Category Archives: Faith

Pastoral Letter No. 3: COVID-19

Dear Church Family and Friends,

I hope this letter finds you well. Just a few weeks ago, this was a social pleasantry that people wrote as an email introductory sentence to someone when asking for a favor. In this present emergency, this is no longer a social pleasantry, but an expression of true concern.

The officers of the church conferred on Tuesday and determined that on this Lord’s Day, we will again offer only streaming worship. This was before Judge Hildalgo extended the Harris County Stay-At-Home order through April 30.

Here, I must issue the disclaimer that in this matter that in what follows. I don’t speak for any of the officers other than myself. But it seems to me that the Lord is calling upon Christians worldwide to make the great sacrifice of not being able to worship corporately. That for a time, we are to give up what is most near and dear to us other than Christ himself for a time. It will not be forever. Right now, this is the overwhelming position of Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Christians throughout the world.

It’s true that “because everyone else is doing it” doesn’t prove the point. But there does seem to be a worldwide consensus emerging that the people of God are being called to sacrifice something very dear to us for the greater good.

So, what are we to make of this?

First, Christ is still on the throne.

This morning, I came to Hebrews 1 in the course of my regular Bible reading, and I came across Hebrews 1:8:

But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.”

COVID-19 has not and cannot change this. There is no force in heaven or on earth that can dethrone our Lord Jesus Christ.

Second, Jesus has ordained all things for the good of his people.

He has ordained all things for the good of his people, even public health emergencies. We must trust that in these uncharted waters, Jesus is doing to us as he did to Peter. Peter attempted to walk on water to meet Jesus, but as he began to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus responded by taking Peter by the hand, and saying to him, O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt. 14:30-31).

Third, this situation is not “without precedent.”

One of the consequences of the Babylonian Captivity of the Old Testament Church was that they were not able to engage in temple worship. The Babylonians physically removed the Jews from Israel, and destroyed the temple, so that the people of God could not engage in the sacrificial worship that God has appointed. So, for seventy years, the people of God were not able to worship him as he had appointed in his Word.

This is when the Jews instituted the worship of the synagogues, local gathering of the people of God centered around prayer and the reading and preaching of God’s Word. While the Jews said, “how can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Ps. 137:4), they used the means of grace that were available to them. And the Lord blessed this.

In this situation, “the Lord was doing a new thing.” In the New Covenant, the synagogue, not the temple, would be the model for corporate worship. Prayer and praise, the reading and preaching of God’s Word, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the centerpieces of worship today.

While the descendants of some of the exiled Jews returned to the land, the majority stayed in Babylon. The book of Esther shows us that God continued to care for his dispersed people and his people who returned to the land. I think we can infer from this that neither group was disobedient – the ones who returned to the land, or the ones who stayed. The Lord continued to love, care for, and preserve both groups through centuries of extreme hardship and persecution.

Over the centuries, the Lord blessed the Jews of the dispersion, with far-reaching consequences. First, Greek became the majority language, rather than Hebrew. So, the scholars of this period translated the Old Testament into Greek in a version that we know as the Septuagint. Many of the Old Testament quotations in the New Testament are not from the Hebrew Bible, but from the Septuagint.

The other far-reaching consequence was that the Lord purified his Church. In the New Testament, the Greek-speaking Jews were far more responsive to the preaching of the gospel than the Hebrew-speaking Jews. The Jews of the Dispersion became the seed of the Church.

One could not foretell this at the time of the Exile, but the Lord was on the move to build his kingdom. Through the dispersion, a “portable” form of worship developed that would be the model for New Testament worship. God scattered his people in order to reclaim them with the gospel and launch the missionary enterprise of reconciling peoples of every tribe and tongue and nation to himself and the Church through the preaching of the gospel, an enterprise that still continues today.

So, with the present distress, we don’t know exactly what God is doing. But we can be sure that he is on the move. And we can be sure that he will use this to advance his kingdom.

The Lord calls upon us to trust in him in ways that we have not before. The upheaval that we are experiencing to ordinary life is not easy. It is not pleasant. But we can trust the Lord that if we remain faithful, he will use this experience to purify his Church, to separate us from our idols, and to enable us not to take the gathering of public worship for granted, but for us to see the great goodness in it, and that once corporate worship is restored, for us not to neglect the grace of assembling ourselves together for worship.

