A few words that shaped my life…

Carol and I celebrated our 20th Anniversary this past May with a trip to Boston.  We spent the week visiting historical sights and eating some very good food.  Two places which we visited had special significance for each of us: for Carol it was the home of Louisa May Alcott and for me it was the Trinity Church, pastored by Phillips Brooks from 1869 to 1891.

If many people are familiar with Phillips Brooks, it is likely because he is the author of the Christmas Hymn, O Little Town Of Bethlehem.  But for me, he holds much greater importance, though I certainly appreciate the song which he penned.

Phillips Brooks was also the author of The Joy of Preaching.  He was an Episcopalian pastor (obviously, our doctrine differs in various areas) and was considered to be an excellent preacher.  The Trinity Church in Boston, blossomed under his leadership.  He was asked to participate in the “Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching,” also known as “The Yale Lectures on Preaching” which were delivered at  Yale Divinity School in the 1870’s.  These lectures where the basis for the book The Joy of Preaching.

Here’s the story.  I did not have a dramatic call to ministry.  I just knew that I was God’s servant to do with as He pleased.  I don’t have a magnetic personality or a dynamic eloquence.  When I went to college to begin my training for ministry, I was shy, scared, and not at all sure what kind of preacher I would be.  When I considered some of the preaching abilities of some men I admired and compared myself to them, I felt very inadequate – to say the least.

My home church in Missouri supported a retired missionary to India, by the name of Bob Cooper.  Bro. Cooper had an enviable library, of which I was blessed to receive several boxes of books when he passed away.  But, before that, for my ministerial preparation, he gave me a book titled, “The Joy of Preaching.”  Handwritten in the front was the following note,

“Dear Levi,

Awesome is the charge; awesome is the privilege; awesome is the responsibility of your office.  May the following pages be helpful as you prepare for your High calling.  Abandon your life to God.

In Christian love, Brother and Mrs. Cooper

I didn’t actually read the book until it was a reading assignment for one of my preaching classes.  I first read Brooks’ definition of preaching in the biographical sketch of his life, written by Warren Wiersbe at the beginning of the book.  Then, the first chapter explained that definition in greater detail.  He said “Preaching is the communication of truth by man to men.”  He abbreviated that definition to “truth through personality.”  When I read that phrase, it gave me pause to evaluate my own perceived inadequacies.  Had not God made me to be who He wanted me to be?  Why was I setting unnatural expectations for myself?  Was not each of the apostles and other New Testament ministers different from one another in their character, nature, and personality?  The conclusion hit me like a breath of fresh, cool air on a hot, summer day – God wanted to use who He had made me to be as an instrument to communicate His truth.  I didn’t have to mimic someone else’s personality, or voice, or charisma – I was just supposed to let God use me as He had designed me – that meant the personality which He had created in me.

I’ve been pastoring and teaching for around 20 years since I first read that definition and nothing else I’ve read, other than the Scriptures, has been more liberating and energizing to my participation in the high calling to proclaim the truth of God’s Word.

Over the years I’ve learned bits and pieces about the life of Phillips Brooks.  When Carol and I decided to visit Boston, I put on my to-do list a visit to the Trinity Church which Brooks pastored.  I’m the kind of person who feels history by being where men I admire have been.  I have walked the land owned and farmed by my ancestors in order to know them better.  I may read facts or documents about them, but when I stand where they stood and walk where they walked, when I see with my eyes where they have lived and labored, even if 100 or more years later, that is when I have gained the greatest value from history.  On the same trip to Boston, I walked in John Adams’ garden and sat on his front porch. I stood under the balcony from which Abigail Adams heard read the Declaration of Independence, I stood over John Hancock’s grave, I followed Paul Revere’s trail, and I walked through mansions designed by Richard Morris Hunt.  I need to be where history happened.

So, it was the culmination of my appreciation for Phillips Brooks to visit the place of his ministry.  When I looked at the pews which held the people to whom his personality ministered the truth from the pulpit above me, he became more than an author to me, but a mentor and an inspiration.

 

 

 

National Farmer’s Day

Both of my grandfathers farmed at different times in their lives.  My dad was a pastor, but when my brothers and I were teenagers, Hugh Hagerman, a local farmer, stopped at the parsonage and asked my dad “would your sons be interested in working for me?”  Of course we were, and so we spent much of our high school years and early manhood doing everything farmers do.  God chose for me to be a pastor vocationally, but farming is in my blood and a part of my heritage.

(Grandpa Tate, Me, Joel – around 2001; Me and the JD 4840 – around 1995)

We moved to Paxton in 2005; one day during that first fall here, we were driving through the country during the harvest and watching the combines out in the fields, I told Carol, “I would love to get to work for a farmer again sometime.”  It took more than 10 years, but God has granted that desire to me.  I met Wil, Randy, and Art Kinzinger several years ago (providentially – two of my children were 1st grade students of Wil’s wife, Kara) and have worked for them for the last 3 seasons.  I’ve been blessed to be able to work with these men and have thoroughly enjoyed every day that I’ve been filling a planter or sprayer, driving a truck, filling or cleaning out a grain bin, or anything and everything that farmers do – even the hard, sweaty, dusty and dirty.

