Our virus news is a little mixed this week with some bad news and some news that is cautiously more hopeful. The bad news is the continued lockdown with the severest restrictions extending at least until the end of January. If the government remains consistent with previous criteria used to lift these restrictions, we cannot expect the lockdown will be lifted any sooner than the middle of February. This is assuming that virus cases have been reduced by the end of the month. More unfortunate news is that this does not seem likely with the prognosticators telling us that we have yet to see the apex of infections. I find it hard to imagine the new administration will encourage any special relief for churches, choosing rather to compensate the struggling with the proposed economic stimulus package. While this may help the pocketbook of the economically depressed, it does nothing for the welfare of the spiritually depressed. Our message last week and tomorrow will hopefully encourage us not to look to the government for any spiritual help but to always trust God’s providence and His sovereign plan for His people. His cause is eternal and does not suffer or diminish because of any temporal distresses.
This week my personal reading in scripture is in the first chapters of Deuteronomy. This parallels the message last week as Moses rehearsed the past failures of Israel and gave instructions just before entering Canaan. The way was hard, and the people were obstinate, yet God’s purpose was unfailing. It proves the promise made to Abraham was sure and not contingent upon Israel to help fulfill it. When Israel was stubborn, God overcame stubbornness to bring His promise to fruition. Likewise, though we may be spiritually depressed in our failure to trust, God will uphold and lift His people. As in Deuteronomy 33:27, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms…”
With the preceding in mind, the hopeful news this week is the SCOTUS reprimand of the governor of Nevada over his restrictions imposed on churches. The Court demanded a response to lawsuits over these restrictions and that they should follow the previous Court decision in New York cases. The most hopeful part is the Court’s opinion that churches should be considered essential. This means if a grocery store can open at 25% capacity, a church may open under the same guidelines. At this point, there seems to be a whittling down of individual state-imposed restrictions as more cases come before the Court. We notice the state of California has not retaliated against Los Angeles County for removing their restrictions against churches. Of course, we know their series of defeats in the MacArthur affair left them with legal bills and nothing to show for it. It is one of those rare cases when the government was shamed for obvious high-handed discrimination. California’s lack of interference with lifting of restrictions in Los Angeles may signal a reluctance to challenge churches elsewhere that want to reopen. Whatever the case, nothing is accomplished without adequate funds to challenge the government in court. With God’s help, our best hope is to await a more sweeping order from SCOTUS that will end restrictions on churches across the entire country.
This may well settle the judicial aspect of meeting, but it does not settle either the medical or spiritual wisdom of doing so. There is still much wrangling about health concerns with the virus mutating and becoming more contagious. I am sure many will not feel compelled just yet to gather indoors. Last week I cited the issue in my sister’s church which gives cause for great concern. Admittedly, the cavalier attitude towards the virus in Kentucky may have contributed to the problem, whereas proper precautions may have mitigated the distress. I can do no other than leave the personal spiritual and physical health decisions to individual church members. In other words, I will not confidently advise or make sweeping dogmatic proclamations about what you should decide to do. I am especially cautious of my activities in guarding my wife with her multiple health issues. The virus has struck my family in Kentucky with my brother-in-law now unconscious and on a ventilator. The doctors advise there is nothing left to do.
Since we are not at the point personal and corporate decisions need to be made, we must continue to pray for the church as we are in our present status. Consider how individual circumstances change over a year’s time. When we see each other and meet weekly, we can slowly adapt to these changes as they occur. When we start back to church after these many months, all these changes are rolled into one disconcerting event. Be prepared to accept those things that unnerve us and never forget the church belongs to Christ who knows each of us as we were made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Each week I am more and more concerned about our absence from each other. I have been reluctant to try methods outside my comfort zone but now my restlessness makes me feel more compelled to attempt them. Today, I spoke with Jason Guritz to help with organizing and operating an online class through Zoom. We hope to be ready for this very soon. Look for more information on this in the next 10 days. Additionally, we are in discussion about costs and logistics for filming outdoor meetings. I will give you an update on this as we progress. Please keep these matters in prayer.
Tomorrow, the message is part two of Standing Straight in a Crooked World. We will discuss standards and expectations for God’s people who are called to be brilliant light in an exceedingly dark place. There should be as stark a contrast between God’s people and the world that our holy lives impressively stand out in comparison. The links to the message and outline are below. Please continue to pray for us, pray for our church, and pray for our country in this time of multi-faceted division. While we steadfastly support God and country, they are not equal in heart, mind, and support.
Stand straight in this crooked world!
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Each morning my first activity is to read scripture following our recommended five-day reading plan. I always read every day which puts me ahead of where most of you are in the schedule. For me, today’s New Testament reading was Luke chapter 1. For about a year, I have used The Literary Study Bible for my reading. The reason I am explaining this is to get to the introductory notes on Luke in which I found a quite ironic statement. The editor wrote: “If Mark was a storyteller and Matthew was something of a Bible scholar, then Luke was an investigative reporter. With a doctor’s eye for detail and a journalist’s passion for getting the facts straight, Luke carefully records the full gospel story of the God-man who was mighty in word and deed before dying for sinners and rising again with life for the world.” Considering the journalistic prowess of today’s news reporters, I found this phrase, “a journalist’s passion for getting the facts straight” was a terrible insult to Doctor Luke. Today, one of the least respected, biased, and often dishonest occupations is that of a journalist. Future generations that read The Literary Study Bible will find this assessment of Luke lends no credibility to his recording of the gospel account. Of course, this is diametrically opposed to Luke’s claims in his salutation to Theophilus in which he asserted that by his accurate reporting Theophilus would have certainty in those holy things he had been taught.
This week we are saddened by multiple issues. The horrific scene in Washington, D.C. was bad enough by itself, but then the incendiary news reporting only added fuel to an already raging inferno. I know there are differences of opinion in the church about what happened and who is at fault. These differences should not spill over into the church and endanger our unity as they have done with our country. This country is in danger of being torn apart with irreparable harm and we need to be sure that expressing opinions about politics does not likewise endanger the church.
Having said this, I want to call a halt to bringing politics into the church. I will continue to preach on the necessity of voting biblically and addressing issues of morality, but beyond this the church is no place to be overrun with political opinions. These can be expressed among you privately as expected but should not be a deterrent to the work of the church in the salvation and fellowship of God’s people. Preferential politics are not the issues the New Testament tells us to address. I pledge to be more careful since some of my comments might be taken as official positions of the church. We have no official positions except those that are mandated by scripture.
I sincerely hope you respect the position I am in with the charge to protect the church. As this week’s events unfolded, I was immediately impressed in my spirit as to how this could have terrible repercussions for Berean. I am determined not to let this happen. With God’s help and to the best of my ability, we will refocus on what we are called to do. We must leave these matters in God’s hands. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1). We quoted this verse for Trump; it does not change for Biden.
Today my heart is heavy with more unhappy news concerning the Coronavirus. Owing to the exploding rate of transmission and the increasing death toll from it, the county health officer extended the lockdown order for a minimum of four more weeks. Two things happened this week that heighten my own sensibilities to this problem. The first was news from one church family that two family members have contracted the virus. Those of you that receive church emails are aware of which family. I will not mention their names here since this update is posted to the internet and I do not want to violate any privacy without permission. Within hours of receiving this sad news, I received a call from my sister in Kentucky that my brother-in-law has the disease and is in serious condition in the hospital. If he does not improve quickly, the next step is a ventilator. In the earlier treatments of the disease, a ventilator was nearly a death sentence. Thankfully, the doctor advised that knowledge of how to treat patients has increased and a ventilator is not necessarily a death consignment. The doctors are treating my brother-in-law with the same experimental drugs given to President Trump. In addition, my sister who has multiple underlying issues has COVID as well. This news for our family and the other affected Berean family is heartbreaking.
Now let me explain a factor that more troubles me. The virus protocols in Kentucky have not been as restrictive as in Sonoma County. My sister’s church has not been in an extended shutdown. They still gathered in their building with plenty of distancing and with masks. The attendance of their church is somewhat less than ours and yet they developed multiple cases of COVID with the pastor, assistant pastor, my sister’s family, and others all contracting the disease. One has died. I now fear for the lives of people I know very well. The transmission rate in Sonoma County is much higher than in my sister’s area. Please, let us not argue about hoaxes and what I should do with Berean. I might mention that my sister wore a mask but did not believe they were helpful. She wore it because others were afraid, and this was a comfort to them. I do not know if they are effective. I do know the public perception is that they are necessary, and orders have been given to wear them. If not for your own safety, please respect the feelings of others. As Christians, we are called upon to be kind and compassionate.
There is much more I would like to write on these subjects. I would like to type a sermon, but I fear my time would be fruitless since you are probably already tired of reading. For now, I need to move on to discuss tomorrow’s sermon subject. The title of tomorrow’s message is Standing Straight in a Crooked World. I do not think the title needs much explanation. It is taken from Philippians 2:15. I will exposit a portion of Philippians 2:12-16 this week and next, while we contrast with the world the standard for Christians. Earlier in the week I learned from an offhanded comment that John MacArthur had recently preached this passage. I have not heard his sermon. I understand some of you listen to him, so you will pardon me if I am not nearly as erudite and eloquent.
The links to the outline and message are below. I hope you will listen. Meanwhile, please be cautious and stay safe. We do not need you to be another statistic. Please pray for our community, our church, and especially those of our families that are affected by the disease. I am assured that many of you commonly pray for my wife. She was in the hospital again last Sunday and Monday. The fear of contracting COVID while there seriously affects her calm. Also, remember Donna Miller who fell and shattered her wrist just before our recording on Thursday. She is scheduled for surgery on Monday afternoon. Special thanks to Steve who soldiered on with the recording while anxiously awaiting news of her condition. We are proud of Bereans!
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Sermon Outline: Standing Straight in a Crooked World, Part 1
Happy New Year! This is our first update Anno Domini 2021. Who would have thought many months from last March that we would see the new year dawn with the same repetitive nagging issues that have plagued us for so long? Pardon the pun but we are dealing with all possible inflections of the English language trying to describe our misery. Rest assured this misery is only part of the common foibles of creatures living in a sin cursed world. They do not reflect the hopeful assurance of God’s people. As we now know, switching years was not a magical formula for immediate change. We still get the same news from the media and it appears our troubles will drag on a bit longer.
The latest stay-at-home order from December 5is set to expire on Saturday, January 9. The health officer reported on Tuesday that it is highly likely to be extended. Since they are trying to cover cases brought on by holiday gatherings, it seems unlikely the order will be lifted this month. We are hopeful this will change, and we will be allowed some ability to meet indoors. I know some of you are restless and believe we should defy the orders. I hope you understand that I am tasked with making the decision under advisement of our deacon board. I am also tasked with dealing with the consequences. Defying orders could have serious long-term repercussions. While we believe the Lord protects the church, we also have ample evidence that bad impulsive decisions can cripple churches. There is by no means a consensus among Christians about what we should do. I have used the Christian response in other countries as a bellwether to help decide our response. I do not see uprisings to defy government orders in other countries.
I do not want to beat a dead horse, but I must repeat that the American response of defiant churches is more often the politics of First Amendment rights rather than a spiritual argument from scripture. Without this filter, a clear scriptural mandate versus political opinion is difficult to discern. This is the reason I have taken the position that churches in their own localities must decide what is best for them. We do not often see smaller churches defying orders, or at least advertising they are. Rather, it is churches with monetary means that somehow are spoken to by God to defy the government. Why hasn’t the Holy Spirit spoken to us poor peon pastors with the same instructions? I hate to be this cynical, but this is my observation. Obviously, I do not know all small/medium churches and there may be many flying under the radar. I will say it is not obvious in the Bay Area.
Having said all this, what would we do if the Supreme Court struck down the prohibition of church gatherings because it does not withstand the scrutiny of the Constitution? It may seem contradictory, but I would take it as a sign that the wait is over, and that God has opened the door. I believe we would proceed with caution and obey the caveats which are sure to come with such a decision. This does not make the Supreme Court the ruler of the church. No, like Pharaoh, it is an instrument in God’s hands in which He turns evil into good. “For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth” (Romans 917).
Once again, I ask for your continued prayers. Making these decisions is difficult. I listen to both sides of the argument and have not yet felt compulsion to change our course. Arguments about the seriousness of the disease and how many do or do not die from COVID or whether the numbers are inflated do not sway me. It is a wonderful homage to God’s grace that by far most people survive the disease. However, death is not the only problem. If the disease warrants a survivable hospital stay, it does not help that beds must be taken from those who have other potential life-threatening issues. As I have stated numerous times, I have a vested interest in this dynamic with my wife often needing hospital care. We can argue about masks and all the peripherals about how to stop the spread. This much is known for sure—COVID is like sin. Do not flirt with it and it will not ensnare you.
In other news, this week Tate Jarrell leaves to enter basic training with the Army. With this and other assignments, he will not return until August. We appreciate Tate’s willingness to help with the music for our videos and we will miss him. Pray the Army will survive him to fight another day! Of course, we expect him to come back with news there is peace on earth and goodwill to men through his sure testimony of faith. We know Tate is not bashful to share Christ.
With Tate’s absence, we welcome Samuel Petro to our recording sessions. I am thankful our young people step up to fill our needs. Though many of you are willing to serve, our public opportunities are limited. I am confident that as the congregation appreciates these efforts, so those who help are blessed by our Lord.
Tomorrow morning, we end our study of Christian Warfare. I felt the Lord’s leading to extend the series through one more message that ends in the same way Paul ended his Ephesian letter. After his instructions about the Christian’s armor, he concluded by telling the church to put their armor on with prayer. Prayer is the believer’s connection to the power source. Please observe the links below to the outline and video of Christian Warfare: Prayer Warriors.
As always, we pray to see you soon. I talked with my sister in Kentucky today who informed me there was a member of their church that died from COVID and three more that have tested positive. These all attended church services while positive. This is among a small congregation and certainly heightens my sensitivity to the issue and colors my response. Please pray for them and their church. Both my sister and her husband are much older than me. She taught a Sunday school class with one of these members present and neither she nor they were wearing masks. Do masks make a difference? I do not know for sure, but I seriously doubt they hurt anyone.
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:18-20)
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Outline: Christian Warfare: Prayer Warriors
This is the last Coronavirus update of the year and the best news I can report is the joy of seeing the church gathered for the Christmas Eve Candlelight service. We had an encouraging turnout, and it was heartwarming to see the people we so dearly love. This was our first meeting since July, and yet it seemed our absence from each other was only as yesterday. Amazingly, our young people have quickly sprung up to young adults making them difficult to recognize. It was confusing at times while wearing masks to know who we were fellowshipping with. I had to get close enough to hear voices before I was quite sure who each one was.