Love in Christ,

Pastor Clay

Pastoral letter No. 2: COVID 19

Dear Church Family and Friends,

Many of us are adjusting to the “new normal” that COVID-19 has brought into our lives.  “Social distancing” (I prefer the term “physical distancing instead because the last thing we need to do is to isolate ourselves!) is the order of the day.  Those of us who are still able to work are learning to work “virtually,” using GotoMeeting, Zoom, or some other conferencing service.  In one week, we took our worship services, officer’s meetings, and Bible studies to the virtual world.  And I was able to teach my Latin class of four students in the church on Google Hangouts.

It was really encouraging to hear of how many of you tuned into the worship services last week!  I’m told the Facebook page had over 300 hits!  Now, we don’t know who they were, but the feedback we are getting has been good.  We will correct some of the issues that we had with the lighting and the glare this week.

While there is much benefit to be had from such services, we earnestly look forward to regathering for live, in-person worship, and particularly, the celebration of the sacraments.

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’re 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!

Live streamed worship will take place Sunday at 11 AM and 5 PM. You can find it  here.  There is a video recording posted soon after the service here.  And our church’s sermon audio page, which has all of our recorded sermons in recent member, is here.  And here’s a link to the  Facebook page for the Bible Study on James led by Scott Baker, which will be recorded Thursday at 7 PM.

Hints with Technology

If you have a slow internet connection, you may want to try the recorded version of the service, which is posted minutes after the service.  Even if the download is slow, you can take the time to let it load and then watch it.  If this proves to be “unwatchable,” you can also listen to the recorded sermon on Sermon Audio.

Family News

The COVID-19 has had a silver lining for the Clay family.  Stuart, our youngest son, and his family came to us from New York.  We are having tremendous fun with them and really enjoying the time with our grandson, Rory!  Our daughter, Hannah, will be coming down from Boston this weekend.  Our oldest son, Sterling, and his wife are holed up in Manhattan, presumably for the duration.  We would really appreciate your prayers for Sterling and Leah during this time.

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Follow-up from Pastor Lou’s devotional last week

Last week, Pastor Lou sent out a devotional.  One of the suggestions that he made was to read, study, or review the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms.

If you are new to our church and unfamiliar with these documents, these are the standards that officers must subscribe to, and possibly, the best summary of Biblical teaching to be found anywhere.

Here are some helps to guide you through the Standards.

For the Confession of Faith, the church has copies of Joey Pipa’s Westminster Confession of Faith Study BookAnother helpful resource on the Confession of Faith is Chad Van Dixhoorn’s  Confessing the Faith.

The Larger Catechism is perhaps the most neglected portion of the Standards.  It is well worth your time.  J. G. Vos’s Westminster Larger Catechism is a great resource, and is very approachable.

My favorite resource on the Shorter Catechism is the Puritan Thomas Watson’s trilogy:  A Body of Divinity, The Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s PrayerThese are clear, readable, devotional, and encouraging.  If you want to start reading the Puritans, this is probably the best place to start.  You can find the ebooks for free at  monergism.com.

What I’m reading

 Those of you who know me well know that I am a big reader.  You could say that I’m a compulsive reader.  But I have a good excuse!  During most of my formal education, I was a rather indifferent student.  Then, I was called into the pastorate and after about two years, found out how little I knew, and realized I had a lot of catching up to do!  And I still feel like I’m catching up!  And when I went into teaching 13 years ago, this was compounded.

So, I actually resolved to read fewer books and spend more time with people this year!

I’ve really gotten into J. C. Ryle this year.  He was an evangelical Anglican bishop in England in the 19th century.  I’ve used his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels in preparation for my sermons on the Upper Room Discourse, and I’ve started reading the section on Matthew prior to the morning worship service.  He quickly gets the major points out of each passage and his writing is clear, direct, challenging, and brief.  As part of my morning devotions, I’m reading Holiness, which is not as brief, but is clear, direct, and challenging.