(Wil and Art doing a field check, harvest 2018; I had the semi home one evening)

Farming was the first vocation in creation.  In Genesis 2:15, God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden “to dress it and to keep it.”  Interestingly, the responsibility to care for the garden was given before Adam and Eve sinned.  I’ve taught my children that the responsibility to work preceded the curse from sin; work is not a result of the curse (the thorns and thistles which combat the crops and increase the struggle are a part of the curse – Genesis 3:17-19).  From Creation, God intended mankind to work; you would be hard-pressed to find a category of people which work harder than farmers.  Though technology has advanced and farmers have progressed from hand tools, to animal power, to tractors, to satellite guided machinery, the basics of working the ground, nurturing the crops, and harvesting the grain, have been the same for 6,000 years.

Farming is easy to trace through Biblical history.  It was the main work of the Hebrews and the nation of Israel.  Jesus used farming illustrations on multiple occasions.  The apostle Paul even used the word picture to describe a portion of the work of the pastor, calling him the husbandman.

Farming requires diligence in labor, patience through seasons, and intelligence to manage multiple components of the business.  It requires an understanding of agronomy, meteorology, technology, physics, chemistry, economics, and multiple other disciplines and sciences.  I remember going to a feed store and seeing my grandpa purchase a significant amount of supplies.  When we went to the checkout, he remembered the price of each, computed the tax in his mind, told the cashier how much he was giving him and how much change he should receive – all before the cashier could even finish ringing up all that he was purchasing!  Grandpa followed up with a wink and his memorable grin for me and the cashier when his figures were accurate to the penny.  I stand in awe of the knowledge of the farmers that I’ve known.

I learned that October 12th is National Farmer’s Day.  I’m thankful for those farmers who have contributed to the development of who I am, both practically and spiritually (Grandpa Deatrick, Grandpa Tate, Hugh Hagerman, Arny and Steve Oilar, Ray and Gary Palmer, Tom and Rick Luttrull, Darin Kennelly, the Fosters, and most recently – the Kinzingers, and of course quite a few others).  I’m thankful for the farmers in our country that work to provide not only for their families, but also as a part of the economic foundation of our country – and even the world.  I’m thankful for the responsibility that God gave to mankind to tend and keep the ground.

 

 

I’m A Rich Man…

The riches you share

As a couple in Christ

Come from depths so much greater than known;

For coins are lost

And bonds and bills can be tossed…

This world’s riches are fickle and blown.

 

God’s Word deems this

That a virtuous wife

A crown to her husband is;

She is better than jewels

A sweet fountain that cools;

A storehouse of inestimable price!

 

Her husband will place

The trust of his heart

In this woman, his sister in Christ-

Her desire for his good

Lasts all of his days

These investments of love are for life!

~ Carol Sue Deatrick

*Below is the sketch that Carol wrote in 2002 as we were driving to Mexico to take our teens on a missions trip; I found it yesterday. (Don’t worry, I asked her if I could post it.)

Building Tanks To Be Able To Build People

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Every now and then, I see a paving machine like this one.  I took this picture today as my Dad and I were getting ready to sit down at Hardee’s in Paxton for lunch.  For a three year old kid this represents big and yellow construction equipment, for most people in Paxton it represents a new surface on the streets, for the men in the picture it represents their livelihood, for some people it represents the frustration of having to take a detour.  Significantly, for hundreds – perhaps thousands – of people in St. Louis, Missouri, it represents the sacrifices of a pastor who dedicated 11 years of his life to caring for their souls.  I was one of those people.

People sometimes presume that a pastor’s life is one of little physical labor.  My Dad is one of the hardest working men that I have ever met.  When he was in Bible college in the 70’s, he paid for his education by working in the Blaw-Knox factory in Chicago as a flame-cutter (see the name on the side of the paving machine).  In the early 70’s, Blaw-Knox made the M60 Patton Tank for the U.S. Army while our nation was in the midst of the Viet Nam War.  The picture below is from Wikipedia and you can read about the tank’s history here.

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Not only did my Dad pay his way through college and graduate debt free by building tanks, but he saved enough money that he was able to go to St. Louis to start the Lifegate Baptist Church without financial support from a church or institution. (By the way, that testimony does not negate the need for commissioning and support from churches in a normal situation, it is simply an acknowledgment that he had skillfully stewarded the money for which he had worked so hard.)

The drive in his soul to spiritually build people energized his manual labor and careful preparation.  There are many pastors, who like my dad, will work with their hands and their bodies, as well as their heads and their hearts, to be be able to minister grace in the lives of others.

