Weekly Letter August 20, 2020

Dear Church Family and Friends,

     Amy and I celebrated our 33rd anniversary last week.  As I reflect on this, I think “wow, what a testimony of God’s goodness.”  Having grown up with parents who endured a tumultuous marriage to stay together “for the children,” I’m privileged to see the grace and mercy of God magnified in our home each day.  This helps me to remember that even through dark and difficult times, God is good, and his mercies endure forever.

     This week in our study of Esther, we will see that Esther perseveres through difficult circumstances as the Lord raises her up to be the Queen of Persia.  We will see how the Lord raises up a person who is flawed, and perhaps even compromised, to a position of influence who can save his people from destruction. 

     We will see much of ourselves in this story.  We are also flawed, and compromised by sin.  Yet, the Lord continues to teach us his Word, enables us to see our sin, repent of it, and embrace the gospel promises.  He places us in positions of influence.  We may not have the connections necessary to save our nation from the work of the Evil One, but he has placed us in families, in networks of people, in our church, in workplaces and schools where we can exercise a gospel influence. 

ARTICLES OF NOTE

     As children go back to school, and as homeschool moms get back into the routine of education, it’s worth asking “what is the goal of education.”  This writer makes the case that the purpose of all education is to train the soul.

     The Puritan John Owen is perhaps best known for writing works that seem obtuse and exhaustive to our 21st century sensibilities.  Did you know that much of John Owen’s ministry was to teens and young adults?

     Here is another tribute to the life and work of the late J. I. Packer, and his goal of doing theology in the service of the Church. 

     Can you imagine being in possession of your facuties but physically unable to pray?  Here is the story of a pastor who experienced a brain injury that made him unable to form the words to pray. 

LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

     While COVID-19 has brought much suffering and alterations in our normal routines, one blessing is that learning opportunities have multiplied as a result of this pandemic.  Here are just a couple:

    The  Paideia Center for Theological Discipleship, sponsored by Reformed Theological Seminary, sponsors reading groups both in-person and virtual.  The book for this fall is Augustine’s Confessions and for the spring, they will read Calvin’s Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, which is a small section of his Institutes devoted to the practice of the Christian life.  For $25 you get the book, and three group meetings led by an expert facilitator.  I participated in the fall and spring groups last year, and I am signed up for a virtual group this fall.

     The Reformed Forum podcast family also has several course available this fall that would be suitable to encourage you in theological study, but without the commitment or expense of seminary.

CHURCH SERVICES

     Once again, as long as social distancing is recommended, if you decide to stay home for reasons of conscience or from an abundance of caution, we honor, respect, and support your decision. We continue to offer livestream service at 11 AM and 5 PM here.  If you find that there are still starts and stops and gaps in the livestream service, you may access the recorded service by clicking on the link above. This is available shortly after the conclusion of the livestream.  This should eliminate those difficulties.  If neither of these works well, our audio sermons are available at Sermon Audio

OTHER ANNOUNCEMENTS

    

     Children’s and Youth Sunday School on Zoom:  This fall, we will make two Sunday school classes available on Zoom. Vicki Edwards will teach a class designed for children grades 1-6 on Pilgrim’s Progress.  Pastor Clay will teach grades 7-9 on the Shorter Catechism.  Both of these will run September 20-December 13.  Watch your email for further information. 

ZOOM SUNDAY SCHOOL

    Adult Sunday School will continue on Zoom.  We are still working out the class details.  Watch your email for the Zoom links to Adult Sunday School, which runs from 9:40-10:30.

     Your officers are praying for you, and are privileged to minister to you in any way that you may find helpful.   And remember, if you are ever in need of spiritual counsel or prayer, please ask me, Pastor Lou, or one of the elders. This is what we are here for.  We are happy to serve you in this way!

Love in Christ,

Pastor Clay

Weekly Letter August 14, 2020

Dear Church Family and Friends,

     As I mentioned last week, I’m working on a series of sermons on the Book of Esther that I will begin preaching this Sunday evening.

     In sermon preparation, there is inevitably some material that doesn’t “make the cut.”  It’s either not derived from the text, or it has less importance than the primary themes of the passage, or it doesn’t seem germane to the needs of the congregation.  But sometimes, such material can be interesting and instructive.  In this case, it’s more philosophical than Biblical. 

     In the first chapter of Esther, we are introduced to the ruler of Persia, Ahasuerus, who is also known as Xerxes.  We find that he is a man of contradictions.  He rules over a vast territory containing 127 provinces from present-day India to Ethiopia.  He’s wealthy enough to have a lavish feast (think huge wedding reception!) for 180 days in a row.  He has executive, legislative, and judicial power.  But he doesn’t have enough influence to get his wife to come to him when he sends for her.

The Difference Between Authority and Influence

     I would suggest that there are two different dynamics at work here:  authority and influence.  If a person has authority, it means that they have the power to make decisions, give orders, and enforce obedience.  Generally, but not always, there is some kind of coercive power that one in authority possesses.  Such a person has a title – whether it be husband, father, CEO of a company, teacher, principal, governor, or President of the United States. 

     Influence is the capacity to have an effect on people and events.  One may have no formal authority, yet have great influence.  Consider the teacher whose love for learning is contagious, and whose love for her students inspires some of them to become teachers themselves.  This does not come from authority, but from influence.

