Coronavirus Update

This page will remain updated with the latest announcements about COVID-19 and Covenant Life Church. As this is a fluid situation, please check back in regularly for the latest announcements. 

May 21, 5:00 P.m. Update

CLC family,

What does love require?

Over the past few weeks, this question has been a faithful and helpful companion as we have tried to navigate personal preferences and pastoral decisions. As the gradual re-opening of our country continues, opportunities readily present themselves for followers of Jesus to model love that considers the interest of others in higher regard than their own (Philippians 2:3-4). As one article stated, “This won’t be easy. But by God’s grace and power of the Holy Spirit working to unify us in ways our flesh resists, the opportunity is there for us to be a countercultural model for the rest of the world.”

How are you doing with that opportunity afforded us by this pandemic? No really; take a moment to stop and reflect on your thoughts, conversations, social media posts, actions, and attitudes that have accompanied you throughout this pandemic. How closely aligned to 1 Corinthians 8:9 and Romans 14:13 are you in holding your convictions and looking at others through the lens of love as they hold theirs? To be clear, seeking to talk through your perspective on debatable issues with others or persuade others of a perspective you hold is often a good and needed thing, so long as the agenda is love. That agenda will inform both the content of our conversations and the attitudes held/displayed through them. In the aforementioned article, the author commends countercultural humility, countercultural patience, and countercultural nuance which “avoids thinking the worst of people and concedes that the other side of the debate is sometimes right.”

Brothers and sisters, I pray this question would drive us to hold convictions and lead us to think carefully about how we hold them. For Christians, it is incompatible to claim love as a motivation for holding a position, and then lack love in communicating the position. My prayer is that every member of our church would consider this commendation to consider love. If COVID-19 allows us to refocus our hearts on considering this question—what does love require?—then we will be all the better for it when normalcy resumes.

LATEST UPDATES

  1. This Sunday, May 24, we will continue live-streaming our Sunday morning service. Resources are available to prepare your heart and home for meaningful engagement with the Lord. The live-stream will begin at 10:00 a.m. in time for the 10:15 a.m. start. If you have any difficulties with the live-stream, please contact the church office.
  2. We are continuing to host people in the Main Hall while also live-streaming; forty-five people will be in attendance this Sunday. As long as the current guidelines remain the same, we do not envision adding many more people to our Sunday in-person crowd. We continue to highlight and improve our existing attendance protocols. One example is that we will now be asking standard COVID-19 exposure questions to all prospective attendees to further promote a safe in-person environment.

ENCOURAGEMENTS AND REMINDERS
As the regular rhythms of our life together as a church have been halted or drastically changed, the reality is that new rhythms have begun. When new rhythms persist for a season it is normal to begin to ask questions about the planned longevity of such rhythms and ministries. To help keep us united and informed, here is information regarding a few of the ministries of CLC:

  1. Sunday morning live-stream. Any kind of worship service besides physically gathering together is not as it should be. The meaning of the church’s corporate worship is that we are the church literally gathered together in worship—literally, as in physically, non-virtually gathered together. It is when we assemble in worship that we are a local, visible, tangible manifestation of the universal church, and to not do this as it’s meant to be is to do something different. This is why we have been careful to not call our live-stream services “gatherings,” and it’s why we have chosen to not make live-streams a permanent option going forward. We praise God for the good that these technological means are providing, namely helping continue the ministry rhythms of the church and making it possible to sing, pray, and sit under the preaching of the Word at the same time. Yet, we still yearn to be with one another, gathered together to worship our God in the same place and at the same time. One Puritan pastor, David Clarkson, wisely noted (paraphrased), “The Lord engages himself to let forth as it were, a stream of his comfortable, quickening presence to every particular person that fears him. But when many of these particulars join together to worship God, then these several streams are united and meet in one. The presence of God, which, enjoyed in private, is but a stream; but, in public it becomes a river, a river that makes glad the city of God.”
  2. International missions efforts. It is the mission of every church that the gospel of Jesus Christ would be taken to other nations, tribes, peoples, and languages. CLC has enjoyed the privilege to do this in North Africa, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Wales. We are convinced that CLC’s international reach must be stronger and wider than it currently is. So, we are eager to pray, give, and go. We are also currently investing in five individuals for potential, future service to the nations through our International Missions Residency. COVID-19 has put some of our efforts for 2020 on hold. We have canceled our July trip to the DR. We will make a decision about our August Wales trip at the end of this month. We are moving ahead with our plans for the October DR trip. With that being said, these days allow us to be involved in global missions on our knees while we cannot be on foreign soil. CLC, please join with me in begging the Lord of the harvest to raise up more who would go, to save many from other people groups, and to grow our heart for the nations from the Tampa Bay area. Utilize the Spotlight to pray for an unreached people group each week. If you would like more resources for developing a heart for the nations, contact us.
  3. Student ministry. We are saddened that our inaugural student camp has been canceled, but are hopeful to benefit from summer camps in the years to come. As we seek to faithfully mentor, disciple, and invest in middle and high school students, we ask you to pray for our student ministry. Pray for relationships to grow within this ministry: student to student, student to leaders, and student to God. We hope to see a pattern of God-fearing followers of Jesus emerge from this ministry––students who will know God and seek to make Him known across Tampa Bay and to the ends of the earth.

One final thought: COVID-19 has not only created new rhythms of ministry for us as a church, but it has also done that for individuals and families. Sobering statistics have emerged about the rise in various abuses during these quarantined days. Churches that desire to be healthy are not immune to such abuses and perhaps unknowingly can even house such abuse. We know that this difficult season can increase the risk of danger for some of our members, whether related to domestic violence, suicide, and/or assault. If you are in danger or in need of help, please call the following. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

After contacting the proper authorities, please reach out to any of your pastors as we desire to protect, care for, and serve you as love would require. Church family, you are more loved than you know. I cannot wait until we can all be together again. If you need anything, please let us know.

By Christ’s wounds & for His glory,

Justin (on behalf of the elders)

May 14, 10:30 a.m. Update

Beloved,

Our God is “the hope of all the ends of the earth and the farthest seas” (Ps. 65:5). Even when we walk through seasons of upheaval and uncertainty, we do not fear because He promises to be with us (Isa. 43:1-5). In Jesus, nothing that comes our way can separate us from His love, or thwart His purposes in our lives, whether “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” (Rom. 8:35; Ps. 138:8). Seasons like this test the quality of the foundation that our lives are built on (cf. Mt. 7:24-27). Our prayer for all of us is that this season reminds us of God’s nearness to us and gives the space to ensure that the foundation of our lives is securely set on Christ. In the words of Edward Mote, “all other ground is sinking sand.”

As we prepared to roll out plans for re-gathering together last week, we knew that there would be a spectrum of opinions and perspectives. We have been helped by the suggestions, encouragements, concerns, affirmations, and ideas that have been shared over the past few days. Yet perhaps even more precious has been the grace and encouragement that has come through the gentle, gracious, and affirming ways in which these thoughts have been shared. We are grateful to God for a church that supports, loves, prays for, and helps her pastors both in the content of ideas shared and in the ways they are shared. Thank you.

We depend on the gathering of the body and the mutual encouragement that occurs during our gatherings to accomplish many purposes of the church. While we will not be able to experience the full, intended blessing of gathering together as a church until the guidelines and restrictions are lifted, we believe that it is best to take steps towards that goal rather than wait until it can fully happen. That said, it was a sweet gift to begin the initial phase of re-gathering last week. We had 29 members and members in-waiting come together for our service. I am pleased to report that we were able to maintain the recommended distancing throughout the service. We will continue to move slowly in this phase and look forward to fully being able to gather again in the future.

LATEST UPDATES

  1. This Sunday, May 17, we will again live-stream our Sunday morning service. We have prepared resources that are designed to help prepare your hearts before Sunday, and there are children’s service guides that will help encourage them to follow along. If you need help with any of these tools, please let us know. The live-stream will begin at 10:00 a.m. in time for the 10:15 a.m. start.
  2. This Sunday will again not be an exclusive live-stream as we plan to host 30 people with the hopes of gradually increasing that number over the coming weeks. We are using the results from the church-wide survey to help us accommodate for those in attendance. If you did not fill out the survey last week, please do so ASAP.
  3. This Sunday, May 17 we will post a 20-minute Bible-story for our children (up to 7 years old) led by our CLK director, Jenny Fugler. This will be available beginning Sunday morning on our website and Facebook page. We encourage you to join along with your children as they consider the truths of God’s word.
  4. This Sunday, May 17, we will conduct our May Members’ Meeting/Corporate Prayer meeting online from 4:30-5:45 p.m. We will be hearing updates and recommendations concerning our deacon ministries, membership process, finances, and other ministry-related matters. We will then spend time together in prayer. This prayer meeting is open at 5:15 p.m. to non-members. For information about the prayer meeting, contact Charlie Jackson.
  5. New episodes of Covenant Connections continue to be released every week. Make plans to watch these and learn more about other members of CLC. These are easy and accessible ways to better know others as well as stay informed on how to pray for others in the church.