A monumental effort was given to make this service possible. Steve Miller worked relentlessly to get a makeshift sound system working. We also thank Bob Statham for supplying equipment and expertise to make it work. The results were phenomenal giving us a viable system should we need it going forward. The musicians were excellent while braving the chilly weather. We spent about an hour singing Christmas carols, reading the Christmas story, and hearing a brief devotion on the glory of God displayed on the night Christ was born.
While we have much to complain about with a pandemic and the inequities of restrictions on churches, we still know God is sovereign and in the end of this crises we will better understand how all that happens to us works for our good. It is not inconsequential that a long absence from the church increases our love and devotion to those things we often take for granted. Worshipping the Lord in freedom is an unequaled blessing. I have no special insight as to when we will gather inside our building, but I feel the momentum shifting our way. With new appeals before the courts, we may well learn something positive in the next few days.
Another blessing of the Christmas Eve service was to recognize that the saving grace of our Lord knows no restrictions. The gospel cannot be shut out by government orders. During our service, I presented a new believer for baptism and membership in our church. Bro. Ryan Anderson was drawn by the effectual call of the Holy Spirit to become a child of God. He awaits baptism, the public declaration of his faith in Christ. We will baptize him as soon as the Lord enables us to assemble at the baptistery.
I am writing this update on Christmas day, so I will not be excessively long. I do not want to take too much time from my family on this day. Plus, I received the long-desired fulfillment of speaking to an in-person live audience on Thursday night. It felt soooo good! Thank all of you for the kind words, cards, and gifts that were given. We look forward to seeing you again soon.
I prepared and recorded a Christmas message for tomorrow. As I mentioned on Christmas Eve, this is an evangelistic Christmas message. Please gather the family to listen as I preach, The Great Transformation. The links to the outline and video sermon are below. Be sure to continue your prayers for us to be back in church ASAP!
There is also another file available for download. If you follow the five-day reading plan to read through the Bible in one year, the link to the 2021 schedule is below. This is the best reading plan I have used. I highly recommend it and encourage you to read your Bible regularly. God bless, stay safe, and we will see you soon.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Sermon outline: The Great Transformation
12.19.2020 Update 5:25 p.m.
As I sat down at my desk to write this week’s update, I had the feeling that anything I wrote on COVID would be seen on your screen as blah, blah, blah…same old repetitious stuff we have heard every week for months. There is not anything different to report except to say in the short-term things appear to be worse. The entire Bay area is under a stay-at-home order with ICU beds in our hospitals nearly filled. Southern California is at critical mass and considering rationing health care with some patients being kept outside on sidewalks. Deaths have risen above 300,000 in the U.S. with California being called the epicenter of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Supreme Court cases are looking more favorable towards limiting the government’s control over churches. Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, there has been major disagreement among churches about the response to the government’s actions to control the virus. Some kept their doors open refusing to bow to the mandates, while others were focused on the call to love our neighbors by doing everything we can to help our communities stem the rising tide of COVID deaths. While churches have not proved to be the cause of major outbreaks, this could be because only a few churches decided to disobey the bans. It is hard to say what would have happened if there were no restrictions put on churches.
This is the dilemma we find ourselves in should restrictions against churches be lifted. I struggle with this, but at this point with hospitals in danger of not being able to treat all patients, I feel it would be unwise for us to meet indoors even if the Supreme Court said the state could no longer enforce restrictions against us. In a conversation with one of our members today, this member acknowledged the differences of opinion, but said we must be mindful to present our Christianity with a good testimony. I believe this is wise. While we are unconcerned about the world’s opinion of churches in general, we are very much concerned that we do not injure our testimony among those who have no interest in keeping churches closed during normal times. These are highly abnormal times, and at least here in Sonoma County, there does not appear to be any organized animus against churches. I believe this could rapidly change if we do not appear to be doing our part to help the community. This would be a bad time for us to act contrarily while we should cautiously await a better time.
This much I admit—these decisions are not easy, and they weigh heavily on me. Either way I go can bring serious consequences. Some are insistent and dogmatic about what choice they would make but I am not at that place. I believe the government has been unfair to churches in the past few months. However, after seeing the long-term projections come true, I am at a loss to argue differently. I will not condemn those who made the choice to stay open and neither can I condemn those who act as we do. I do not know your opinion about hopes that are pinned on vaccinations. This much I do know—the news media and health officials will no doubt convince the majority this is good for them, and whether you take the vaccine, the fact that it is there will help churches from being pariahs when we are able to open.
Our good news this week is that the stay-at-home order does not affect our gathering for the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. We can gather outdoors which we believe is safe. The long-range forecast is for good weather, but regardless, we are going forward. We will meet in the rear parking lot at 6 p.m., Thursday. This is a fellowship time of Christmas caroling and scripture reading. Dress warmly and bring a lawn chair if you want to sit. I hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to see the church family.
There is more good news to report although it is mixed with some concern. With last week’s offering, we met our budget for the year. This is truly a blessing and one that many churches cannot claim. Our people were faithful to give because they love the church and the Lord’s work, and they know we must plant our seeds now to enjoy a future harvest. Another church near us could not hold out, so they opened their doors despite the ban. The pastor’s main reason was not Hebrews 10:25, but that they could not stand to be shut because their people would not give. No doubt, Bereans excel!
The mixture of concern is that in the past two months we have not met monthly budget numbers. We were riding the crest of earlier abundant giving that helped us end the year with a surplus. We sometimes see a drop off around Christmas and this may be more pronounced this year because of these uncertain economic times. We are not prosperity preachers, but we do believe the Lord is faithful to provide for His own. Please prayerfully consider your tithes and offerings. We do not want to start the new year with deficits.
I do not want to forget to thank a good group of men who came to church today to work on our landscaping. We have a great crew that tirelessly works each week to keep the property up. This week, we had additional helpers who planted ten myrtle trees along the south side by the Expressway. Our people are outstanding!
I invite you to tune in tomorrow morning for our Christmas message, God’s Immutable Gift. The outline and sermon links are below. This recording was difficult because as I listened to the music and watched the words on the screen, I missed smiling faces joyfully singing about our Lord’s birth. I fought back tears when I thought of the Father’s love for us in sending His own dear Son into this wicked world to die for unworthy sinners. I missed you because I know this is the joy of your heart too. I wanted to share the experience with you, but alas, could not. More than ever, I want to see you on Christmas Eve. If we miss each other, please know you are in our hearts and prayers. Merry Christmas to you and may God richly bless you!
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Sermon Outline: God’s Immutable Gift
12.12.20 Update 12:45 p.m.
This week the news on COVID is that several Bay area counties determined not to be outdone by our governor and have preempted Newsom’s strike against the economy. Blue state politicians are marvelous students in learning ways to cripple us and make more people dependent on the good graces of big government. Understand that big government graces mean hand-outs today and hands-in your pocket tomorrow. The incoming new federal administration has already warned the tax man cometh. The government never gives gifts (free stimulus!) without repentance. As you have already learned, today Sonoma County joined the oppressive Bay area fest and has issued a stay-at-home order effective at least through January 9th. Churches remain where we have been, limited to outdoor services only.
While much of what I have written is tongue-in-cheek, I remain convinced that defying the government’s orders is not best when hospitals are filling up with COVID patients. The increase of virus patients endangers treatment for all types of illnesses leaving no room to treat your family members and mine for other medical issues. No matter what side of the debate you are on concerning the seriousness of the disease and/or the small percentage of those contracting COVID and dying from it, there is no denying hospitals in our area are filling up with somebodies with something which by all accounts would be quite unusual if COVID is a hoax. As I have written before, the whole world would need a unified agenda to perpetuate a hoax.
With no relief for churches yet, the potentially good news is that we should be inching closer to some sort of decision by the Supreme Court whether religious liberties have been unlawfully infringed. This does not mitigate biblical arguments but does impress a new dynamic with which to test biblical arguments. If the government does not have the right to enforce COVID restrictions on churches, then no laws are broken if we meet. From this point, it must be the individual church’s decision whether meeting exacerbates the negative health issues and whether we believe we can demonstrate our meeting has no significant effect on perpetuating the virus. We tend to believe that enough precautions can be taken to make indoor meetings safe. Despite this assessment, a lockdown that is more equitable in treatment between churches and other public activities, does not bode well for reopening our doors. The state’s constitutional authority to keep churches closed still seems to hinge on the fair and equal treatment argument. This was cited in the SCOTUS decision against New York. Please understand that I am a pastor not a Constitutional law authority, as if that makes much difference these days. I read what you read and interpret according to my limited understanding.
With so little ability to have personal contact with each of you, I do not relish spending our update time dealing with these politicized problems. The church needs to be together and we need to figure a way to make this happen. Unless something unforeseen occurs between now and Christmas Eve, our first attempt at gathering will be the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. At this point, it is full speed ahead as we have a program in place and musicians are beginning practice this weekend. We will go forward rain or shine and meet in the parking lot if necessary. We hope you will attend at 6:00 p.m. on the 24th. It will be a masked affair. If we are outside, bring the necessary gear to stay warm and dry, and if you want seating, bring your lawn chairs.
This year we will focus on scripture reading and Christmas caroling. I intend a few brief remarks, but I do not want to keep everyone in the cold too long or keep you away from other necessities on Christmas Eve. This is mostly a venue for us to be together as a family and to remedy our much too long separation. More details will follow as they are available.
This week we finish our series on Christian Warfare. The remaining armament is the sword of the Spirit which will be the focus of this last message. I say it is the last, but I may want to conclude as Paul did with encouragement to use the armor within the framework of prayer as we pray for each other and the leadership of the church. As I think about this, the first Sunday of the New Year should be a great time to remind us how we must start the year fully dependent upon our Lord. Surely, we are more acutely aware of this after this trying year. I know I would not have survived this far without steadfast faith in Him and the privilege of conversing with Him in prayer.
The links to the outline and sermon follow this post. I hope you watch and listen. This message is my favorite of the series because you know how I like to talk about the Word of God. Be careful and keep safe and I hope to see you soon.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Sermon Outline: The Quick and Powerful Sword
12.05.20 Update 1:20 p.m.
This week I have a mixed bag of reporting for the week’s activities. The most notable is the Supreme Court’s decision in a case filed by a Southern California church challenging what they called the “draconian” restrictions of Governor Newsom in his inequitable treatment of churches. The unsigned opinion orders the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider their previous rulings siding with the state and upholding Newsom’s executive orders. A bevy of California church cases is due before SCOTUS which should result in the end of our church lockdown. It is difficult to see how the 9th Circuit Court would decide differently than the Supreme Court since these cases will most assuredly go back to the Supreme Court if they do. In effect, the Court’s opinion orders the 9th Circuit Court to comply with the Supreme Court’s previous 5-4 decision against New York’s restrictions. We anxiously await this and hope a decision that will affect us will be handed down before Christmas.
Before the death of Justice Ginsburg, this favorable ruling would have been nearly impossible. The appointment of Amy Coney Barrett is already paying huge dividends for the Constitutional rights of Americans. The value of strict constructionists on the court cannot be underestimated for the support of our Bill of Rights. Of course, the liberal news media is already sounding the alarm that churches are determined to kill Americans. It is interesting that any Supreme Court decision that goes against their opinions makes the court a political body. Their bias is only too obvious for what is decidedly more political than Supreme Court justices who rip up the Constitution? Only political idealogues enforce their own agendas above the Founding Father’s document.
Moving on from this, whether we are in church or out, I want to hold our traditional Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. It may need to be outside which is not our tradition and the way we would conduct it outside is neither traditional. Regardless of our physical location, I believe it is important for the church to gather and see each other, if only for a few minutes. More details will follow next week, but for now plan on being at church at 6:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve. You may need a coat and scarf!
Another subject I would like to address is not connected to the previous in any way. I understand that some of you read TableTalk magazine which is a product of Ligonier Ministries founded by the late Dr. R.C. Sproul. I have long read and advocated TableTalk as a daily devotional. For the past few weeks, their daily studies have been in the book of Revelation. I want to emphasize, as I have several times before, that we believe some of their doctrinal positions are in error. Their doctrine of amillennialism and their interpretation of Revelation is a case in point. I urge you to be cautious as you read, although there is no doctrine they promote that we would term heresy. Heretical doctrines affect salvation whereas their opinions of eschatology are simply bad interpretations.
Their interpretation of Revelation 17 in Friday’s devotion is one I have argued against in at least two bulletin articles in the past few years. Our interpretation is harmful to Protestantism since it understands the woman riding the beast and dressed in purple and scarlet (17:3-4) to be ecclesiastical Babylon and is the same as the apostate Roman Catholic Church. Throughout history, the Roman church has been drunk with the blood of martyrs (17:6). Rome is the Mother of Harlots (17:5). She is the mother of Protestant churches that sought to reform Catholicism rather than rejecting and overwhelmingly stamping out all her heretical teachings. In fairness to Protestant churches today, there are many that seek no reconciliation with Rome and do not consider her reformable. Our position is that the Roman Church never represented true Christianity in any form and thus was incapable of birthing true churches of Jesus Christ (Matt. 7:17-18). The true churches of Christ never needed reforming since they are promised by their founder that the gates of hell would not prevail against them. Thus, we stand with Spurgeon and other great Baptists who believed the true church of Christ has always existed since apostolic days separate from Catholicism.
Spurgeon preached the following in the 19th century:
“We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther or Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the very days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel underground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents. Persecuted alike by Romanists and Protestants of almost every sect, yet there has never existed a Government holding Baptist principles which persecuted others; nor I believe anybody of Baptists ever held it to be right to put the consciences of others under the control of man. We have ever been ready to suffer, as our martyrologies will prove, but we are not ready to accept any help from the State, to prostitute the purity of the Bride of Christ to any alliance with the government, and we will never make the Church, although the Queen, the despot over the consciences of men”. (From The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. VII, Page 225).
Having said this, you may read today’s devotion in TableTalk (Saturday, December 5) with better understanding. There are elements of Reformed Theology to which we whole heartedly agree because they are biblical truth. These doctrines were not invented by the Reformers but were the position of Baptists from the very beginning of the apostolic church. History proves this to be true. Spurgeon said we were reformers before Luther or Calvin. He did not mean we reformed the church before them because he neither believed the true church needs reforming. He meant we had the true doctrines held by the Reformers centuries before them.
For most of you, this part of my post may not bear much fruit. I wish it did for you would better understand what makes Berean Baptist Church a teaching church and why we believe it is important to expound all the doctrines of the faith. The underlying basis of this information is the undergirding of our unwavering commitment to the doctrines of the sovereign grace of God.
We are Bereans. We search the scriptures. Therefore, we can read TableTalk, glean the good, and reject the bad. There is enough good in their magazine to make it profitable, otherwise I would not recommend it. I always encourage you to read every religious writing with discernment. If you would like to read TableTalk without investing in the print magazine, I can show you how to read for free. Please let me know and I will point you in the right direction.