And the other book I’m reading is Ron Chernow’s GrantI got it as a Christmas present from one of my sons back in 2018.  And I’ve finally plunged into this doorstop of a tome.  If you are an American History buff or a Civil War enthusiast, this book will grab you from page one.  General Grant had his faults.  Chernow is very up-front about Grant not being a good judge of character, and doesn’t hide his drinking problem, which to his credit, he battled mightily.  As a general, he was a strategic and tactical genius, a man of great humility, and loved by his men.  Peter Drucker, the 20th century leadership and management guru, said that leadership is borne from competence and character.  General Grant possessed both of these characteristics in abundance.

Love in Christ,

Pastor Clay

Pastoral letter during COVID-19 No. 1

Dear Church Family and Friends,

Last night, your officers met and reluctantly agreed to cancel in-person worship and ministry activities through the end of March.  Between this and the reports we are receiving on the current public health emergency, it’s likely that it may be some time before many of us will see each other in person.

There are some of us whose lives are being changed dramatically, while others of us are experience few changes except for the long lines and supply chain hiccups at HEB.  During these uncertain times, you can be comforted that the Lord is with you.  He promises that he will never leave you or forsake you.  And he invites you to cast your cares upon him, for he cares for you.

The church office will be sending out information on our live streamed worship which will take place on Sunday at 11 AM and 5 PM.

Knowing that many of you are going to spend significantly more time at home than normal, here are some resources and things that may be of interest to you.

Worship

Now is a great time to get into the routine of family worship.  If you need some helps, look here.  There are also copies of Terry Johnson’s book, The Family Worship Book  which can be picked up at the church.

If you are trying to help your children or teens learn to listen to sermons and take notes, here are some sermon note taking guides

Teaching

Ligonier Ministries has made their entire teaching library free to stream.

Ever wanted to start reading a Christian classic?  Monergism has over 500 free ebooks from the Church Fathers through the Puritans up through much of the 20th century for free!

Living through the Coronavirus

Here is an article on how some Christians in Italy are making the most of their time during a virtual lockdown.

Things to do at home

Brett McCracken of the Gospel Coalition gives a list of 30 Edifying Things To Watch When Stuck at Home.

Haven’t played a board game in a while?  Here are some game suggestions.

Your pastors and officers will step up their efforts to reach out to you during this public health emergency.  Please let any of us know if you have any specific needs, any prayer requests, are sick, or need any other kind of help.  We are praying earnestly for you.  We love you and want to serve you in any way we can.

Church Coronavirus Update

Dear Church Family and Friends,

Many of you have asked questions about the coronavirus and its potential impact on our church gatherings.  I am writing to encourage you that as we enter into this weekend and the upcoming Lord’s Day, your officers are working together to implement appropriate protocols so that we can continue to enjoy worship and fellowship together.  We will let you know as plans develop for this.

I want to encourage you that this is an opportunity for us to remember that as Christians, we are secure in the Lord Jesus Christ.  While there will be disruptions in the normal routines of our lives, the Lord has ordains our steps for good and not for harm.  This is an opportunity for us to remember that our faith and trust are in Him, rather than how well we can prepare for any eventualities that may occur.  While most of us have not experienced anything like the current conditions with the coronavirus, the Church has throughout her history.  And the testimony of the saints of ages past was not one of fear.  It was a testimony of faithful trust in Christ, out of which flowed peace and calm assurance.  The fruit of such faith was that  loving and encouraging one another, and loving and serving their neighbors, and even putting themselves at great risk at times to care for others in need.  So, this is an opportunity for us to grow in faith, in hope, in love, in maturity in Christ, and service to those in need.

Know that your pastors and officers love you, and are praying for you.

Love in Christ,

Pastor Clay

Know and Tell, Part Two

I previously posted about a book called Know and Tell:  The Art of Narration by Karen Glass.  If you are a teacher, homeschool parent, or are interested in helping your children develop oral fluency, I highly recommend this book.

I’ve written about the instructional benefits of narration, but I also see some great spiritual benefits of this practice, particularly applied to the Bible and rich Christian literature.

Narration is an excellent tool for family worship.  Reading a passage of Scripture and asking your children “what happened?” is an excellent way to help them hide God’s Word in their heart.  It enables them to participate not only in building listening skills, but in learning to explain and apply the Scripture.