ENCOURAGEMENTS AND REMINDERS

I know that this season of live-stream services provides some interesting challenges for all – challenges such as loneliness during a time that is to be marked by the presence of others, or more regular distractions and interruptions, such as those that families with small children experience. To all who are navigating through some form of frustration or weariness, I want to encourage you to excel still more and do not grow weary in doing good.

For our friends wrestling with loneliness, take heart. Before looking for ways to fill the voids and gaps you feel, remember that solitude and silence serve to create the space for us to hear what is going on in our souls. One author noted, “…our first hurdle in the days to come is to choose not to make our lonely places loud places. This moment in history is spoon-feeding us the opportunity to get still and silent with our God. Hidden in this pandemic is an invitation from Him to draw near, to be still, and to know that He is God—even though it may feel the whole earth is crashing down around us (Ps. 46).” After looking in, fight through the weariness to look outwards, yes even through screens and phones. While it cannot duplicate the dynamics of in-person relationships, it is a grace that is better than nothing. Don’t wait for others to find you out in isolation; run to them to care for them and (as a byproduct) your soul.

For our friends wresting with interruptions and discouragements from live-streamed services, the struggle and effort are worth it! Even though you can’t taste or see it at the moment, it is worth it. A TGC article made these two points that I pray will serve your souls:

  1. Children being present amid the ordinary “means of grace” is always effective for everyone involved. We can look to innovative programming to influence our children, but corporate worship is what the all-wise God has ordained. The more we place kids in the path of these ordinary means of grace, the more opportunities they have for their souls to encounter the God of grace.
  2. Children being present when the church is gathered (watching together during a pandemic) is a memory that will serve our children for years to come. They hear the singing, prayers, and by watching their parents delight in these times. While they may distract you from what you enjoy, they are impressionable to your enjoyment of it, no matter how small of a window that is.

The article concluded with this illustration: Most kids love candy, so I never need to encourage them to eat candy. Vegetables present another story, but my wife and I labor to see them eat vegetables daily. Why? We do so because we know the benefits that flow from eating them. The fiber, vitamins, and nutrients found in vegetables encourage us to fight the good fight of getting a little green in their diet. We know the benefits of such a diet could influence their lives for the next 20, 40, 60, or even 80 years. It’s worth the struggle. And the benefits that flow from including our children in corporate worship can affect their lives not just for 80 years, but for eternity. If green beans and broccoli are worth the struggle, a season or two or five of difficulty in the pew (or on the couch in front of the live-stream) is more than worth it.

You are missed. You are loved. You are prayed for. You are a joy to shepherd.

By Christ’s wounds & for His glory,

Justin (on behalf of the elders)

May 7, 3:00 p.m. Update

Church family,

I pray that this pandemic has paved the way for God’s word to become more precious to us than ever before. Whether that stems from having more time to marinate in it or being overwhelmed with our neediness during these difficult days, I hope that we have found God to be a refuge and very present help in times of trouble. If that is the case, then we will be a people who have found His word to be the path we must traverse in order to enjoy the confines of His security. Brothers and sisters, let’s enjoy our God by consistently spending time with Him in His word!

The Psalms help teach us to feast on Him, and they teach us that every season of life is a season of enjoying God. Take Psalm 86 for example. It is not a calm, collected psalm. Rather, it is a psalm filled with passionate pleas to God. Some fourteen times the psalmist appeals to God, and while he reasons throughout this psalm with God about his need, one thing he does not do is doubt. David does not doubt the One he cries out to, and we would be well-served to trust in Him all the more. Verse 5 helps us understand how he is immovable in that conviction, “For You, Lord, are good and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.” Simply put, this verse is an avalanche of truth about God: He’s good, He’s ready to forgive, and He’s abounding in pledged love to His people.

COVID-19 has acutely revealed what has been true of us the entire time: we are always needy and never self-sufficient. While we are never the master of our fate, we have a good and gracious God who is. Church family, we can bank on the truths of Psalm 86 because Jesus came and proved that all of this is true. What a comfort to look on Him, lean on Him, and glorify Him by relating to Him as He is. The Scriptures stand inviting us to know, trust, and enjoy this God even in the most uncertain of days.

LATEST UPDATES

This Sunday marks the first Sunday since March 15, 2020 that we will have the option to host up to 25% of our Main Hall’s capacity for the temporary live-streaming of our weekly service. Our highest-attended service ever, which was Easter Sunday in 2019, had 270 people seated in the Main Hall shoulder-to-shoulder; we are considering that our functioning maximum capacity. So while we would be lawfully allowed to host up to 68 people, we have decided to start with a smaller number to ensure that we are practicing effective social distancing and promoting the safest environment possible given the conditions we can operate in (see more info below).

This decision has not been entered into lightly or prayerlessly, and we understand this to be a matter of each person’s conscience. In no way should our plans place an expectation upon you. In fact, we want to ensure that each member feels the freedom to make an informed decision about what is best for them and their family. To that end, we are asking that each of you give us your preference for attending a service in the Main Hall during phase 1 of Florida’s plan to re-open the state. Please note that you must complete the form in order to physically attend services (until further notice).

  1. This Sunday, May 10, we will continue live-streaming our service through our website and on Facebook. We will begin the live-stream at 10:00 a.m. and the service will begin at 10:15. You can find resources online and through the Med 4 Prep that will help ready your heart and help your children engage during the service.
  2. This Sunday will not be an exclusive live-stream of our service; we plan to host 25-30 people with the hopes of gradually increasing that number over the coming weeks. This limited availability to host people has given rise for us to prayerfully consider how best to plan for these services. Here are some of our conclusions:

    1. We are seeking to host members and those in the membership process for the time being.
    2. Considering your survey inputs, we will invite a rotation of people and progress through our membership directory to do so. These invitations will be purposeful. Since CGs have continued to meet online providing us with some measure of face time with one another, we will seek to invite groups of people who do not participate in the same CG. We hope that this will help us see and enjoy time with church members you haven’t seen during this time. Take advantage of this opportunity to encourage one another!
    3. All who attend the service are expected to uphold the social distancing guidelines that will limit/prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
  3. In hopes of helping our members better connect with those in the church they may not know well or haven’t seen in a while, Covenant Connections are released every week to help us learn about one another and pray for one another. Take 15-20 minutes and better get to know other members of the church. Contact Charlie Jackson if you need the password to view these episodes.
  4. On Sunday, May 17 we will host our May Members Meeting and Corporate Prayer time online. Make plans to join us as we hear ministry updates, vote to receive new members, and hear updates from one another. We trust these meetings serve to keep us connected together in meaningful ways.

PROCEDURES AND PROTOCOLS FOR RE-GATHERING PLANS

These are the steps we are taking to ensure that our facilities, services, and in-person practices are following the recommended guidelines.

  • Please arrive between 9:45-10:00 a.m.
  • We will not offer CLK in May. The playground will also be closed. Children are invited to participate in the service. We will have worship guides available for kids. Parents are asked to ensure their children uphold safe distancing from others and to have close oversight of them at all times.
  • The coffee bar will be closed.
  • Water coolers will be available in case of an emergency. We’re asking attendees to bring a pre-filled water container.
  • Bulletins will be made available online.
  • We will have an usher guide you to your assigned seating area. We will pre-select seating areas each week based on the attendees who have been invited and indicated they will come. These seating areas will observe the recommended social-distancing guidelines.
  • We will have the two main entrances to the Main Hall propped open to prevent surface contact.
  • Four hand-sanitizing stations have been set up inside the entrances to the Main Hall. Please sanitize your hands each time you enter the Main Hall.
  • Each attendee will be asked to wipe down the wooden areas of the pews they sat in, and the pew back in front of them.
  • The bookstall will not be open. If you would like to purchase a book, let the usher/staff know and we can arrange accordingly. We ask that you do not touch the books during this time.
  • We welcome but do not require the use of masks. Please bring a mask if you plan to use one.
  • Song-sheets with lyrics will be printed and distributed to seating areas on Wednesday. The distribution of these will follow the recommended sanitation protocol.
  • After the service, attendees will be asked to exit promptly and make their way to the parking lots. There, you may fellowship by maintaining a safe distance of at least 6-feet apart from one another. Remember our practice of upholding government guidelines will be on display for our community. May our practice be consistent with our preaching.