What causes people to have influence

     Ahasuerus has much authority, but little influence.  He needs the coercive authority that goes with his title to effect outcomes.  When his wife disobeys him, he makes a law, which he thinks will solve the problem. 

     Two primary character traits that create influence are character and competence.  To create trust, one must be a person of good character.  This is what we see missing from Ahasuerus.  Not only does he sponsor 180 days of feasting, but following this, he sponsors a week-long party for everyone in the city, in which “each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions.”  So, he hosts a week-long frat party, hoping to get into the good graces of the residents of the city. 

     However, people generally desire that their rulers be self-controlled.  This is why the mother of Lemuel writes in Proverbs 31:3-5:

Do not give your strength to women,
    your ways to those who destroy kings.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
    it is not for kings to drink wine,
    or for rulers to take strong drink,
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed
    and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.

     The character of Ahasuerus is not one that inspires trust.  And his competence is questionable as well.  He cannot rule his own household well.  He attempts to overcome this by making a law.  But because his character is compromised, he has no moral authority.  People will not trust him.  The only authority he has is coercive authority.

     A society ruled by leaders who have not earned moral authority through their character and competence cannot last.  This is true for husbands and father, for church leaders, and for civil authorities.  Families do not have enough means at their disposal to coerce their children to obey apart from children trusting their parents.  This is particularly true when children advance into the teen years and become “too big to spank.”  States and nations can never have enough police to compel obedience to unjust authorities.  And the Church, whose only authority is “moral and spiritual,” has no coercive authority to compel obedience. 

So, What’s the Point of All of This?

     The point of all of this is that if you seek to influence people, you must seek to grow in character, in wisdom, and in godliness.  People may flatter those in authority out of self-preservation.  As Christians, we are called to influence those whom God has put in our proximity with the sweet-smelling aroma of the gospel.  Character is king, and everything else follows from godly character.  Seek to grow in grace.  Pray that the Lord would help you to grow in holiness.  Love the people that God has placed you among deeply, and the Lord will bless your efforts.

ARTICLES OF NOTE

     On August 4, PCA Pastor Jean Jacob Paul was martyred in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.  Read here of his courageous and fruitful ministry, and his courageous stand against the priests of Voodoo.  I knew this man slightly.  Martyrdom becomes so much more real when we lose one of our own.

     As some of you are gearing up for back to school, here is an article that describes the trade-offs of in-person schooling, remote learning, and home learning.

     Social media needs manners.  Here is one pastors’ idea of what these might look like. 

CHURCH SERVICES

     Once again, as long as social distancing is recommended, if you decide to stay home for reasons of conscience or from an abundance of caution, we honor, respect, and support your decision. We continue to offer livestream service at 11 AM and 5 PM here.  If you find that there are still starts and stops and gaps in the livestream service, you may access the recorded service by clicking on the link above. This is available shortly after the conclusion of the livestream.  This should eliminate those difficulties.  If neither of these works well, our audio sermons are available at Sermon Audio

ZOOM SUNDAY SCHOOL

    Pastor Julian Zugg will continue to teach the adult Sunday School class on the Holy Spirit on Zoom.  Watch your email for the Zoom links to Adult Sunday School, which runs from 9:40-10:30 and the Zoom chat after Evening Worship, which begins around 6:15.  

     Your officers are praying for you, and are privileged to minister to you in any way that you may find helpful.   And remember, if you are ever in need of spiritual counsel or prayer, please ask me, Pastor Lou, or one of the elders. This is what we are here for.  We are happy to serve you in this way!

Love in Christ,

Pastor Clay

Weekly Letter, August 7, 2020

Dear Church Family and Friends,

    Amy and I are back from study leave and vacation.  We enjoyed a relaxing weekend at Galveston and returned Monday night.  For those of you who are able to attend church in person, we are looking forward to seeing you this Sunday.  If you are isolating, we hope to catch up with you soon.

     The main project that  I’m working on right now is a series of sermons on the Book of Esther that I will begin preaching on August 16.  Esther is one of the most neglected books of the Bible.  On the surface, it appears deservedly so, as there is no explicit mention of God, worship, or prayer.  But throughout this book, we see the hidden providence of God in preserving his people from destruction through a courageous young woman.

     Perhaps, more than any other book, Esther addresses the questions, “Where is God in all of this?  I don’t see him at work?  Why does it seem that he is absent?  Why am I experiencing such great suffering?  Why doesn’t he intervene?  Has he forgotten me?  Has he forsaken me?”

     In many ways, God seems completely inactive in Esther.  More than any Old Testament book, we see in Esther that we must walk by faith and not by sight.  We see that his normal way of working is not through spectacular events when he parts the heavens and comes down, but through his inconspicuous and almost imperceptible Providence.

    We remember God’s deliverance of his people through Esther, that he raised her up “for such a time as this.”  However, as the Jews were living through these events, it appeared that they would be subjected to cruel and heartless destruction – even to genocide – through the wicked actions of Haman.  But at the last minute, God raises up the righteous and destroys the wicked.

     And Esther is an unlikely heroine.  She was orphaned at a young age and raised by her uncle, Mordecai.  She was taken from him to the king’s harem.  This is no Cinderella story.  There was no “beauty pageant” or “scholarship contest” that she applied to and won.  The text doesn’t allow us to press this point too hard, but today, she might be considered a victim of human trafficking.  This is a child of the covenant, living in exile, who experienced great losses early in life.