Finally, of more importance than this discussion is our message for Sunday morning. The subject is Christian Warfare and this week we are drilling down on the fifth part of the Christian armor. This is the helmet of salvation. I hope you will observe the links below to the outline and sermon and enjoy the exposition of the text. What kind of salvation does Paul mean? I will explain and hope the message will encourage and give you strength to stand for Christ.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
11.28.20 Update 1:45 p.m.
I sincerely hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. We enjoyed the day with our daughter and two of our grandchildren. I spoke with Elisa, one of our many grandkids in Kentucky, who said they were out of compliance with the state’s mandate which said no more than 8 people were allowed for Thanksgiving dinner. With 9 in the immediate family, and attempting to satisfy the blue governor, she was trying to peddle off one sister who shares her room. It is amazing how quick thinking can solve more than one problem.
I am sure many of you have heard the news that the Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling struck down the repressive restrictions on churches by the self-aggrandizing virus hero, Governor Cuomo of New York. This ruling addressed the inequitable treatment of churches in the COVID-19 crises and reiterated the constitutional right of churches to meet. While this ruling only affects the plaintiffs who brought the suit, and it takes in to account certain compliance activities by churches in that jurisdiction, we gain hope of how the Supreme Court might act across the board with COVID restrictions on houses of worship in other parts of the country.
We and others have maintained that a constitutional right does not guarantee the prudence or the spiritual authority of rejecting government health orders. However, as extensive periods of time go by, we must begin to assess the burden of spiritual harm versus physical harm. We have no doubt to which the scripture gives more weight. The soul is eternal while physical life is a vapor that shortly dissipates. After this court ruling, I expect there will be more widespread challenges to Governor Newsom’s oppressive and arbitrary orders. We need to pray for this. It should be clear to Newsom where this is going, and he should capitulate to the court and the Constitution relinquishing his arbitrariness without an appeal and needlessly dragging it out while spending the state’s money (or rather yours and mine) to fight against our rights.
Interestingly, the report on this ruling by the bird cage liner New York Times, lamented the new conservative bent of the court. As usual, they oppose our freedoms and love government lockdowns run by their socialistically principled blue state friends. While they maintain lockdowns potentially save thousands of lives, they are terribly concerned that a conservative court may reverse Roe v Wade which without argument has taken millions of lives. This hypocrisy is the regular fare of their reporting.
There are times that I promise myself I am going to quit reading the news. Every good report seems to come with five bad ones attached, which is par for the course when bad news by far outpaces the good in readership. Hence the proliferation of tabloids in the checkout lines with their salacious headlines. As much as I would like to stop reading and be at peace, I feel some sense of duty to maintain a level of education in the many ways Satan attacks Christianity. The good news, of course, is that we are not unilaterally expected to defeat Satan and his allies. As Michael told the Devil, “The Lord rebuke thee.” Christ directs this battle, and we will move at His command.
While the news has tendency to discourage, the Lord supplies needed encouragements at precisely the right time. This week there was a flood of cards and letters and gifts bestowed upon us by well-wishing Bereans. I especially appreciate the vocal support for difficult decisions we must make and the fact that Bereans are determined to hold on. I am surprised in my writing that I am far more transparent than I intend to be. Some are carefully reading between the lines and deciphering the angst that is often felt by this ongoing crisis. I hope you do not miss that between the lines and on top of the lines is also unfailing trust in our sovereign God. He shall reign forever! One member shouted in caps, “PRAISE GOD FOR HIS PLAN!” This is often hard to do when God’s plan runs contrary to ours. I am thankful this member trusts God implicitly without seeing the end from the beginning.
This cogently reminds us of our subject this week. Our message is part two of The Shield of Faith. In our hymn Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God, there is a verse that says, “Cause your Word to come alive in me; give me faith for what I cannot see; give me passion for your purity; Holy Spirit breathe new life in me.” The great heroes of the faith trusted God not seeing the outcome but knowing with confidence what it would be. They walked with God striving for Holy Spirit sanctification. With this determination they sojourned, and the Spirit supplied the essential vitality of spiritual life.
This is the confidence we have. The way to the end is filled with trials of faith and hazards that are unseen. We were never promised our lives would be without difficulty. In fact, we are assured by Christ and the apostles that our path to victory will be filled with assailants at every step. We are told to walk circumspectly and to always hold up the shield of faith. In the end, we are told faith is the victory that overcomes the world. In one sense, we see the end. We do not see what is between. The end is assured to be eternal life with God. Because the object of our faith is unapproachable in His power to protect, never does an adversary prevail. The end is as we are promised it will be.
With this in mind, we offer the message, Christian Warfare: The Shield of Faith, part 2. I hope you will tune in to listen tomorrow morning. Another encouraging comment I heard this week concerned the timing of watching the message. One of our most faithful members told me she waits and sits anxiously with her laptop open ready to hit the key that starts the message at the exact time the church would normally begin services. I found this quite interesting that although we are scattered, there is some remaining solidarity when we feel our people are gathered simultaneously around the word. This seems much better than “get it over with,” or “wait until we have time.”
The links to the outline and the message are below. Most of all I hope the message portrays enough effort to adequately reflect the confidence you have put in me to teach you. I am conscious of personal inadequacies trusting the Holy Spirit will take charge in making the word much more than I speak with my mouth and translating it in power to your ears. With extreme gratitude for your kindnesses,
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Sermon Outline: Christian Warfare: The Shield of Faith, pt. 2
11.21.20 Update 11:30 a.m.
In March, I began the Coronavirus Update thinking these reports would last at most a few weeks. Since then, the virus has taken over nearly every aspect of our lives, is resident in all our homes either literally or by media, and we have affectionately given it the nickname of COVID-19 (CO=corona, VI=virus, D=disease, 19=2019). COVID-19 is the obnoxious relative that will not go away.
Without being sick with COVID-19, I am sick of COVID-19. At best we are told we will live with it until Spring of next year and there are suggestions that wearing masks may go on next to forever. With these comments, I am sad to report that efforts to get us back into church have taken a setback as the governor is forcing more counties into the purple tier to help keep Sonoma County company. At last report, it is highly unlikely the state will grant the exception our health officer asked for the County. Our case rate went up 17% this week which is double the rate to move us into the slightly more accommodating red tier.
Digest this news and then consider that a California Superior Court Judge in San Diego ruled that the state could no longer enforce policies that forbid strip clubs from providing adult entertainment (read exploitation) because it violates their first amendment rights of legally protected free speech. Apparently, the Founding Fathers wrote this in code next to the prohibition of the free exercise of religion. Our judges diligently deciphered the code having missed the Church Forest while looking for the acorn that fell from one tree. We can probably expect Governor Newsom will either respect the ruling or order strippers outside while he and they are without masks. My apologies to our audience. You probably feel as nasty reading this as I do in writing it.
The foregoing is maddening but lo and behold this ruling may be helpful to our cause. The issue is whether the government has a legitimate interest in regulating businesses or industries due to COVID-19. According to the Thomas More Society’s lawyers (the same ones representing John MacArthur’s, Grace Community Church), if dancing nude is protected free speech and overcomes the state’s interest in regulating COVID-19, and this activity is not explicitly stated in the Constitution, then regulating the freedom of worshipping God which is explicitly mentioned in the First Amendment, renders the current state prohibitions absurd.
While fundamental rights are bantered back and forth, there is still the issue of the virus that keeps on giving. Some believe the numbers are being manipulated and other causes of death are lumped in with the virus numbers. Whether true or untrue, there are hospitals and morgues filling up—here and across the world. Is there a worldwide conspiracy to manipulate numbers? This is one side of the argument.
Another side is that the percentage of deaths compared to the numbers of cases makes this virus no more dangerous than any others. This would be part of the MacArthur argument when he says that only .02% of people that have the virus die from it. The reasoning is that we would not regulate public activities for any other disease with similar numbers. However, the shear number of cases due to the rapid transmission of the virus means the deaths of thousand regardless of the percentages. It seems this would be a compelling argument for doing everything possible to stop its spread. Into this part of the argument must be inserted the government’s inequitable treatment of those it regulates. Why churches and not strip clubs? I will say this—I would rather breathe the air in church than the scum of alcohol breath and the mixture with who knows what kind of diseases.
A third argument is acceptable risk. Throw in the secondary, tertiary, quaternary, quinary, senary, septenary, octonary, nonary, and denary implications that the regulation of this disease foists upon America, when do we say enough with the regulations? The cure for the disease is killing us. I guess this is my last point. After nearly a year fumbling and bumbling and reversing and guessing in ignorance how to control it, apparently a vaccine will soon be available. I suppose the next argument will be the power of the government to force you to be inoculated. I think this may depend on the party in power. Who is most likely to trample fundamental rights in the name of protecting the public? And the beat goes on…
Meanwhile, it is Thanksgiving week. Tomorrow should be our traditional churchwide Thanksgiving dinner. It is disappointing but it will not happen. And you have heard the news about what your in-home celebration must look like and are probably planning accordingly. The government is forcing its way not only into churches but into the fundamental makeup of churches, our families. We have come a long way since 1620. We have gone from the persecution that brought us here to the persecution that may be part of leaving here. If this is true, we will certainly give thanks. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
This week we take a break from our study of Christian Warfare. Tomorrow’s sermon is a Thanksgiving message. It is a little unusual in that it discusses the evidence of giving thanks. We say we are thankful for our bountiful blessings. What is the biblical way to show it? I hope you will gather the family (of course, your immediate family, and certainly not more than three households!) to view and listen to the message. The links for the outline and video are provided below.
I hope you have a great Thanksgiving and will make the church a significant part of your prayers. My thanks to those who send notes of encouragement and news of how you fare since we last met. God bless, and we pray we will see you soon.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Sermon Outline: Gratitude in Your Attitude
11.14.20 Update 12:30 p.m.
This morning I opened the Press Democrat app on my iPad to some hopeful news concerning the reopening of churches in Sonoma County. Although we still do not meet the state metrics for moving to the less restrictive red tier, the Sonoma health officer has submitted an appeal to the state to allow us to move out of the most restrictive purple stage. This is based on other improving conditions. I hope you will pray about this because it is not an opportune time for the state to change its position. Other counties in the Bay area are experiencing upticks in virus cases which will likely move them back into more restrictive tiers. Additionally, experts are predicting this winter will see a marked increase in cases until a vaccine is widely available.
Our frustration with state and national leaders in their handling of the virus mounts. The inequity of shutting down churches who agree to practice social distancing and limit crowd sizes while at the same time allowing and commending the amassing of tightly packed unmasked crowds for political demonstrations and celebrations of elections is rank hypocrisy. The politics of power and prejudice by officials who sanctimoniously act with impunity is maddening. While we have the right to complain, it is not less than we expect when minds are blinded by the god of this world.
Though we are frustrated, angry, and disgusted by the politics of the pandemic (especially its usage for political advantage), we must not lose our focus on people. Many families have been affected by the deaths of loved ones and we are sure they also are disgusted by being used as pawns. I doubt too many of them would agree it is best to shut out and ignore the hope and comfort afforded by faith. There is no proof that churches have any significant impact on the spread of the virus. Hope, not death, is found in the true faith of Christ.
This week in the introduction to my message, I point out the sins of Romans 1 and how wickedness and hatred of God can become so pervasive that God may stop gracious influences and let people perish in their preferences. We would do well to consider that God owes nothing to anyone, and it is our sins that justly condemn us. It is unwise, even exceedingly heinous, to flaunt sin in the face of a God that has bountifully blessed us. We cannot know the secret will of God, but we can well imagine by what He has revealed in scripture that He may Himself shutter gospel preaching churches. I will leave you to wrestle with the implications of the Holy Spirit actively preventing Paul from preaching in one area and leading him to another.
Since God has not specifically revealed the purpose of this pandemic, we would also do well to earnestly pray for its end and to remain faithfully hopeful that this is only another manifestation of our spiritual warfare. The disappointments will be conquered by trusting that God is more faithful to us than we have been to Him. I personally confess what I hope is righteous anxiety. My anxiety is not that God may abandon us but that my days are less than fulfilling when I cannot meet with you and teach the church.
We are two thousand years removed from Paul and we have learned that technology has not replaced the grief he felt in his separation from churches. His anxiety over the Thessalonian church is the same as I feel. He wondered if Satan had tempted the Thessalonians and thus had overthrown his efforts to establish a church in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:5). His high-tech response was to send Timothy to check on them and wait weeks for the report on their condition. The good report encouraged him especially when he learned they desired to see him as much as he did them.
I hope this is a hint for how you will respond to me. I converse with several of you during the week, but I leave much of the contact to the Timothys of our church. They have their contact methods but many times neither they nor I hear any responses. I am asking for a favor this week. Please send a note regarding your welfare. We are most happy to pray for problems and rejoice in blessings. Paul said he was comforted in his afflictions and distresses by hearing of the continuing faith of the Thessalonians. I pray we are all still stuck together in the affections of the gospel.
This week I preached to the camera and the film crew again. The crew tries to cheer me up and have repented 22 times since July! The camera is the most sanctified device in Sonoma County. Tomorrow’s message on Christian Warfare is The Shield of Faith. Faith is the number one subject in the Bible, and for good reason is one of the most popular topics. Please be ready to tune in tomorrow. The links to the outline and sermon are below. May God richly bless you!
Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith: For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord. (1 Thess. 3:7-8).
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Sermon Outline: Christian Warfare: The Shield of Faith, pt. 1
11.07.20 Update 5:10 p.m.
I am on my third attempt to write today’s post. This is regrettable mostly because I do not have enough time in the day to spend five hours on what should be a one-hour project. My first attempts were politically charged, and I could not get peace that ultimately this would be helpful. I know some of you would like to hear more of my opinions while others are happy this is over, and we need to move on. I think I have made it clear that I am not overly interested in the secular politics of the election, which is not to say I think they are unimportant. I am interested that godliness, morality, and truth should prevail. We do not have much of these left and it remains to be seen how much more will be lost. We do know the party platforms are radically different in their morality. This is not opinion. Both platforms were posted, and you can read them in their own words. The Republican party was not overly aggressive in pursuing the moral planks of their platform. Let us pray the Democratic Party will be even less aggressive in pursing the immorality of theirs. Thanks to last-minute maneuvering, the Supreme Court is better positioned to adjudicate some of these issues with a constructionist bent. Kentuckians are proud of Mitch McConnell.
More specific discussion is better left to personal interviews and so I will move on to my concerns about our church. I am saddened that politics, whether left or right, poisons some against the church. Most Christians will not argue for immorality. We would be rightfully concerned and distressed if they did. I have discussed with several that they are personally opposed to abortion (of course!) and they are not in favor of LBGTQ+++++ (of course!) If this is true, and we are not arguing about those issues, it means our disagreements must be the secular questions. Are we serious that the church should be divided over tax cuts and climate change? Well, no. I do not think I have ever preached a sermon on the godliness of a flat tax system. No one has ever approached me and said the church takes the wrong position on those issues. Why? Because we do not have a position on those issues and neither does the Bible. This means the cause for disagreements in the church in this election year is neither tax positions nor morality.