If you have any questions about our plans, please reach out. If you have any needs that we can help meet, please let us know. Please pray for us as we seek to faithfully shepherd the church in the days ahead. Pray for unity, pray for an outpouring of consideration of one another, pray for God to be honored among our church family. Your pastors love you very much and we believe God is going to bring us through this together.

By Christ’s wounds & for His glory,

Justin (on behalf of the elders)

April 30, 2:30 p.m. Update

Faith family,

Psalm 16 begins with this cry: “Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in you.” This faith-filled prayer isn’t based upon what all David would like for God to do or change. Rather, the simplicity of this cry is found in its humility. A man who recognizes his limitations and needs is asking God to simply be God. We could say David prays like this: “God, be who You are to me, because I trust that You are who I need most.

That description of David (limited and needy) sounds a lot like who we’ve been revealed to be over the past several weeks. God has been gracious to use this pandemic to refine His people, to wring out our self-sufficiency, and to bring us to a place where of rediscovering how He is our greatest treasure. I am reminded of John Newton’s hymn, I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow, which he wrote after his dear friend and fellow hymn writer William Cowper slid into a depression that led to insanity. Newton would never have asked for such a means of refinement. But in the end, he could see how it was given to “break thy schemes of earthly joy, that thou may’st find thy all in Me.” (You can find a recording of this song performed by Bob Kauflin at Together for the Gospel here)

My prayer for our church family has been and is this: that through the various trials we are each walking through, especially in light of COVID-19, we would each take heart knowing that when we discover the valleys of our lives or hit rock bottom within ourselves, there is a grace there that simply cannot be known atop the mountain. Brothers and sisters, cry out to God in your despair, fear, loneliness, frustration, grumbling, hurt, anxiety, worry, anger, and weakness. Oh, how the Psalms show us the beauty and effectiveness of prayers uttered with voices of weaknesses making their way to the God of might and strength. Psalms 6, 13, 22, 88-90 are just a few you might find comfort in digging into this week. As Marshall Segal said, “Draw near to God all the more as social distancing continues. Wherever you are stuck for now, find a closet, and let that closet open worlds beyond this one. Get alone with your heavenly Father every day, anchor your heart in all that He promises, and then ask Him to use you to bless at least one person, even in some small way, today.” Aside from enjoying God, one of the sweetest graces of being near to Him is then being used by Him to encourage, love, and serve others. 

Oh, that God would make us a people who find fullness of life in enjoying Him and encouraging others, dear brothers and sisters.

LATEST UPDATES

We continue to monitor the latest updates and government guidelines as it pertains to the gradual lifting of the safe-at-home orders. We continue to ask for your prayers and understanding as we seek to shepherd the flock among us, with all of her varying opinions and perspectives on what is best in the days ahead. We also ask that you would continue to pray for and help in maintaining unity amidst our diversity. 

  1. This Sunday, May 3, we will continue exclusively live-streaming our service through our website and on Facebook. We will begin the live-stream at 10:00 a.m. with the service beginning at 10:15 a.m. To better prepare our hearts for the gathering, take time to read the Meditation for Preparation that goes out every Thursday night. Parents, make plans to print off the children’s worship service guide to help your children engage throughout the service. If you need these printed and can swing by the office to pick them up, contact Charlie with that request.
  1. This Sunday, May 3, we will join together online for a time of corporate prayer from 4:30-5:30 p.m. You should have received a Zoom invitation. If you did not, please contact Charlie for that link. Some of the most effective work that we can/will do together takes place in these prayer meetings. Please make plans to join us to pray.
  1. Covenant Connections continues to be a way to better learn more about fellow members. It’s our hope that these conversations serve to encourage us to pray for and get to know others in the church who we might not know.
  1. Our May Members’ Meeting with corporate prayer is coming up in a few weeks on May 17 at 4:30 p.m. We will make a decision on the forum for this meeting next week. Make plans to join us for these life-giving times together. 

A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT

I praise God for our church’s willingness to pursue and uphold the biblical value of community. The experience of that biblical reality has done more good in my life than I will fully know. I pray that sentiment is true of your life as well. The mediums that God has given us to experience that value are numerous…and then a pandemic hit. Those mediums in large part have been reduced to a small handful of options, with perhaps the dominating one being device screens. I assume that many of us are experiencing a level of screen fatigue. When this fatigue sets in, it becomes easy, justifiable, and perhaps desirable to do away with the screens. While I affirm the need to have boundaries with our screens, I also want to caution us against giving up the medium if that medium is a primary way to experience a necessary, biblical value. James has reminded us that endurance during trials accomplishes needed good, so endure the less-than-ideal means in order to still reap the intended good. God desires to use you in the lives of other church’s members and others in your life for good. If the only way we can experience that is through screens, then let’s not grow weary in doing good! (Gal. 6:9)

I also praise God for the various stories and testimonies that the elders and staff have heard from the body. These stories have proven to be an impetus for increased prayer and genuine thanksgiving for every member. Thank you for your willingness to give us the opportunity to pray for/with you as well as to keep us updated on the good things that the Spirit is doing in, through, around, and to you. A few examples:

  • Members visiting other members (at social distance approved levels) to check in, sing with, and pray for one another
  • Members running errands, grocery shopping, providing financial assistance, and helping one another 
  • Members blessing others with meals and gestures of thoughtfulness
  • Members more regularly praying for one another 
  • Members intentionally reaching out to others they do not know well 
  • Members creatively and faithfully sharing the gospel with others (we have heard many stories of increased boldness and faithfulness with the gospel)
  • Members reading the bible/participating in small group studies together
  • Members serving and coming alongside humanitarian efforts in the city to love those who have been hit hardest during this time

Praise be to God this is only a sampling! Church, thank you for your example and your willingness to care for others in times of need. This kind of life together gives a visible affirmation to the power of the gospel we proclaim! Excel still more, beloved. 

You are missed. You are loved. Praise be to God, we are kept! 

By Christ’s wounds & for His glory,

Justin (on behalf of the elders)

April 23, 4:30 p.m. Update

Covenant Life Church family,

As life continues to reinforce rhythms during this pandemic that have become the new normal, the sting remains. That sting is the ache of separation that runs counter to the social distancing guidelines we’ve been living under for the last few weeks. Out of love for neighbor (Mark 12:30-31), with hopes of seeking the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7), and rightly submitting to our governing authorities (Rom 13:1-5), we adhere seeking to do our part in the national effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. Yet with every passing day, we are reminded that God made us for community, to live in close proximity to others, and when we are unable to gather in the ways He has designed, that absence from our faith community hurts.

Paul captures some of this hurt for us in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20: “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us. For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.”

As our ache persists for one another, I pray we take heart in Jesus’ example. He is no stranger to suffering and as such, He alone is our hope. Our hope will not be found in a roaring economy or a healthy body, but rather in Jesus Christ. This is why we “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). In light of this command to draw near, how timely was the preached word on Sunday? We can draw near to our God through the scriptures and receive the implanted word for we know that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deut 8:3).

I praise God that we are able to live stream each Sunday, but let’s remember that it is God’s good design for His people to gather together to pray His word, sing His word, and sit under the preaching of His word. Until we are able to do this again, let’s fill the cracks and crevices of our days with more personal Bible reading, meditation, fasting, and prayer. As the quarantine makes our world seem smaller, let God’s word loom larger in our lives. I am praying we don’t miss the opportunities to daily steep ourselves in His word. Until we see each other face to face, let’s continue to preach the gospel to ourselves, reminding our hearts what we know to be true about Jesus and how that makes endurance during these ache-filled days possible. No matter what the future holds, the Lord is at our side. Take heart, family.  As Moses prayed, “Satisfy us in the morning with Your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps 90:14). Yes, even days filled with toil, hurts, and troubles.

LATEST UPDATES

  1. This Sunday, April 26, we will continue exclusively live-streaming our service through our website and Facebook page. We will again begin the live stream at 10:00 a.m. and begin the service at 10:15 a.m. We are saddened that we will not have the opportunity to partake in the Lord’s Supper together this Sunday. We encourage you to reflect on the wonder of this meal and its benefit to our faith and church. In hopes of preparing our hearts today for when we can gather again soon, may we be found faithful in turning from sin and walking in repentance.
  2. On Sunday, May 3 we will be having an online corporate prayer time from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Be on the lookout next week for a Zoom invite. If you have not made it to our prayer times together, please make every effort to join us. What we hope God does in us and through us requires help from on high. Add to those desires the unique needs of this season, and the need to pray together is monumental. We hope to see you then.
  3. Continue to follow along with our Covenant Connections interviews (contact Charlie for the password if you need it) so that we can better know and pray for one another. We are hopeful these conversations work to uphold and strengthen our unity in these social-distancing days.
  4. Our scheduled Members’ Meeting and corporate prayer time for May is Sunday, May 17 at 4:30 p.m. We will communicate our intentions for the forum of the meeting at a later date. These meetings serve to help us act on both our privileges and our responsibilities as a church family. Please make plans to join. After ten years, these meetings continue to be some of my favorite times together; they are an indispensable part of feeling well-connected to the life of CLC.