     Esther doesn’t seem to be particularly devout.  There is no mention of her keeping the dietary laws, which is central in the Book of Daniel.  She conceals her Jewish identity.  Yet, God raises her up to save his people from destruction.

     One of the lessons that we can learn from Esther is that no matter what kind of baggage we bring into the kingdom, no matter how many hurts and losses we have suffered, or how many times we may have compromised, God is not finished with us yet.  He is able to use each one of us to accomplish his purposes and to further his kingdom.  Esther encourages us that God is able to do great things through unlikely people.

ARTICLES OF NOTE

     Lindsey Brigham Knott, one of my former teaching colleagues, writes about “Why Ceremony is not Nonessential.”

     Here is a paper that chronicles the development of the Presbyterian church in Egypt.  I had no idea that there is a Presbyterian church in Egypt!  While this paper is rather academic, the story of God’s blessing on the work of American Presbyterian missionaries who went to Egypt in the nineteenth century is interesting and encouraging.

     The book White Fragility is one that’s making the rounds right now.  t’s number two on the New York Times nonfiction best seller list.  Tim Challies reviews this book and concludes that it is not a helpful resource for Christians.

 CHURCH SERVICES

     Once again, as long as social distancing is recommended, if you decide to stay home for reasons of conscience or from an abundance of caution, we honor, respect, and support your decision. We continue to offer livestream service at 11 AM and 5 PM here.  If you find that there are still starts and stops and gaps in the livestream service, you may access the recorded service, which is available shortly after the conclusion of the livestream.  This should eliminate those difficulties.  If neither of these works well, our audio sermons are available at Sermon Audio.  We are continuously working to improve the quality of our livestream, so hopefully, it will improve week by week.

ZOOM SUNDAY SCHOOL

    Pastor Julian Zugg will continue to teach the adult Sunday School class on the Holy Spirit on Zoom.  Watch your email for the Zoom links to Adult Sunday School, which runs from 9:40-10:30 and the Zoom chat after Evening Worship, which begins around 6:15.

     Your officers are praying for you, and are privileged to minister to you in any way that you may find helpful.   And remember, if you are ever in need of spiritual counsel or prayer, please ask me, Pastor Lou, or one of the elders. This is what we are here for.  We are happy to serve you in this way!

Love in Christ,

Pastor Clay

Weekly Letter, July 31, 2020

Dear Church Family and Friends,

I’m on study leave this week, but I want to share with you what I’ve done this week and some of the things that I’ve learned.  Amy and I will be away this weekend, but we are looking forward to seeing you when we return

 I attended a series of seminars put on by St. John’s College called “Freedom of Conscience and the American Experiment.”  This turned out to be unlike any class, conference, or program that I’ve ever participated in.  Each participant was given approximately 500 pages of primary source material to read and study before the seminars.  The readings ranged from Martin Luther’s The Freedom of a Christian to some of the American founding documents to contemporary Supreme Court opinions.

Fourteen participants met on Zoom for a two-hour morning seminar and a two-hour afternoon seminar with two tutors (that’s what they call professors at St. John’s).  We were gathered together as a “small republic” to discuss the texts of the readings.  Each participant brought an opening question for the group to discuss.  We were asked not to make speeches, tell personal anecdotes, or bring in outside information.  The object of each meeting was to have a conversation rooted in the text of the material that we read.

St. John’s is third oldest college in America, being founded in 1696.  Their curriculum has been practically unchanged since 1937.  As a “Great Books College,” St. John’s has one major, virtually no electives.  Everyone takes the same classes, which are based on original sources rather than textbooks.  For example, your math class may be Euclid’s Geometry, or Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica.

St. John’s is a secular institution, so the people who participated came from a wide variety of perspectives.  Each person brought great humility of mind to the readings, and was willing to follow the text wherever it led.  The seminar was a model of guided conversation, a willingness of all participants to listen to each other, and civil discourse.

Unlike the conferences that I’ve attended or classes that I’ve taken, I didn’t come home with a notebook full of notes. We thoroughly studied the and discussed the material.  However, this was different than going to lectures and taking notes.  So, what did I come away with?

1. A reminder that all people are created in the image of God.  Because of this, in spite of any differences we may have, what we have in common is greater than our differences.  We have a basis for communication and conversation with everyone.

2. An experience of and appreciation for excellent models for leading discussions and guided conversations.

3. A renewed appreciation for principled and respectful disagreement.  Disagreement is a fact of life.  Even though as a church, we recognize the supreme authority of the Scripture and committed to the Westminster Standards as our subordinate standard, we will still have disagreements.  The disagreements I experienced in the seminars were different kind of disagreements than we have in the church, but we were able to disagree respectfully and agreeably, even on matters of principle.

4. A reminder to focus on the text in the study and preaching of the Scripture. This may sound obvious. But too often, pastors can lose focus, and preach their preconceptions of the text rather than the text itself.  When sermons are grounded in the text of the Scripture, the authority of Scripture is magnified rather than the authority of the preacher.  The congregation has greater confidence in the authority of Scripture and in their ability to read and understand the Bible.

5. A reminder of the unique relationship between the founding of America and the Christian faith.   America’s founding documents are deeply shaped by the Christian faith.  The Founding Fathers were united in their belief that for religion to flourish, it must be kept free from both government aid and government restrictions.

