Mar 12 20

Coronavirus Update

vmsmith

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

Outline: Christian Warfare: The Wiles of the Devil, Part 1: Doubt

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

  1. Opposes all federal and state laws that prohibit or restrict abortion.
  2. Supports restoring taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood.
  3. Support the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds being used for abortion services.
  4. Opposes restrictions on medication (i.e., non-surgical) abortions.
  5. Supports “medically accurate, LBGTQ+ inclusive, age-appropriate sex education.”
  6. Supports abolishing the death penalty.
  7. Supports allowing “all transgender and non-binary people” the ability to procure official government identification documents that “accurately reflect their gender identity.”

The Republican Party Platform

  1. Supports the sanctity of human life and affirms that the “unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed.”
  2. Supports a human life amendment to the Constitution and legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to children before birth.
  3. Opposes taxpayer funding of abortion. Calls for a permanent ban on federal funding and subsidies for abortion and health-care plans that include abortion coverage. Opposes the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they “provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare.”
  4. Supports codifying the Hyde Amendment and its application across the government.
  5. Opposes the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, the abortifacient formerly known as RU-486. This drug “threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation.”
  6. Opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide.
  7. Supports the right of parents to consent to medical treatment for their minor children and urges enactment of legislation that would require parental consent for their daughter to be transported across state lines for an abortion.
  8. Opposes health-care providers being permitted to “unilaterally withhold services because a patient’s life is deemed not worth living,” and urges all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research.
  9. Supports a Congressional ban on any sale of fetal body parts and calls on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms.
  10. Supports our “moral obligation to assist, rather than penalize, women who face an unplanned pregnancy.”
  11. Supports states protecting women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation, and condemns the Supreme Court’s “activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.”
  12. Opposes infanticide and calls on Congress to pass a federal Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks, the “point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions.”
  13. Supports state and federal efforts “against the cruelest forms of abortion, especially dismemberment abortion procedures, in which unborn babies are literally torn apart limb from limb.”
  14. Supports a federal ban on sex-selection abortions and abortions based on disabilities. Opposes embryonic stem-cell research and federal funding of such research. Supports adult stem-cell research and urges the restoration of the national placental stem-cell bank.
  15. Supports the ability of all organizations to “provide, purchase, or enroll in healthcare coverage consistent with their religious, moral, or ethical convictions without discrimination or penalty.”
  16. Supports the right of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor children.
  17. Supports mandatory prison time for all assaults involving serious injury to law enforcement officers.
  18. Supports a constitutional amendment to protect parental rights “from interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies such as the United Nations.”
  19. Supports state legislatures offering the Bible in a literature curriculum as an elective in America’s high schools.
  20. Opposes school-based clinics that provide referral or counseling for abortion and contraception and believes that “federal funds should not be used in mandatory or universal mental health, psychiatric, or socio-emotional screening programs.”
  21. Supports traditional marriage and family, based on one man and one woman. “Every child deserves a married mom and dad, and our laws and government regulations should actively promote married family life as the basis of a stable and prosperous society.”
  22. Supports the removal of marriage penalties from the tax code and public assistance programs.
  23. Supports restructuring the tax code to increase adoptions and support families who adopt.
  24. Supports evaluation of poverty programs based on whether they actually reduce poverty and increases the personal independence of its participants.
  25. Supports work requirements for poverty programs.
  26. Opposes government discrimination against businesses or entities that decline to sell items or services to individuals for activities that go against their religious views about such activities.
  27. Supports the right of “America’s religious leaders to preach, and Americans to speak freely, according to their faith.” Says that the federal government, specifically the IRS, is constitutionally prohibited from policing or censoring speech based on religious convictions or beliefs, and “therefore we urge the repeal of the Johnson Amendment.”
  28. Supports efforts to “defend the religious beliefs and rights of conscience of all Americans and to safeguard religious institutions against government control.”
  29. Supports the First Amendment Defense Act, legislation in the House and Senate that would bar government discrimination against individuals and businesses for acting on the belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman: “This Act would protect the non-profit tax status of faith-based adoption agencies, the accreditation of religious educational institutions, the grants and contracts of faith-based charities and small businesses, and the licensing of religious professions—all of which are under assault by elements of the Democratic Party.”
  30. Supports the efforts of Republican state legislators and governors who have “defied intimidation from corporations and the media in defending religious liberty.”
  31. Supports laws to confirm the “longstanding American tradition that religious individuals and institutions can educate young people, receive government benefits, and participate in public debates without having to check their religious beliefs at the door.”
  32. Supports the freedom of Americans to act in accordance with their religious beliefs, not only in their houses of worship, but also in their everyday lives.
  33. Supports the right of the people to conduct their businesses in accordance with their religious beliefs and condemns public officials who have proposed boycotts against businesses that support traditional marriage, and pledges to protect those business owners who have been “subjected to hate campaigns, threats of violence, and other attempts to deny their civil rights.”
  34. Supports the public display of the Ten Commandments as a reflection of our history and our country’s “Judeo-Christian heritage.”
  35. Supports the rights of religious students to engage in voluntary prayer at public school events and to have equal access to school facilities.
  36. Supports the First Amendment right of freedom of association for religious, private, service, and youth organizations to set their own membership standards.

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

08.08.20  Update  8:20 p.m.

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

08.01.20  Update 

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

07.15.20  Update

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

06.20.20  Update

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.

Policies for Reopening

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