I do not think I need to go further for you to draw the correct conclusion regarding my point. We need to get back to campaigning for Christ. The politics of personality cannot be the decision maker for church fellowship. All we need for this is obedience to Christ and this will work its way into every aspect of our lives.
Our COVID news report is not good. Sonoma County took another step back last week. We are not looking at a soon return unless something happens on the state level to reduce our restrictions. Pray for improvement. We need to get back into church. The longer we go, the harder it is to regather the sheep. I believe we are blessed with a group that will enthusiastically return even though each week brings a bit of bad news. Pray for your fellow church members. In essence, prayers for the church are prayers for each other. We are not praying for a building and we certainly do not want to impersonalize our prayers.
I mentioned in a previous post that not being able to assemble prevents some of the administrative necessities of the church. The deacon board which acts as the finance committee, voted to extend our current budget through 2021. Even though we have missed two-thirds of our services for the year, we are still ahead of the 2020 budget. This gives us confidence to maintain the current budget through the next year. The budget numbers you normally see in the bulletin are income figures. You will be happy to know while staying ahead of budgeted income, we have also decreased our budgeted outflows. Income amounts have slowed as the ban continues, so we are closely watching this.
The second issue is church elections which normally occur during December. The election takes place after nominations for offices, confirming nominee qualifications, and posting of nominees for 14 days. We are unable to complete this before December even if we could get back to services in the next two weeks. We have decided to ask officers to stay in their positions through 2021, if possible. Our elections are always stable, without high controversy and hanging chads, or stuffed ballot boxes. Thus, we expect little controversy over this. I am leery of changes in leadership when other factors are not stable. Though, if we could resume services soon, the instability is predicted to continue. The consensus of government leaders is that COVID will be a problem well into next year.
I am now becoming concerned about Christmas. Regardless of our in-church status, I would like to see us hold the candlelight service on December 24. We will keep an eye on weather predictions and attempt a cold outdoor parking lot meeting if necessary. Keep this in mind as something to look forward to if our situation hasn’t improved in the next few weeks.
Tomorrow, our Christian Warfare series continues with a message on Ephesians 6:15. The title is Sure Footing in Slippery Places. The outline and sermon links are posted below. Have a great Sunday and be sure to use it for God’s glory.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Outline: Sure Footing in Slippery Places
10.31.20 Update 1:00 p.m.
This week as I prepared to write this update, I must confess this is one of the hardest ones I have had to write. There are a few events that transpired in the past week that I am not ready to discuss and they add more anxiety to an already discouraging time in our church life. I am in no way superhuman and I am subject to the same discouragements that you experience. However, I am thankful that our understanding of the scriptures leads me away from overwhelming discouragement and the threat of debilitation because of it. This understanding and ability to cope are grounded in the unfailing trust that God has a purpose in all He does and there is no hope that my anxieties do anything to help or change the unfailing plans of God. This does not mean that I am passive in my response to God’s works but only that I trust Him completely that they are right—even when for the moment they do not seem to my best advantage. I have a long history of trials that I have seen the Lord direct and work through for the best outcome. I have demonstrated proof of His promise to never leave us or forsake us.
By now, we had surely hoped we would be ready to return to services as our Sonoma Health Officer kept assuring us, we were headed in the right direction. Other counties in the Bay area were progressing and moving into lower tiers which surely meant we would not be far behind. Sadly, this is not the case. I am sure you have seen the news that virus cases are trending upward and San Francisco which planned further reopening is now on pause. Rather than a decrease in cases last week in Sonoma County, we too experienced additional cases beyond the numbers that would allow us to move to a less restrictive tier. Our return remains as elusive as ever.
This week, I worked on the message for November 15 which is The Shield of Faith. Even though it is two weeks before I will preach this message, the reminder of living by faith was timely and helped me cope with issues over which I have no control. I do not know how much encouragement you have received from the messages on Christian Warfare, but I do know how much they have helped me as I study and think about presenting them to you. For example, tomorrow’s message on the breastplate of righteousness was fulfilling because it played to my favorite method of teaching the word. I love theological discussion and explanation of doctrines. I understand that most care little for the “whys and wherefores” but simply want an application to use that will help with an immediate need. I find doctrinal discussion to be the muscle that sustains us for the long haul. We can return repeatedly for spiritual strength to the truths we confess and that are anchored in our souls. This doctrinal reserve approach to the Christian life is sorely lacking in so many churches that uncommon absences from church such as we now experience turn into death sentences for weak Christians.
Turning from this discussion, probably the greatest anxiety you feel this week is the election on November 3. I do not want to get into this in any detail since I referenced the party platforms a few weeks ago. I would like to comment on the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. I cannot say that I agree with her religion and neither can I agree it is the place of women to take authority in the highest offices of our country. However, we must deal with what we have and make the best choices accordingly. I do not know how her appointment will play out in the abortion debate, but it is apparent the Democratic Party is aghast that their murderous agenda of the past 57 years may be upset. Most of you know how I feel about the moral failures of our President and I do not defend them. I am unconcerned at this moment about economic arguments, health care issues, or the effects/reality of climate change. I am concerned about life and the murderous activities of those who capriciously decide who lives or dies. Recently, I received a letter in which a person claimed that Donald Trump has the blood of thousands of Coronavirus victims on his hands. As I write this, the total deaths from the virus in the USA stands at 230,000. This is a shocking number for sure but hardly proves the President’s personal failures are entirely responsible for all of them. No one knows how much his policies affected the overall numbers and I agree it may be appropriate to speculate how many deaths could have been avoided by a policy change.
I find it an egregious act of hypocrisy to blame the president for all these deaths and claim that he is heartless and unconcerned about life. The hypocrisy is glaring when we are sure that nearly 60,000,000 deaths have been caused by unflinching Democratic support for Roe v Wade. The Democrats’ 100% opposition to the Barrett appointment proves the Democratic party will protect their death policies to the last man and woman without conscience. The Democratic candidates have pledged to keep death their policy up to the last days of the third trimester when it is proven that babies ripped apart in the womb are conscious of the pain of dismemberment. You are also aware that some advocate killing babies after they are born if they are undesirable. This is not fantasy. This is the moral construct of the largest political party in the United States.
Some say, “I don’t support abortion or LBGTQ, but I like other features of the platform.” Others say Christians should not be one issue voters. If that issue is the sanctity of life and callous disregard for the righteous protection of it, you can mark it down that I will vote for this one issue. I will vote for life until I have no more opportunity to do so. People that tear infants’ bodies apart limb from limb or support those who do are not righteous people. They are not compassionate people. You see, this important moral choice is not made in a vacuum. It is not as if other moral choices are disconnected from it. Essentially, the premeditated decision to give license to destroy life is a product of a depraved mind. It is not difficult to understand the reason good Bible teachers like John MacArthur say a Christian voting for this Democratic party is not an option.
The Barrett appointment gives hope that amidst all the inequities for which Republicans may be justly accused, they are unwilling to surrender the fight for the right to life. I would not have mentioned this if Coronavirus cases, gun control, climate change, social unrest, taxes, or other issues were at the forefront. What do those things matter when I have not the decency to protect the life of a child? One issue is all I need if that one issue is unmistakably standing on a righteous foundation.
Including politics in a post is always risky. I do not see this as a political argument. This is a serious moral question. Our morality continues to fail which in turn bears on countless political decisions. We must address the root problem before we hope to be on the right side of each political choice.
Tomorrow’s sermon is Christian Warfare: The Breastplate of Righteousness. This sermon is theological as we discuss the different types of righteousness described in the scriptures and then determine Paul’s meaning of the breastplate in Ephesians 6:14. This is most appropriate as the righteousness in the passage determines who we are and what kind of people we must be. Please join us for the message tomorrow morning. The links to the sermon and outline are provided below.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Sermon Outline: Christian Warfare: The Breastplate of Righteousness
10.24.20 Update 4:50 p.m.
I am happy to report that my wife and I are safely back in California. We had a wonderful visit with family in Kentucky and Maryland. Pam did exceptionally well on the trip even though what is good for her would not be acceptable to most of you. She is limited in her activities, however, any time we can get through more than two weeks without a hospital visit, we feel exceptionally blessed. Thanks again to everyone for the prayers. We are confident God’s people were praying and we felt the Lord’s hand upon us. Due to some alterations in medications, Pam is worn out and needs to get back to regular routines. She is resting this weekend trying to catch up.
Meanwhile, I am back on the job trying to catch up as well. While we were gone, we were saddened to learn that Sonoma County took a step back in virus numbers. Accordingly, returning to in-person services is still elusive. Our extended absence from church is felt more acutely as each week goes by. We need to be together to keep up our spiritual strength especially when the world and the devil are going full force against us. The COVID situation and the volatility and disappointments of this upcoming election along with social upheaval are taking their toll on us. As the weeks drone on, commitment to the cause wanes. We are being worn down even as the scriptures warn us not to faint and be weary with well-doing. We have no excuse not to remain faithful, and yet we know this is all too common in tough times. It truly takes above average Christianity to successfully negotiate this stress. This is a good time to ask, “Am I grounded in the faith and am I increasing in sanctification so as to stand as our text in Ephesians on Christian warfare tells us to do?”
These past two weeks I have had the opportunity to observe my daughter’s sheep. She tells me she has learned many valuable lessons from her animals. The many times the scriptures refer to animal husbandry have truly come alive in her thinking. Early in the morning about daybreak, the sheep head into the woods and pasture to graze. She has a dog that is bred to herd and always accompanies them. I asked her if the sheep always return when they are supposed to. It turns out they are only a short distance from their keeping area near the house but if the dog is not with them, they do not always make it back. This lack of homing instinct is used in the Bible narrative to describe how lost humanity is without proper guidance. We are all familiar with this teaching, and in these days, we are seeing it demonstrated. In scripture, the sheep are God’s people. Let us not forget this and think we are smarter than we are. Unless we stay close to the Shepherd, failure is our only option. While the Shepherd watches and cares for us, we also must not forget that we are required to persevere. We are not saved without preservation and perseverance. If you cannot hold on, it is time to reevaluate. As Paul said, ”Examine yourselves whether you are in the faith.” The mark of true Christianity is a persevering attachment to Christ. In other words, we do not quit. Too many people believe they are in the faith when they are not. These times bear this out. This may sound like terrible news, but it is better to hear it now and realize it than to die without Christ. These warnings are sounded throughout scripture and is the reason we have such teachings as those on our warfare. On the other hand, steadfast continuance is the best assurance you can get of your standing in Christ. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me.”
In the next few days, we will evaluate what is needed in administrative areas as we approach the coming year. At this time of year, we would normally consider a new budget and election of church officers. These are not possible to fully address without the assembly. Thankfully, our church constitution allows some latitude for the pastor in making these decisions. I have never been a unilateral decision maker in administrative matters, so I will be in counsel with the deacons. An area of concern is decreasing tithes and offerings. We still have a budget surplus, and the budget is generous. This means without normal expenses and with safeguards built in, we are not in any immediate danger. Regardless of our financial health, whether robust or failing, we are blessed with the privilege of giving back a portion of what the Lord Himself provides. We are blessed but also commanded to give our tithes.
We must continue to earnestly pray for our return. Meanwhile, go about your business as Christians. In everything give thanks! Rejoice in the Lord always. As Hebrews says: “For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” Our suffering can never be as great as the Lord’s and we have certainly not been threatened with death. With His help, we are fully capable of obeying the Lord’s commands.
This is probably enough sermonizing for today. Let me save a little for tomorrow. In the next message, we begin a study of the Christian armor. We begin with the belt of truth. What is the meaning of this belt and how does it protect us? Be sure to watch tomorrow morning that you might gain some spiritual strength for the coming week. I notice the viewership of the video sermons has decreased. It is not the greatest venue and it is not a substitute for gathering. However, it is valuable and will help keep your mind on your church and the Lord. At the very least, you get to see me! The outline and sermon links are posted below. Have a great Sunday as you remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Sermon Outline: Christian Warfare: The Belt of Truth
10.17.20 Update 3:55 p.m.
Good Saturday afternoon to everyone. Pam and I are still in Kentucky with plans to return late Thursday. Our vacation has been satisfying and aside from doing these updates, I have given my mind some needed rest. However, my thoughts are never far from the people we love at Berean.
In my last update, I mentioned we planned to attend church with Nathan at his church near Baltimore. Pam was unable to go as she was starting to show some signs of encephalopathy. Many days it is like walking the edge of a precipice with her about to fall over. We must be careful to take care of these issues promptly. Thankfully, she was still able to take care of herself and I was able to attend church. It was truly an uplifting experience. The service was simple, there were few in attendance, but the message was a solid exposition of the word of God. I give thanks for Pastor Neil Jackson of the Andover Baptist Church for his faithfulness to the truth.
A few years ago, I preached a message at my sister’s church in Kentucky. When I was through, an old retired preacher well into his eighties approached me after the service and told me that in all of his years pastoring churches, preaching, and hearing other preachers, my message was the best he had ever heard. I promise this kind of praise goes quickly to the head and can cause you to tip over with the weight. Though such comments are appreciated, with much more experience, I have learned that the best sermon you have ever heard is the one you need at the time. I have heard some of the most famous preachers in America, but I can honestly say the message I heard last week was one of the best I have heard. Why? Because after being out of church for months, it was the message I needed. Just hearing the word proclaimed in person from a good young man dedicated to his responsibility to feed his flock, filled me with the spiritual food I needed. I was excited as I left because I felt the Holy Spirit revive my heart.
I hope this anxiousness to be personally present in the services is felt by the members of Berean. When we return to in-person services, I desire to preach the best sermon you have heard. I will not need to study for fifty extra hours to make it happen. I will not need to ramp up and change my deliberate style to whip you into a frenzy. To me the message will sound like all the others, but to you may it sound like sweet hallelujahs delivered on angel’s wings. May God allow us to leave saying it was good and perhaps our best time to be in the house of the Lord.
With fervent hope, I expect that bitterness and complaints over all that has happened will be set aside and we will come together not thinking of us but of the majesty of Jesus Christ. It does not matter what happens to us. It matters what happened to Christ. Surely, we will put all aside for His honor and glory.
I also expected that tomorrow I would be able to attend a church service in Kentucky but unfortunately, I have been ill since Thursday and think it not best to spread it to others in the congregation. People are far more relaxed about COVID here than at home which truthfully makes me a little uneasy since we have tried to be so careful about Pam. Please pray that she does not get the bug that I have because it could prevent her from coming home.
I have tried to keep up with the COVID news in Sonoma County while away. I see that we still have not met the required numbers for reopening. Accordingly, videos are planned for tomorrow and November 1. Tomorrow’s sermon on Christian Warfare is about our defensive posture. This sermon expands on earlier messages about various areas that need to be defended from Satan’s attacks. On November 1, we begin an exposition of the different pieces of the armor that are necessary for our defense. These are described in Ephesians 6:14-17.