CHURCH SERVICES

Once again, as long as social distancing is recommended, if you decide to stay home for reasons of conscience or from an abundance of caution, we honor, respect, and support your decision. We continue to offer livestream service at 11 AM and 5 PM here.  If you find that there are still starts and stops and gaps in the livestream service, you may access the recorded service, which is available shortly after the conclusion of the livestream.  This should eliminate those difficulties.  If neither of these works well, our audio sermons are available at Sermon Audio.

ZOOM SUNDAY SCHOOL

Pastor Julian Zugg will continue to teach the adult Sunday School class on the Holy Spirit on Zoom.  Watch your email for the Zoom links to Adult Sunday School, which runs from 9:40-10:30 and the Zoom chat after Evening Worship, which begins around 6:15.

Your officers are praying for you, and are privileged to minister to you in any way that you may find helpful.   And remember, if you are ever in need of spiritual counsel or prayer, please ask me, Pastor Lou, or one of the elders. This is what we are here for.  We are happy to serve you in this way!

Love in Christ,

Pastor Clay

Pastoral Letter July 17, 2020

Dear Church Family and Friends,

I’m learning that one of the keys to maintaining my sanity during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic is to have things to look forward to.  This Lord’s Day evening, we will be celebrating the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for the first time since March.

Like many of you, I’ve missed being able to take communion.  This brings up the question, “what do we receive in the Sacrament that we don’t receive in the other elements of worship?”  We know that we are missing something, but maybe we aren’t quite sure what it is.  So, let’s look at what we don’t receive.

First, all aspects of corporate worship point us to Christ.  We receive Jesus Christ, as he is offered in the gospel as the Word is read, sung, prayed, and preached each week.  Christ is in all of our worship.  So, we don’t receive something different in the Lord’s Supper.

Second, we don’t receive a better Christ.  The thoughts, words, and works of Christ are already perfected.  Nothing can be added to them to make them “more perfect.”

And third, at least objectively, we don’t receive an extra blessing in the Sacrament. The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 1:3 that in Christ, we are blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

But what we do receive is articulated in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 92, which defines a sacrament as a “holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.”

Now, that’s a mouthful, and I’m not going to break this down word by word here.  The main thing we receive is Christ and all his benefits – the same benefits that are offered to us in the Word and received by faith alone in him.  These are “represented, sealed, and applied to us by sensible signs.”

An imperfect illustration of this that at least some of you will identify with is the current limitation of touch during COVID-19.  Perhaps you have friends that you used to shake hands with, or hug.  Under the current conditions, much of that touching is suspended.

It’s not as though your friendship is broken because of this.  And if you were to resume shaking hands or hugging, this friend would not be transformed into a new friend.  But touch gives us a greater assurance of the friendship and the fellowship we share.  It’s comforting.  It’s reassuring.  It’s nourishing.  It underlines that this person really cares for me.

So, this is one of the ways that the Sacrament builds greater assurance of the love of Christ in each of his people.  We receive Christ not only in our minds, but through our senses as we eat and drink of him spiritually.

NEW PROCEDURES FOR COMMUNION

Our procedures for serving communion will be altered during our present situation.  The first change is that we will be using Fellowship Cups, which are prefilled cups with a wafer and grape juice sealed inside.  We have not found this product or a close substitute available with wine, so for those of you with an entrepreneurial bent, here’s a new business idea!  Here is a short video that shows how they work.  I will also give instructions as the sacrament is administered.

As a consequence of this, since the bread and the cup are packaged together, the elders will make one distribution rather than separate distributions for the bread and the cup, as is our normal practice.  The cups will be “socially distanced” in the trays, as each tray will only be filled to 50 percent capacity.

Following the benediction, the deacons will come down the aisles and collect the empty cups and release you by rows.

WORSHIP INSTRUCTIONS

In light of the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic and the statewide order from the Governor requiring masks indoors where the public gathers, this session asks you to follow the instructions below for worship attendance on this Lord’s Day.

If you choose to attend in person worship, we would ask that you wear masks throughout the entire duration of worship. In addition, we request that for the benefit of others, that you practice social distancing, handwashing, and hand sanitizing diligently.

We know that the masks are annoying and that we are all tired of wearing them, and there doesn’t seem to be any end to this in sight.  However, the COVID-19 threat seems more real now that some of our church members have contracted the virus.  Thankfully, none have needed to be hospitalized, nor have any of them been present in worship in the last few weeks.  In view of this, please do continue with the precautions, as Houston is now an epicenter.

We also request that you exercise extreme caution in determining whether or not to attend worship in person. If you or any person in your family has heightened risk to contract COVID-19 and become seriously infected, we urge you to stay home and avail yourselves of live stream worship.

Thank you so much for your willingness to comply with these requests, and your willingness to put the interests of others ahead of your own as we seek to be able to continue to worship together in person.

CHURCH SERVICES

Once again, as long as social distancing is recommended, if you decide to stay home for reasons of conscience or from an abundance of caution, we honor, respect, and support your decision. We continue to offer livestream service at 11 AM and 5 PM here.  If you find that there are still starts and stops and gaps in the livestream service, you may access the recorded service, which is available shortly after the conclusion of the livestream.  This should eliminate those difficulties.  If neither of these works well, our audio sermons are available at Sermon Audio.  We are continuously working to improve the quality of our livestream, so hopefully, it will improve week by week.