LOOKING AHEAD

  • We know that many are eagerly looking forward to social restrictions being lifted and that others remain concerned about what this could mean for the spread of the coronavirus. We too share both of these sentiments. We greatly desire to be gathered together again in worship and ministry on our campus as well as throughout our city and world. However, we also recognize the responsibility we have to care for both our faith family and the surrounding community.
  • While we await further definitive guidelines from our government leaders, we are prayerfully considering a number of different scenarios of how our church can best move forward in the next phase of this season. Please join us in praying for God’s wisdom, discernment, and guidance for each elder, and even each member of our church.
  • In the days ahead, it will be vital for every member of CLC to insist upon and fight for God-honoring unity amidst varying degrees in matters of one’s own conscience. So long as we act in accordance with the Scriptures, and (when possible) in harmony with what our elected officials grant us to do, we pray that each member will take the necessary steps to decide on the best timing for them to resume gathering until this season of a pandemic is over. The gospel-solidarity we enjoy is bound together by a stronger thread than our personal preferences over how to re-engage socially, even with the most compelling reasons being given from either side of the question at hand. Whether you believe it is best to remain isolated during the pandemic, or you are wanting to take the first opportunity afforded by lifted restrictions to gather with one another again, we must not be willing to tread upon the harmony in the gospel we have at the expense of each other. May we avoid trying to force others to bind their consciences to ours and instead seek to welcome, love, learn from, and be united with those who hold differing perspectives. This informs both how we interact with those who differ from us as well as how to speak of those who differ from us in the presence of others. Jesus’ prayer in John 17:22-26 makes clear that Jesus’ focus on unity and love among His children is far more profound than we tend to appreciate. May the days ahead by marked by charity, wisdom, unity, and love.

If you need anything, please reach out to any of the elders. It is our joy to serve as your pastors. You are missed and you are loved.

By Christ’s wounds & for His glory,

Justin (on behalf of the elders)

April 15, 7:00 p.m. Update

Beloved,

“As days disrupted turn to weeks, and weeks to months, let’s be the church to each other, as promised, in these precious days. And let’s represent Christ, as the Church, to our neighbors. There’s no Plan B. Christ doesn’t need a Plan B. Quarantined hours invested in what it means to be the church in such unusual days won’t be in vain. Jesus will build His Church, however many congregations do not survive. The Church, every faithful member, will endure—and forever enjoy a new world without virus, disease, or any other ailment. The gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s advancing church.”

As I read these words by David Mathis, my heart was uniquely strengthened by considering God’s purposes in the uncertainties of this time. My attitude about social distancing has been all over the place over the past month, with most of that time spent complaining, grumbling, and allowing frustration to take up residence within. I have not enjoyed the distance from the church I love and the people of the city I am hoping to share Christ with. I’ve regularly felt that this pandemic is causing us, as a church, to lose ground; to not have access to others who need gospel ministry; and to slow down our obedience to plant churches, invest into others, and effectively make disciples who delight, live, and work, as our mission statement spells out.

But God, through His word and by His Spirit, has been leading me to repentance. He has been showing me this: while His good design is for His people to gather together regularly, any and all temporary disruptions to those rhythms (like other times and in other places throughout history) have never thwarted the unstoppable purposes of God. In fact, in great mercy, God has chosen to use the likes of globe-stopping pandemics to refine His people and accomplish His purposes. If you are growing weary or losing heart, I pray that you would be strengthened in your inner man by the purposes, promises, and sovereign care of our God.

Please reach out and let us know how we can serve you. It would be and is our joy to serve and encourage you as you seek to glorify God and enjoy Him!

LATEST UPDATES

  1. The Sunday services for the remainder of April (19th and 26th) will be live-streamed through our website and Facebook. We continue to prayerfully monitor the latest updates and make plans for the upcoming weeks. And while we hoped to avoid making decisions multiple weeks out, it is clear that we will not be gathering the remainder of this month. We have continued to work to improve the quality of our live-stream with the hopes of more effectively serving you and your family. The consistent work of a small group of folks (Charlie, Frankie, Matt Chandler, and Brent Crosswhite) in this endeavor has been a gift. Their work has been supported by a larger group who have served in multiple ways.
  2. This Sunday night we are having an online corporate prayer time from 7:00-8:00 p.m. Be on the lookout for a Zoom invite which will include a list of topics we hope to pray for. Consider these topics and come prepared to pray with your church family.
  3. I wanted to say “thank you” to Jenny, the classroom coordinators, and a few deliverers who helped provide a special touch to our children this past weekend. I know that these days are also different for our children, and it is our hope that these efforts supported the work that parents are doing in bringing up their children in the instruction of the Lord.
  4. If you missed our first Covenant Connections interview with JoJo Johnson, you can find it on the Facebook members page. Be on the lookout for a few of these to be published every week while we are in our quarantined days. It’s the hope that these conversations serve to help you better know one another, which we trust will lead to better friendships, more personalized prayers, and greater unity among our church family.
  5. This Saturday, April 18, is the 10th anniversary of God’s grace to us in bringing this church into existence and sustaining us up to this point. While our celebration for this celebration-worthy day is postponed, I pray that we would reflect on God’s kindness to us through one another. May these first ten serve to position us and thus propel us into the days ahead with full hearts of God’s goodness, full heads of God’s truth, and full hands in obedience to His mission. To God be the glory!

ENCOURAGEMENTS

  1. Intentionally look for people to share Christ with and do good for. God has prepared good works for us (Eph. 2:10). He has purposed to show the immeasurable riches of His kindness through seemingly mundane and normal acts of Christian courage in a world consumed by fear. When a cholera outbreak came to London, Charles Spurgeon admonished every Christian: “Now is the time for all of you who love souls. You may see men more alarmed than they are already; and if they should be, mind that you avail yourselves of the opportunity of doing them good. you have the Balm of Gilead; when their wounds smart, pour it in. You know of Him who died to save; tell them of Him. Lift high the cross before their eyes. Tell them that God became man that man might be lifted to God. Tel them of Calvary, and its groans, and cries, and sweat of blood. Tell them of Jesus hanging on the cross to save sinners. Tell them that there is life for those who look to the Crucified One.” And on the heels of Easter, tell them that He is no longer in the grave but has risen with the power to defeat sin and death. Tell them to repent of their sins and trust in Christ alone! For the good of their souls, brothers and sisters, let us tell them.
  2. As you have opportunities to share the gospel, we encourage you to share those stories with our staff that we may be able to incorporate those stories in our prayer times together. These stories serve to call us to prayer and encourage our faith to share the gospel with those around us. Submit your stories to info@covenantlifetampa.org, and we will lift those up in our corporate prayer gatherings.
  3. Many of us invited friends, neighbors, and family members to join our Good Friday service and Easter live-stream. Many of those whom we invited have yet to put their faith in Christ. We want to encourage you to follow up with those you invited with the hopes of having a spiritual conversation with them. Let’s not let this opportunity to follow-up pass us by (Eph. 5:16).
  4. As the landscape of employment continues to fluctuate and those within our church are affected by the restrictions of our day, opportunities will abound for us as a church family to help one another meet needs. We ask any of you with needs to please reach out to us to make us aware of your situation. We want to do what we are privileged to do for another in times of need. Help us be that to you by sharing your needs with any of our elders (Gal. 6:2).
  5. This season is financially impacting many in our church in dramatically different ways. Many remain gainfully employed, whereas others have suddenly lost their jobs or found themselves on furlough. Amidst this season of uncertainty, we are still called by God to worship Him through our finances by placing Him squarely in the middle of our budgets. This giving is to be voluntary, eager, and cheerful (2 Cor. 9:7). God rewards these kinds of givers in a myriad of ways (2 Cor. 9:6). So, let’s continue to trust Him in our giving together because His mission continues, the gospel must go forth, discipleship never stops, churches need to be planted, and our city is ready to be served. Bob is preparing to send a budget update within the next few weeks to give us a better picture of the financial status of the church.

Thank you for your continued patience, encouragement, and prayer as we all navigate these unknown times together. We will continue to provide updates regarding our gatherings and ministries every Tuesday. You can always access these on our website, but we will also notify you by email and social media.

I love you and I cannot wait to see you soon, Lord willing.

by Christ’s wounds & for His glory,

Justin (on behalf of the elders)

April 8, 1:00 p.m. Update

Church family,

“It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift from the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us…therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart.”

