Category Archives: Family

COVID-19 Pastoral Letter No. 7

Dear Church Family and Friends,

     The big news this week is in light of the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions by the State of Texas, we are beginning to reinstitute in-person public worship.  We are having a dress rehearsal this Lord’s Day to ensure that we can expeditiously carry out the procedures that we have implemented to reduce the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus.  On May 10 and May 17, we will be able to open to 25 percent of our building capacity.  We will do so by RSVP.   Look for an RSVP email to come to you next week!

     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.

    Watch your email for the Zoom links to Adult Sunday School, which runs from 10:00-10:45 and the Zoom chat after Evening Worship, which begins around 6:15.

THE MINISTRY OF TOUCH

     I wouldn’t consider myself a “touchy” or a “huggy” person.  But touch is probably what I have missed the most during the COVID-19 pandemic.  No hugging, no shaking hands, and no ability to comfort people through touch.

     This has made me think about how much ministry is carried out thought touch. Whether it’s a handshake, a hug, putting my hand on someone’s shoulder as I pray for them, patting someone on the back . . . all of these are small gestures that communicate love and care.

     While I support and respect the current social distancing measures in place, I’m reminded that we can’t go on indefinitely without touch.  People need to know that they are loved.  Sometimes, words aren’t quite adequate to express this.

     I’m reminded of the time my family and I visited a church on vacation whose pastor had been influential in my development.  I visited to experience the worship of that church and to hear the pastor preach.  I have no recollection of the sermon, or of any of the elements of the worship service, but there is one thing I will never forget.  Nobody got out the door without a handshake, a hug, a pat on the back, or some form of touch from that pastor.  This made me realize that for all of his wisdom and eloquence, the quality that people would remember most about this man is that they felt loved.  That’s what we miss when we are deprived of touch.

  READING MATERIAL

     Here are some items to encourage you:

     Tim Challies summarizes Eight Ways Temptations Work for our Good from Thomas Watson’s All Things for Good.

      Are you battling sin?  Part of putting ofF the old man and putting on the new man is changing our preferences.  Even secular psychologists tell us that if we are trying to break a bad habit, we need to replace the undesirable behavior with a greater good.  Thomas Chalmers writes about how the only way to dispossess our heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new affection.

  1. C. Ryle writes concerning dealing with besetting sins:

     “Look less at yourself, and more of Christ, and you will find besetting sins dropping off and leaving you, and your eyes enlightened more and more every day (Holiness 426).

THANK YOU FOR BIRTHDAY WISHES

     Thanks to you who wished me a Happy Birthday this week!  It was a great day!  I stayed home, exercised, read, enjoyed time with our family, and played with my grandson!

     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!

Love in Christ,

Pastor Clay    

COVID-19 Pastoral letter No. 5

Amy and I spent a quiet Easter Sunday at home, with our youngest son and his family, and our daughter. This past Sunday was the first time that I can remember not physically being at church since I was converted. So, it was really different! While we enjoyed the presence of three generations of the Clay family, we really missed our church family, and look forward to seeing you soon!25912481-281B-4F83-A3CC-4A9FCF7A1191_1_105_c

Moral Reasoning During a Pandemic

Here is a piece  that I found especially helpful in terms of considering how best as Christians to protect and promote life during our present public emergency.

Church news

As I write, we are upgrading our internet service at the church. Hopefully, this will bring about a smoother livestream experience. 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.

In addition, we have begun a Zoom chat following the evening service to provide an opportunity for you to enjoy virtual fellowship with the church family. This will start about 6:15 each Sunday evening. Please watch your email for the link to the Zoom chat. Several of us took part this past Sunday, and it was great to see some of the church family and to say hello.

Our President and Governor are signaling that they will ease some COVID-19 restrictions soon. Right now, we don’t know when this will take place, or to what extent. However, our officers are beginning to plan for a graduated re-opening of public worship. We will let you know the details of this plan when it is perfected and approved by the Session.

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 love you and want to serve you in any way we can.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Clay

COVID-19: Reflections on four worship services

I was able to take advantage of the broadcasts of four churches yesterday.  Our home church, Covenant Presbyterian Church, livestreams our services on Facebook Live.  So, I worshipped online with our church family, morning and evening.  Two of my children who live in the Northeast are home, so my family also took advantage of the opportunity to “visit” each others’ churches.  One broadcast through Zoom, and the other distributed their liturgy through their website and had an audio sermon recorded.  It was great to get a taste of my children’s home churches.

I also learned several things through this experience.

 First, public worship gatherings are far superior to “online worship.”  As far as I’m concerned, the Puritan David Clarkson nails this point.  We don’t really gather in “online worship.”  For the most part, we “tune in.”  Not being able to receive the Lord’s Supper really drives the absence of the “vertical” and “horizontal” aspects of worship home.  Some are predicting that the landscape of public worship will be dramatically altered through the exponential number of churches that are forced to go online because of COVID-19 restrictions.  However, an essential part of being a part of the Church of Jesus Christ is that our Lord summons us for worship on each Lord’s Day to appear before him as a body.  While media is the best that most of our churches can do because of the present emergency, we should not be content with this when things return to “normal.”  This is a time for us to cherish public worship, and long to appear before the Lord together as a local expression of the body of Christ.