ZOOM SUNDAY SCHOOL

Pastor Julian Zugg will continue to teach the adult Sunday School class on the Holy Spirit on Zoom.  Watch your email for the Zoom links to Adult Sunday School, which runs from 9:40-10:30 and the Zoom chat after Evening Worship, which begins around 6:15.

Your officers are praying for you, and are privileged to minister to you in any way that you may find helpful.   And remember, if you are ever in need of spiritual counsel or prayer, please ask me, Pastor Lou, or one of the elders. This is what we are here for.  We are happy to serve you in this way!

Love in Christ,

Pastor Clay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pastoral letter July 10, 2020

Dear Church Family and Friends,

We continue to ride the roller coaster of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Here in Houston, we haven’t heard much to encourage us that we are seeing the end of this anytime soon.  With this uncertainty comes much anxiety and tension.

One verse that may be helpful to meditate on in the midst of the current uncertainty is John 16:33. In this verse, Jesus says: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Whatever your personal or family situation is, none of it is a surprise to our Lord.  Uncertainty, hardship, and the anxiety, frustration, and depression that often stem from these circumstances are part of living in a fallen world.  Personal peace is not going to be obtained by asserting control in response to the tensions that we feel at the expense of our relationships.  Jesus gives us the true peace that we need.  He gives us peace with God, which he purchased for us at the cross.  Our peace is in him, who has overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Peace is knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  So whatever trials that you may be going through, God’s gifts of grace and peace that he gives through our Lord Jesus Christ accompany you.  While you may not feel a sense of relief or relaxation, you can know objectively that these are the gifts of God.  Receive them, trust him, and rely on his promise.

THANK YOU FOR RESPONDING TO OUR NEED FOR LIVESTREAM VOLUNTEERS

Several of you volunteered to help with our livestream after I put out the need last week.  We really appreciate your willingness to step in and help!  As COVID-19 cases surge in Houston the live stream is becoming a spiritual lifeline to many.  So, we appreciate your efforts to keep this going.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

My book recommendation this week is a book called Faith, Hope, and Love:  The Christ-Centered Way to Grow in Grace, by Mark Jones.  Dr. Jones is a PCA pastor in Vancouver, British Columbia, and has written a number of books combining a robust exposition of Biblical and confessional doctrine with experiential Christianity.  Both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas described faith, hope, and love as the “theological virtues.”  Older writers developed catechisms around these themes.  Perhaps the most notable is the Heidelberg Catechism, which follows the ancient pattern of faith being explained by the Apostles Creed; hope, through the Lord’s Prayer, and love through the Ten Commandments.  Another way to state this is that we are taught how to believe, how to pray, and how to live.

What this book does is that it develops these theological virtues in the form of 58 questions and answers.  The questions and answers are brief, which makes this book ideal for personal or family worship, or an entry-level book into the heart of Biblical living.

WORSHIP INSTRUCTIONS

In light of the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic and the statewide order from the Governor requiring masks indoors where the public gathers, this session asks you to follow the instructions below for worship attendance on this Lord’s Day.

If you choose to attend in person worship, we would ask that you wear masks throughout the entire duration of worship. In addition, we request that for the benefit of others, that you practice social distancing, handwashing, and hand sanitizing diligently.

We also request that you exercise extreme caution in determining whether or not to attend worship in person. If you or any person in your family has heightened risk to contract COVID-19 and become seriously infected, we urge you to stay home and avail yourselves of live stream worship.

Thank you so much for your willingness to comply with these requests, and your willingness to put the interests of others ahead of your own as we seek to be able to continue to worship together in person.

CHURCH SERVICES

Once again, as long as social distancing is recommended, if you decide to stay home for reasons of conscience or from an abundance of caution, we honor, respect, and support your decision. We continue to offer livestream service at 11 AM and 5 PM here.  If you find that there are still starts and stops and gaps in the livestream service, you may access the recorded service, which is available shortly after the conclusion of the livestream.  This should eliminate those difficulties.  If neither of these works well, our audio sermons are available at Sermon Audio.

ZOOM SUNDAY SCHOOL

Pastor Julian Zugg will continue to teach the adult Sunday School class on the Holy Spirit on Zoom.  Watch your email for the Zoom links to Adult Sunday School, which runs from 9:40-10:30 and the Zoom chat after Evening Worship, which begins around 6:15.

Your officers are praying for you, and are privileged to minister to you in any way that you may find helpful.   And remember, if you are ever in need of spiritual counsel or prayer, please ask me, Pastor Lou, or one of the elders. This is what we are here for.  We are happy to serve you in this way!

Love in Christ,

Pastor Clay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pastoral Letter July 3, 2020

Dear Church Family and Friends,

It’s now quiet at the Clay household.  All of our children are gone now, leaving just Amy and me.  Our house is moving towards organization again.  We aren’t finding kitchen utensils in the living room hidden in the living room by our grandson.  We aren’t stepping over baby toys anymore.  But that’s small consolation for Rory being gone.

Amy and I had considered going to the beach at her mom’s house this weekend.  But the latest spike in COVID-19 cases ended up changing those plans.  So, for us, it will be a quiet 4th of July weekend at home.

I went to occupational therapy for my hand for the first time this week.  It turns out that the surgery was a resounding success!  I can already move my thumb more than I could before the surgery.  I can do most of the therapy at home, which was a pleasant surprise!

