasingly infecting our community. I want to emphasize there has been no order that churches can’t meet because the government is trying to shut down gospel preaching. This is a health order, and we are not cowards or spineless Christians because we don’t defy the government in this order.
Jesus taught us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. How can we do both in this circumstance? We can be wise to use this as an opportunity to give hope to people who live without hope. Many are fearful because they’ve put all their stock in this life and have no hope for eternity. We can give them a reason of the hope within us because we have an exceedingly better life awaiting us by faith in Jesus Christ. We can be harmless by considering their welfare. We must follow all precautions so that we don’t get sick, and follow more precautions so they don’t get sick. This means social distancing. It means staying home and not venturing into crowds and gathering with others.
I know what this means for those without Christ and I understand it to be far more significant for those who know Christ. Christians are designed to interact, if not with the world, especially with each other. I promise that the most agonizing aspect of this pandemic is knowing tomorrow I can’t go to church to fellowship with our church family. I was speaking to one of our members recently and commented that I was built to go to church. I can’t imagine my life without church. At this moment, my life is upside down because every day I spend time preparing for church. To me, it is mysterious how Christians so easily miss the services of THEIR church. Perhaps these next weeks, however many there are, will teach them not to easily take for granted the privilege of being with God’s people. I need to be careful now because I’m getting into preaching mode!
Accordingly, I’ve looked over some past sermons and I’ve chosen two for you to listen to tomorrow. First let me say that tomorrow is the Lord’s Day wherever you are. Some Christians don’t seem to get that. When we can meet, they do something else. I don’t have much hope they will serve the Lord when we can’t meet (preaching mode again…). I encourage you to get up, get your mind in gear, assemble the family, and spend time in those things we do at church. Sing a song or two, read the scriptures, and listen to the sermons. This is a temporary fix not to be continued in place of gathering when the ban is lifted!
I suppose the most popular text tomorrow for churches that can livestream is to preach from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. In verses 25-34, Jesus addressed the subject of worry and its counterpart of trust in God. He taught us not to concern ourselves with how we will live. God gives life and sustains it. He has an eternal plan for His children that encompasses our entire life and it includes supplying every need we have. As He tells us not to concern ourselves with material needs, He also instructs on our proper concern which is the kingdom of God.
In April of 2010, I preached three sermons from this text. The title of these sermons is Worrywarts. Parts one and two will be good for listening tomorrow morning and evening and then part three can replace the Wednesday evening study. I hope these are a blessing to you. Although these sermons are ten years old and so are some of the references, the principles of God’s word never change. I hope you have a blessed and healthy Sunday!
Worry Warts, pt. 1
Worry Warts, pt. 2
Worry Warts, pt. 3
March 19, 2020 Update
While we are without church services for these next few weeks, I thought I might recommend some old sermons that might help you. The first is from the Philippians series in 2008. The title of this message is Standing Straight in a Crooked World, pt. 1. The reference is Philippians 2:14-16. This sermon is dated with references to circumstances in 2008, but I think you can easily update it and use it to compare to our current troubles in 2020. The Christian response does change. Click on the link and enjoy listening.
March 17, 2020 Update
Today the Sonoma County Health Officer issued a mandatory shelter in place order effective until April 7th. No groups are permitted to meet. Travel outside the home is restricted for purposes of essential services only. Accordingly, our plans for a workday on April 4th are cancelled as well as services for April 5th. We will update and evaluate as more information is available.
I want to report to those unable to attend last week’s service, there was a sweet sense of fellowship, love, and genuine concern for the well-being of our church and community. Prayers were offered, our hymns about the sovereignty of God were sung with conviction, and the preaching of God’s word was received with all due attention. I must emphasize none were fearful or without hope. We know our God has the whole world in His hands.
During these three weeks, I encourage you to increase your daily Bible reading and prayers. You should have more time on your hands—use it wisely! We have hundreds of sermons available for listening on our website and a few videos as well. On this blog page, there are also links to many articles. Use these resources and be encouraged in your faith. Anticipate our soon gathering again and earnestly pray we will be able to meet on April 12th for Easter services.
March 12, 2020
Due to the continuing threat of Coronavirus infection, the leadership of Berean is currently considering options that will protect our church family. We have many elderlies in the congregation that are the most vulnerable to serious consequences of infection. Even if the elderly stay home, other family members might take the virus home with them. We ask you first to pray for our church and for others not to contract the virus. We trust God to protect us, but we also understand God uses means. Often His means is prudence to follow advice from those who are experts in areas that we are not. You’ve heard many competing voices about what should be done but one thing most agree on is the need to stay away from crowds until we are sure the virus is under control.
This coming Sunday (March 15) we will hold the 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. services. There will be no services on Sunday afternoon. After the morning service, we will have a congregational meeting to discuss what we plan do next. After a meeting on Wednesday evening (March 11), the consensus was to cancel all services after March 15 until Sunday, April 5. This is the current evaluation. Until then, we will continually evaluate for changes to this schedule. We invite everyone to stay after the services this Sunday to ask questions.
We will post updates to the website as they are available. We will also send updates by email for subscribers to the email list. If you have not signed up, please do so at the bottom of the home page. If you are not receiving updates, please check your spam folder as sometimes spam filters do not recognize the bbaptist.org addresses. If you have questions, first contact your deacon by phone or at his email address. The email addresses are at the end of this post. The church office has limited hours, but you may leave a message if you are unable to contact your deacon. The pastor is also available for urgent requests.
We hope to see you at services on Sunday. We pray for your safekeeping both physically and spiritually.
But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:19-20)
John Bunn firstname.lastname@example.org
Jorge Henriquez email@example.com
Brian Petro firstname.lastname@example.org
Lino Zamacona email@example.com
Mathieu Kosinski firstname.lastname@example.org