Element, Covid, and Future Plans - November Update

by Aaron

As you are well aware there are vastly different opinions about Covid, state regulations, and what individuals and churches should do in the midst of the pandemic. With openings, closings, talk of vaccines, rising infection rate - yet lowing death counts, what are we to do…and what is Element doing. I thought we would write this up, so you have an idea of our direction. 

It is very easy to be blown back and forth by the differing opinions that all sound like fact, which is why it is important for us to come up with our position and plan at Element based on God’s leading and not the cacophony of voices that surround us. As you read (or listen as we will video this as well), keep in mind what Element’s vision has always been…to lift up Jesus. This is why we not only teach but intend to LIVE OUT the scriptures because the Scriptures aren’t about one day when we get out of the trailer park called earth, they are about God rescuing us here and now in this life. To do that, our normal friendships need to become Gospel centered so that we have a perspective that sees further than our circumstances.

There are two big decisions we have made that impact the near future of Element in terms of Covid-19. The first one being that we will not resume normal services until state/county ordinances change enough to allow us to have children’s ministries. What that means for you is that we will continue to livestream Sunday mornings (which will be viewable all week, “on-demand,” on YouTube). We will put out children’s lessons geared to your family weekly with take home bags/boxes so your kids can participate. We will be available for prayer via zoom call, and in person prayer if you are willing. Our Gospel Communities will decide on their own how and when they will continue to disciple gospel centered community during this time.

The second decision we have made is while we are not having ‘normal’ Sunday services, we will gather on campus for the message, live, beginning September 6. Even though we will be livestreaming the full service, if you want to come in person, at 9am every Sunday, Aaron will give the sermon live. There will be no band, but he will give the message, let you ask questions, and lead a discussion surrounding the message; it will be more like a bible study – or more like a GC’s “notes night.” If the county says we cannot meet indoors, he will give the sermon outdoors until we can move inside. Once we are inside, we will continue with “sermon only” live until we can have the children meet with us again.

So, no full live service, but there will be a live gathering which you are more than welcome to come to weekly and participate.

Here is a question we have received often during this unprecedented time, why are we letting the government tell us what we can/can’t do? At Element we do not believe that the government mandate is directly leveled at churches, we do not believe that there is a vast conspiracy to bring worship of Jesus to a halt (because nothing could ever stop our true worship of Jesus), but we are careful in how we respond for a couple reasons. One of which is that our ministry to Delta High School is very closely related to the county. We want the county to see us as being respectful of what they are asking and see us as a partner in order to help us more readily be Jesus’ ambassadors to our community.

While it is true that as followers of Jesus, with constitutional freedom of religion, we do not need the state’s permission to worship, but we do want them to see that we love them enough to care about those most vulnerable around us and curtail how we meet for a time. This has stretched on longer than anyone wanted, or anticipated, and we now find ourselves at a crossroads that has brought much division to the body of Christ. We ask that in grace you understand where we are as a church, our commitment to you as attenders and members of Element, and most important our commitment to Jesus and the Gospel. 

When ‘normal’ church services resume you will see a lot work that we have been doing in preparing for adults, youth, and children on the property. While this time is very trying for all of us, we can, and do, still worship Jesus together as a body whether we are together or a part…but we pray for the time when it is together.

 

Word of Encouragement and Prayer from Mike Harman June 9, 2020

by Mike Harman

What is God doing in my life? Is there something He is delivering me from? Am I complaining and calling His deliverance a crisis? Am I trusting His love, goodness and sovereignty in this? Am I choosing to believe He is with me and will walk with me in what I'm going through for His Glory and my good? How is He bringing me to a place of being a blessing to our family, neighbors, coworkers and community? Is this only a crisis or God's hand of deliverance also?

Word of Encouragement and Prayer from Mike Harman May 12, 2020

by Mike Harman

Reading from2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Word of Encouragement and Prayer from Mike Harman April 28, 2020

by Mike Harman

Reading from Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Word of Encouragement and Prayer from Mike Harman April 21, 2020

by Mike Harman

Reading from Romans 8:35-39 (NLT)

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”[a]) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Coronavirus Stew

by Aaron

When I was growing up we didn’t have a lot of money, which in turn made my mother buy whatever protein was on sale (usually a roast of some sort). I cannot tell you how often we had pot roast growing up. Many people I speak to love pot roast; personally, I hate it because it was the one thing we had all the time (well, that and meatloaf). I remember one time my stepfather made the meatloaf and essentially took a pound of ground beef, poured ketchup on it, and baked it. Did I mention I don’t like meatloaf either? If there was ever anything left after the end of a few days of potroast or meatloaf leftovers in the refrigerator, it got turned into a stew (by the way, I don’t like stew either).