WORSHIP INSTRUCTIONS

In light of the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic and the statewide order from the Governor requiring masks indoors where the public gathers, this session requests that you follow the instructions below for worship attendance on this Lord’s Day.

If you choose to attend in person worship, we would ask that you wear masks throughout the entire duration of worship. In addition, we request that for the benefit of others, that you practice social distancing  handwashing, and hand sanitizing diligently.

We also request that you exercise extreme caution in determining whether or not to attend worship in person. If you or any person in your family has heightened risk to contract COVID-19 and become seriously infected, we urge you to stay home and avail yourselves of live stream worship.

We take these steps with extreme reluctance, but we would like for people to have the liberty to attend worship, while maintaining as safe of an environment as possible for our most vulnerable members.

Thank you so much for your willingness to comply with these requests, and your willingness to put the interests of others ahead of your own as we seek to be able to continue to worship together in person.

LIVE STREAM VOLUNTEERS NEEDED

During the COVID-19 pandemic, live streaming our worship services has been perhaps our most effective tool and reaching out to the community and building up the saints in the faith, hope, and love of the gospel of Jesus.

We would really like to continue this ministry.  In order to do so, we need more adult volunteers.

The only requirements are: a good attitude, teachability, and willingness to serve.  The deacons will provide all the training necessary.

If you would like to explore helping out with this ministry, please contact the church office.

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

I’m always conflicted about sharing with you what I’m reading.  To begin with, I don’t want anyone to go out and buy a book just because I recommend it, only to find out that it wasn’t quite the book for you.

I also learn much more from reading books by people with whom I disagree, rather than those who may bolster my opinions.  If you are still getting grounded in the faith, or you have items that are truly open questions, I don’t recommend this approach.

Richard Pratt, one of my seminary professors, used the metaphor of a “theological home.”  If you are coming into the faith for the first time, or if you are new to the Reformed faith but think this may be your “home,” your first task is to build your house and get well grounded in the fundamentals.  Once you have a home, you can go out and “visit” other places without being threatened.  But if you are theologically homeless, you’ll take your shopping cart and pick up anything that looks like it may be of value.

My next preaching series after finishing the prayers of Paul will be the book of Esther.  Esther is a unique book in many respects.  Much of the Bible is a record of the Lord dealing with people extraordinarily:  appearing to them, giving revelation, prophecy, visiting visible manifestations of salvation and judgment.  In Esther, the Lord works inconspicuously through ordinary people and events to preserve his people from destruction.

One book that has been especially helpful here is:  God’s Inconspicuous Providence:  The Gospel According to Esther  by Bryan R. Gregory.

Another book I’m reading is Good News for Anxious Christians  by Philip Cary.  This book is particularly helpful for those coming from a charismatic or broad evangelical Christian tradition.  Dr. Cary’s thesis is that much of the emphasis in modern evangelical Christianity is placed on our feelings or intuitions about God, rather than his objective revelation in the gospel.  He does an excellent job in diagnosing some of the spiritual problems that come with this orientation (for example, “how do I know if I’m doing something in my own strength rather than trusting in the Lord?) and pointing Christians to the gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is revealed in the written Word of God, rather than in our internal experiences.

CHURCH SERVICES

Once again, as long as social distancing is recommended, if you decide to stay home for reasons of conscience or from an abundance of caution, we honor, respect, and support your decision. We continue to offer livestream service at 11 AM and 5 PM here.  If you find that there are still starts and stops and gaps in the livestream service, you may access the recorded service, which is available shortly after the conclusion of the livestream.  This should eliminate those difficulties.  If neither of these works well, our audio sermons are available at Sermon Audio.  We are continuously working to improve the quality of our livestream, so hopefully, it will improve week by week.

ZOOM SUNDAY SCHOOL

Pastor Julian Zugg will continue to teach the adult Sunday School class on the Holy Spirit on Zoom.  Watch your email for the Zoom links to Adult Sunday School, which runs from 9:40-10:30 and the Zoom chat after Evening Worship, which begins around 6:15.

Your officers are praying for you, and are privileged to minister to you in any way that you may find helpful.   And remember, if you are ever in need of spiritual counsel or prayer, please ask me, Pastor Lou, or one of the elders. This is what we are here for.  We are happy to serve you in this way!

Love in Christ,

Pastor Clay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pastoral letter June 26, 2020

Dear Church Family and Friends,

Most of you know by now that Texas is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases.  In the midst of this surge, several of you have asked if there will be alterations in the church’s plans to hold worship.

The short answer is that, at least for now, we will continue to have in-person worship.  As we do so, we ask that you be especially diligent in wearing masks, social distancing, and washing and sanitizing your hands.

Thank you so much for your willingness to take these measures, and for putting the welfare of others before your own, especially when these measures may run up against your personal preferences.  Our desire is to do as much as possible to keep the church a safe environment for the most vulnerable members.

We also urge you to use great caution in determining whether or not you should attend worship in person. The Centers for Disease Control has expanded their guidelines of medical conditions that may lead to severe infections from the COVID-19 virus.  Please stay safe, and exercise prudence and wisdom as to whether you will put yourself in a greater position to bring harm to yourself or any of your loved ones by coming to worship. Live streaming of our worship services is available, and you may participate in either the Zoom meeting of Sunday school or access the recording that is posted on our Facebook page.

