The Little Brown Church In The Vale

I was called to be the pastor of Lifegate Baptist Church in Wildwood, MO in October of 2021. My history with this church is lifelong. As a point of fact, my Dad started Lifegate Baptist Church right after he finished Bible College in 1975; the story of how God brought him and my mother here is exciting by itself – but that is for another time. My older brother, Nathan, was born the week before my parents moved to the St. Louis area to start this church; I was born one year after in July of 1976 and attended this church until 1986 when God moved my Dad to another place of ministry. I came to faith in Christ and was baptized in this church as a boy. My younger brother, Stephen, and my sister, Naomi, where also born in St. Louis and spent their early adolescent years in this city and church. My younger brother, Daniel, was born in St. Louis one week before we moved to the Detroit area in 1986. After we moved away, Dad and Mom stayed in touch with many of the folks here and we would visit on occasions when we were passing through. Most of our family was able to reunite here in 2015 for the church’s 40th anniversary. We were able to re-connect with many people that we had known over those years at Lifegate – and social media helped too.

When my family and I were leaving St. Louis after attending the 40th anniversary celebration of Lifegate Baptist Church, I told Carol, “if I ever lived in a large city, I would want it to be St. Louis. I’ve always loved this city.” I’m definitely a Missourian! Often when we would cross the Mississippi on the way to see my parents, Carol would look at me in the vehicle and see my involuntary smile and say knowingly, “you love Missouri, don’t you?!” However, in 2015, I had been pastoring in rural, east-central Illinois for 10 years. Grace Baptist Church in Paxton was were God had called me to pastor and I was completely satisfied and focused on the work there. I fully expected to pastor in Paxton for my entire ministerial life – I believe very strongly in the value of a long-term pastorate. The Lord blessed our time in Illinois; I spent more than a third of my life pastoring in Paxton. The emotions are still very close to the surface in my heart and mind. I love – and always will – the people of Grace Baptist Church in Paxton, IL. I love the community of Paxton, IL. I loved so many things about that place and that time in our lives. However in 2020, there came a point in our family, where it was obvious that there were areas of change that needed to take place in our family and those changes couldn’t be made in Paxton. So, in July of 2020, we made the hardest decision of our lives, to leave our beloved church family at Grace Baptist Church, and many lifelong friends in Paxton.

The next 15 months were guided by Providence. We moved to NC where I worked in carpentry with my younger brother, Daniel, and helped in the ministry of Crossroads Baptist Church with my older brother, Nathan. I led the choir and the music in the church as well as preached often and taught the adult Sunday school class. We began homeschooling our children again. During that time, we went through the heart wrenching loss of Nathan’s wife, Jenny, to cancer. Our oldest son joined the marines. Our daughter met her future husband. We sold our house in Illinois. But, even though I loved Crossroads Baptist Church and working in the ministry there, the desire of my heart to pastor not only never abated, but actually increased.

Once Carol and I were convinced that God was ready to move us back into vocational ministry and I began talking to a few people, we were suddenly overwhelmed by suggestions of dozens of churches from all over the country which were in need of a pastor. (I’m deeply burdened by the shortage of men available to pastor N.T. churches). Carol and I – and our children – talked and prayed long and hard about what our direction would be. I wanted my kids (the ones still at home) to be satisfied with where we might go to minister. Carol and I thought seriously about inquiring at a couple of different churches, but never felt much peace about most of them, so we waited. My younger brother, Michael, and I were talking one day and he encouraged me to consider Lifegate in St. Louis (my hometown and church); their pastor had recently left and since Michael was home from the Solomon Islands because of Covid restrictions, he had been available to fill the pulpit for them on several occasions. I had heard several months earlier that Lifegate was without a pastor, but had not really given it much thought. But now that I was actively looking to begin pastoring again, I decided to go ahead and put out some feelers. So, I contacted Pastor Squires, one of Lifegate’s former pastors who had come back to function as an interim pastor for a few months. He and I talked on the phone and he then sent me the church’s doctrinal statement and pastoral questionnaire, and asked for my doctrinal statement. I filled everything out and returned it to him and he passed it all on to the pulpit committee.