Narration is an excellent way to move into private and family prayer.   Narrating the content of a Bible passage is a natural bridge to beginning to address God based on God’s revelation of himself and the promises that he makes in the passage.  If one does not know what to pray, or how to pray, or what to pray for in a particular instance, or just has one of those days when it seems that prayer is simply reading a prayer list, this may be a way to break through to “praying in the Spirit.”

Narration is an excellent way to prepare to teach.  This may be more like what Mrs. Glass calls “silent narration,” when one reads a portion of a text and rehearses the content, but not aloud.  I do alot of his in my sermon and teaching preparation.  Often, the notes that I take while I’m studying are not an outline of the content, but a retelling and a description of connections that I make from the text to other Scriptures and other writings.  To be able teach well, one must have something to say and be able to say it well.

Mrs. Glass cautions that it takes time to develop narration skills, and that we must be patient with those whom we teach.  She also tells us that unless one is a “natural narrator,” that this will not be a student’s favorite practice.  But the benefits are rich, and the time and effort devoted to narration will yield many benefits.

Follow up on prayer and fasting

Our church had a voluntary day of prayer and fasting Wednesday.  Some of us opened and closed the day with a short prayer meeting, and went out for a meal afterwards.  Here are some concluding thoughts:

It was much easier with a group than it would have been to do this on my own.  The feeling that “we’re in this together” helped out immensely.  I don’t think I would have done it on my own.

Going without food was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be.  I expected to have hunger pangs throughout the day and that every minute would be a battle of the will.  The only time I felt slightly bad was right before lunch, but there was no question of breaking the fast then.

It did give me a greater awareness of the need to pray and the desire to pray.  Since the day was to be focused on prayer, I thought more often of the need to pray and ways to pray.  I wasn’t able to spend that much time in prayer because I had a full day’s worth of work to accomplish, but I was able to “fill in the corners” of my schedule.

Thoughts for next time:

I would prepare more in advance through planning times and material for meditation and prayer.  This would have made a great difference.

I would attempt to get work done in advance so that I could devote more time to prayer.  I didn’t realize that to be as effective as possible, planning should go into this for how to make the time to devote the day to prayer and preparation in how to invest the time.

Voluntary Prayer and Fasting

Our church is having a voluntary day of prayer and fasting.  We began with a prayer meeting that was available in person and remote (I chose to attend remotely so that I could be in front of the fire in my living room with my pajamas on) and will close with a prayer meeting at 6:30 pm.

I have not done this for a long time, and I felt intimidated at the prospect of fasting for a day.  Of course, I had to fast prior to my surgery in September.  But that was different.  I was laying in a hospital bed with every conceivable need cared for, except for food.  Today, I’m trying to live more or less a normal day, but with times of prayer instead of meals.

This morning was surprisingly easy.  We had our corporate prayer time, and then I engaged in my normal prayer routine.  Afterward, I went to the gym to do my rehab (I’m still rehabbing the knee I had surgery on in September).  Other than feeling a little light-headed on some of the exercises, it was fine.

Now that’s it’s after lunch, it’s a little harder.  It’s tempting to say, “it’s only five-and-a-half hours until I can eat.”  It’s not like I’m going to break down and have a snack or anything.  But I am experiencing a feeling of deprivation.  What do I do with this?

Well, first of all, many people all over the world, perhaps the majority of the world’s population, is not able to have adequate nutrition.  So, this is a normal feeling for most of the people in the world.  Many of these people are my brothers and sisters in Christ.  So, it’s good for the soul to be able to participate, even for a short while, in their deprivation for them, and to pray that the Lord would give them this day their daily bread.  This is something that I can meditate on and be more intentional in my prayers.  I often pray for the spiritual concerns of the church around the world, and for the persecuted church, but how often do I pray for my brothers and sisters the simple request that they will have enough to eat?

Another benefit is that this slight momentary deprivation reminds me of the poverty of my spirit, and is hopefully developing a hunger for God.  I long to treasure his words more than my necessary food, as Job did.  My hope is that I can devote time to prayer, or a least some more time today, rather than just devoting it to work.  Lord, help me to do so.

A final benefit is that this is another opportunity to pray in solidarity with others.  In most churches, the Wednesday night prayer meeting is a thing of the past.  For our church, I don’t think it’s a lack of desire, but it’s because we are a “destination church” rather than a parish church.  People in Houston typically have long commutes, and often, this includes church.  It may be worthwhile to consider having get-togethers for prayer in neighborhood homes, even occasionally or “one-time” events.   We do have Bible studies, which I enjoy.  But it may be worth exploring inviting people to pray together, and making it easier to do so.