I’ve read these lines from Bonhoeffer’s classic book, Life Together, multiple times, yet last week I was taken aback as I considered this quote in light of the current times. First, I was moved to consider that what we have been experiencing for a few weeks, some Christians have always and only known (2 Cor. 4:8-12). The sick, imprisoned (Heb. 13:3), and believers in other countries where public worship exposes them to life-threatening persecution all live this reality continually. It has caused me to pray more fervently for them (Lk. 18:1-8, 3 Jn. 2, Matt. 5:10-12). Second, I was filled with genuine thankfulness for each of you (Eph. 1:6). While I do not like the absence between us, I do find an intensifying longing for the time we do gather together again. Praise God for the lifeline of the ordinary means of grace (preaching, praying, singing). They have kept us united, in part, via the web. But oh, how I long for the fullness of those graces – not merely to experience them again, but to experience them while gathered with you. Praise from the bottom of my heart is lifted up to God because of you. Lastly, my longing for this disease, the death it has wrought, and the devastation it has produced to end, combined with the longings to be gathered again with you, have compelled me to a greater longing for glory (Phil. 3:20-21). The answers to all of the temporary longings I have now will be brought to fullness and completion in glory. When faith gives way to sight, when we no longer see dimly but clearly, when brokenness is made whole, and when we get God…my oh my, what a day of rejoicing that will be! (Rev. 21:1-4)

PRAYERS FOR OUR CHURCH

I trust that these past few weeks have shaped you in ways that have increased your knowledge of God, affections for Him, enjoyment of Him, and obedience to Him. May it be that when restrictions are lifted, there are some ways where we don’t return back as we were. I’m praying for a degree of change that could only have been accomplished by these trying times. Here are three ways I have been asking God to move among our faith family.

  1. For God to use this pandemic to strip away the empty securities that we are prone to fully trust in. We should rest in and fear Him alone. May He remind us that bank/retirement accounts, job security, and personal comfort make for terrible masters. May He expose our false sense of invincibility and immortality by allowing us to “number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). How have you seen this reality in your life this past month? What are you unwilling to yield and submit to Him?
  2. For God to use this pandemic to deepen our faith. Though we are tempted to lose heart and become fearful/anxious by the various trials of these days, “our anchor holds within the veil.” Pastor Frances Grimké preached the following to the Washington DC congregation he pastors in 1918 following the worst flu epidemic in US history:
    1. “If…we find that we did not get out of our religion very much help, in bracing us up under the strain through which we have been passing, then we know that there is something wrong; either we have no faith at all, or it is very weak, and therefore that we need to give a little more attention to our spiritual condition than we have been giving. It shows that we are running down spiritually. Or, if we find that we were helped, that our fears were allayed as we thought of our relations to God and to His Son Jesus Christ, then we have an additional reason why we should cling all the closer to Him, and why we should be all the more earnest in our efforts to serve Him. We ought to come of this epidemic more determined than ever to run with patience the race that is set before us; more determined than ever to make heaven our home. And this I trust is the purpose, the determination of us all.”
  3. For God to use this pandemic to re-center our hope. Our hope in the face of COVID-19 is not that we or our loved ones will avoid sickness and death. Nor is our hope in how young we are or how strong our immune systems may be. Our hope rests in Jesus’ words to Martha as she grieved the death of her brother, Lazarus, and sorrowed over Jesus’ seemingly tardy arrival. He said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn. 11:25-26). May each of us stare at COVID-19 and every other disease, sin, death, and the devil himself square in the face and say with Martha, “Yes, Lord! I believe!” (Jn. 11:27).

LATEST UPDATES

  1. Good Friday service. This Friday, April 10 at 7:00 p.m., we will post our Good Friday service. We encourage you to make plans to watch this service as we seek to both consider the wonder of the death of Jesus and prepare our hearts for our Easter celebration. See the encouragements below for ways to best prepare for this service.
  2. Easter Sunday service. This Sunday, April 12, at 10:15 a.m., we will again be exclusively live streaming our Easter service. We will begin the live stream at 10:05 a.m. so that you are prepared for the 10:15 a.m. start. Also, we will post a 20-25 minute Bible story-time for our children (up to age 7) that will be available Sunday morning on our website and Facebook page. We encourage you to join along with your children as they consider the resurrection of Jesus.

PREPARATIONS FOR THIS WEEKEND

  1. Good Friday and Easter go together. We encourage you to make every effort to watch and participate in both services. The darkness of Good Friday is meant to be overwhelmed by the bright light of Resurrection Sunday – make plans to allow your heart and those of your family to experience both this weekend. Make these services a priority for yourself and/or family. Our prayer is that these services will both strengthen our faith and lead to conversations with others about what it means to follow Jesus.
  2. Our Good Friday service is unique. The celebratory tones of our corporate gatherings are muted in this service as we consider the seriousness of sin, the somber reality of the death of Jesus, and the depths of God’s love that abounds in crimson streams of grace that flow from Christ to us by faith in His completed work on the cross.
  3. Invite non-Christian and unchurched family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers to watch either/both of the services this weekend. These services have historically proven to be a time when those around us are willing to join us for a service. Please know that while we are prohibited from gathering in-person, some within your sphere of relationships will respond positively to such an invitation to watch online. Building on relationships that you currently have, prayerfully consider inviting others to watch online with you. If they agree or if you are unsure if they watched online, please follow up to have conversations about what was shared and learned. It may be helpful to have a conversation about the temporary nature of these online services, and that we would love for them to join us when we are able to gather again. Feel free to use any of the graphics we have created to invite others via social media platforms or through email.
  4. Let’s pray for the Spirit to move. May the prayers of our members this week be dominated by petitions and prayers for Jesus to save and awaken souls to the breathtaking reality of His grace and redemption. Let’s ask Him to do what only He can do in our lives and in the lives of those who do not yet know Him. Church, He is able!

Let’s continue to pray: for the sick, for the fearful, for salvation to come to many, and for the glory of God to shine brightly. Amidst an uncertain world, He alone is certain: “He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress: I shall not be greatly shaken” (Ps. 62:2). The mission continues. Let’s be humble, wise, and courageous as we follow Him. Your pastors love you dearly.

By Christ’s wounds & for His glory,

Justin (on behalf of the elders)

April 1, 2:00 p.m. Update

Beloved,

You are missed. I have missed being with you the past three Sundays and the prospect of, at least, another month of being physically separated deeply saddens me. There is a genuine ache for the distinctiveness that marks our life together as a church. The deep joy of sitting under God’s word together, singing congregationally, sharing conversations in the lobby, the laughter (and the cries, too) that fill CLK’s hallway, the shared grace in observing the Lord’s Supper together, sitting under God’s word together, praying together after the service, and enjoying one another’s company are just a few of the sights and sounds of our life that I treasure and miss tremendously. I am thankful for modern technology that helps us stay somewhat connected for now, yet I long for the day when we can gather and be with one another again. 

There is scarcely a page in the Bible that does not deal with the trials and troubles of life, from the mundane to the catastrophic. Yet, over them all, the “Lord our God the Almighty reigns” (Rev. 19:6). He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11); not merely some things or most things or easy things – all things. This means he is always at work and that nothing can thwart his purposes (Job. 42:2), including COVID-19. God’s sovereignty over suffering sustains the soul, even amidst death, because his purposes are wise (Isa. 28:29) and good (Ps. 73:1). The Scriptures are a living testimony to this wisdom and goodness of God amidst trial and trouble and are, therefore, meant to infuse our lives with endurance, encouragement, and hope in Christ (Rom. 15:4). So, I hope this update finds you tethered to God through His Word.

LATEST UPDATES

  1. Bob Walker is beginning an online Bible study through the book of Galatians, using the Free from Bondage God’s Way study guide. You must commit to the full five weeks of studying through this book and doing the 15-20 minutes of daily homework to participate in this study. The initial meeting will be this Friday, April 3, from 8:00-8:45 a.m. Email Bob if you are interested in receiving the invite for this study.
  2. This Sunday, April 5, we will continue exclusively live-streaming our service through our website and on Facebook (in the place of in-person gathering). We will begin the live stream at 10:05 a.m. so that you are prepared for the 10:15 a.m. start. By way of reminder, we need to view our live stream in this season as a temporary concession, rather than a creation of ongoing convenience. We genuinely praise God for the capabilities we have and the access this gives to our church family and others while we are seeking to “flatten the curve” of the spread of COVID-19, but this live stream option is not part of our plans for ongoing ministry. 
  3. This Sunday, April 5, we will conduct our April Members Meeting/Corporate Prayer meeting online from 4:30-5:45 p.m. We will be voting on Corporate Directors (as explained in Charlie’s 3/27 email), voting to receive new members and to remove members who have joined other local churches. We will then spend our time together in prayer. This prayer meeting will be exclusive to CLC members.
  4. In light of the recent extension of the government’s request to continue to adhere to the CDC’s social distancing restrictions until the end of April, we will offer a pre-recorded Good Friday service on Good Friday (April 10) from 7:00-8:00 p.m. You will have the ability to watch this service anytime thereafter. We encourage you to carve out an hour before Easter Sunday to reflect on the necessity of the cross and the love of God seen in the atoning work of Jesus. We will also be live streaming our Easter Sunday (April 12) service 10:15 a.m. Both of these services would be great opportunities to invite non-Christians to watch with you. We are making links to share with friends, neighbors, and coworkers who may be interested in tuning in.