The next few weeks passed quickly. The church did want me to come and preach, and then they would decide if they wanted me to come and candidate. Carol and I made a trip to St. Louis where I preached and met with the pulpit committee for questioning. Three of the men on that committee had been members of the church when my Dad was pastoring there; he had either led them to Christ or discipled them when they were young in the faith. We obviously had an instant connection and camaraderie. We had a very good visit and they invited us back to candidate. However, we still had some questions as did some of the people at the church, especially some who had not known me as a kid, or perhaps had come after my Dad pastored there.

When we returned a couple of weeks later to candidate, we brought our children with us and I had decided that if the church voted “yes” to invite us to move there to Pastor, that I would wait to answer until we had been able to spend some time with the kids to get their feelings for it.

I preached the morning service and the church then had a public question and answer time after which they dismissed us to go have lunch and then they would vote. While we were eating lunch at Cracker Barrel, one of the men called to tell us that the church had voted to extend the invitation to come and pastor Lifegate Baptist Church.

It may have seemed like an obvious “yes” from our point, but there were still several unresolved concerns in both me and Carol. The church had been through a difficult time the previous year and there would be some healing and rebuilding to do. I wanted some assurance sure that my children wanted to be there. Most importantly, I wanted to make sure that Carol was at peace that St. Louis was where God wanted us.

So the question was, “is this the will of God for us?” I believe that the will of God is not pursuing a mystical course designed for me before the world began, but rather making Biblical and Spirit-led decisions in every situation set before me. We had a situation before us in which we needed to make a Biblically based decision. We had many good reasons to go to St. Louis, but there were also reasons which could have caused us to doubt or question whether we should. There wasn’t a passage of Scripture which would jump out and say, “Go!” or “Don’t go!” We were dependent upon the Spirit of God to lead us to a heart of peace – and He did!

Here is how it happened. First, understand that I’m a Cessationist (meaning that I believe God’s special revelation has ceased), but I do believe that God can still guide us through circumstances and by giving peace or a lack thereof. As Carol and I were in the hotel room on that Sunday afternoon after Lifegate had voted to call us, we were openly discussing what we should do. I had just finished teaching through the book of Colossians at our church in NC in which Paul addresses the Colossians as “the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colossae.” Carol quoted that to me, and said “these people are the saints of God and they need a pastor.” Her point was that as the saints of God, it was His will for them to have a pastor. The question was whether it was to be me or someone else? I responded by saying with a little levity, “yes, only these are the saints in St. Louis.” Then, my perpetual need to be completely accurate with my words jumped in and I laughed and said, “well actually they are the saints in Wildwood!” (Technically, Lifegate Baptist Church in the city limits of Wildwood, MO, a suburb of St. Louis.) All of the sudden Carol and I looked at each other and we both remembered the old song and almost said in unison “The Church In The Wildwood.” Then as we chuckled about that memory, I subconsciously began singing the words to the song (Thanks to L.D. Christy for singing it often for congregational music when I was teen). When I came to the words “no spot is so dear to my childhood as the little brown church in the vale” – I couldn’t hold back the tears and neither could Carol. This was in fact “the spot so dear to my childhood.” I had learned some of my first lessons about God in that very building. It was as though the Lord had graciously directed our minds, our memories, and our hearts to that song as an almost tangible seal of peace upon our decision. As a point of extreme interest, Lifegate Baptist Church is a brown building and does in reality sit in a beautiful little valley of a couple acres, it is idyllic! To show you, you can watch our introductory church video at www.lifegatebaptistchurch.org.

I’ve since looked up the history of the song The Church In The Wildwood; the story with a picture is at the top of the page, and the words of the song on there for you to see (they are from Charles Johnson’s book One Hundred And One Famous Hymns). I listen to the song about once a week on a particular recording. Every time I listen to it, I’m reminded of how the God of heaven and earth works to direct our steps. When I was born when Lifegate Baptist Church was only a year old, God knew I would pastor here. When we moved away in 1986, He knew I would be back 35 years later to pastor His people here. He has been preparing me and my family to bring us to St. Louis. There is no peace or confidence like that which is found when you are exactly where God wants you!

