July 24, 2020
Dear Sister or Brother in Christ,
These are uncertain times. As positive cases of COVID-19 increase in Beltrami County, our church is facing, yet again, unprecedented challenges. We are now in the midst of deciding how to introduce a requirement to wear facemasks in our church building. Reactions to this are all across the board. Some are greatly relieved and considering finally returning to church now that it feels safe to do so. Others are greatly outraged because it feels like our freedoms are being taken away by various governing authorities, not to mention what seem to be inconsistent and varied medical viewpoints. These are uncertain times, please pray for our church.
Pray for wisdom and unity among our church leaders: our staff, our elders, our trustees, and many other leaders as well. Pray that we will have genuine but kind discussions regarding our disagreements. Pray that we won’t pretend that we have complete uniformity in our viewpoints; but pray that we will embrace unity none the less. Psalm 133:1 declares, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”
Pray that our Reopening Strategy Task Force will have discernment and clear direction in what to recommend and not recommend. Pray that our Elders will know what to require and not require. Pray that we’ll be able to find a way forward that allows us to keep our building open for church services, Bible studies, youth and children’s discipleship, and so on. Pray that we will not be distracted or held back in our gospel mandate by secondary things or unnecessary distractions.
These are difficult times. The great thing about difficult times is that they are the times when our faith tends to grow the most. 1 Peter 1:6-7 reminds us, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Any trial that we may be facing right now, either individually or as a church, is an opportunity for God to refine our faith. For the fires to melt us down and purify us and prove the genuineness of what’s real. And to burn off and melt away the dross and impurities.
Psalm 66:8-12 reflects back to a time in history when God rescued His people from their bondage to the Egyptians and helped them pass through the Red Sea, “Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard; he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.” These events were difficult in the lives of God’s people. They were burdensome and heavy loads to bear. But they were also refining. They have now become stories of God’s faithfulness and rescue. Stories to look back on, from which we can all learn great lessons of faith.
1 Corinthians 10:1-11 adds a sober word of warning from Israel’s history, “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousands of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.”
In other words, the various ways that God’s people responded to difficult times determined whether God was pleased with them or not. Just like us, they were provided with the spiritual food and drink they needed to sustain them during those tough times. Setting their hearts on the wrong things and having ungodly attitudes led many of them to face God’s discipline. So pray that each of our brothers and sisters in Christ at E-Free Bemidji will respond in ways that are pleasing to God. Pray that our actions and attitudes will be pleasing to God and attract His blessing and favor.
Pray in particular that we will put on our masks when we need to, stay socially distanced, wash our hands, and love one another and our neighbors despite the inconveniences and discomforts that it brings. May our solid foundation be on Christ and may we die to ourselves. Pray the words of Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Whatever this means during this lingering challenge of COVID-19, pray that we will embrace what God has for us. May we grow in spiritual maturity and flourish and thrive through adversity and challenge. May God refine us and renew us into a people who bring Him great glory.
These are times for spiritual growth and refinement. In the words of Ephesians 6:1-3, let’s live lives worthy of the calling we have received. Let’s be completely humble and gentle and patient, bearing with one another in love. Let’s make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Brother or Sister in Christ, thank you for faithfully praying for our church as we approach the year 2024. May God be honored as we become the church that He would have us be.
Together in Christ,