ENCOURAGEMENTS TO REDEEM THE TIME

  1. Let’s keep looking to God. When God’s people failed to remember God, it left them vulnerable to trust in worthless idols (Hosea 4.6). How forgetful we are! Nothing is more important than pursuing God through ordinary means of grace every day. How much better it is to be informed of God’s word to us than it is to be glued to the news! It is the sure and steady anchor for our souls in these days. Let’s trust Him for the promises He has made and not hold Him to any that He hasn’t. 
  2. Let’s keep looking to who we are in Christ – the church! Paul is clear in Ephesians 4 of the work of the church to build itself up in love. Our mission doesn’t stop during this pandemic. While we may not be able to gather right now, we can still speak the truth in love to one another. We can “comfort the discouraged, help the weak;” we can “rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in everything.” (1 Thes. 5.14, 16-18). 
    • If there was ever a time to start praying through the church directory, it is now. 
    • Keep meeting with one another virtually. Don’t neglect CG meetings or other opportunities to connect with other members.
    • Reach out to those who are less able to get out, or circle back around with those you were initially concerned about when this outbreak hit. Be aware of (1) the needs of working parents who are now homeschooling, (2) single members working from home, now cut off from social connections, and (3) more vulnerable members who may feel singled out and excluded. Social distancing means we keep a safe distance from one another. but it doesn’t mean we neglect to engage, serve, and love one another. 
    • Rediscover the lost art of writing notes and letters. Continue to make phone calls daily or make use of video capabilities to see one another. 
  3. Let’s make the best use of our live-streamed services. I realize that for some, the live stream option doesn’t remove distractions and regular interruptions. A few thoughts to help make this time profitable.
    • Pray. Spend time on Saturday evening or Sunday morning in the word and prayer in hopes of preparing your heart to be changed by the word preached, songs sung, and prayers prayed. Pray for other members and nonChristians you know are watching online. Pray for a sense of unity even while we are spread throughout Tampa Bay.
    • Prepare. Tune in early to work through any technical issues – decide in advance how to best participate (which device to use, the best place to display it for all to see), have your Bible close at hand, print the children’s sermon guides for the kids, and listen to any songs you do not know throughout the weekend (you can find our order of worship on our Facebook page). Look to invite others to watch with you and if you do, then be intentional to follow up with questions about the sermon and application to their life. 
    • Participate. Look to remove distractions as best you can – dishes will need to be washed, laundry folded, bills paid, cleaning will need to happen. You will get emails, texts, and other notifications during the service. Commit to those you are watching with that you will set apart this time for God and one another. When we stand, stand. When we sing, sing. When we recite together, recite the Scriptures aloud. This is a live stream, not a recording, so while you watch, you are not alone even if you are alone in your living room. Envision dozens upon dozens of CLC households, united in spirit, worshiping throughout Tampa Bay.

I’m praying we would be salt and light throughout Tampa Bay (Matt 5.13-16). The Lord is at hand, so we need not be anxious (Phil 4.5-6). This will pass, and then the next trial will come. In the hands of our good God, every trial tests the genuineness of our faith, which is more precious than gold, so that it might result in “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). He is faithful; he will do it (1 Thes. 5:24).

By Christ’s wounds & for His glory,

Justin (on behalf of the elders)

March 25, 12:00 p.m. Update

Faith family,

I hope you are well and trusting in our Lord Jesus today, even amid continuing uncertainty about what tomorrow holds. As the elders continue to meet, pray, and plan, we do so with a growing sense of gratitude for your help and understanding in these times. The encouragement that we have received around our efforts to care for each member has been wind in our sails. The willingness to walk together through these times, in a posture that seeks to identify evidence of God’s grace as opposed to grumbling and complaining about the way things have to be, has been a particular joy and help to us. We are hopeful that the Holy Spirit will continue to empower us to live our lives in wise, careful, and loving ways towards others. At the same time, we are asking that He will grow us in our ability to rest in the hands of our sovereign Lord, Who is working all things together for the good of those who love Him. Beloved, He is to be trusted, for He is generous and trustworthy! May our confidence in that and our love for Him be on the rise during these days.

At a glance

Because of the rapidly evolving nature of the information that is made available to us daily, we have chosen not to make decisions about our gatherings more than a week in advance. This, we trust, will allow us to stay as current as possible with the latest information as it is made available. With that being said, here are a few announcements.

1. This Sunday, March 29, we will continue exclusively live streaming our service (in the place of in-person gathering). We regret that we will not be able to meet in-person this Sunday. We are further saddened that our church will not have the opportunity to partake in the Lord’s Supper together. We encourage you to reflect on the wonder of this meal and its benefit to our faith and our church. We praise God for the improvements that were made to the quality of the audio & visual (thank you Charlie, Brent Crosswhite, Frankie, Hunter Hughes, and others who helped). As we did last week, we will begin our live-stream at 10:05 a.m. to help you get set-up on time. Please pray for continued fruitfulness from this series in James.

2. The women’s “Being and Making Disciples” workshop has been postponed. Be on the lookout for the rescheduled date to be announced in the coming days.

3. Our April Members’ Meeting and Corporate Prayer will happen online on April 5, at 4:30 p.m. We currently need to vote on a few items, and we desire to share a few pastor’s comments. Aside from that, we are looking forward to another extended time of prayer together. We hope to offer a church-wide, online prayer meeting every other Sunday. We are planning on varying our times from meeting to meeting (4:30-5:30 p.m. and 7:00-8:00 p.m.). We will send the link out next week.

4. Good Friday and Easter services. In light of the necessary precautions that are in place (and even currently unfolding) due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we are carefully finalizing our plans for hosting these services and will communicate them next week. Please pray for wisdom for the elders and staff as we seek to prepare accordingly.

A few reminders

In our last correspondence, we stated a few considerations for how to walk out love for God and neighbor in these days. Let’s remember a few of them:

1. Needs will continue to arise over the days, weeks, and months ahead, and we are asking that you please let us know how you are adversely affected by COVID-19. If you will reply here with basic information about your need, we will do our best to come alongside you and be helpful.

2. Let’s continue to creatively connect with other church members. We are asking every member to reach out to at least one person every few days with a phone call or note of encouragement. Please prioritize phone calls and video capabilities to connect. Utilize the church directory as a prayer guide.

3. Take time to read through the CLC Membership Covenant and prayerfully consider how you can continue to walk faithfully in those commitments before God and unto one another. Continue to consider how others in differing life stages are being affected by this, and with empathy move towards one another.

4. COVID-19 does not stop the church’s mission! Let’s continue to be diligent to ask for prayer requests, faithful to pray, and keen to follow up in subsequent days. As you are walking your neighborhood streets, pray. As you see people, look to engage them in conversation. Look for opportunities to serve the more vulnerable people in your community. We are praying about how we can creatively reach out to those in our city during these days.

5. Spend time with the Lord during this time through the study and meditation on His word and in prayer. His nearness is our good. Oh, that we would taste and see that He is good. We have also curated some resources that we think would be helpful to you during this time. You can check them out on our website.

As always, if there are any questions or concerns, please reach out to any of us. We love you and it is a joy to serve as your pastors.

by Christ’s wounds & for His glory,

Justin (on behalf of the elders)

March 18, 10:30 a.m. Update

Beloved church family,

I pray that you were able to join us on the live-stream of our service this past Sunday. I recently heard Greg Gilbert, pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church, say that one of the ways he believes God can, and will, use this pandemic is to stir afresh within each of us great joy and desire to gather together as a church family. Gilbert continued, “There are a lot of Christians across the world for whom watching a service on a television screen isn’t strange or sad at all. It is strange and it is sad for us; it is not normal for us…Because however many weeks we are in this situation, we want you longing to come back to this place, longing to feel the rumble of a few hundred people singing with the walls reverberating with that sound. We want you longing to see and embrace your brothers and sisters as we hear God’s word, read God’s word, and worship God together.” 

I agree with Gilbert here. As thankful as I was that we were able to make live-stream accommodations, and as hopeful as I am that we can continue, this past Sunday was a far cry from the soul-stirring, heart-warming gathering rhythms of our church family. In all that has been and will be lost due to this virus, may the longing to gather together only intensify. To be clear, while it certainly wasn’t ideal, it was a joy seeing so many of you participating with us in singing, praying, and sitting under God’s word. Thank you for being with one another as best we could.

