Greetings, everyone! I trust that you had a pleasant Thanksgiving Day. This week is a reminder to God's people that our lives ought to be characterized by the giving of thanks.
1 Chronicles 16:8-11 gives us this encouragement:
"Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the people.
Sing to Him, sing praises to Him;
Speak of all His wonders.
Glory in His holy name;
Let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad. Seek the LORD and His strength;
Seek His face continually."
THE LORD’S DAY
This Sunday begins our Week of Prayer for International Missions. Join us in person for emphasis on this mission.
Lottie Moon Christmas Offering commences this week. Our nationwide goal is $175 million, and we have the opportunity to be a small part of that goal. Every penny of this offering goes directly to support our 3,535 field personnel on the worldwide mission field. Lottie Moon was one of 300 missionaries in the 175 year history of the International Mission Board of the SBC who gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel. Here is a brief video that pays tribute to those 300. Please pray about what the Lord would have you give this season.
Advent begins this Sunday. We remember the coming of Christ into this world, when true God became true man to take our sins upon Himself and pay the penalty for them on the cross. Rising, ascending, sitting at the right hand of the Father, Christ will come again one day to judge the living and the dead. Advent also looks forward to that glorious day. Scripture readings, songs, sermons, and prayers will reflect this traditional season of the church culminating in Christmas Day.
Here are the Scriptures that will frame our time of worship tomorrow. Take a few moments to read and meditate on them as we prepare our hearts to gather:
Fighter Verse: 1 John 4:4
Call to Worship: Psalm 5:11
Old Testament: Isaiah 64:1-9
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Assurance of Pardon: 1 John 1:8-9
Sermon: Luke 8:22-25
Benediction: Numbers 6:24-26
I often use the word "meditate" when it comes to the Scripture, and I understand that various understandings exist for that word. I am using it in the sense so well and thoroughly described here by J. I. Packer in his seminal work, Knowing God:
"Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God.
"Its purpose is to clear one's mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let his truth make its full and proper impact on one's mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself; it is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God's power and grace.
"Its effect is ever to humble us, as we contemplate God's greatness and glory and our own littleness and sinfulness, and to encourage us and reassure us-- 'comfort' us, in the old, strong, Bible sense of the word -- as we contemplate the unsearchable riches of divine mercy displayed in the Lord Jesus Christ." (p. 23)
Meeting ID: 875 7378 9453
Christmas Eve Candlelight Service is still on at this point, at 6 pm. It is always a special time to gather together with our church family for a service of Scripture, song, prayer, and sermon culminating in a candlelight singing of "Silent Night." We believe this can be done safely as we gather in families that evening. Please plan to join us!
ICYMI: Audio of Sunday’s Message on Luke 1:5-25 "God of Promise and Of Prayer"
A PASTORAL WORD ON COVID-19
Ever since the COVID-19 virus has been a concern, opinions abound concerning how best to address it. Church family, you have been gracious in your words and deportment on this matter, and I trust that will continue to be the case. Regardless of what your personal opinion on the virus is, most of us have known someone personally who has been seriously affected by it. I have known 3 people personally who have died due to COVID with no compromised health otherwise. None of these cases have been in our immediate area.
With the recent uptick in cases in our immediate area, some of you have asked what we are doing as a church to be proactive in addressing it in our gatherings. Please allow me, first of all, to share a few of the facts as I understand them followed by what we have already done to respond, then some pastoral advice which I believe will help us maintain "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," and maybe stay healthier especially as cold and flu season are upon us.
First, the facts:
1. DeKalb County has had 579 total cases of COVID-19 reported since March, with 10 deaths.
2. Of those cases, 138 were reported during the period of November 13-26; that's 24% of the total cases in the most recent 2-week period.
3. The total population of DeKalb County is 12,547, meaning the rate of positive cases in the county is 4.6% of the total population. (If our experience of COVID at home is typical, for every one positive test case, there are two who experienced symptoms during quarantine without being tested).
4. The percentage of deaths in relation to total positive cases is roughly 1.7 %, or 1 in 58. The inverse is, of course, a 98.3% survival rate. (It is my understanding that the death rate goes up with those who are above 60 years of age or have other complicating issues).
What we have done to respond so far:
1. Shut down completely for 8 weeks, mid-March to mid-May
2. Provided online and FM radio options in the parking lot for those choosing not to attend in person
3. Once we returned to in-person services, provided disposable masks and hand sanitizer to all attendees
4. Discouraged handshaking
5. Encouraged social distancing of 6 feet or more for periods of 15 minutes or more if unmasked
6. Taped off our seating in the sanctuary to help maintain the suggested distances
7. Made mask wearing voluntary, not mandatory
8. Pastoral staff have been more proactive in recent weeks to wear masks in worship center until seated or at the pulpit.
What has happened in and among our congregation:
1. Several folks have self-quarantined when they became aware of primary exposure.
2. Five families in the church have had at least one member who tested positive.
3. These positive test instances have been over the course of the last 8 weeks, and only two have overlapped in time due to being in a common extended family setting.
4. None of these instances were traced to contact while at a church gathering.
5. Virtually all have occurred following prolonged close proximity to a friend or family member who had COVID-19.
Now, how we plan to respond in the future:
1. We have no plans to shut down in person services again, preferring instead to allow you the freedom to make the choice to stay home and watch online, attend in the parking lot, or attend in person.
2. We have no plans to issue a "mask mandate," preferring instead to allow you to make that choice to wear or not to wear a mask or other protective gear.
3. We have no plans to alter our worship services in any way, but we reserve the right to add an earlier or later service for those who are more wary of the virus.
4. These decisions are not made unilaterally, but in consultation with and approval of the deacons, and in some instances, the church body gathered in conference.
Now the advice section (suggestions, not mandates). Because of health concerns not only with COVID, but also flu season:
1. Wear a mask whenever you are unable to socially distance from those around you.
2. Wear a red adhesive dot if you prefer not to shake hands, hug, or otherwise have physical contact with someone at church. (Wave, "fist bump," "elbow bump," or otherwise find an alternative to shaking hands as greeting).
3. Wash your hands frequently and make use of the hand sanitizer when needed.
4. Recognize that we are all breathing the same air, filtered through the returns and circulated throughout the various zones of the building, so none of these precautions are "fail safe."
4. If you consider yourself to be particularly at risk, please stay home and join us online or come to within 300 feet of the sanctuary and join us by radio, FM 103.1.
5. Above all, "trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Beloved, let us seek to glorify the Lord and enjoy Him forever as we live lives of faith, love, joy and peace in Christ.
Remember these words from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians 4:1-3:
"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
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See you in church!
Grace and peace,