Letting Go

This year, I have faced the most difficult emotional transition that I have faced to this point in my life. It was quite unexpected. I’m middle aged, but this wasn’t a mid-life crisis; it had nothing to do with moving one third of the way across the country for the second time in less than two years. It wasn’t because I began pastoring again after almost a year and a half out of pastoral ministry. No, the upheaval in my heart came because my oldest daughter, Laura, got married. To be clear, I’m thrilled with where she is in life; I’m more than pleased with her choices and I love and respect her new husband. In fact, Jeb – though we didn’t know his name, his personality, or what he looked like – has been in our prayers as her future husband since she was born. She is now living the life for which God designed her and for which her mother and I did our best to prepare her. Everything has worked out in her life according to God’s design, her desires, and our prayers – but it was (and is) still excruciatingly hard for me.

You see, Laura and I have an uncommon relationship (every Daddy probably feels that way). From the time that Laura’s intelligence began to manifest itself, we have talked openly about everything. I have never had to worry about her lying to me (a character trait for which Jeb should be very grateful). Even if she did something wrong, she never tried to lie her way out of it. She is one of the most honest people that I know. Because of that, we could have utterly candid conversations about anything. One of my fondest memories of her is when she told me very frankly, “Daddy, when you preach, I always learn something from you, but I’m not really inspired by it.” Coming from her though, it wasn’t painful, it was helpful – I knew that I needed to work a little on my passion and application from the pulpit. We could talk about finances, philosophies, religion, politics, humanity, and even some of those things which some parents find awkward were not awkward for us. I loved every minute when she was with me.

Let me tell you a bit about Laura’s relationship with Jeb. We had moved to North Carolina after 15 years in Illinois. For several months I had been making regular trips back to Illinois to finish getting our house ready to sell. On one of those trips, Laura went along to spend a week helping me paint the inside of the house. While in the truck, she broached the subject of Jeb. Before this trip and conversation, I had noticed on a couple of occasions that she and Jeb had an out of the ordinary camaraderie. He liked to tease her and according to her – he annoyed her. Her brothers would tease her about Jeb and she would get quite feisty and snap at them and then implore me to make them stop. I’m convinced that there was a God-ordained spark that she was feeling, but it caught her off guard and she wasn’t ready for it – especially as one who is a planner and this was sooner than she expected. There were several times Jeb and I had a little interaction regarding Laura that caught my attention. After one particular brief conversation with him, I told Carol, “he really likes her!”

Laura is not an ordinary girl – and I’m not an ordinary Dad. Once she told me in the truck that she thought she had feelings for Jeb, I told her that I didn’t believe in the “he loves me, he loves me not” daisy petal plucking and waiting around to see what might happen. I told her she should put out some feelers and see if the observations that I had were rooted in reality. Not too surprisingly for me, but I think shockingly to him, in her “grab the bull by the horns” approach to life, she just texted him the next day and asked if they could talk (without telling me that she was going to do it). He told me later that he was laying concrete with his Dad and asked him, “what should I do?” His Dad said, “call her!” So he did. I sit here and laugh at my understanding of how the conversation went:

Jeb: “Hey, what’s up?”

Laura: “Dad and I are working on the house here in Illinois and we have spent a lot of time talking on the way out here and while we’ve been working. And … I’m calling because I just need to know… Do you have feelings for me? Because if you don’t, I need to know so that I can start trying to make sure that I can adjust my emotions and my feelings. And if you do, then good, because I have feelings for you!”

Jeb: “Uhmmmm. Well actually, yes… But this is kind of a surprise.”

While this conversation was taking place, I had gotten the sense that she was on the phone with Jeb, and after what seemed like a half an hour, Laura came back down stairs where I was painting and she had a big smile on her face. I asked her if she talked to Jeb and how it went. Yes, she had and it went very well, she told me.

The next morning he called me and asked if it was okay if he and Laura began pursuing a relationship. I told him yes, but that my philosophy – which I believe is Biblical – is that “relationships are started with the goal of marriage” – he and his parents have the same philosophy and so we started off on the same page.