 

What my Dad taught me about life…

Over the last several months, I have thought much about my relationship with my parents.  I was a relatively good kid, but I’ve still wondered how much grief and concern I may have cost them when I was a teenager.  I can’t repay what may have been lost, but I am making sure that the remaining years of our lives on this earth are marked by a relationship of the highest quality.

I’m not asking you to read a post that I’ve written, I’m asking you to listen to this message from my Dad.  I’ve heard it many times, I listen to this message about once a year – including today, and a day seldom passes that I don’t think of the Biblical principle(s) contained in it.

My Dad calls this principle “The Property Of Life.”

 

Should we shake hands during the church service?

Recently, I’ve come across a couple of suggestions that churches discontinue the long-standing practice of a hand-shaking and greeting time during regular services.  I’ve heard several reasons presented for stopping the practice:  1)  It makes visitors uncomfortable.  When a stranger comes to the service and they have 50 people want to shake their hand in 5 minutes, it can be really disconcerting.  2) It spreads germs.  People, especially in the winter, are very conscious about touching someone else’s hand during flu and cold season.  3) It takes up too much time in the service.  The service is already long enough and that 3-5 minutes of extra time is extraneous.

I’m of the belief that churches should have a greeting time during the service.  There are several reasons which I’ll briefly explain.

First, the concern over the comfort level of visitors comes from an extra-bibilical philosophy regarding the very purpose of the church.  My doctoral dissertation explored the growth of the 1st century churches in the book of Acts and so I have personally spent a massive amount of time studying the Biblical purpose of the church, not only in the historical descriptions of Acts, but the explicit prescriptions in the epistles.  As concisely as possible, the purpose of the church gathering is for the spiritual edifying and practical equipping of believers in Christ for the glory of God (Ephesians 3:14-21, etc.).  The “Great Commission” was the instruction to go into the world to proclaim Christ, it was not a “great invitation” to the world to come into our assembly.  The chronology is that a person trusts Christ by faith, and then they are added to the church.  There are exceptions, such as in 1st Corinthians 14:23 or when the children of believers grow up in the church, but the general rule is that the church assembly is the place where believers are equipped for the work of the ministry.  The basic design is that evangelism takes place outside of the church walls and edification takes place inside the church walls.  Our goal is not to make the church gathering more comfortable for unbelievers, our job is to take the good news of the gospel to them. Once they have received Christ, the fellowship of the church will be the next step, beginning with public identification through immersion.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t care about the feelings of visitors to our services, but I am saying that we should not let the church growth philosophy eliminate practices which actually have their foundation in Scriptural principles.  If it can be proven that a hand-shaking and greeting time is Biblical and beneficial to believers, it should be practiced, even if it is a little uncomfortable for visitors.

Second, a physical greeting among believers, is a Biblical mandate.  Culturally, we have moved from the practice of an “holy kiss” to a handshake; the particulars of its usage are certainly open to various applications.  However,  on several occasions, the apostle Paul instructed believers to greet or salute one another with an holy kiss (this was the ancient practice of a loose hug or the gripping of the other’s shoulders while touching cheeks).  To the believers in Rome he commanded it (Romans 16:16); both of his epistles to the Corinthians hold such a command (1st Corinthians 16:20; 2nd Corinthians 13:12), as does the first epistle to the Thessalonian believers (1st Thessalonians 5:26).  The apostle Peter also gave this instruction to the scattered Jewish believers to whom he was writing (1st Peter 5:14).  The nature of this physical kiss (greeting) was described by Paul as being holy or sacred; it was called the kiss of charity or love by Peter.  Intrinsically, it was spiritual.

Third, there is incalculable pastoral value to a physical greeting.  When I grasp the hand of each of the people in our assembly, it is similar to the practice of the ancient shepherd that would touch the sheep with his rod as they passed into the fold (God used this illustration in Ezekiel 20:37; Jeremiah 33:13).  We are a small church of 50-60 on a given Sunday, but I still make it a point to shake the hand of each person who is there during our services.  I know if there is someone who is absent, I’m able to look each person in the eye and greet them individually, I can usually tell if someone’s demeanor is joyful or discouraged, often someone will mention a prayer request to me – the personal benefits for me in our greeting time are varied.  There was even a time when the refusal of someone to shake my hand indicated very clearly that there was approaching conflict which would need to be addressed.

Fourth, the benefit of the physical contact between believers is tangible.  The same things that I mentioned as they related to the pastor are true between individuals.  They recognize among themselves who is absent and who is present, they can sense the happiness or sadness in one another, they can smile and encourage one another with genuine eye contact.  It is a time which either strengthens relationships, ministers grace, or reveals a fracture which needs to be healed (it is difficult to sincerely look someone in the eye and shake their hand if you are at odds with them).  An intentional time of greeting produces interaction that may not happen if people only communed when they happened to bump into each other.  Frankly, I’m convinced that it is an activity of a healthy church and preserves a healthy spirit of mutual love and care.

