May 2020 Newsletter

A Word from the Pastor: A Plague from God?

Is this novel coronavirus outbreak God’s judgment on us?

This is a question I’ve seen posed, and it’s worth considering. And without any special, prophetic knowledge, I can definitely say…maybe. At least, it’s certainly possible.

There may be some out there who bluster with confidence: Yes, this outbreak is God’s anger unleashed on the world for its many sins and wickedness. And there is actual precedent there. King David conducted a census of Israel that the Lord did not approve of. So God sent the prophet Gad to David offering him three choices as a consequence for his sinful actions: either “three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the Lord—days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel.” (1 Chronicles 21:12) Also, when the Philistines captured the ark of the Lord from the Israelites, they placed it in the temple with their idol Dagon. But because of their disrespect for the Lord, the “Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors.” (1 Samuel 5:6). Later on, the prophet Amos spoke to Israel from the Lord their God. God had sent famine, disease, drought, and war on them; and yet, says the Lord, “you have not returned to me.” (Amos 4:6-12)

So, is it possible for the God who sent plagues on Egypt, as well as his own people, to send plagues on us? Absolutely, yes. But I don’t have foresight to see if that’s truly the case now; I will have to wait since hindsight is 20/20.

But if this is indeed from God, then why? Well, that one is easier to answer. God disciplines us so that we will return to him in faith and repentance. God does not delight in the death of sinners, but he desires that they turn from their ways and be saved (See Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11). The letter to the Hebrews encourages those who are suffering to see the deeper meaning of it all: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (12:5b-6; quoting from Proverbs 3:12)

So then, the next step, in my view, is to assume that everything is laden with spiritual meaning, even the coronavirus outbreak. And that means that as believers, we should turn to the Lord our God in faith, confess our sins (and vicariously confess the sins of the world around us), and repent of our old ways, choosing a new path going forward. The prophet Hosea entreated his fellow believers: “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.” (6:1) And that invitation fitting for us today as well. During Joel’s lifetime, Israel saw a plague of locusts descend on the land. The locusts devoured everything, leaving the people (and their crops) devastated. Joel used that calamity as a harbinger and a symbol of God’s eventual judgment (2:31), and he summoned the people to turn from their ways without delay. “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. (2:12-13) Joel went on to call the people to gather and repent together: “Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly.” (2:15-16a)

And it would do us good if we followed suit—if we gathered to pray and repent and beg for God’s mercy on our world. There is historical precedence for just such things, too. In the year 590, a plague devastated the city of Rome. It even claimed the life of Pelagius II, the bishop of Rome (the pope). After he died, Gregory the Great was elected bishop into a difficult situation. They didn’t know about social distancing back then, so they implored God with sincerity. Gregory organized a massive procession of Christians around the city, inviting everyone to pray to God that the plague would be lifted. In the fourteenth century, when the bubonic plague wiped out wide swaths of the population in Europe, Christians understood it as divine discipline, and they responded by praying fervently and repenting in sackcloth and ashes. Likewise, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the plague broke out in Europe, preachers called on believers to rectify their ways and to return to the Lord.

Is the coronavirus outbreak judgment from God? Perhaps. Is God inviting us to return to him with all our hearts, while turning our backs on the past? Absolutely, yes.

So, in addition to the common-sense measures that we adopt (facemasks, handwashing, social distancing), let us not forget that there is spiritual meaning here as well. Let us return to the Lord with fasting, weeping, and mourning for the fallen condition of our world. Let us return to the Lord, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.

Pastor Ray

The Life of Our Church

Online Services

Good news! First, Jesus is alive! Second, we will resume in-person worship starting Sunday, May 3, at 10:30 a.m. We will practice common-sense measures to make sure we are safe (sorry, no hugs, handshakes, or holy kisses). Please wear a facemask and use hand sanitizer! If you are at all concerned, please stay home. We will also resume Sunday school at 9:30 a.m.

Our hope is to continue to publish our worship services on YouTube, either as a livestream (that is archived) or as a recorded version. Please visit and subscribe to our YouTube channel to discover our videos:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCo7rD-aUmWcKtM6wKohlKBw

Supporting Our Church

It is important that we all continue to support our church’s mission during this pandemic. Please give generously in worship or by mail (or drop in the mail slot): 710 Walnut Street, Atlantic, IA 50022. Thank you!

Sunday School

Sunday school will resume meeting in-person starting on Sunday, May 3, at 9:30 a.m. Please wear a mask and practice common-sense social distancing, even while we’re together. Remember, we do these things for others’ health, and not only our own.

ABWM

Please stay tuned for information about ABWM during May.

Diaconate

Our deacons will gather after worship on Sunday, May 10.

Just Pray

Pray for each other. Pray for the world. Pray for God’s kingdom to come quickly. Just pray. There are many (free) resources to guide your prayers, so take advantage of them!

  1. The Secret Place: magazine (in our church), Web site, app for Apple or Android
  2. Our Daily Bread: Web site, app for Apple or Android
  3. The Upper Room: Web site, app for Apple or Android
  4. Daily Prayer (from the Church of England): Web site, app for Apple or Android

Stay Connected!

Facebook: Follow our Facebook page for updates and alerts.

(https://www.facebook.com/firstbaptistatlantic)

Text: Subscribe to our text message service for prayer requests and updates: Text (712) 250-1607 to be added.

YouTube: Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCo7rD-aUmWcKtM6wKohlKBwNewsletter: Visit our Web site and subscribe to receive our newsletter (blog) by email (at the bottom-left of the homepage). https://fbcatlantic.wordpress.com.

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