 Second, even with the reservations above, there is much still much goodness to be enjoyed in our present circumstances.   We worshipped as a family through at least parts of four services.  I experienced great joy in seeing that my adult children are worshipping in sound, Gospel-preaching churches.  All of our churches are making efforts to connect with one another, even when we can’t be physically present.

Third, we are in a battle for our lives.  COVID-19 and its far-flung effects are engaging us in a battle.  For most of us, it’s a battle for our lives.  We may not be currently experiencing the devastation of New York City, or be sick ourselves.  However, many nuclear families are not used to being home together all of the time.  The feeling of “being on top of each other” is real, even in my situation where we are blessed to have more than sufficient space for our daughter and our son and his family to stay with us and for us all to work from home. Unemployment is becoming more widespread.  When families lose loved ones, they don’t have the opportunity to mourn together because of social restrictions.  So, we are all in this pressure cooker together.  Marriages that were fraying are coming apart.  Domestic abuse is on the rise, and will continue to escalate.

So, what can we do?  I would suggest that families have regular conversations to check in and see what arrangements need to be altered for the peace and unity of the family.  Also, family prayer and worship are more vital than ever.  Remember, too, that your pastors and church officers are praying for you, and willing to meet with you, whether it’s on the porch or by phone or video chat.  Out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind.  Take full advantage of the resources that your church family offers.

We can get through this, but only through dependence on the Lord and on each other.  So, encourage one another, even by text, email, or phone.  Pray with and for one another.  If you are in a position to, give with an open hand and an open heart.  If you need help, be willing to receive.  This is what the Body of Christ is for.  The Church has shined in moments such as these throughout her history, and the Lord has given us this opportunity for us as a body to “let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good deeds, and glorify your father who is in heaven.”

 

 

Habit No. 4: One Hour of Conversation with a Friend per Week

At this point in blogging about the habits that I am working to instill in my life, I’m getting more into aspirational thinking than what I’m doing now.  This is how I’m beginning to think about the habit of one hour of conversation with a friend per week.

I have three grown children that I touch base with at least every week.  Sometimes, we talk for five minutes.  Sometimes it’s an hour.

My rotation tends to be each of my children, a local friend that I can meet with in person, then each of my children, and another local friend.

As my son told me when he got established in New York, “I get together with friends maybe once a month, and close friends twice a month.”

While most weeks, I’m “checking the box,”  it would be good for me to make a concerted effort to deepen some friendships so that I would get together more than once a month or so.

 

 

 

 

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.

Job and the Prosperity Gospel (2)

I have previously introduced Kate Bowler’s book:  Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.  I’ve done so because in Texas, this is the soil in which much of our ministry is tilled.  What is outside of the scope of Bowler’s book is the damage that this errant teaching does to countless numbers of people.

I have no beef with the rank-and-file Christians who are a part of this faith tradition.  Many, if not most, are sincere believers who love God with all their heart and who trust in Jesus Christ alone for their redemption.  Unfortunately, these people are being fleeced by unscrupulous shepherds, who seek their own gain.

The paradigm for the life of the Christian is the life of Christ.  As those who are “in Christ,” our lives follow in his steps.  As he first suffered and entered into glory, so must we.

By bringing the blessings of the new heavens and the new earth down to this world, this paradigm is eradicated.  The expectation of healing from all diseases and injuries is one that people are especially vulnerable to.

My daughter, who is now in graduate school, contracted a chronic pain condition in her teens.  Well-meaning people told her that she could “pray it away,” and that if she had enough faith, she would be healed.  This was an especially dark time in her life.  It was a time when she almost lost her faith, because of these messages that she was getting.  Thankfully, the Lord preserved her.  But even receiving this teaching indirectly did much damage.  She is now able to manage her condition well, but it appears that this is a condition that she will always struggle with.  God’s calling appears to be for her to walk with him, and draw near to him in pain and suffering.

Also, I has a co-worker who was part of this tradition.  Her husband was injured on the job and permanently disabled.  She prayed, she fasted, she went to the “healers,” and he never got well.  Her story is darker than my daughter’s.    Instead of living on a good income, she was substitute teaching, cleaning houses, and doing whatever she could to bring in enough money to cover some of the bills.  She lost hope.  Being damaged by this teaching, she set aside her faith and divorced her husband because he was “holding her back.”

This is not to say that Christians should not pray for healing.  However, perfect healing only happens in the life to come.  In this world, we shall have tribulation.  But our Lord tells us, “be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”

Injury Update

Below, you can see the carnage of our recent auto accident.  We are blessed to have survived and to have the assurance that we should fully recover.  In the meantime, there are daily difficulties that arise from being limited because of injuries.  I don’t want to write this in an ungrateful spirit, because my wife and I are so thankful for the kindnesses, meals, rides, errands, and many other tangible expressions of love from the Providence Extension Program (PEP) community where we both serve.