Once again, we give our best to everyone and hope you are doing well. We have enjoyed seeing our family in Kentucky and Maryland but we also long to be with our church family in Rohnert Park. The sermon outline and video links for tomorrow are posted below. May the Lord bless as you listen and apply the message from God’s word to your life.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Sermon Outline: Christian Warfare: Defensive Posture
10.10.20 Update 5:15 p.m.
Greetings from the right side of the United States. My wife and I sincerely appreciate the prayers and encouragements from each of you as you gave us your best for safe and healthy travels. I am happy to report that we made the cross-country flight without incident and thus far Pam is doing well. Her knee and foot are giving her trouble, but we have been blessed to have no troubles from her liver disease. This was our first flight since the pandemic. Safety and security are premiums and we appreciate the precautions and the help given us by the airlines with Pam’s difficulties.
The visit with family is going well. After a few days with the grandkids in Kentucky, we are presently with Nathan in the Washington, D.C. area. Since we have been out of church for many weeks, I am looking forward to attending his church near Baltimore. Last year I helped him locate a good Baptist church teaching the doctrines of grace. Of course, due to COVID, churches were shut down and he was unable to attend for several weeks. They have now opened at restricted capacity. I am anxious to hear a message from God’s word and to see other Christians, although there probably will not be much fellowship because of the precautions.
The latest news on our reopening is not good. The number of COVID cases is still too high to move us to the next stage that permits in-door meetings. It appears we will not be able to reopen sooner than my return from vacation. We are still holding on and fighting the battle against Satan who is using disease, politics, and his usual discouragements to tear down the church. We must determine to stand strong in the Lord. Some have already given in and left the battlefront. Thank God there are many, many others who are determined to serve the Lord and hold out until the end.
This week in the Sunday sermon we discuss preparations for putting on the armor of God. The armor is the virtues of Christian graces and those characteristics owned by the Lord Himself. We invite you to sing, read scriptures with us, and hear the message from God’s word. The links to the sermon and video are provided below.
Once again, thank you for your prayers. Please keep us in mind as you daily approach the throne of grace. We hope to continue our vacation and return home with the good success we have had thus far. Many blessings on all of you!
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Outline: Christian Warfare: Preparations
10.03.20 Update 3:15 p.m.
Today’s update is a welcome departure from the subjects of the past. Berean is a family, so I hope you are interested in what our family members are doing. My first order of business is to deliver good news. This morning at 11:00 a.m. Janet Jefferson and Gene Gabrielson were united in marriage. I had the privilege of performing the ceremony at Janet’s home which is now Janet and Gene’s home. As most of you know, Janet and Larry Jefferson were our first California friends and very quickly became our best friends. When Larry passed in February 2016, I lost a best bud and Berean lost an icon. We sorrowed for Janet and now it gives us great pleasure that she has found a good Christian man to marry. In the next weeks and months, you will learn more about him and will come to love him.
If I could indulge a few minutes of your time, I would like to speak to you about the Christian grace of hospitality and its importance in bringing my family to Berean. In 1997, I first visited Berean with my daughter Clarissa. I moved to Napa in early 1997 while Pam stayed in Kentucky to finish school with the kids. Later in the year, Clarissa, our oldest daughter, came to California before the others to prepare for college. I had spent several months visiting churches in about a 50-mile radius and was never quite satisfied with what I found. I hadn’t heard of Berean, but while scouting the area for Baptist churches, I drove by Berean. On the last Sunday of July 1997, Clarissa and I traveled from Napa to attend Sunday morning services. We planted ourselves on the back row to observe what Berean was about.
One of the turn-offs of churches I attended (aside from some terrible doctrine) was the lack of friendliness of the people. I remember a church in Sonoma that was my shortest visit. I walked in and no one greeted me. I made my way to a seat and no one spoke to me. I was a little early as per my usual and not one person made any approach. Before the service began, I got up and walked out. After all these years, I’m a little more mellow than I was then and probably would have been more patient. But trust me, I am knowledgeable, and I know what I was looking for.
Berean was altogether different. Ushers and deacons and other members noticed us and greeted us warmly. The one person that stood out among them all was Larry Jefferson. I found out later that Larry, not knowing that Clarissa was my daughter, was curious how a 40+ guy scored such a good-looking young girl! Ah…greeters can certainly have different motivations.
We continued to attend Berean. I was interested but not ready to make any commitments until the rest of the family came from Kentucky and had opportunity to visit. On one Sunday evening, the church observed the Lord’s Supper. It was the custom and doctrine of the church at that time to offer communion to everyone regardless of membership. Larry was the deacon who offered us communion and as the trays came by us, we declined to partake. From that point, the die was cast. My refusal indicated something different about us and Larry was determined to find out what it was.
By this time, the rest of the family had moved to California and Larry and Janet invited us to come to their home for Sunday afternoon lunch. During this visit, we discussed many doctrines of the faith and it was discovered that we had similar backgrounds in ecclesiology and believed the same things about church ordinances, membership, church history and authority. It was as if our families were made for each other.
We became members of Berean and were assimilated into the church by the Jefferson family. We lived in Napa at first and then moved further away to Angwin on the eastern side of Napa Valley above St. Helena. This made it difficult to make the Sunday evening services because the drive was long, and the kids were always car sick on the mountain roads. The Jeffersons stepped in to remedy the problem. They invited us to their home every Sunday afternoon for lunch. We stayed with them in the afternoons until the evening service. During those many months, we became great friends. I will never forget this kindness that made Berean our church.
This is the value of hospitality. The Jeffersons went above and beyond where most will go and their kindnesses were not only shown to us but to many, many of our church members. They were New Testament Christians who believed love and compassion should always be expressed to the household of the faith. I beg each of you never to let a visitor get in and out of our services without feeling welcome. You never know who steps through our doors and what they will become. I genuinely believe the Lord’s plans were firmly in place when we received the first invitation to the Jefferson home. God used it to establish us here and then to bring us into Berean’s pastoral ministry.
I hope this story helps you understand the reason we are excited that Janet has found new happiness. The hospitality gifts are being repaid by the one who promises to reward faithful servants. I ask the members and friends of Berean to glorify God and rejoice with us as we pray for the best success of Janet and Gene Gabrielson.
And now we return to the regularly scheduled program. No good news yet on reopening the church. Our county is still in an unacceptable range in the numbers of Covid-19 cases per 100K residents. New figures will come out on Tuesday, which pushes us another week ahead for possible reopening. We will keep you posted on new information.
Meanwhile my wife and I are leaving early Tuesday morning for Kentucky. We ask for your prayers that Pam will be stable enough to go and that we won’t have any incidents while we are away. If you remember, this time last year while returning from Nathan’s home, she had an emergency and spent a few days in a Virginia hospital. We plan to visit Nathan again in Washington, D.C., prayerfully without incident.
Sermons for the Sundays we are away are ready and will be posted appropriately. Tomorrow’s sermon on Christian Warfare is about encouragement. In the sixth chapter of Ephesians, Paul encouraged the church to be strong in the Lord. I hope you will be encouraged in your daily battles with Satan to stand strong in the strength our Lord supplies. Please observe the following links to the outline and message.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Outline: Christian Warfare: Encouragement
09.26.20 Update 11:45 a.m.
This week’s update begins with some marginally good news. The Sonoma County health officer reported the virus rate in our county is trending downwards towards moving into the red tier. The new numbers will be evaluated on Tuesday. If we meet the red tier numbers this week, we must maintain this rate for at least two weeks. If this happens, the church could reopen as early as October 11. We will keep a close watch on this and let you know as soon as we have verified information that we may return. If you are interested in keeping tabs, the state has a website that enables you to look up our county or any others to view the current tier and the status of worship services. Click on this link, Blueprint for Safer Economy where you will see “Find the status of activities in your county.” In the “County” box, type Sonoma. Under “Activity,” choose Places of Worship from the drop-down list. Scroll down and you will see Sonoma County currently in a purple box. We are permitted outdoor worship only with modifications. In the red tier, this would say, “Can open indoors with modifications – Maximum 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.”
There are other links on this page that will take you to information about health procedures we must follow once we reach the red tier and can meet indoors. These modified procedures are invasive, onerous, and oppressive. They are impractical to follow for any church that wants to meet more than once each week. Further, they nearly strip away all our ability to worship according to scripture. Singing is excluded. With the ceremony we use, communion is practically taboo. I shudder to think what they will say about baptism. Perhaps they will permit us if we immerse in disinfectant. With each day that passes, we are increasingly confronted with the inequities of how these rules are enforced. I have not seen what they are proposing for us to do rigidly enforced on any sector. We do not rightly expect them to be unduly enforced upon us. We will do our best to cooperate within reason.
My wife and I plan to visit family in Kentucky from October 6 until October 22. If the church can open during this time, it complicates things a bit, but our vacation will not prevent us from reopening if we have permission. We leave the church in capable hands. We know you will help and cooperate fully. Your deacon will have information in my absence. If we are unable to open, we will continue with our weekly Sunday morning videos.
While we are away, my updates will be much briefer which I am sure will hurt no one’s feelings. This is necessary. As Christian soldiers must walk circumspectly and be on guard for the fiery darts of Satan, so Christian grandfathers must not bury themselves in computer screens with the risk of being blindsided by grandchildren launching flying projectiles. In our case, the number of potential adversaries is exceedingly great and is a clear and present danger. I fear them more than the 1/3 of angels that fell.
Please forgive my levity. We have been in the house too long. The daily battles we fight with the powers of darkness are indeed serious. I do not want you to take them lightly. And yet I remind you that Paul was so sure of victory that he called these present troubles “light afflictions.” May God give each of us the grace to endure and to have the same assurance as Paul.
Tomorrow we continue our discussion of the wiles of the devil. Last week we examined how Satan uses doubt to confound believers and neutralize their effectiveness for Christ. This week our discussion turns towards the wiles of confusion. We will speak of temptation, discouragement, and worry. I believe you will find information that will help you fight Satan in these areas. The links to the outline and sermon are below. We pray you will listen, apply, and have a wonderful Lord’s Day!
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Outline: The Wiles of the Devil: Confusion
09.19.20 Update 6:30 p.m.
We’re back with another unfavorable report for reopening the church. Sonoma County is still in the purple stage which means the virus is considered widespread. As noted last week, each report that shows us in this stage means we are a minimum of two weeks from reopening. However, there will be no movement towards reopening until we meet two weeks of the next lower red stage numbers. I know everyone is hopeful that we return sooner than later. I don’t want to be writing virus reports for Christmas.
I think this is a good time for us to regroup on church news. The video crew is busy producing 2 videos each week. I am gratefully indebted to Steve and Donna Miller and Melissa and Tate Jarrell for their help. We normally make one video each week but due to my upcoming vacation beginning October 6, we need to be ahead of schedule. My wife and I have been unable to take vacation since October of last year and we are getting a little stir crazy being in the house. Virus concerns are an obvious reason we haven’t gone, and Pam’s many health issues are also a major factor. Aside from her liver disease, she recently broke her foot and she also needs a knee replacement that doctors won’t do because of healing/recovery issues. We are trusting the Lord that her health will be stable enough to go to KY to see family. It’s a major undertaking to travel this way but we are determined to try. Please pray the Lord will graciously allow us to go. We are producing enough videos to have new sermons available for the two Sundays we will be away. However, if the church can reopen before or during the time we are gone, we will have services with others preaching during the weeks I am away.
Last week we purchased and placed landscaping boulders in the area between the parking lot and street on the South side. We will do some further work there as soon as we have finished researching plant possibilities. Other projects include replacing the roof which is a major undertaking. Please pray for the Lord’s guidance. We are taking new bids and will determine the possibilities of scheduling the work. We’re close to rainy season and this may be a factor in completing the project before next year. We are also at the mercy of contractors who are overwhelmed with work due to wildfires. Additionally, getting anything done during this pandemic is painfully slow.
Other concerns are budgeting for next year and church elections. I plan to discuss these with the deacons soon. How we handle these things when the church can’t meet is challenging. These may also require further delay. This is such an abnormal year that we must be prudent with every decision we make. We walk by faith, which is good sense for Christians, but doesn’t mean we don’t use common sense. The church operates with congregational polity but thankfully we also have leeway with pastoral decisions.
If you have questions, I want to remind you that our deacons are a great resource. If they don’t have answers, they will find them. I understand most of them are proactive in sending out emails to check on you and assess any needs. Many of these emails go unanswered. Would you mind taking the time to send a short reply just to let us know you are okay? It would be most helpful to enable us to either rejoice in your well-being or to get ahead of your problems.
None of us could have foreseen the convergence of so many negative factors this year. We are now six months into the pandemic which has closed churches and shut down large segments of the economy. The wildfire season got off to a roaring start with record devastation and still with weeks to go. Political division is at an all-time high with dismal candidates for election offered by both parties. Racial tensions are explosive with unrest fueled by unchecked radicals. While cities burn and murder rates are at soaring numbers, we are told the solution is to defund the police. Twenty years ago, the police and fire departments were the heroes of 9/11. Now they are hunted as if they are terrorists who must be killed or sent to prison for the rest of their lives.
The world needs hope that is found only in Jesus Christ. People need the gospel. But sadly, many churches in California are shut down and prevented from being a place of refuge. Doubt, discouragement, anxiety, and confusion reign. I explore these issues in the next few sermons. Tomorrow, we discuss Ephesians 6:11 which tells us to stand against the wiles of the devil. The wiles are his many methods of attack. The first method we will discuss is doubt. Each of the disasters previously mentioned can produce doubt. Satan is behind political and racial unrest and although he may not strike matches to start fires, he is still able to use the effects of all these to infect our minds with doubt. Our messages are also about God’s countermeasures that ensure our victory against the devil.
I am thankful that through six months of turmoil our church has done remarkably well. The spirit is good, and our people are hopeful and determined to stand against Satan for as long as it takes. And yet as I say this, I know behind the scenes Satan is peeling away a few. He is trying to divide us. I am saddened that in this unrest some are angrier at each other, the church, and me than at Satan. Other issues are more important to them than the truth of the gospel. It is true that churches are made of imperfect people. Let’s not gift wrap our imperfections for the enemy to work with and surrender to him without a fight.
Please check out tomorrow’s message. Once again, the subject is doubt. How does Satan use doubt to debilitate Christian soldiers? The link to the message and its outline follow. Have a blessed Lord’s Day tomorrow!