WORSHIP UPDATE

In this past Tuesday night’s session meeting, we agreed to resume celebration of the Lord Supper at the evening service on Sunday, July 19.  In order to reduce hand to hand contact, we will be making some changes in how we distribute the elements. We will let you know more as the time approaches.  We are thankful to have the opportunity once again to benefit from this means of grace.

THE CHURCH AS AN “ESSENTIAL SERVICE”

One of the phrases that has come into our vocabulary this year is “essential service.” Essential services are businesses and institutions that must continue operating for the public welfare despite the risk of contracting and transmitting the COVID-19 virus.

State and local governments have agreed that there are a number of services that meet these criteria. Among the obvious our hospitals, grocery stores, and pharmacies.  But I find it curious that in many states, liquor stores meet the criteria for being an essential service, and churches do not. I would like to think that the church is at least as necessary for the societies well-being as liquor stores are!

I understand the public health risks of large groups of people gathering together, and the need for prudence and caution, as well as the necessity for some to have to forego coming together in person.  While there is a tension that must be navigated here, this does not take away from the necessity of the Church, both for her members and, as salt and light in a dying world.

This post begins to explore the idea of the Church as an essential service to society.  It’s reductionistic to use the vocabulary of “goods and services” to describe the function of the church. The church performs a function that no other institution has been ordained to perform.  The church is the divine institution to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.  If the salvation of the world is the greatest need, the church is the most essential service on earth.

The article referenced earlier mentions that COVID-19 makes the point that churches are always operating with limited resources.  For now, we have elected not to resume many of the ministries is that we normally perform. The writer suggests is that COVID-19 is a time for the church to reassess her priorities, and leverage her strengths for her God ordained mission.

ZOOM SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASSES RECORDED

We have started recording the Adult Sunday School class that is offered on Zoom. Those recordings will be made available on the church Facebook page. You can access these at any time.  Both audio and video will be available, either to watch or listen on the Facebook page, or download to your device.

CHURCH SERVICES

Once again, as long as social distancing is recommended, if you decide to stay home for reasons of conscience or from an abundance of caution, we honor, respect, and support your decision. We continue to offer livestream service at 11 AM and 5 PM here.  If you find that there are still starts and stops and gaps in the livestream service, you may access the recorded service, which is available shortly after the conclusion of the livestream.  This should eliminate those difficulties.  If neither of these works well, our audio sermons are available at Sermon Audio.  We are continuously working to improve the quality of our livestream, so hopefully, it will improve week by week.

ZOOM SUNDAY SCHOOL

Pastor Julian Zugg will continue to teach the adult Sunday School class on the Holy Spirit on Zoom.  Watch your email for the Zoom links to Adult Sunday School, which runs from 9:40-10:30 and the Zoom chat after Evening Worship, which begins around 6:15.

Your officers are praying for you. And remember, if you are ever in need of spiritual counsel or prayer, please ask me, Pastor Lou, or one of the elders. This is what we are here for.  We are happy to serve you in this way!

Love in Christ,

Pastor Clay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly pastoral letter, June 11, 2020

Dear Church Family and Friends,

     My recovery from hand surgery is going quite well.  I’m still learning to use the dictation function on my computer, but I’m managing. It’s taking me a little bit longer to get things done then it normally does, but I’m surprised at how few limitations  I’m experiencing are right now. Thank you for all of your prayers!

     Amy and I experienced a pleasant surprise last night when we found out that all of our children and their spouses will be with us next week. So I will be out of the office next week but I will preach as scheduled the evening of the third Sunday of this month.

WORSHIP UPDATE

     It’s really encouraging to see more and more of you in person at church!  For those of you who aren’t able to come yet because of caution, please know that we think of you often, miss you, and pray for you. We are all looking forward to the day when we can all come together for worship without undue risk.

     Continuing to move forward toward normalcy, we will resume the collection of tithes and offerings during the worship services this Sunday.  The plate will not be passed down the pew, so there will be no hand to hand contact.

     All of the current giving options will continue to be available: placing your offering in the plates at the back of the narthex as you enter the sanctuary, online giving, or giving by mail.

     We thank you for honoring the Lord and supporting the ministry of this church through your giving.

     The next item on the agenda for worship is resuming the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. I’ll keep you posted as plans develop. The session will be discussing this matter and we will have a plan to implement this soon.  Thank you for being patient with us as we seek to move forward while doing all that we can to maintain a safe environment for our most vulnerable members.

ZOOM SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASSES RECORDED

     We have started recording the Adult Sunday School class that is offered on Zoom. Those recordings will be made available on the church Facebook page. You can access these at any time.  Both audio and video will be available, either to watch or listen on the Facebook page, or download to your device.

     They are copies of the book that is recommended reading for the Sunday School class available in the narthex of the church. The title of the book is Jesus: Power Without Measure by Douglas MacMillan

CHURCH BUILDING USE

     The church building continues to remain closed for all non-worship usage.  At this point we are targeting the month of September for resuming in-person activities at the church building such as Nursery, Sunday School classes and in person Bible studies.  In the meantime, we encourage you to meet through Zoom or another online platform.  There’s also the option of getting together in each other’s homes.