What is to come?

As new information continues to unfold and government officials seek to further prevent the spread of COVID-19, we are faced yet again with difficult decisions as it relates to our church life together. For the reasons we stated in our last email, we believe that it is best to cancel the following activities.

  1. Our Sunday gathering this week, as well as all other Sunday activities. We are making plans to live-stream our service with some improvements to enhance the audio and visual quality. We will begin our live-stream a bit sooner hoping to help those who experience technical difficulties or need a bit more time to get set up. If James 1:1-4 was timely, we believe that this week’s text (1:5-8) is equally needed as we seek the wisdom that we don’t have to navigate days that are unfamiliar to us.
  2. The remainder of CLI and Foundations for this semester. We are thankful for those who have prepared and taught us as well as for those who have made it a priority to attend. 
  3. Our special Members’ Meeting scheduled for Sunday, March 22 concerning the church building process, particularly the topic of debt, has been postponed to a later date. 
  4. Our student ministry gatherings.
  5. The family camp-out this weekend. 
  6. Finally, I am disheartened to announce that we are postponing our 10-year celebration of God’s faithfulness and grace to CLC (April 24-26). Be on the lookout for future plans to celebrate God’s kindness to us as a church family. Help us pass the word that this has been postponed.

How then shall we live?

As we have stated in previous correspondence, these unique days provide us with unique opportunities in displaying our love for God, love for one another, and love for neighbor. Here are a few reminders to consider.

  1. If you are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, please adhere to the recommended protocols and inform the elders.
  2. If you are in need of help, we want to know what your needs are. Please email us with basic information about your need. We are putting together a response team that will seek to help us practically meet needs for one another. A few areas of need that come to mind: yard work, housework, errands, doctor appointments, grocery pick up and delivery, financial assistance, job loss, childcare help, etc.
  3. If you have the margin to help others, please reply here and detail your availability. While we know that every member would be willing to help, we are looking for those who have greater than normal availability or unique skills to help others.
  4. As we consider how to move towards one-another (with social-distancing in mind), we want to ensure that every member feels the freedom to voice their preferences as it pertains to giving or receiving help. For example, if you have a newborn and have been receiving meals from others, but are now uncomfortable with someone bringing over food, please feel the freedom to make that known. If you are being asked by others how they can help you, and you would prefer to not receive help that may compromise health measures you’ve established, feel free to communicate that. Let’s not merely think about how we would like to help, but let’s consider the one receiving the help and hold their preferences in higher regard than our own.
  5. Creatively think of ways to connect with other church members. Utilize the church directory as a prayer guide and make it a point to reach out to one person every 1-2 days with a note of encouragement, a phone call, and/or a prayer. Prioritize phone calls and video capabilities to connect with one another. Texts are easy but there is something much more personal and life-giving in a voice to voice or face to face interaction, even if over a technological medium. We are thinking through online options for hosting CG meetings and corporate prayer times in the weeks ahead.
  6. Families, leverage this time to make memories together. Work to ensure that your speech is along the lines of Ephesians 4:29 so as to protect the worldview of children in your homes. It would be easy to complain during these days, so teach children that when days are difficult it is acceptable to grumble and complain. May our children watch their parents bring their requests to God and hear of the opportunities this time affords, not the inconveniences. Pray together, do projects that have others in mind, and enjoy one another’s presence. Families, remember our single brothers and sisters, as well as those who are older, who are being affected in different ways that you are. Look for ways to connect and check-in with those who could easily feel alone during these times.
  7. Two encouragements regarding our temporary suspension of Sunday morning gatherings…
    1. Parents, but dads in-particular — set the tone for family worship. Set up the live-stream of the service on a big screen or in another prominent way. Sing loudly, take notes, bring some excitement, and start planning early. May Sundays continue to be memorable for us and our children. 
    2. Continue to faithfully give. Not only will this help the ministries of CLC move forward in the days ahead, but it will continue to keep your heart from becoming close-fisted to that which God has entrusted to you. Giving faithfully will help serve our hearts to not trust in the wrong things during these days. There are multiple options to consider to help you give easily. If you have questions about how to give during this time, contact Bob Walker.
  8. Single brothers and sisters, leverage this time to draw near to God and creatively to others. Remember the elderly and families who’ve been uniquely affected by these precautions, and extend grace if their check-ins are not as frequent as you had hoped for. Look for ways to bless them with your prayers, encouragements, and your efforts to reach out to them.
  9. Let’s not only look within but also think about your spheres of influence and identify those who may be overlooked or in need during these days. Opportunities are all around us as we seek to do good to our neighbors and those particularly affected by this situation. There are church members who are willing and ready to be deployed to come alongside you in your attempts to love neighbors, coworkers, and family members. In our interactions with others, let’s be quick to ask for prayer requests, faithful to pray, and diligent to follow up in subsequent days. We trust there are ample opportunities to speak of Jesus in these days. May we prayerfully look to make the most of them.
  10. Don’t neglect to let Jesus dazzle you day by day. Prioritize time with God in and through His word. I’ve heard several people say, “I have more time now to slow down and do things that I haven’t had the margin to do lately,” May we not waste the opportunities to draw nearer to our God. This will be the lifeline for every other encouragement in this letter.

There are a host of other things to consider, but let’s prayerfully digest and apply these together. You are prayed for. You are loved. Worship well this week and let’s be grateful for the world-wide reminder that this world is not our home. If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to reach out to us.

By Christ’s wounds and for His glory,

Justin (on behalf of the elders)

March 15, 12:30 p.m. update

All regular CG gatherings have been canceled for the week. If you have any questions, please contact Bob Walker.

March 14, 4:10 p.m. update

Covenant Life Church,

This has been an interesting week, to say the least. First and foremost, it has been a week marked by sadness and grief as life has been lost and families have been adversely affected by COVID-19. For these families, we mourn, grieve, and pray for comfort, hope, and the faith that is only found in Jesus Christ. It has also been a difficult week to discern and determine the difference between wisdom and fear. There is the need to live wisely as we do our part to mitigate the spread of this virus. There also is the need to avoid living in a state of fear, fear that relegates God beneath what He is, and beneath other things (COVID-19 in this instance). Our prayer has been that God would grant our church family the wisdom needed to live with wisdom and not fear.

It is in light of that prayer that we have continued to monitor the status of the COVID-19 pandemic and to consider how this affects our corporate gatherings. This morning at 9:33 a.m. we received a request from our local officials asking all gatherings of 250 or more to be canceled this Sunday. As we have discussed this request from the city of Tampa and prayed further about our decision, we believe it is now best to cancel our in-person gathering and all other church-related activities scheduled for tomorrow.

How we made this decision

There have been two major factors over the last 24 hours that have led us to this decision.

  1. The request from our local officials. Until now, regulations and guidance on large gatherings have come from state and federal levels. While we believe that those requests are valid and warrant serious consideration, they did not have the specific interest of the Tampa Bay community in mind. A national request takes into account the situation in Seattle as well as that in rural Alabama. Now that our local officials have made a request, we believe this has a unique bearing upon us and should be considered more seriously. We have also had discussions around density precautions. So far in 2020, we have averaged over 240 people on campus each Sunday morning. This means that we are very close numerically to the organizations that the government is asking to cancel public gatherings. We are left with the choice of gathering Sunday, even though we believe that we will not approach 250 persons on-campus, or not gathering Sunday because we are, on average, a church that gathers with 250 people. We believe that our love for our neighbors, our cooperation with our city officials, and our witness to the Tampa Bay area compels us to honor this request. In addition, there are other organizations that are taking measures to honor the city’s request. We want to be among the number of those who are working together to see that this virus does not spread in Tampa Bay.
  2. The exercise of our freedom in loving our neighbor. We believe there is unique freedom for each local church to make decisions that they believe are best for their congregations and communities. It is wise for us to be slow to pass judgment on churches that may be acting differently than we prefer. After all, this is an issue of wisdom. As more and more precautions have been asked of organizations in the bay area, we believe that very few people in our community would be offended if we canceled our in-person gathering, but that some within the church and the community could take offense to our decision to continue to gather. In exercising our freedom, we think it best to avoid any offense.

What we are doing in light of this decision

While we are canceling our in-person gathering tomorrow, we are planning on providing a live-streaming option for us to experience via Facebook Live. You can simply click the link to view the live stream, which will begin at 10:15 a.m. We believe that on the heels of such a week of ups and downs, it would be good for us to stream our service to remind our hearts that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Ps. 46:1). We believe the songs we will sing will help us anchor our hearts and hopes to the God who is in control of trials. We also have been looking forward to kicking off our James sermon series this week.