Pastor V. Mark Smith
09.12.20 Update 7:30 p.m.
It’s another Saturday and another update in this long saga of the Coronavirus. The news continues to disappoint as there is no movement towards reopening churches. Most of you are probably aware the important date of September 4th regarding the disposition of John MacArthur’s church in L.A. has come and gone. There was a delay in the decision and on Thursday the court granted the restraining order sought by L.A. County. The decision did not address the merits of MacArthur’s arguments but only that the county was likely to prevail in a full court proceeding. As we all know, time goes on while churches remain closed awaiting further determinations. The result of the ruling is that MacArthur’s church must cease meeting indoors. They can only meet outdoors with masks and distancing. The size of his church, weather conditions, air quality, etc. are significant hindrances. Now the confrontation ramps up. The Grace Community Church website gives no indication they will comply as indoor meetings are scheduled for tomorrow and I haven’t heard any contradictory news.
Meanwhile in Sonoma County, we are in the governor’s purple stage which is the worst of four tiers. We are approximately double the virus rate per 100,000 that would allow us to move into the red stage in which the church could reopen at 25% capacity. To move into the red stage, we must maintain two weeks of the lower numbers matching the red stage. If I interpret all this correctly, we must make significant progress to get to red, and today, in the best scenario, we could be no closer than two weeks to reopening. If you had trouble following this information, be thankful it’s way easier for Christians to understand the Bible. This is my news concerning church vs. virus vs. Newsom.
This week I was asked if I thought there was a conspiracy against the church to keep us closed and the virus is just the latest best excuse. I am yet to be convinced there is enough organization and aforethought put into this to make this argument. I don’t believe there is a large-scale organized effort across the country to bury churches. However, I can see the perfect storm brewing that helps Satan accomplish his goals. I don’t doubt the world is motivated against the church and they lick their lips at the deliciousness of this unexpected gift handed them. Don’t think MacArthur hammering against homosexuality, transvestism, gender fluidity, abortion, lawlessness, Critical Race Theory, the Democratic Party platform, etc. is unknown to the powers in L.A. County. They are like rabid dogs devouring their prey (or should I say roaring lions?). Knowing the vitriol of minds ravaged by the corruption of sin, I must wonder if they will rather see people continue dying if it keeps the church closed. They couldn’t have hoped for a better scenario. They get what they want with a frightened public tagging behind. This may seem an awfully cruel thing to say, but what is their defense when their own worse cruelty approves of tearing innocent babies limb from limb and selling their body parts? These aren’t compassionate people.
I know this sounds like perverse cynicism, but this is barely more than a taste of what it will be like when Christ takes His people from this world. When the Holy Spirit’s restraining power against Satan and sin is removed, the murder of the innocent will be standard fare. Wait…it already is. The argument we constantly hear is that people are basically good, and we must look for the natural goodness that inhabits every human spirit. No such people exist and can’t until they are regenerated by God. The scriptures say we are deceitfully wicked and out of the human heart comes murders, adulteries, lies, and blasphemy. Aren’t we of the same stock that sacrificed children by laying them into the outstretched arms of heathen idols burning with flames? Surely, you will excuse me the cynicism produced by what I see with my own eyes. Political parties prancing on the dead bodies of babies while telling us it is good and right for women to worship their own bodies. Riots and burning buildings and terrorism in our streets are done in the name of social justice. It is not justice. It is anarchy and yet is promoted by our politicians and churches alike.
What have I described? Bereans should recognize it. It is spiritual warfare. You may think I should write of more hopeful subjects and perhaps explain things with the Pelosi doctrine—mother earth is angry. No, we must be reminded of our sinfulness and that no change will happen without surrender to the God who made us in His image. We needn’t expect much when churches neglect the preaching of the awfulness of sin to preach the awesomeness of sinners.
When by faith in Christ we are released from the corruption of sin, we accept that God has granted us new citizenship. We are under the authority of a new King whose kingdom is not of this world. We are not citizens of the old kingdom and thus we traverse this land as strangers and pilgrims. We are in our pilgrimage to the city whose builder is God.
However, like Israel who was refused passage through Moab, we won’t get where we are going without fighting. Unlike Israel, we must not partake of the sins of Moab to curry favor and safety. We are who we are, and they are who they are. Let’s not mix our kingdoms. This is our struggle and we have God’s help for safe passage.
Tomorrow, we cover the second part of the message on angels. We will learn the tasks assigned to angels as they assist the pilgrimage of our Christian lives. The links to the sermon outline and video are below. At present we are fighting separately without the fellowship of the church body. It’s harder but not impossible.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Outline: Christian Warfare: Our Allies, pt. 2
09.05.20 Update 12:00 p.m.
Greetings to all of you who are anxiously awaiting our soon return to in-person church services. We had hoped the court hearing of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley yesterday would cast some positive light on our ability to return even though we recognized this case was filed in consideration of Grace Community alone. The judge refused to allow Governor Newsom to file a brief as a friend of the court supporting the L.A. County’s position which means the court will not directly rule on Newsom’s order that affects all churches in California. The decision of the judge is important enough that he delayed ruling until sometime next week. Meanwhile, we continue as we are.
In the past two weeks, I have become more sensitive to the harm this shutdown is doing to the church. As I’ve noted many times in sermons and shall again tomorrow, the church is never irreparably harmed because Christ promised the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Yet surely every Bible student who is interested in church history knows the church has suffered temporarily in horrible ways. Much of this is due to false Christianity that used the government as a blunt object to beat true believers into submission. We expect this because the scriptures promise it will happen, but nonetheless we are prone to discouragement because of it. Knowing that suffering was inevitable and designed for God’s people, the New Testament authors often wrote with encouragement for us to accept this suffering as a badge of honor for our faith in Christ. If we suffer no persecution, it is a sign we are too much like the world for them to notice us.
As these weeks and months drone on, we must seriously think about when this shutdown drifts more into hatred of the church rather than precautions for public health. If you haven’t heard, L.A. County canceled parking lot leases that MacArthur’s church held for 45 years. This is purely retaliatory because of failure to have their position remedied by the court. If this action stands, it can only be a sign of the susceptibility of church properties to seizure if we do anything the government doesn’t like. As you well know, the entire biblical structure of morality is opposed by the mainstream. We are not of this world, and by Christian default, we own this opposition.
What is the solution to the discouragements inherent in these events? We probably don’t like the answers because they will most likely remove each of us from our comfort zone and may determine the true depth of our faith—or even if our confession is true faith at all. It may be to return to first century Christianity without mega ministries and church properties and all the trappings of religion that sadly in many cases are not aids that increase our commitment to Christ. Rather, they are accommodations to our selfishness and promotion of the easy good life for numb Christians. There are large ministries that have made the most of their ability to train and support converts above the norms of small churches, but sadly most are platforms for spreading a false gospel far beyond the reach of the neighborhood church.
This apparently gloomy forecast is set before us as an end to religious freedom for Americans. Each year there is a little more erosion of religious liberties. We may very well be in a period of resetting the church until our experience more conforms to first century Christianity. For this we should not complain because the gospel in the hearts of 120 converts rapidly became the impetus for preaching that turned the world upside down.
My point is not to sound like a prognosticator of doom and gloom. It is exactly the opposite of discouragement. We should be strongly encouraged that the sovereign God is in control and when all avenues of worship and reaching others with the gospel seem to be shuttered, God is only preparing for the next surge of revival. Have you thought that the tribulation of the end times is only to purge the world to make ready the introduction of the worldwide righteous kingdom of Jesus Christ? Surely, we have not forgotten it is prophesied that the world will be overrun with demons and the Antichrist before the true Christ seizes the earthly throne. Simply stated, there is no defeatist, evil outcome for believers in Jesus Christ.
In view of this, I invite you to listen to this week’s message about angels, our allies in Christian Warfare. Not once does scripture intimate that God’s people will not be ultimately victorious. Every evil has a more powerful righteous counterpart. We would be terribly discouraged by all the bad news if God had not permitted New Testament believers to understand our allies and to see the future hope of the faithful.
This week we examine the truth about angels, and then next week in part two of the sermon we will investigate the tasks of angels on behalf of the living God and His redeemed servants. Please observe the following links to tomorrow’s outline and message from God’s Holy Word.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Outline: Christian Warfare: Our Allies, pt. 1
08.29.20 Update 6:30 p.m.
This week there is no good news to report regarding the return to in-person church gatherings. Yesterday, Governor Newsom introduced his new plan for reopening the state for business, schools, social gatherings, etc. which pushes the opening date for counties with Sonoma’s figures for virus infections at least three weeks away. Most likely it will be at least 2 months before churches are considered. We remain hopeful that court actions against the state may change this, but preliminary indications are that courts will side with the validity of health orders.
This week I choose to shift the focus from the virus to other important matters. In the past two weeks, both national parties conducted their nominating conventions with President Trump officially nominated by the Republicans and Joe Biden by the Democrats. Of course, the vice-presidential nominees were also confirmed with Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Kamala Harris. Perhaps there has never been a greater divide between the two parties than in this year’s election. This is true in the personalities of those running but more importantly in the party platforms. The party platform is the pledge of policy for each group even though neither is bound by anything other than their own ethics in fulfilling the promises they make. However, it has been shown that in the past 30 years legislators have voted according to party platforms more than 80% of the time. It is important for Christians to understand that party platforms are more important than the personalities of the presidential candidates. More than likely, the platforms will become the law.
With this in mind, Christians must be highly circumspect with their votes. What are we voting for? We are voting for the platform since legislators make laws not presidents. Some would argue the legislature now comes behind the Supreme Court in making laws, and if this is true, which party you vote for comes sharply into focus. There are issues in these platforms that will land squarely in the lap of the courts as the constitutionality of laws made accordingly is determined. We’ve seen what justices appointed by Democrats and those appointed by Republicans are likely to do. Sometimes we are fooled by what Republican appointees do and we are disappointed in them, but rarely does a Democratic appointee doing anything other than expected. The legislators that vote for their appointments zero in on their promises to support murderous abortion and forcing Christians to go against their moral principles in surrendering to the godless LBGTQ+ agenda.
What do the party platforms say about these issues? Joe Carter who writes for The Gospel Coalition listed the platforms of both parties in two articles in which he stated them without comment. I suppose Mr. Carter thought that the differences were stark enough that Christians surely would not need to be schooled on these differences and what we should do about them. No…I should say what God, the Bible, decency, morality, and redemption by the blood of Christ demands we do. Let me list a few of the pertinent positions in these party platforms. I remind you again that the party in power votes more than 80% of the time according to the platform.
The Democratic Party Platform
The Republican Party Platform
As you can see the list of pertinent issues for Christians is quite lengthy in the Republican Party platform. For each corresponding issue not listed under the Democratic Party platform, the party line is opposition.
As pastor of Berean, I don’t feel any more compulsion to question your spiritual discernment and explain these differences than did Joe Carter in his article. Loathe the personalities if you choose, but wisely discern the platforms. The platforms are indicative of the laws Americans are required to live by.
Dr. John MacArthur made an interesting statement concerning party platforms. Paraphrasing his thought, he remarked that one party has clearly made its agenda every sin of Romans 1. While neither he nor I preach politics, we are certainly compelled to preach morality. We fight a constant spiritual battle with the powers of darkness. No one should mistake which side the Christian is on.
Our subject this week is the enemy we face in Christian Warfare. Please observe the links to the sermon and its outline.
Outline: Christian Warfare: The Enemy
Sermon: Christian Warfare: The Enemy
Pastor V. Mark Smith
08.22.20 Update 4:00 p.m.
This week we are still separated from each other by COVID-19 and the ban against in-person meetings within our church building. I don’t have any light to shed on how long this will last but the increase in virus cases this week do not bode well for any immediate changes. If we look solely to the virus numbers to help us get back into church, that avenue is not working very well. However, a court decision on September 4th in the Grace Community Church suit against the state may be a better indicator of when this might happen. If this case turns in favor of the church, it could well signal the state has no jurisdiction over churches. As I understand, this suit only applies to Grace Community but certainly has implications for us all. Our status remains the same until permission is granted in our locality. It is difficult for us to compare our situation to theirs because the local government in L.A. appears to be hostile towards the church regardless of the virus. This is, of course, a heinous violation of First Amendment rights. With or without the virus, the church suffers at the hands of unreasonable authorities. I encourage you to pray that John MacArthur’s church will prevail in the suit.
It is interesting how the Lord works in these matters. For several weeks, I’ve contemplated what I would preach after we finished the miniseries on unity in the church. My attention turned towards teaching on Christian/spiritual warfare. We start a new miniseries on this tomorrow, but as I said, this has been on my mind for several weeks and I have now completed the first five messages. The way the Lord works is interesting because yesterday MacArthur addressed the spiritual battle his church is fighting against Los Angeles County to keep the church open. The county is laboring diligently and pulling out all stops to keep it from happening. MacArthur said, “I get that” and he went on to explain how it is expected that the church would experience opposition because this is the constant spiritual warfare that engages the church.
MacArthur’s thoughts dovetail perfectly into the comments I make in these messages. Whether we believe the coronavirus is God’s judgment on our society, this part is certainly true—Satan will use whatever means available to wreak havoc, cause doubt, and discourage God’s people. The battle is real because evil is a clear and present danger. No true child of God can be neutral in this war or escape it. Our previous sermons on unity included sections on adversity from without and within. Unity inside the church was our focus which is the fight against adversity from within. Christian warfare concentrates on the fight from without. It is the overarching universal scheme of Satan and his kingdom to overthrow God.
This fight affects all the subjects of God’s kingdom. Believers are engaged because we are supporters of the King. We are beloved by the King and whatever our King loves, Satan hates with every part of his being. Since we are the objects of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, it is proved that God loves us beyond comprehension. Even angels desire to understand this love. If Satan could destroy one child of God, his victory over God’s kingdom would be assured. This is not to say Satan’s power against us is comparable to God’s power to protect us. Though Satan holds unimaginable power that you and I could never fathom, yet the disparity between Satan’s power and God’s is even greater than between ours and Satan’s. There is no scenario possible in which Satan wins this war. His defeat is inevitable and is recorded for us to read and contemplate in God’s holy word. For this reason, the Christian in the worst of trials and afflictions need never despair. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ!
The next several Sundays will be spent in examining various aspects of Christian warfare. What is the conflict? Who are our enemies? Who are our allies? What are our defenses? What is the outcome? These topics will be explored in the coming weeks. Tomorrow is the first message. We will discuss an overview of the conflict. Please join us by video Sunday morning. The video link follows and an outline for your convenience as well.
Many blessings! Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Outline: (01) Christian Warfare: The Conflict
08.15.20 Update 6:40 p.m.
Welcome to another edition of we’re still wondering and we’re still waiting. I believe I’ve written enough for the time being about the pros and cons of church shutdowns, so we’re staring at the ceiling and waiting for the next shoe to drop. Much of the advice to act and the hope/angst paradigm depends on where you stand politically and which news media you believe is telling the truth. Sprinkled in are a few Bible verses from theologians with interpretations that seem to raise more questions than they answer. Like political candidates, church leaders sometimes flip-flop—and that’s okay when you believe you are switching from error to the truth. Some don’t want to say, WE WERE WRONG, which is a mea culpa of repentance. If found to be wrong about what our church did or will do during this crisis, I am happy to open the church again with, I WAS WRONG. If this is our attitude, we can scarcely be charged with unfaithfulness to the cause of Christ. When we balance our decisions based on careful convictions dictated by scripture rather than our constitutional rights, I believe we are more found in faithfulness.