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Perhaps I’m reading the wrong book for this time in our lives, but I’m listening to Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.  Broadly speaking, Gawande writes about the intersection between medicine and aging, and often finds that treating aging and its complications according to a medical model results in a tradeoff between safety and quality of life.  Gawande’s narrative is mostly comprised of the stories of people as they age, and are confronted with physical, medical, and lifestyle challenges that accompany growing older.

The experience I’m sharing with those in Gawande’s narrative is that because of the injuries sustained by my wife and me, everything takes longer and is much more complicated.  Even daily tasks such as laundry, finding clothes to wear, driving when I’m sufficiently between doses of pain medicine, making sure that Amy’s medications are within reach and organized, and having to take frequent breaks from working guarantee that productivity is a dirty word to me.   A couple of experiences have really surprised me about all of this.

I’m surprised by the amount of joy that caring for my wife gives me.  Amy and I took care of my sister for over a year.  Much of that time, Cathy was more dependent on others than Amy is.  Being in a position to help my wife has been the greatest joy of the accident, and an experience that makes me hopeful for the years ahead.

I’m surprised at how easily little things can upset me.  People have cooked for us and brought us dinner almost every night.  Most of the meals have been delicious, and even people who live far away (45 minutes or more!) have gone out of their way to help us.  But last night, I almost broke down because I wanted to have the foods that we used to cook before the accident.  Since the accident was right in the aftermath of our trip to Peru, we haven’t eaten a meal that we have cooked in five weeks.  Again, the sheer generosity of people is overwhelming!  Most of us would love to be in this position!  But the combination of missing the foods that we have made in the past and my inability to prepare them almost caused me to have a meltdown!

Unfortunately, I’ve been difficult to live with.  The last thing Amy needs is a cantankerous husband!  I need to pause and take a deep breath more often.  Amy and I are well cared for.   Our children couldn’t be more sympathetic or helpful.  But pain and loss of function are difficult realities.  I’m hoping that this isn’t a foreshadowing of what old age will look like for me.  God is showing me how much I need to grow in grace for us to have a gracious, happy, and peaceful home, which is something that with His help, we can achieve no matter what our limitations are.

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Update

I vaguely remember receiving an email telling me that my domain was about to expire.  Thinking that I had already broken numerous agreements with myself to work on writing, revision, and publishing, I agreed to renew the domain.  Of course, those unfulfilled commitments continued to haunt me.  However, a few things have changed over the last couple of months that have spurred me on to at least publish a couple of entries.

The first was that my sister passed away.  On May 16, my sister, Cathy Walker, entered her heavenly reward.  My family and I cared for her for the last year-and-a-half of her life while she suffered from end stage cancer.  Much of this time she was in our home.  She was positive, upbeat, encouraging, and faithful to her Lord right up until the end, and was an inspiration to all of us who knew her.  Even with all of these gifts that she provided, it’s still physically, mentally, and emotionally draining to care for a terminally ill patient, and this labor of love took its toll on all of us.

The second was that I was carrying an enormous teaching load, even by my standards.  Four tenth grade humanities sections, two eleventh grade composition and literature sections, two Latin I sections, two Latin II sections, one Latin III sections, and one night grade US History section.  This coming school year, I’ll have a similar number of sections, but only four preps.

The third was that my wife and I, along with my mother-in-law, were in a devastating car accident on June 26.  Seeing the photos, it would be difficult to believe that all of us came away with no permanent impairments.  However, I have some broken ribs and am generally pretty sore.

The sheer boredom of sitting around rekindled my desire to write more.  I’m faced with looking around my house and my innumerable books on writing.  Paraphrasing the words of Roxanne Gay, author of Bad Feminist, it’s like being “beyond Lane Bryant fat” and having a closet full of size 2 clothes; a monument to ambition and shame.  While I realize that such feelings don’t generally produce motivation to persevere in any long-term behavior, I must acknowledge them, even it it’s to rechannel them into both a realization that I get paid for teaching rather than writing, and that there is no shame in using my verbal capacity on my feet instead of on the page.

 

 

 

 

All Quiet On The Western Front

We woke up to a morning of relative quiet on the front.  The varmints are under siege.  Their days are numbered.  They will either die in our attic from poison or being caught in a trap, or they will die after breaking out.

We found out yesterday that we really dodged a bullet here.  It turns out that squirrels will try to chew through PVC water pipes in search of water, gnaw through electric wires, and chew up your insulation.  We have gotten to them before any of these things happened.  This could have been quite an ordeal, not to mention a serious financial setback.  If we manage to come out of this war relatively unscathed, we will consider ourselves greatly blessed as we consider what might have been.

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Dispatches From The Front

We have implemented a new strategy in the defense of Half Baked Manor. We called in the cavalry to kill the enemy and destroy him. Jeff from Absolute Animal Control (sounds like music to my ears!) set traps up in the attic to capture the enemy. He sighted two large squirrels — perhaps a male and a female who had moved in to start a family. So far, defense appropriations have hit the $50 mark. However, there’s more to come. We will need to seal up the eaves of our roof to secure the perimeter so we don’t have a repeat engagement. I’ll keep you posted.

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