So, this invitation from our elders to participate in this day of prayer and fasting is opening my eyes to some things I haven’t thought too much about, and is stretching me, and I hope it will do so for others.

Habit No. 6: Fast from something for 24 hours

We constantly seek to fill our needs with tangible items.  We were made for abundance.  But the Fall turned abundance into scarcity, and it turned us, as John Calvin puts in into “idol factories.”  We continually replace the fullness of God with things that become as gods to us.

Even in the days when my wife and I were young and poor, we were far better off materially than almost any of our forebears, or most people living in the world today.  Jesus said that it is more difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle.  So, even though we were poor by American standards, we were rich by the world’s standards, and have always been in a position to trust in the abundance of possessions rather than in the promises of God in Christ.

This is where fasting comes into play.  For a set period of time, we abstain from something.  Ideally, we will use the time that we would have spend — on eating, on watching TV, on using electronic or social media — to pray.  Fasting is a voluntary period of deprivation for the purpose of entering into deeper communion with God, the One who truly satisfies.  It’s “leaning into” the scarcity  that is a product of the Fall, in order to gain the fullness of the One who gives us the true bread from heaven to eat and living water to drink.  Prayer with fasting is a living demonstration that along with Job, we prize God’s Word “more than our necessary food” (Job 23:12), and that we value communion with God more highly than the habits that we take for granted.

Honestly, I have to give myself an F minus on this habit.  A number of years ago, I practiced semi-regular days of prayer and fasting.  But I haven’t put one on the calendar in years.

The elders in our church have initiated one voluntary day of prayer and fasting each month, which I plan on participating in.  It’s much easier to pray and fast if a community of people commit to doing it.  I hope to be able to keep this up in the coming months and to grow in my desire and ability to engage in this habit.

Habit No. 3: One meal a day with others

I’m continuing to work through Justin Whitmel Earley’s  The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction.  One of the habits that he recommends is sharing one meal a day with others.

I’m surprised to find out how difficult this actually is.  It was easy when we had children at home.  Family dinner time was a non-negotiable.  However, our children are gone now, and my wife and I can get caught up in our various projects and eat on our own sometimes.  Also, I went for the past nine weeks without being able to sit at a table because of my knee injury.  This made it much easier for us to eat in the living room and turn on the TV,  which I’m not counting in the “one meal a day with others.”

Earley writes that in our quest for efficiency, eating with others is a luxury.  The big takeaway from this habit is that it forces us to orient our schedule around others, which is a big part of making the transition of our default of self-centeredness to lives that are centered on serving others.

Right now on this habit, I’d probably give myself a C- on this habit.   We have a standing Sunday evening get-together after church in our home, and I’m part of two Bible studies that have meals every other week.  So, we do enjoy meals with others regularly.  But this is an area where my life would be much enriched if I pursued this more zealously.

Habit No. 2: Begin and End the Day with Prayer

I’ve spoken to the first habit of “prayer and Scripture before phone.”  The next habit that I’ll speak to is beginning and ending the day with prayer.

By beginning and ending the day with prayer, we are committing everything that takes place in between to the Lord.  Each time, we confess that we are dependent creatures.  We confess our faults and our failures, our needs and our fears.  We give thanks for God’s mercies.  We ask God to meet our needs.  We bow the knee before the Almighty, acknowledge our need of a Savior, and confess that Jesus Christ is the Savior that God has provided for us.

Over the course of my life, I’ve been fairly consistent in beginning the day with prayer.  But in the past, I’ve gotten involved in reading, or watching a game or a TV show, and not left any time for more than the most perfunctory prayers.  I’m trying to build in the habit of honest-to-goodness prayer at night.  Generally, I will begin with the Order for Compline from the Book of Common Prayer and add my own intercessions.  It doesn’t take too long — maybe five or ten minutes.

The important thing here is formation.  I need to be active in the process of conforming myself into the image of Christ.  The point is not to have a profound religious experience or to spend a long time in intercession, but to continually commit myself to the Lord, and avail myself of his grace as the one thing needful in my life.

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