The latest news is that John MacArthur’s church in Southern California received a favorable ruling by an L.A. federal judge who agreed to let his church remain open until a full court hearing on September 4. Interestingly, as I understand it, MacArthur agreed to use masks and social distancing indoors until the matter is decided. I see this as a proper response although it is a retreat from MacArthur’s earlier rigid stance that the government has no right to dictate ANYTHING the church decides to do regarding how and where we worship. This is including masks and distancing and its result of muted singing. You will note the use of the word temporary in the quote following this paragraph which begs the question again about MacArthur’s use of it in his earlier agreement to close his church. Temporary seems to have a doctrinal life of its own in relation to the church’s capitulation to government. Sometimes it is extremely difficult to follow someone’s dogmatism when their dog is walking a wobbly path.
Dr. MacArthur’s attorney, Jenna Ellis, said, “This is a huge vindication for Pastor John and the Board of Elders at Grace Community Church, who have simply asked for their right to worship the Lord together in church to be acknowledged and protected. When I spoke with Pastor John after the hearing, he expressed sincere gratitude to the California Court and Judge Chalfant and said his congregation will be happy to comply with the judge’s temporary order. This is why John MacArthur is so deeply loved and respected by his congregation and all over the world. He is a gracious and firm leader, and his biblical stand for church being essential has now been rightly validated.”
I sincerely hope MacArthur prevails in this court case. I also sincerely hope that he will see clear to admit his inconsistencies and apologize to pastors and churches that he deemed unfaithful to Christ if they would not follow suit and join him in his rebellion. If the court should rule the state has no jurisdiction, it removes MacArthur’s claim that we are bowing to Caesar if we don’t meet. At this point, we are left with a decision of conscience. Are we helping or hindering the fight against COVID-19? Our position from the beginning was to leave it as a matter of conscience determined by individual churches according to health concerns in their areas. While MacArthur’s action is ultimately helpful in clarifying our constitutional rights, this was a long trip around confirmation of what we said in the first place and what MacArthur did in the first place. An apology is in order.
Of course, the decision of the full court is presently unknown. If MacArthur prevails, it will be the first time a court decision in California goes in favor of churches. If the church wins, Governor Newsom has only himself to thank for his wildly inconsistent incomprehensible enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions. He and his liberal cronies will finally have gone far enough that the few rational people who haven’t yet moved out of California will have said enough is enough.
Meanwhile, we are in a holding pattern waiting to see the outcome of this court case and then to determine whether we believe we are safe in following the protocols we used when we met a few weeks ago. Since we are only a few weeks away from September 4, it is senseless for us to yield to the temptation to make any contrary moves before this is decided. We needn’t expose ourselves to lawsuits or other county actions that reflect badly on the church. I believe we will know where we stand before much longer.
This week we conclude the series The Unity of Believers. This was a difficult subject to preach when we are unable to meet and exercise the true unity of the church that is most greatly expressed in corporate worship. And yet, despite our separation, I feel I am speaking to my people, my loved ones, my family as I stare into the camera each week. It’s hard to believe there are some of you I haven’t seen since March. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” I believe this passage best describes the hope of Christians as we wait on Christ to return. I also believe we can use it to refer to the church that is Christ’s body, and it is probably not too much a hermeneutical stretch to apply it to situations such as the apostle Paul had when he was absent from believers in churches he labored with and had desire to see them again. He expressed this in 1 Thessalonians 3:10 when he said he desired to see the faces of the Thessalonians that he might teach them again and perfect their faith.
This is truly the desire of your pastor. Seeing faces and gauging reactions to sermons is an important aspect of personal fulfillment. Paul was encouraged by personal contact as am I. Ending our absence from each other by whatever means the Lord chooses is our paramount concern. Pray that efforts to end the ban are successful even if we don’t exactly agree with the methods used to reach this end.
The links to the sermon for tomorrow and its fillable outline are below. I hope you are blessed by it and enjoy seeing the inside of your favorite place—the Berean Baptist Church. Until further updates, many blessings and be safe in the care of our Saviour.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Outline: The Unity of Believers, pt. 5
Sermon: The Unity of Believers, pt. 5
My first thoughts today are to thank the church for the outpouring of love, support, and compassion since the death of my mother last week and Pam’s recent hospital stay. We received numerous calls, cards, emails, and other messages of condolences. We sincerely appreciate every kind gesture expressed by church members and friends. Pam came home on Monday and my mother was laid to rest on Wednesday. Mostly, we have returned to our lives of the new normal.
I wish there were better news to report concerning our return to services, but the latest is that our status remains indefinite. When the ban against in-church meetings was restarted, it was hoped that a three-week hiatus would allow virus cases to flatten out and we would be ready to return. This didn’t happen and neither has any follow-up news of projected dates for reopening been reported.
I don’t have any special insight for you, although I probably follow reactions from religious leaders more closely than you. Christian news sources reported that LA County threatened John MacArthur with jail time and $1000 per day fines for each time his church defies the government’s order. Ventura County heavily fined another church for reopening in defiance of the ban. While there are many who support resisting the government, I have been interested to read the comments of those who see such actions as selfish and not in the best interest of ridding us of the virus nor of reopening the economy. As previous updates have noted, the convictions of Christians on this issue are varied. Strong opinions are expressed on both sides. We don’t expect the world to be in favor of anything we do, but the anti-reopening opinions of non-Christians have been especially strongly negative. I believe this is due to their fear of potential harm to everyone both physically and economically. I am not sure of all the effects of non-closure, but at minimum, it should give us pause to think clearly about what we do. We must be sure personal politics are not the real driving force behind our actions.
Our opinion is that the coming days will provide proof of either the wisdom or the folly of our decisions. In either case, the Lord surely knows we’ve made no decisions that are purposely destructive to the cause of Christ. We are certain to take other actions before this is possible. Until then we wait with full confidence that God will take care of us. Satan is hard at work and uses every trick at his disposal. We must be careful we don’t play into his hands. We remain strong through our confidence in God’s word and our obedience to the doctrines of the faith. This is the subject of tomorrow’s sermon. Unity is the theme—our doctrinal clarity undergirds our unity. Tomorrow’s sermon is posted below along with a fillable outline.
Study the word and pray for each other. God is always faithful to us. Let’s remain faithful to Him.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Outline: The Unity of Believers, pt. 4
This week has been a trying time for my family and me. My wife was taken to the hospital early Thursday morning by ambulance and remains there indefinitely. I have asked three times to see her but haven’t been further than a few inches inside the ER entrance much less to get to her room on the second floor. Please pray her health will improve and she will be released soon.
While contemplating the events of Thursday, yesterday afternoon I received word from my sister in Kentucky that my mother passed away. Both of my sisters who have faithfully kept a vigil for her are deeply distraught. Last night my personal thoughts were sinking as I am alone at home thinking of how blessed I am to have parents who raised me to know and obey Christ. They are together again in the presence of God our Father awaiting the resurrection of their bodies at the return of Christ. I am saddened that present circumstances prevent me from traveling home to attend my mom’s funeral. I very much appreciate the condolences received and the promises of prayer. The church family is my greatest support and we stand together on the Solid Rock of Jesus Christ.
Meanwhile the trials of life continue as another week goes by with COVID-19 affecting the closure of churches throughout our state. This closure is highly controversial with some choosing to openly defy the ban while others are convinced we should remain closed until the government determines we may safely reopen. Some believe the whole pandemic episode is fake while others are fearfully panicked. It’s hard to imagine that such wide disparity in thinking is mostly cut along political lines and seems to have little to do with medicine, science, or even good sense. I mean on both sides we live in a world gone mad. The wickedness of this country has reached a Romans 1 level so that we expect not much more than for God to give us up to shamefully dishonor ourselves between ourselves.
I may seem jaded on these issues due to my personal trials, but please don’t mistake this for such despair that I have lost hope. No, I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day. Trials increase patience to faithfully endure until our hope is realized.
Please understand, keeping the church closed is one of the hardest decisions I have made in more than 40 years of ministry. It is the most unusual decision I’ve made by far. Though our church has expressed little dissent on what we must we do, the contrary winds from without are howling insisting that we are bowing to Caesar by obeying the government. For this reason, I spent a good deal of time this week composing a response to Dr. John MacArthur and his open letter to churches and pastors about Christ not Caesar being the head of the church. It is a long-form article that I encourage you to read in its entirety. Click this link to view. Also, here is a link to a response from another conservative Northern California church. If you haven’t read Dr. MacArthur’s letter, I have posted it in our public documents that may be viewed here. I suggest reading it for the context of my comments.
Tomorrow’s video sermon is ready and premieres at 6 a.m. The video and sermon outline follow this post. Please know that I am praying for all of you and anxiously await our reunion. Until then, let’s stand together and be good ambassadors for our Lord in this world deceived by principalities, powers, rulers of darkness, and spiritual wickedness in high places.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Outline: The Unity of Believers, pt. 3
07.25.20 Update 2:40 p.m.
Welcome to another Coronavirus update! I know this is a profoundly serious matter, but I must say that if the Coronavirus doesn’t get me, talking about it so much just might. Every evening my wife and I watch the news and each time we remark how sick we are of hearing about it. Unfortunately, it’s here and apparently will be a thorn for the foreseeable future.
This week has seen a remarkable development from those who have reversed course and decided to disobey the ban on opening. Yesterday, Dr. John MacArthur released a statement declaring that his church will defy the ban and resume in-person services. As you know, other churches are already defiant, but these in general are groups that I cannot respect due to their flagrant faulty interpretations of scripture. MacArthur’s decision is important because of his usual wise and careful handling of the word of God. If you care to research his reasoning, the statement is easily found on the internet and in many parts, we are in perfect agreement. However, we do not believe defying the ban is currently wise and proper. We still regard it as a temporary measure to assist the well-being of our citizens and reduce the load on strained hospitals and their workers. We voluntarily agree to remain shut down as an act of conscience not because of a government mandate even though we believe our measures when opened were safe and did not put anyone at undue risk. We do not feel qualified to make a certified announcement that we are correct in our assumptions. At some future date, we may recognize the desired objective is too elusive and these measures are not working. If this is the case, we make our own decision to reopen. We will do so when many unanswered questions about the spread of the disease and the consequences of disobedience are clearer. This is not to say state persecution might possibly rule our decisions. We stand with our forefathers determined to endure for the sake of the gospel. Meanwhile, I want to emphasize that quarantine is a biblically sanctioned method for the control of infectious diseases. To my knowledge the New Testament does not record an instance of this in the church, however, the Old Testament is sufficient for precedent.
Perhaps you understand a little better the reason I am tired of this. When I walked in the building to do the recording of this Sunday’s message, I walked around the curtain to view lights on in an empty auditorium and a sense of grief overwhelmed me. Believe me, I wish this whole thing were as easy as saying I am independent and therefore I do as I please. I am not and therefore every action has the welfare of this church at heart. Please continue to pray for wisdom to be well-pleasing to our Lord.
One other note…stay tuned for an announcement of either a weekday Bible lesson or a recorded Forum Class type question and answer session. I am working on the possibilities…
With this said, tomorrow’s message continues the thought of unity in the church. The Unity of Believers, part 2 premieres tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. The message is posted below along with an outline. Be sure to watch and worship!
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Outline: The Unity of Believers, part 2
07.18.20 Update 2:45 p.m.
As I mentioned in the mid-week update, due to a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, our governor has issued an order for churches in Sonoma County to cease indoor in-person services. This ban is in place for at least 3 weeks which means we are closed at least through Sunday, August 2. We are unhappy with this for various reasons. Some are unhappy because it’s a governmental order which they prefer to resist. It is a governmental order that is inequitable at best when our governor and others refuse to enforce social distancing in dispersing crowds that gather in close quarters for social protests. Others are unhappy because once we were permitted to meet, we carefully complied with the guidelines and had no issues. In fact, although you have heard there have been sporadic infections in churches, our churches have not proved to be an even remotely significant source of new Coronavirus cases. Still, I believe the consensus of our church members is that we should obey the government’s order and so we shall.
My disappointment includes both the preceding reasons, but these are not my chief reason. Recently, I heard a pastor say he preaches because it’s part of his job. If he could do the other parts of his job without preaching, he would be content to give it up. He said he doesn’t even like to be called “Preacher.” I think that is about as far as can be from what Paul told Timothy to do. He told him to preach the word and with his preaching to rebuke, to reprove and to exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. He couldn’t do any other parts of his job without preaching because the people can’t know the Lord and do anything themselves for Him unless they hear and believe. How shall they believe in whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14). Does this sound like preaching is a tacked-on responsibility of pastoring a church?
Where and how we preach is important. A pastor needs his people to surround him. He needs to see their faces and have contact. Video screens are no way to have a church because church is an assembly. We are without church if we don’t meet. Don’t think Satan doesn’t know this. If he can make people content to sit on the couch at home and call it church, he’ll do everything he can to make it happen. Even though we don’t believe the government is consciously trying to prevent freedom of religion by keeping us from meeting, it is yet to be proved that most people are aware they are Satan’s pawns.
I want to preach, and my greatest disappointment was hearing that I must go back to preaching to a camera that never says amen and never nods its approval and never laughs, cries, fidgets, yawns, sleeps, looks interested or disinterested. Preaching to a camera is cold and I like warm bodies. If you like what you hear great! If you don’t, rebuking is also a part of the job. Regardless, there is nothing as important as preaching the word, and for a preacher to push it down below organizing church suppers—maybe he shouldn’t be called “preacher.”
Do you see what happens when I’m confined to an office and a computer? You can see my nerves are beginning to fray. Pray for your preacher! With that said, here is some information you need. Following this post is a link to tomorrow’s sermon and outline. It premieres tomorrow morning at 6:00 a.m. We will keep you updated about any change to service schedules. Tithes and offerings may be mailed to the church or you may give online by clicking on the donate button at the bottom of any page on our website.
Gather the family and watch the video tomorrow morning. Read scriptures and pray that we will be together again soon. I will miss your fellowship and your veiled faces.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Outline: The Unity of Believers, pt. 1
Sermon: The Unity of Believers, pt. 1
I hope all of you are having a great Wednesday and looking forward to the Lord’s Day. This is a brief mid-week update for two purposes. First, many of you are wondering about the status of in-person services for this Sunday, July 19. You have probably heard the scuttlebutt of another round of closures and I am personally disappointed to announce that Governor Newsom has issued a mandatory order that we must cease indoor in-person services. I am disappointed because despite the difficulties of complying with reopening procedures, the spirit in our church couldn’t have been better. It was enjoyable to endure the hardships together. But due to this order, we must revert to the pre-opening format of recorded messages to be viewed in your homes on Sunday. We must comply for the good and safety of all not to mention the political, social, and economic hazards of not complying.