CHURCH SERVICES

     Once again, as long as social distancing is recommended, if you decide to stay home for reasons of conscience or from an abundance of caution, we honor, respect, and support your decision. We continue to offer livestream service at 11 AM and 5 PM here.  If you find that there are still starts and stops and gaps in the livestream service, you may access the recorded service, which is available shortly after the conclusion of the livestream.  This should eliminate those difficulties.  If neither of these works well, our audio sermons are available at Sermon Audio.  We are continuously working to improve the quality of our livestream, so hopefully, it will improve week by week.

ZOOM SUNDAY SCHOOL

    Pastor Julian Zugg will continue to teach the adult Sunday School class on the Holy Spirit on Zoom.  Watch your email for the Zoom links to Adult Sunday School, which runs from 9:40-10:30 and the Zoom chat after Evening Worship, which begins around 6:15.

     During this time, I am very grateful for the leadership, care and the hard work of our officers.  It’s such a blessing to see each man put his gifts into action, and for us to all work together to care for our congregation.  If you need anything, please contact one of the pastors, your shepherding elder, or deacon.  We want to pray with and for you, and help you with any spiritual or material needs that you have.  Especially, please let us know if you are sick, have a specific need, are out of work, or have a reduced income from COVID-19 circumstances.  This is the time for the Body of Christ to all work together and in dependence on him, to pull through this situation, and come out of it with greater unity and maturity in Christ.

Love in Christ,

Pastor Clay

COVID-19 Pastoral Letter No. 10

Dear Church Family and Friends,

This past Monday, the Governor announced another loosening of COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings.  Our church is able to open our attendance up to 50 percent of our capacity.  This means that the RSVP system that has been in place for worship attendance for the past two weeks is no longer necessary.  Our pre-COVID-19 average worship attendance was about 60 percent of our capacity.

I’ve really enjoyed hearing from some of you that you may be comfortable returning to in-person worship soon, and I really look forward to seeing you.  This Sunday will be another step toward “returning to normal,” although we are closer to the beginning of this process than the end.

As you return to worship, please remember that we are still observing social distancing. While we would all love for that to be over, please continue to be mindful that in some places, assemblies of worship have been incubators for the virus.  So, please continue to patient and stay with the social distancing protocol for the sake of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Once again, as long as social distancing is recommended, if you decide to stay home for reasons of conscience or from an abundance of caution, we honor, respect, and support your decision. We continue to offer livestream service at 11 AM and 5 PM here.  If you find that there are still starts and stops and gaps in the livestream service, you may access the recorded service, which is available shortly after the conclusion of the livestream.  This should eliminate those difficulties.  If neither of these works well, our audio sermons are available at Sermon Audio.  We are continuously working to improve the quality of our livestream, so hopefully, it will improve week by week.

Here’s what you can expect when you arrive at church:

  • Bulletins and hand sanitizer will be available in the narthex.
  • There will be no nursery.
  • We strongly urge you to wear a mask upon entering and exiting the building.
  • The deacons will direct you to a reserved spot to provide for social distancing. If you are at high risk, let the deacon on duty know so that you can be seated in the back and dismissed first.
  • The entire order of service, including music, will be included in the bulletin so that hymnals and Bibles don’t need to be touched and passed around.
  • Parents will need to be in control of their children at all times. This means entering, exiting, and going to the restroom.
  • Protocols will be in place to eliminate hand-to-hand contact in the distribution of bulletins and the collection of offerings.
  • Dismissal will take place back to front.
  • Upon being dismissed, we urge you not to congregate in the narthex, but to proceed directly outside.

ZOOM SUNDAY SCHOOL

Pastor Julian Zugg will continue to teach the adult Sunday School class on the Holy Spirit on Zoom.  Watch your email for the Zoom links to Adult Sunday School, which runs from 9:40-10:30 and the Zoom chat after Evening Worship, which begins around 6:15.

Once the class is over, please make sure you log out of the Zoom meeting, as the church’s account is used for other meetings, and we can only run one meeting at a time.

FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE

Reformation 21 has the story of Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year.  This is an account of one man’s experience during the last plague that London suffered, which took place in 1665.  Almost twenty percent of the population of London died during this plague.  The measures that were prescribed to control the plague were not that different from what governments and the medical establishment are attempting to do in the twenty-first century, although today, we are better armed with information and technology.  However, one striking difference is that the government urged the people to “implore the mercy of God.”

Defoe is better known as the author of Robinson Crusoe, and his Christianity comes through in both books.  He was raised in a Nonconformist (Presbyterian) home, which made him ineligible to attend Oxford of Cambridge.  Defoe attributes the cessation of the plague to the merciful hand of God

During this time, I am very grateful for the leadership, care and the hard work of our officers.  It’s such a blessing to see each man put his gifts into action, and for us to all work together to care for our congregation.  If you need anything, please contact one of the pastors, your shepherding elder, or deacon.  We want to pray with and for you, and help you with any spiritual or material needs that you have.  Especially, please let us know if you are sick, have a specific need, are out of work, or have a reduced income from COVID-19 circumstances.  This is the time for the Body of Christ to all work together and in dependence on him, to pull through this situation, and come out of it with greater unity and maturity in Christ.

Personally, I have greatly missed seeing each one of you, and the conversations that we are able to have by just showing up.  And I really miss my Sunday School class and the children of the church, and look forward to seeing them back soon!

Love in Christ,

Pastor Clay

 

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