So we ask you to make plans to join us at 10:15 a.m. from your home as we live-stream our service. Be prepared to sing aloud in your home, pray along with us, and sit under James 1:1-4 together. May this both encourage our hearts to appreciate the gift of gathering together and be thankful for the use of technology that would make this an option. To be clear, this live stream option is not something that we will continue as a long term option of staying connected with CLC.

As always, if you have any questions please let us know. Also, if you have unique needs that you require assistance with as a result of this virus, please reach out to us and make those needs known. Please let the church be the church in a time when the church is meant to showcase the love of God.

I trust you will tune in tomorrow morning at 10:15 a.m. If you know of others who regularly attend CLC, please pass this on to them as well.

In Christ,

Justin (on behalf of the elders)

March 13, 6:00 p.m.

Church family,

We are continuing to closely monitor the status of COVID-19 in Tampa Bay. As of Friday, March 13 at 6:00 p.m., we are continuing with our original plan to hold services this Sunday. Over the last 24 hours, we have continued to examine our protocols and plans for this Sunday. While we outlined many of them in yesterday’s update, here are a few other updates.

1. We will not provide printed bulletins in an effort to minimize touch-points. A digital bulletin can be accessed on our public Facebook page at facebook.com/covlifetampa on Sunday.

2. Our bookstall will be closely monitored to discourage anyone from perusing books. We will be having a “touch it and you buy it” sale this Sunday.

3. Our CLK cleaning procedures will be increased and thorough. For example, we have a cleaning rotation every 30 minutes while children are in our care, in addition to the procedures before and after the gathering.

4. Those who feel it wisest to remain home and who are scheduled to be in a serve position, please contact a ministry leader as soon as possible to let them know. Your assigned serve position is not an obligation that should keep you from following through on the decision you think is best. If you are unsure of who to contact, please reach out to Charlie Jackson at cjackson@covenantlifetampa.org. In the event of a shortage of teachers, we will begin to make adjustments to our older CLK classes (4s and 5s, seeing as this Sunday the 6-7s are in the service).

Again, as we seek to make real-time decisions as information rapidly unfolds, I would ask that you pray for your elders and staff. Pray for wisdom, unity, and humility as we seek to be faithful in our positions of service. As a brief aside, I hope we recognize God’s grace to CLC through her pastors and staff. Seeing how the elders have allowed pressing discussions and decisions to take priority over other responsibilities has given me a unique sense of gratitude for these men as we seek to care for our faith family. I’ve also seen Charlie joyfully stay late, send out emails around his son’s baseball games, and come in on his day off to ensure that protocols are in place. Jenny has likewise prepared and planned in extra measures this week to best prepare for our gatherings. I praise God for this team. Rest assured they love you more than you know.

Lastly, let’s continue to pray for gospel opportunities that these uncertain times afford us. Gospel opportunities within our faith family as we pray for and love those who are most vulnerable to this virus. Let’s be quick to not allow social distancing to create spaces of isolation. Let’s explore other ways to meet with one another (phone or video calls) with the hopes of ministering to one another, encouraging one another, and loving one another. By God’s grace others in the church will have different opinions than you do about responses and precautions, and by God’s grace, there is a space for charity even in our differences. May these opportunities afford us platforms to display gospel charity and unity. But also, gospel opportunities outside of our faith family as we pray for and love our neighbors through this time. Asking people how you can pray for them is an easy way to love others, hear from others, and it gives you an opportunity to plead with God on their behalf. Let’s be intentional not just with the ask but also with the follow-up. There will be ample opportunities to die to self for the good of another. May we always be prepared to give an answer for the hope we have in these days.

You are loved,

Justin (on behalf of the elders)

March 12, 5:30 p.m.

CLC family, 

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Ps. 46:1-3)—whether spiritual, financial, emotional, relational, or physical. This is crucial to keep at the forefront of our hearts amidst the ever-unfolding outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, across the world. Having been declared a pandemic, COVID-19 may tempt our hearts toward fear or anxiety, but the Word of God and the God of the Word brings peace and comfort. Our God reigns and nothing happens outside His loving, wise, and good sovereign reach—even disease and death (Dt. 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:6; Job 1:20-21; Ja. 4:13- 16). 

Our first response in the face of trials must be to take refuge in God through prayer and reading His Word. Cultivating a Godward perspective grounds our hope in Him and gives us a confident poise as we seek to be wise (Ja. 1:5-6; Mt. 10:16) amidst a world longing to be set free from its corruption (Rom. 8:20). This is not the first of its kind, nor will it be the last until the Lord ushers in the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21:1-4). A second response in the face of trials is consideration of and love for our neighbor (Matt 22:37-39).

Like you, we are continuing to pray for those affected by the coronavirus and are praying that God, in great mercy, would bring suffering to an end. But until then, we must find the wisest, most prudent path forward when faced with a world gone awry. As your elders, we want to let you know that we are shaping plans for weekly public gatherings and community groups. We also need to ask for your help in a few ways. 

Please understand that we are not in a position to be a source of information about COVID-19, nor are we able to provide any kind of medical advice. If you want to know more about COVID-19, you should visit the Centers for Disease Control website. If you are in need of medical advice, you should seek that from qualified medical professionals. 

We encourage you to adhere to the following practices: diligently wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds regularly throughout the day; use hand sanitizer when soap/water are unavailable; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; cover your mouth with your inner elbow when you cough or sneeze; and stay home if you feel sick or have had a fever within the last 24 hours. 

As of 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 12, we offer the following counsel for CLC:

  1. We will continue our regular gatherings until further notice. We will evaluate this decision regularly as new information is released. We do not interpret the recent government request to cease “non-essential mass gatherings” as applying to our church. The size of our gathering is relatively small and is not considered non-essential. 
  2. For those gathering on Sunday, we encourage you to greet one another without coming into physical contact with one another. Please refrain from shaking hands, offering high-fives, kissing on the cheek, offering hugs, and other forms of physical contact. This may feel stifling to some, but it is a way to love your neighbor.
  3. In addition to our CLK sickness policy, we will take extra measures to wipe down door handles, handrails, surfaces, light switches, and toys before, during, and after our gatherings. We ask that you monitor your and your children’s health closely for the benefit and protection of others. 
  4. Community Groups are encouraged to gather in a manner that seems prudent to the members and leaders of the groups.
  5. All indications are that this virus disproportionately affects individuals who fall within the following criteria: elderly and/or those with underlying medical conditions, such as autoimmune disorders, heart and lung conditions, diabetes, etc. If you fall within these categories, we encourage you to remain at home.
  6. If you suspect you may be sick or developing sickness, please remain at home and seek proper medical attention. Please follow CDC guidelines when reporting your suspected illness. If you believe you have come into contact with someone who has the coronavirus, or if you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, it is crucial that this matter be made known to the proper authorities immediately. Please also alert the elders so we can discern how to best care for you and your family. 
  7. If you have traveled outside the US in recent days, please inform the elders. No extra measures will be requested beyond what the government requires, but we appreciate the notification.
  8. For the next several weeks we will refrain from passing offering plates, and instead will have preselected volunteers who will handle the plates exclusively. Please feel free to mail checks or give online (contact Bob Walker about giving options that reduce online processing fees). Also, we are looking into ways to receive “introduce yourself” cards via online forms.
  9. We will continue to offer coffee. We will staff the coffee bar with volunteers who will serve you coffee. Please refrain from touching cups, creamer, coffee urns, etc.
  10. Regarding the Lord’s Supper, we have ordered a supply of individual, pre-packaged Lord’s Supper elements. They will be distributed by the individuals who will be given instruction regarding proper hygiene to ensure there is no potential contamination. 
  11. If you think it wisest to remain at home, we will be offering a Facebook live stream of the service beginning this Sunday. The live-stream will be available on our public Facebook page at facebook.com/covlifetampa.
  12. Consider church members who are susceptible to the virus and, in addition to praying for them, find creative ways to care for them, meet their needs, and provide community (in ways that adhere to quarantine policies).

Let’s remember, beloved, that as Christians we are people of faith and not fear. Yes, of course, that does not mean that we act foolishly, paying little attention and taking few precautions. May even this difficult situation cause us to reflect often on the brevity of life, the brokenness of the world, and the beauty of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we watch a world react to this crisis, may we not neglect to share the hope we have in Jesus. What a moment for Christians to respond to this outbreak with faith and not fear, wisdom and not worry, and love in what we say and how we act. 

Thank you so much, brothers and sisters, for your help and understanding in these matters. If you need anything, please reach out to any of our elders or staff without hesitation. It is a joy to care for you and serve as one of your pastors. 

By Christ’s wounds and for His glory,

Justin (on behalf of the elders)