Dear Old Oak,
You’ve heard it from us a lot, but we miss you. Some of you said last Wednesday night that you would come to the church building with everyone tomorrow, if you could. We’ve prayed that through this time apart, God would bind us closer together. At this point, we think we can say He has answered that prayer and more.
We rejoice and thank God for your patience, thoughtfulness, and receptiveness during the last couple months. The main news of this “news”letter is that our time of waiting will soon end, as we plan to gather again in person on Sunday morning, June 14th.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines for how churches may gather together safely in person. While Ohio’s reopening guidelines have not clearly addressed when churches can gather again, we recognize that groups of similar size to our congregation can gather in the same building with certain safety measures in place. These factors led the elders to think it appropriate to plan to gather in person again, while doing so in a way that is as safe as possible. We set the above date to err on the side of caution and give us ample time to prepare.
Here are some of the changes and procedures we plan to make in order to gather safely:
We know this is a lot, that some of this is the opposite of what we normally do, and that we cannot rid ourselves of risk entirely. But we know that we shouldn’t be careless, either. This is our initial plan, and we will have to develop and adjust as we go. Think of our brothers and sisters around the world who must endure stricter limitations than these when they gather together. As God sustains them, so will He sustain us.
We invite any questions and feedback you have about our plans. As we go forward, let’s ask for God’s help to have a posture of humility, empathy, forbearance, and patience toward one another.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13).
Your Brothers in Christ,
Steve Barbee, Bill Barbee, Don Lucas, Dean Velasco
Elders, Old Oak Bible Church.
Dear Old Oak,
This is a special newsletter for a unique time. None of us have seen anything quite like COVID-19. Many say that this is a once-in-a- century pandemic. These days have made me think about September 11, 2001. On 9/11, I remember hearing the principal announce over the PA speakers that something terrible happened. I remember eat- ing lunch and students getting called home. I remember arriving at home in the late afternoon and seeing the images of home Twin Towers for the first time. What’s stuck in my mind lately, though, is what I remember about September 12, 2001: I went back to school. Stores were still open. Restaurants still operated. Make no mistake, 9/11 changed and shaped the United States in many ways, but it is different than what we face right now.
We cannot predict all the ways COVID-19 will change us. Many are too quick to make historical evaluations, and unfortunately, the virus is not over yet. Nonetheless, we can compare 9/11 and COVID-19 in at least one way: God is at work to bend an awful event for good, wise, and merciful purposes (see Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23-24).
The main news of this newsletter is that in accordance with state and federal guidelines, all our church gatherings will remain canceled through the month of April. This breaks my heart as much as, I trust, it breaks yours. The coronavirus federal task force recently commented that they would consider it a victory to keep the death toll under 200,000 in the United States. That is a startling figure. At the same time, there is evidence that social distancing is effective in slowing the spread, at least to some degree. We want to do our part.
As stated briefly during my sermon on Sunday, I do not believe that the restriction on gatherings are a form of religious persecution. I believe this is an opportunity to submit to our governing leaders in an area where they have legitimate jurisdiction: the physical health and safety of citizens. It is also an opportunity for us protect the lives of the vulnerable people around us who have dignity, worth, and value because they are made in the image of God.
We will continue to go forward in gospel ministry in whatever ways we can. If you are not aware, I am still preaching! You can find the sermons on our website (oldoakbiblechurch.org/sermons) and they are also available on CD (our deacons are kind enough to deliver them!).
I know it is not the same, and it should not feel the same. Yes, the virus prevents us from gathering, but it does not prevent us from loving one another, loving our neighbor, proclaiming the gospel (may I suggest inviting a non-Christian friend to listen to the message on Easter?), reading the Scriptures, praying to the God of the universe, and living for the glory of the crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ.
I will leave you with four exhortations and a quote:
1. Don’t lose the longing. Remember how the Righteous Brothers bemoaned the loss of the loving feeling? We want to do what we can not to join their ballad. Do you know why the Apostle Paul wrote many of his letters to churches? It was because he could not see them. Read of his affection for the Christians in Philippi and pray that God would shape your heart and all of our hearts to love one another in the same way (Phil. 1:3-11). Continue to care for each other, pray for each other, and long to be together again. I know this marks many of you already and I thank God for it!
2. Remain vigilant. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told Peter, James, and John to watch and pray that they may not enter temptation (Matt. 26:41). While our circumstances have changed, our calling has not. While our circumstances have changed, we still belong to Christ. Let’s ask for God’s help to be close to him and avoid sin. Let’s ask for God’s help to remain faithful through this time.
3. Take the invitation to rest. As much as you are able, now is as good of time as any to slow down. Even if you remain busy as ever, take heart that Christ’s work is still finished (Matt. 11:28-30; Heb. 4:8-10), and that God is still the God of all grace who cares for us, who is with us, and who works in us, and who is bringing us home.
4. Pray. I am struck at how universally humbling COVID-19 has become. It has brought people around the world to stare the realities of death and human limitations in the face. Do you remember what King Hezekiah did when he was brought face to face with what seemed like a certain death at the hand of invaders? He prayed (Isaiah 37:14-20). Some question why we would pray if God already controls and has planned everything? The real question is, why would we pray to God if anything was outside his control and plan? God has ordained to accomplish his will in part through the prayers of his people. Friends, perhaps God is telling us that we need to get serious in how we lean on him and seek him in prayer.
Martin Luther lived when memories of plagues and pandemics were fresh on people’s minds, when medicine was not nearly as prevalent as today. This was his counsel on handling a deathly plague. Many have shared it in recent days:
“You ought to think this way: ‘Very well, by God’s decree, the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore, I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or for the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person, but will go freely...See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
I miss all of you, dear brothers and sisters. Our Shepherd has us in the palm of His Hands.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Senior Pastor, Old Oak Bible Church
Due to the developments of COVID-19, we are canceling all church gatherings until further notice. At the very least, this will last through the month of March, but could last longer.
Below are answers to a few general questions about the situation. Please read all of it.
Why did we make this decision?
How will we go forward?
What can I do?
Please let us know if you have any needs. I’m not sure if any of us has ever been through something quite like this, but we want to go through it together as we lean on the Lord. If you cannot get out and need help running errands or getting food, please let me know, and we will do our best to help.
We will continue to keep you updated as best as we can and as we know more, we’ll update you on the long-term impact of this time. Please check your junk/spam folder to make sure emails from me aren’t going there. Thank you for your help and understanding in these matters. This isn’t an easy time and these aren’t easy decisions. Remember, we don’t have to be fearful in this, but we can be prudent and wise. There is a difference. We are praying for each of you and love you dearly. Please continue to pray for us, the elders, as well. Finally, please reach out if you have any questions or for any other reason.
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Your Brother in Christ,
Steve Barbee Senior Pastor