A Note From Pastor Howard: When Viruses Go Viral

Good evening, folks!

Have you ever witnessed a time when a contagion was so much in the public eye?  Most of us, especially those of us with a rather robust confidence in a God Who sovereignly micro-manages the smallest of details in the natural world, are naturally a bit resistant to the fires of pessimism and panic that are stoked by extensive, incessant coverage from the various sources of media.  This outbreak has stimulated rather remarkable responses from government quarters internationally, and from private quarters even locally.  I have not seen a social response like this in my lifetime.

So, how should we, who fear God so do not fear sickness or death for believers, process all of this?  Here are a few well known verses to be reminded of:

  • And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8: 28
  • Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.  Psalm 139: 16
  • Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.  Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.  Psalm 23: 4

So, whatever steps we take should not be guided by a fear of sickness or death, both of which are carefully controlled and managed by a powerful, wise God Who administrates His world in a manner that can only be described as Almighty.  God will greet no one at the moment of the demise of his or her mortal body with an astonished, “Hey, what are you doing here this early?”   The Psalmist David was under attack of enemies and realized “But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord.  I say, “You are my God.”  My times are in Your hand…  Psalm 31: 14

Gathering together to fellowship is a gracious priority for a believer.  A genuine believer does not easily or regularly neglect the assembling of ourselves together.  At the same time, here are some other principles that are in play:

  • Do nothing from selfishness of empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Philippians 2: 3, 4.  
  • Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Romans 13: 1

The Alberta government has asked that events that would involve over 250 people or events that involve critical care staff (we have a few), seniors (we have a few), and high risk populations (folks with compromised lungs function or immune function, we have a few) would be cancelled.  Churches were specifically exempted, but that could change at short notice, and we are perhaps in a special category, given where we worship. 

As a church, we need to be sensitive to the health risks of the elderly and those who are higher risk to the current viral infection.  We need to protect the vulnerable of our congregation, and we need to protect the vulnerable in our community.  We do not own our own building.  We rent from the Vermilion Senior Center and as such, it is a facility that uniquely impacts this vulnerable sector of our community’s more susceptible population.  This is a mutually beneficial relationship, as we contribute to a stable monthly rental income for them, and we are able to meet every week with very much reduced overhead costs relative to owning and maintaining our own building.

The facilities are not designed with hospital grade disinfection practices being carried out on a high frequency basis.  Chair surfaces are cloth, ceilings are porous, and exposed surfaces are many, complex, and not easily disinfected.  Given that this building is primarily their space, if we cannot reasonably predict that we are able to disinfect to reflect a high level of care, it was our decision as leadership, (and emphatically my decision, if there should be assessment of blame), that we suspend gathering there for a time.  The government is not requiring this, and neither is the Vermilion Senior Center.  We came to this decision voluntarily out of a concern to proceed with an abundance of care, rather than because we were compelled by any body external to Reformed By Grace Baptist Church.

How long will this continue?  Not sure.  Information comes in and decisions need to be made on the basis of the data at hand.  We have not made a decision about this yet.  For this Sunday, notice has been given that we are not going to gather together physically, but we have a “well oiled” ability to broadcast on Mixlr until alternate arrangements are carefully evaluated and made.  (Our identification on the Mixlr app is RBGB-teaching).  Type that into the search bar of the app to find us.

For this week, the Tuesday night Lloydminster study on Isaiah, the Wednesday night Vermilion area Galatians study, and the Thursday night Two Hills Fundamentals of the Faith study will all continue, but not in physical meeting, but rather broadcast from our living room on Mixlr.  You can text questions to my wife, and I will try to respond to them in “real time”.  As someone who is on the road all week, and going from house to house, I want to limit the risk of me being the “Corona Cleric” to our people and our homes.  We will be getting in touch with you as best we can, in as timely a way as we can, as events unfold and our situation is able to change.  

For now, gather the kids together on the couch.  That will provide the background worship noises we are now accustomed to.  You may now have coffee and snacks while listening to a sermon (if the local administration permits…).  Lead your family in prayer.  Sing.  Spool up the YouTube clips of the hymn sing at the recent Shepherd’s conference, and sing along, for example.  If you are among our singles or the population of believers under your roof are small, go ahead and join a family close by.  Families, get the invitations out.  If you are showing symptoms or are aware of specific exposure to folks with the virus, self-quarantine out of love.  This interruption is expected to be very temporary, but let’s do this new situation well.

As always, I am available to assist in all the regular ways I shepherd.  I can meet in person under some conditions, others I will try to do by phone, but my wife and I are here.  Do not be afraid.  Our God is both Sovereign and trustworthy.  See if you can make the most of these circumstances for the furtherance of the Gospel like Paul did when he was in lockdown. Pray.  Pray (rather than being anxious; Philippians 4: 6) that we would make the most of this unique evangelism opportunity in our world:

  • … that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.  Hebrews 2: 14, 15
  • Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  Matthew 10: 28

Rejoice in the Lord always.  Minister the gospel as you have a new set of opportunities.

God bless!