Apparently, stews can be made from just about anything.. You throw it in a crockpot, or something, mix it all up with a little liquid, and boom…the shelf-life of what you were about to throw away has magically been extended. You may be wondering why I am rambling about stews or meatloaf when the title of this blog says “coronavirus”…well, I have noticed many people making stew from a lot of things in their life right now, rather than tossing out what should be considered garbage.

Metaphors aside, what I mean is that during this season of spending most of our time alone or locked in our homes, we have a tendency to stew (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) on issues more than usual. We may find that little slights and hurts we would have let go a few weeks ago, now seem to sit and steep (like a teabag in water) in our hearts. Something that we may have processed through and discarded as being a misunderstanding, suddenly has more weight as we begin to ruminate on it. What accounts for this change?

A few short weeks ago, when we could interact with others on a normative level, we could (hopefully) process through slights, hurts, mistakes, and mix-ups. I know many people don’t and still make stew in the ‘normal world’ as well, but it is easier for most of us to process when we can do so face-to-face. I have come across people recently who are dealing with interpersonal issues that, at one time, would have not even been on their radar…and I believe it stems from our closed-off lives from each other. In keeping with my metaphor, it’s also important to understand that these strange circumstances have created a pressure cooker of an environment for many of us. We’re faced with the stressors of a harmful illness, financial insecurity, loneliness, disruption in our normal routine, and challenges in our family roles. The weight of these things can color our perception in a way where we are much slower to extend patience and grace to the people around us.

While I am not calling for us to break county regulations and start gathering, I am asking that all of us strive to be a little more connected. Psalm 133:1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! Yes, our unity is easier when we are together in person, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be unified even in social distancing. The technology we have today that allows us to be connected in these moments is amazing, and if you feel yourself getting worked up, making some sort of stew in your heart, reach of out to someone for some interpersonal interaction. Take stock of how the coronavirus has affected you and remember that it may be affecting others in similar, or even more difficult, ways.

Heb 10:24-25 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Thess 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. Some of us need encouragement now more than ever, as we are in an unprecedented season of life. Please don’t be afraid to reach out to those around you if you need encouragement and remember to be a source of encouragement to others.

Believe me, I understand the frustration of wanting to be out and enjoying normal life again. I too feel the weight of little things that sit upon my heart in overbearing ways. What has started to happen in my heart, though, is a greater appreciation for the little interactions I have always had and yet taken for granted. 

My encouragement for you, in this stage of our isolation, is to not make stew in your heart when feeling let down or misunderstood by others. If anything, reach out and talk to those around you via Zoom, Teams, Facetime, Messenger, or whatever app you use, because nine out of ten times if we don’t, we will find we were making stew instead of learning to “dwell in unity.”

 

Word of Encouragement and Prayer from Jonathan Whitaker

by Jonathan Whitaker

Reading from Matthew 6:25-34

Do Not Be Anxious

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[a] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

God’s Purposes, Our Good

by Kelly Borjas

We are 2.5 weeks into “quarantine mode,” and I figured it was time for me to pause and reflect (writing is always my way of doing that). Usually when I write a blog, I am introspective on a circumstance or aspect of my life. This is a rare situation where the entire world collectively is experiencing the same issue I am, however, this one pandemic impacts each of us differently.

  • Healthcare workers must take care of sick patients, potentially endangering themselves.
  • Essential businesses and employees go to work, increasing chances of exposure to the virus.
  • Parents have become instant homeschoolers, many still trying to work.
  • Small businesses have the pressure of paying employees with uncertainty of future business.
  • Restaurants have had to change how to do business.
  • Many are being laid off.
  • Children must cope with disappointment: school canceled, birthday parties canceled.

Life as we all know it has drastically changed. Family members and friends may get Coronavirus. The list could go on, as no person or business or entity is unaffected by this pandemic.

My mentality has swung from attempting to enjoy the break from so much of life, to wondering what news reports to believe. I have to fight the fear of future business and financial security, and battle tears with my 6-year-old because he misses his friends. I had to take Facebook off my phone because the negativity permeated too many of my thoughts. How dangerous is the virus itself? How long will this last? Will we get it? My perspective has gone from how to approach this situation as a whole, to how to fight and pray for peace daily (sometimes moment by moment). In one day, I’ll fluctuate between gratitude for our beautiful world and my family: time together, bike rides, neighbors outside and smiling, the meals we have, to heart-palpitating fear that we are stuck like this indefinitely. Patience is tested for my family as we are all together, all the time. Last Sunday we tried to live stream church services when we had two kids start throwing tantrums; in the end we went outside and had our own family church service that was simple and authentic (as my son told the story of Noah’s ark, I had a new appreciation for being stuck on a boat for 40 days!)