Fiftha purposeful time of greeting is a strong deterrent to ethnic, social, class and gender divides.  James specifically warned of claiming to posses faith in Christ and at the same time maintain a biased partiality towards others.  The book of Ephesians reveals how God formed the church from two groups with an historically strong animus.  Jews and Gentiles who received Christ were formed into one new and unified entity, the church.  A strong church is a group of diverse people joined together in Christ.  A scheduled corporate mingling and greeting makes partiality difficult to maintain.

Sixth, it helps merge and weld generations.  I love to shake the hands of the little children.  I’m encouraged to see the mature adults lean down and greet the young children, or to address the teens as a brother or sister in Christ.  Again, an incidental occurrence does not produce this same camaraderie.  Furthermore, without the scheduling of it, it probably wouldn’t happen.

Finally, a few thoughts regarding the concern of seasonal sickness or the idea that it requires too much time.  We have sanitizer available for those who feel they should use it.  There are also people who will refrain from the actual physical contact if they are sick or fear getting sick.  Regardless, they do not refrain from the fellowship, they will still face each other and greet each other in the same manner as if they were actually shaking hands.  Regarding the additional time in the service, the value of the interaction is worth the time it adds to the meeting.  There are other things I would eliminate (like the announcements) before I eliminated the greeting time.

The more I meditate on this practice, the more I see it’s value.  I encourage pastors and churches to give careful consideration to this activity, which I’m persuaded has a Biblical foundation and will be facilitating greater communion of the believers in the church.

Blest Be the Tie That Binds

Blest be the tie that binds/our hearts in Christian love!/The fellowship of kindred minds/is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne/we pour our ardent prayers;/our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,/our comforts and our cares.

We share our mutual woes,/our mutual burdens bear;/and often for each other flows/the sympathizing tear.

When we asunder part/it gives us inward pain;/but we shall still be joined in heart,/and hope to meet again.

~John Fawcett

 

One of the first things that drew me to her…

Carol's Bible

I met Carol on “get acquainted day” at college in August of 1996.  We were next to each other in the batting order of a group soft-ball game.  She was interested right away.  I thought she was a nice person, but I didn’t really have any romantic inclinations then.  I was in a serious automobile accident that evening and ended up getting a bunch of stitches in my face and missing a day or two of school, the notoriety of that accident in our small school attracted her attention even more.  A few days later, as I walked into the school building, she was sitting on a chair at the top of a flight of stairs.  She – as  reticent as she often is – took opportunity to introduce herself with a little more detail than we had at the ball game a couple of days earlier.  She asked me how old I was and I responded, “twenty.” She quickly replied, “I’m twenty too!”  But she immediately realized that it sounded like she was “twenty-two” and begin backtracking with “I mean, I mean, I’m twenty also!”  She was concerned that I would think she was too old for a relationship with me.  Her verbal stumble was obvious, yet sweet and endearing at the same time.

Nothing else happened between us for more than another semester, other than a polite friendship.  I did notice several things about her, but wasn’t really interested at the time.

However, the following Spring, Providence began to pair us.  We were travelling in the school vocal ensemble together and I found that on occasion I would end up sitting by her during some of our services.  She is a prolific note-taker and would often ask to borrow my pen (which I guard diligently to this day).  The more I sat next to her, the more interested I became, though we didn’t talk much.  I discovered that I just liked being near her.  Her presence brought an emotional and peaceful satisfaction to me.

The Bible that is in the picture above is the one that she used during college.  When we arrived at a church, we would usually all go into the auditorium and put our Bibles and music down on the first couple of rows and then go to the restrooms to freshen up, or perhaps eat a meal in the fellowship hall.  I realized that I was beginning to look for her Bible whenever we would go into an auditorium – hoping there was an empty seat next to where she had put down her things – and then I would place my Bible down next to hers to save a place so that I could sit next to her.  Bold and not very subtle, huh?

The habit continued – whenever I got an opportunity to be around her, I would take it.  Sometimes in chapel, sometimes in the cafeteria, sometimes in class, and of course the clue to her imminent presence was the location of her Bible.  So, in both a practical and a spiritual sense, one of the things that drew me to her, was her Bible.

She pulled this Bible off of a shelf a few weeks ago for some reason and left it laying on a table in her classroom.  I saw it and asked if she minded if I took it to my office – she agreed.  I’ve looked at it often over the last several weeks and smiled as I’ve been reminded of the early days of our relationship.  I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to write of those memories  – today, her 42 birthday is a good day to write.  By the way, she is older than I am, but only by six months – not two years.  I love you, Carol, Happy Birthday!

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