We don’t know how long this will last. As you are aware, the decision is tied to the percentage of COVID-19 cases in our county. As of today, I understand this ban is in effect until at least midnight on August 2, which will put us out of church for at least three Sundays. As usual, we will keep you updated if there is any change. Later in the week, there will be another update with links to the pre-recorded message and the outline of the sermon.
My second purpose is to pass along the news that last Sunday’s message on fasting is now available on our website. The links for the message and the outline follow this post. I am grateful for the interest in the topic of fasting and if you missed the service, you have opportunity for viewing. Others might want to review by listening again.
I hope your week goes well and that none of us will let Satan’s often discouragements undermine our joy. Remember, God is sovereign, and Satan does nothing God doesn’t allow.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Outline: What Does the Bible Say About Fasting?
07.12.20 Update 3:00 p.m.
Since reopening services on June 14, I have been pleasantly surprised by the good attendance in our church services. We are spread throughout the auditorium due to social distancing, but we have managed to get everyone seated and have followed the necessary guidelines. Still, some are missing because of concerns with COVID-19 and we understand why the elderly are cautious about attending. Coupling these absences with the 4th of July weekend kept last week’s attendance rather low.
As delighted as I’ve been with the good attendance, I must say I am more so with the spirit of our church. We’ve weathered this storm well and many of you have proved your allegiance to our Lord and to this body of believers. It’s good to know despite much adversity there are people who sincerely love their church and want to be counted faithful. We’ve met each challenge and we press forward each week even though our services are limited in times we can meet and what we can do when we meet. Last week, it was the restriction against singing. We love to sing, and I thought doing without would be unbearable. However, I found that pausing to read the words on the screen as the musicians played was moving and thought provoking and enabled us to worship in a more contemplative way. I am not saying it was better—I am just saying if we want to worship the Lord, He will accept our heartfelt, sincere efforts. If He is pleased, we are pleased.
I understand from the local paper that dust is flying as pastors are kicking up their heels against the ban on singing. Some defied the ban last week and intend to do so again this week. Most likely this latest restriction will find its way into the courts to see if it will stand constitutional scrutiny. Though we are not happy with it, we will obey until told otherwise. Thus far, the constitution has saved no lives from the coronavirus. I have been told upon good authority that Christians can and do die.
For those of you unable to attend last week because of virus concerns or because of the 4th of July weekend, the message Rebuilding Righteousness in Our Nation is now posted. We apologize for the delay and you can listen at your leisure. The link to the sermon is at the end of this update. The blank outline can be found by clicking here. Tomorrow, we will steer away from comments on the virus and the turmoil in our nation to consider a completely different subject. I want to speak about fasting. What does the Bible say about fasting? Are we commanded to fast, and will it help in this COVID-19 crisis?
Before I let you go, many thanks to Lucy Kunz and the ladies of the church for sending a box of goodies and letters of encouragement to my wife. They came at an excellent time as the Lord moved you with compassion for her. Her days are filled with much discouragement from her disease, but these hard times are bearable when you know the Lord and His people are on your side. When she opened the surprise box of sunshine, her spirits revived. We appreciate your prayers and acts of kindness.
God bless each of you, and I look forward to our fellowship tomorrow!
Pastor V. Mark Smith
07.04.20 Update 5:05 p.m.
Happy 4th of July! We hope you are enjoying this holiday as we celebrate the 244th year of our Declaration of Independence. This Independence Day is one for the books and won’t be soon forgotten. Our country has changed in profound ways not the least of which is the shameful disregard of our history, lack of patriotism, and loss of pride in being Americans. A few weeks ago, I was in the post office. The lady in line in front of me refused to buy stamps because they were imprinted with the American flag. Yesterday, the news reported that many would not celebrate the 4th this year because America is not free, and we are an unjust society. You’ve seen the anarchy that reigns in the streets with the idiocy of those who claim they are fighting for justice while at the same time breaking the laws we live by. Justice obtained by injustice is about as convoluted as the human mind can get. Yet, we are not alarmed because the Holy Scriptures describe such times. The mind is ravaged by sin which makes for incomprehensible irrationality.
It is upsetting and if we dwell on it, we will never be anything but miserable and angry. This is the reason we need the scriptures to explain such things and to remind us that the people of God are citizens of another country where perfect peace and righteousness is the rule for eternity. We are only strangers and pilgrims passing through this world of turmoil on our way to the city built by God. Turmoil does not surprise us. We expect it because God is preparing the world for His perfect justice that is not built on fallacious human opinions. Our hope is anchored in Jesus Christ, the eternal refuge for our souls.
Instead of commiserating over our common woes, let’s rejoice in our common salvation! Tomorrow is the Lord’s Day and we are prepared to meet again to worship our Lord and Saviour. Another new dynamic will be introduced to tomorrow’s worship. I precede this announcement with the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed but not in despair… We are thankful we can meet but the latest edict handed down by our governor is that singing in the service is strictly forbidden. I’ll leave you to do the research on the reasoning. I only want to say that on our part we will obey this latest order for the good health of all those who attend our services. We are happy to comply but not happy that we need to. Singing praises is integral to our worship and leaves us measurably unfulfilled when we can’t. We will still make melody in our hearts as we listen to our musicians play our hymns. Thus far the governor has not determined the virus is transmitted by sound waves!
We invite you to come and be a part of the services. You are a part when you attend, although for the time being participation is certainly limited. The word of God will be preached, and we will rejoice in our Lord for free salvation in Christ and for freedom to assemble and freedom to preach. Thank God He has chosen the people of worship, has revealed the purpose for worship, has a plan for worship, and has given us a place to worship. Interestingly, we need not expend much extra effort for this Sunday to be the most unusual 4th of July weekend any of us has experienced.
I hope to see you tomorrow!
Pastor V. Mark Smith
06.29.20 Update 11:55 a.m.
I have a brief update for you on this Monday morning. I hope all of you are well and had a blessed Lord’s Day. Yesterday’s service was well attended, and we had a wonderful time of worship. The Lord has His purposes in the hardships endured. I genuinely believe missing church and then working together to reopen for worship has been good for us. The spirit of the people is outstanding, perhaps better than I’ve seen in years. With face masks, I can’t see all your expressions, but I can read the eyes and hear the voices. The common experience is expressed by the Psalmist: “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.”
Our thanks to Jason Guritz who quickly posted yesterday’s video sermon for those who were unable to attend. Please follow the link below to listen. I’ve also provided the blank outline for notes which you can view and print by clicking here. I hope to see you again on Sunday as we gather for the 4th of July weekend. Our topic is Rebuilding Righteousness in our Nation.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
06.27.20 Update 6:55 p.m.
Happy Saturday afternoon to everyone. I hope you are doing well and anticipating our services tomorrow morning. To date, we are happy to report that no one in the church has fallen ill from COVID-19. Still, there are some taking all precautions not to get out and mingle in the crowds until the virus is better under control. Once again, we thank our volunteers for doing an excellent job of keeping the church clean and making sure everyone follows the guidelines for social distancing and other safety precautions.
Last week I was disappointed to be unable to attend. Of course, the greatest disappointment was my wife’s illness that caused another hospital visit. I called an ambulance for her in the early hours and she was admitted. She is now home and only marginally better. We thank you for continuing to pray for her. Unfortunately, there was no time to warn anyone and prepare them, so early last Sunday morning I made the call for help to conduct the service. My deepest appreciation to Jorge for preaching and for others who made sure you were able to have a time of worship. I was also disappointed to miss the fellowship of God’s people and not share my Father’s Day message. I plan to bring the message to you tomorrow. I’ve flattened out some of the Father’s Day references and the subject is applicable to all our church members and friends.
Another disappointment is the lack of a video recording of Jorge’s message. I know those who are unable to attend expect to view the messages later in the week. We were unable to record, so there won’t be a video available later. However, I hoped we would have an audio recording available by now but that hasn’t happened either. We should have the video recording of tomorrow’s sermon later in the week and perhaps the audio of Jorge’s message as well. I’ve mentioned these woes before but is seems incredible that living in the tech capital of the world we would have such poor internet availability at our location. I hope everyone is praying that this nightmare virus threat will soon be over. There are many reasons to pray for it and near the top of my list is to get back to normal church without these constant issues that plague us.
Tomorrow, the same protocols are in place. We still need cleaning and other volunteers, but not as many as before. Rather, we need you on a rotating basis to share some of the work that prevents the same people week after week from being able to attend the service. If you are willing to trade-off and help share one of the responsibilities, please let us know.
Remember our new service time is 10:30 a.m. Please try to arrive around 10:15 a.m. to make it through screening and enable a timely beginning of the service. We will follow this schedule most likely through the summer or perhaps longer depending on the status of the pandemic. Get a good night’s rest and be ready to worship tomorrow!
Pastor V. Mark Smith
The best news I can report today is to reflect on services from last week. It was our first Sunday back in church after 3 months of sitting home absent from the fellowship of the church. The excitement began last Saturday as we had an army of volunteers that met in the parking lot to receive assignments for cleaning and disinfecting the building for services the next day. We accomplished the cleaning in Nehemiah fashion completing a daunting task in about 1 ½ hours. It didn’t seem like work as everyone eagerly and gladly put their hands to the business. Everyone wanted a part in making it happen as if this was the most important undertaking in the Lord’s service.
The same volunteers agreed to come early on Sunday morning to take up their positions to make sure all precautions were met. There was excitement and I couldn’t have been more pleased about the enthusiasm of our people and the worshipful attitude as we were finally able to sing, pray, and hear preaching together. I am honored to pastor such fine people whose joy is the Lord. Even though the day was different because of the cleaning protocols, the masks, the inability to stand close, shake hands, hug, and enjoy each other in close quarters, still it was a great day. The fact that so many worked to make it happen and saw the fruits of their labors made it all the much better. We can endure the inconveniences to be together as God’s church. And then, the greatest surprise was the number of people that came. With our social distancing, we filled all available seats. We may need to add more chairs tomorrow if our crowd increases.
Last Sunday was a preview of what services will be like for quite some time. We don’t know how long this will last and until it’s over and/or restrictions are relaxed we must go through the same steps week after week. More good news is that Saturday cleaning will not be necessary. We have seven days between services which is too long for the virus to survive even if there was some present in the building. Preparations for the next service are done by our excellent regular cleaning crew now that the major portion is taken care of.
We still need help. We need ushers, musicians, and some volunteers to be at church at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow morning for assignments. We don’t need everybody but what is wrong with being there at 10:00 anyway? We can stand 6 ft. apart and have good conversation. Services begin at 10:30 a.m. but we would like those who aren’t helping to arrive by 10:15 a.m. so we can get everyone screened, in the building, and properly seated for a timely start with the Call to Worship.
Several who couldn’t come to the last service asked about the sermon video for last Sunday. I hoped it would be posted by last Monday but unfortunately, we weren’t able to accomplish it. It is available now and posted below this update. We are sincerely looking forward to seeing you tomorrow morning as we gather again to praise our great Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. For those who can’t come, our prayers are with you that you may soon join us again.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
06.12.20 Update 6:55 p.m.
We are thankful to say everything is on track to reopen our services on Sunday morning June 14. My update is a day early to remind church officers and volunteers that we will meet tomorrow morning, Saturday, June 13 at 10:00 a.m. to prepare the building for opening and assign duties for the Sunday service. Please remember our new service time is 10:30 a.m. This will be the only service of the week until further notice.
Since we will be in church on Sunday, we did not make a recording of the Sunday sermon today as we’ve been doing on Fridays since the shutdown began. The Sunday morning sermon will be recorded during the service and will be posted on the website early in the week. We will also send out the sermon to email subscribers. We regret that internet service to our building is not fast enough for livestreaming. Yes, I realize we are living in the tech capital of the world and our service should not be this poor. If you want to know why, just ask!
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday. The procedures for reopening are at this link. This will tell you what to do when you arrive on the property and what we will do to keep you safe. We are committed to protecting the good health of everyone, and until we are sure we can do this, we are suspending other services to reduce time in the building. Please pray for God’s blessings that all will go well this Sunday. Also pray for the soon return to our full worship schedule.
I’ll see some of you tomorrow and hopefully more of you on Sunday!
Pastor V. Mark Smith
06.06.20 Update 7:30 p.m.
By the grace of God, I am pleased to announce that on Sunday, June 14 we will resume in-church services. The past three months have been a trial of faith and even though we are ready to return to worship, the trials are not over. We must adjust the ways we are used to worshipping to accommodate the safety of our congregation and our community in this ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The government has given permission for us to meet but this permission comes at a price. I hold in my hand a 13-page document from the State of California describing conditions that must be met to mitigate the spread of the virus. This is in addition to other documents produced by the Center for Disease Control, CAL OSHA, and the California Department of Public Health. These documents include cleaning and disinfecting protocols, social distancing, personal hygiene, attendance restrictions, and even elements of worship services that must be curtailed or eliminated.
Our services will be different from anything we’ve seen before. I know many of you are confused about what to do and the government has not been on our side to help us reach clarity. This is the reason we thought we could go back to church earlier and then had to pull back. We were not able to open for services tomorrow because final approval was withheld until the last minute leaving us with no time to be properly prepared.
Since we now have permission, we need to make everyone aware of our plans. Clicking this link will open a document entitled Policies for Reopening. It will advise you on what to expect and how to prepare yourself for our first service back on June 14. Without listing on this page everything in this document, I want to emphasize some important information. Until notified otherwise, we will conduct only one weekly service which will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings. This is the preaching service. Forum Class, Sunday afternoon service, and Wednesday evening Bible study are canceled until further notice. The 10:30 a.m. Sunday service will be approximately one hour. We are following the recommended guidelines for limited use of the building and exposure to the virus.
On Saturday, June 13 at 10:00 a.m., we will host a meeting of officers and volunteers to discuss opening protocols and to clean and sanitize the building. I am thankful many of you responded and with many hands for the work, we should be able to handle this speedily. We welcome more help if for nothing else than we would love to see you! Everyone, please come prepared with masks. If you’ve been in the stores lately and among crowds, you are already aware of what this meeting will look like. We will begin in the parking lot. I don’t intend to keep you long as we will fill you in, answer questions, and then do our work.
Meanwhile, we still have tomorrow, June 7 to consider, don’t we? This will be another in your homes video with a sermon about Christian service. Fan the Flame of the Faith is our subject. You may watch by clicking the following video link. Prayerfully, this is the last time we’ll be separated. Accordingly, pre-recorded Sunday sermons will not be available after this week. We understand some of you will not be able to attend due to age and underling medical conditions. We are sorry that internet service to our building is too poor to permit livestreaming. The Sunday sermon will be recorded but not available until later in the week. We will do our best to make it available as soon as possible.
We hope to see you soon!
Pastor V. Mark Smith
Outline: Fan the Flame of the Faith