I often try to ask what God is teaching me in a particular situation. I found myself today trying to ask that question but was stumped as to the answer because we are ALL in this situation. What is God teaching us? Is it a lesson for humanity in general? Is it some great wake up call? I don’t have answers to these questions.

As I prayed, I was reminded of one of my favorite verses: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).” Sometimes people like to quote this verse with the idea that all things will all work out the way we want (Riches! A nice house! Business success! Whatever else we want!). This is one of the greatest promises of Scripture, but it doesn’t mean we get what we want. I may not have financial security. I may not live to old age. I will lose people I care about at some point in life. So what is our “good” as Christians? It is this: God can and will use all things to work together to make us more like Him, to draw us closer to Him for His purpose. The “good” we have been promised it Jesus.

Our hope is in Jesus. In fact, on my morning run, I literally ran across a sidewalk--chalked verse of Psalm 52:5 “My soul rests in God; my hope comes from him.” I have no idea who placed that there, but the truth and encouragement brought a smile to my face. A ray of hope in a bleak world. This world is temporary; He is eternal. Circumstances change; God never changes. That is our hope, and as our circumstances force us to face our own mortality and the uncertainty around us, we are reminded what is certain, and God is using all these things to work together for our good, and His purposes.

 

Word of Encouragement and Prayer from Mike Harman

by Mike Harman

Reading from Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Another Coronavirus Blog?

by Aaron

Please forgive me if you think I am hopping on the pandemic bandwagon of the Coronavirus. Everyone is talking about this (many with very different views) and it needs to be addressed from Element because we are getting lots of advice from lots of people. There was a great article on the Gospel Coalition website recently by Joe Carter where he quotes a scientific American article from Bill Hanage and Marc Lipsitch that speaks of 3 levels of information:

A. What we know to be true – where infection is, how it is spread.
B. What we think is true – interpretation of facts and transmission of those interpretations.
C. Opinions and speculation – what they call “the effects of extreme social distancing.”

Carter writes, “In talking about this issue, we should make every attempt to base our opinion on category A, be hesitant about putting too much weight on category B, and be clear when we are referring to category C.” Our goal at Element as we prayerfully make decisions and respond is to utilize the above criteria.

Whether or not the current situation is defined as an outbreak, epidemic, or pandemic will change depending on who you get your information from (different organization define pandemic differently). Shutting things completely down may work in an outbreak or epidemic stage, but during a pandemic it could hurt more people as goods and services can’t get to those who need them the most. A Gospel-centered response must assert itself in the midst of fear…which is what I want to talk about.

Believers in Jesus are living in the same level of anxiety and fear as everyone else, meaning we are sharing the response of others to what is often merely “opinions and speculation.” Please don’t misunderstand me, there are precautions that should take place (Element is starting to take some of those), but we must also be Gospel focused in whatever our response becomes. 1 John 4:18-21 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Between 250 and 270 A.D. a plague devastated the Roman Empire to the point that upwards of 5,000 people died every day (it was called the Plague of Cyprian). Eric Metaxas notes that, “The plague coincided with the first empire-wide persecution of Christians under the emperor Decius. Not surprisingly, Decius and other enemies of the Church blamed Christians for the plague.” That claim obviously wasn’t true because Christians died from it…and unlike everybody else, they cared for the victims of the plague, including their non-believing neighbors.

Throughout church history Christians have had the opposite reaction to pandemics than the rest of the world. Historically, they have run towards them to offer healing and hope amidst the fear and chaos. This is documented with the Antonine Plague, the Black Plague, and even Ebola. Rodney Stark wrote, "Christians stayed in the afflicted cities when pagan leaders, including physicians, fled.” Metaxas quotes Candida Moss, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Notre Dame, that an "epidemic that seemed like the end of the world actually promoted the spread of Christianity." By their actions in the face of possible death, Christians showed their neighbors that "Christianity is worth dying for."

Today we are centuries, and in some cases millennia, removed from these plagues, and yet the same truth of Christ’s rescue of us should remain preeminent in how we ultimately handle outbreaks like Covid-19. The people who are hit hardest are the elderly who cannot get out of their homes as easily as they used to. While we should be careful not to spread the virus, we should also understand that love calls us to reach out and check on those most vulnerable around us. This may look different depending on your neighborhood, and could include a myriad of things from sharing from a stockpile of toilet paper, offering to run an errand for someone, delivering a meal, or simply calling someone who may need comfort in isolation. We follow the Holy Spirit’s guiding because God’s love for us should prompt us to run toward people--even as everyone else runs away. Running toward the less fortunate confounds those in the world who think it is strictly a government’s or NGO’s job to help people. Many times governmental agencies give up just when people need help the most.

Please understand both what I am saying and not saying. Yes, take precautions, but don’t let whatever happens in this world override God’s call in our lives to love another. We are to be driven first and foremost by the Gospel and God’s intervening rescue of us. Social media can stir you up to believe all sorts of things, but like Hanage and Lipsitch say in their post, “The virus does not read news articles and doesn’t care about Twitter.” 

Let us be those who care for those around us in love and not fearful reaction.

 

What Is a Reasoned Response (Covid 19)

by Kelly Borjas

I remember a few months ago seeing news coverage of the Coronavirus in China: people lined up around the block for masks, a husband in full protective gear to care for his infected wife. At the time, I gave it a passing thought. Honestly—it was an “I’m sorry for them and glad we aren’t dealing with that in America.” Then I moved on with my life, to my plans, problems, and my celebrations.

Flash forward, and the impact of the Coronavirus is felt and seen worldwide. As my husband said, it feels like a wave that is coming. News, social media, conversations, politics, even churches are responding to this pandemic. In my life I can recall two defining moments that seem on par with the magnitude of this situation: 9-11, and the economic collapse in 2008. The same feelings and behaviors emerged during those times: fear, speculation, uncertainty, and a drastic shift in daily behaviors.

I find myself trying to figure out how to respond as a Christian. As a Christ-follower, my hope is secure in what Jesus says and has done. However, that doesn’t negate the need to act responsibly. Honestly, it’s overwhelming and inundating. Please note, this blog is absolutely not a commentary on what medical measures to take, that’s not my specialty and I won’t claim to have an educated stance on the matter. It is, however, an attempt to make sense of the reality that our society as a whole is wrestling with this topic and we cannot avoid it. Do we stock up on food? Do we need extra water? Do we stop attending events? De we cancel trips? Even closer to home, my son had a cold this last week. The what-if thoughts took hold in my heart, and the fear wants to take root. We may all differ on how to respond in preparation, but I believe there are a few key thoughts as Christians that we can apply to our lives.

No part of this pandemic is a surprise to God. He is sovereign and in control, on the throne, and won’t be conquered by anything. That’s also true of His love for us. Romans 8:35, 37 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or, danger, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life or angels, nor things present or things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Translation: not even the Coronavirus will separate us from the love of Jesus! I need that daily reminder to calm my soul and orient my heart, especially when the fear takes root and starts to grow.

This is also a reminder of both the great freedoms we’ve enjoyed, and how much we’ve been spared from other devastating events. Until now, we have had the freedom to take trips, attend events, and gather together without a second thought. Now, gathering with others is a carefully-meditated decision. Have I ever really stopped to appreciate this? No, and I hope I remember that ability when our lives return to a “normal” pace. On a smaller level, we had a trip planned for months that we had to cancel, a reminder to me (planner Kelly) not to hold so tightly to my agenda and plans, and to be thankful for both the big and small moments, even when they change.

A couple weeks ago a tornado occurred in the middle of the night in Tennessee, reminding me that none of us knows how our days are numbered. This is humbling for me: how many times have I read news stories of hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, and more, and barely paid attention? All too often. Now we’re faced with this pandemic and I realize none of us is exempt from natural disasters or trouble. The Bible says, “a man’s heart directs his steps but the Lord directs his ways” (Proverbs 16:9). Instead of thanking the Lord for each day, I move forward like I control my life. I don’t control my life. I can make plans, but God still directs my ways. 

Where does that leave us? I think it leaves us with the truth. These are uncertain times that require a response. Each of us may differ in what that response looks like, but we need to remember where our hope lies. Jesus said, “in this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). It’s okay to be prepared. In fact, I think that’s even our responsibility. God gave us brains, research, and the ability to make wise choices. Yet, in our preparation we cannot assume we control the outcome. We must hold this situation with open hands: make wise choices, but trust that the Lord is in control. It’s a time we need to remind ourselves where our hope lies, and that our hope is not in any particular outcome or circumstance. Our hope lies in God, who is the “Alpha and the Omega…who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). May we remember our God is in control and has overcome the world, and let our lives be a reflection of that truth, even as we face difficult and uncertain circumstances.