I want to interject that this approach saved both Jeb and Laura what I believe to be several months of their early adult lives. They could easily have spent much time and emotions wondering if anything was going to happen between them, “he loves me, he loves me not…”

I relate all of this because it reveals what kind of personality my daughter possesses. Any of you who know her well, know this is all true of her. You can also understand then why she and I have what I considered to be an extraordinary relationship. She was never “my little girl” in the traditional “Daddy daughter date” kind of relationship. She was my friend. She was a conversationalist. She would challenge my thinking and my philosophies. Amazingly, she had the ability to disagree with me respectfully and yet submit to my leadership and authority in the home. She would challenge me on something – often quite doggedly, until I said “no.” Then she would say, “yes sir” and that was it. I summarize by asserting that she is strong-willed, opinionated, and submissive. She is confident, competent, and dependent. She is not a paradox, she is balanced.

When she was young, I wasn’t ever really worried about who she would marry, because I figured she was quite capable of picking out a good man – and she did. But, up until this point, I was her confidant. I was the one that she asked advice. I was the one with whom she shared her heart, her feelings, her concerns, her dreams, her wishes. I was the one whose word overruled anything that she heard from someone else – whether a preacher, a teacher, a politician, a boss, or a friend.

My difficult transition was to begin to transfer – and rightly so – that relationship to Jeb. I believe, teach, and preach the “leave and cleave” principle which God ordained from the founding of the first home in the Scriptures. I know that she was designed by God to partner with Jeb. I know that God never intended for her to be in my home forever. I knew that she would leave us and cling to Jeb – and that is right, it is what we all wanted – but it was much harder to let her go than I thought it would be.

I decided that I would start that transition long before the marriage day. There were days when she and Jeb would start talking about what they were going to do in their family – sometimes with a bit of a different philosophical application than I possessed. I could see her beginning to shift her loyalties to Jeb, she was adopting his thinking and his philosophies or ideas. It hurt to be replaced. The conundrum was that I wanted her to embrace him. I wanted him to have her as a wife that was loyal to him above all others.

I had to start biting my tongue. Not because they were making wrong decisions, but they were making different decisions – of which I was not a part. I think both Jeb and Laura sensed that I was struggling. I hope that Jeb wasn’t thinking I was going to be one of those fathers-in-law who made life miserable on the new couple because he either manipulated his will on the couple, or forced the daughter to either choose between her dad or her husband.

One day, a friend of mine sent me Elliot Park’s song “I Loved Her First.” I don’t like the title since it seems to set up a competition between the father and the son-in-law. But the text started me thinking on various things regarding a father letting go. Then, for some reason, I started thinking of my own father-in-law and what an example he had set for me of not only letting go, but of active support.

My father-in-law has never, and I repeat, never, undermined me in our home. He has never demanded that we be there for certain holidays. He has never complained that we spend more time with my parents than with them. He has never criticized me before Carol. He has treated me with more respect than I deserve. He has encouraged Carol in her relationship with me. He has never sown any discord between me and my kids, but constantly encouraged them to listen and learn from me. He has told them that they are fortunate to have me and Carol as their parents. Twice in 23 years of marriage, we have lived within a mile of them and twice we have moved away out of state for ministerial purposes, yet he has always encouraged me to do what is right for our family. The second time that we moved was after their retirement and they had moved down to where we lived so that they could be near us – and then we moved away. If any father-in-law has a reason to be frustrated by the decisions of his son-in-law, it is mine. But he still supports me.

After considering how my father-in-law had made the “leave and cleave” principle possible for me and Carol, I realized that I had some work to do in my mind and heart. I began praying for grace to let go. I began withdrawing from conversations that would spark a bit of jealousy or conflict. I began giving Laura to Jeb. I had to face the reality that things were changing of necessity, and rightly so. I would never again be her confidant. She would not be at liberty to tell me her deepest struggles – her heart would now belong to her husband. I would not be at liberty to advise and direct her as I had done for the last 21 years.

The Lord is giving me grace. I love Laura with immensity and intensity – and I’m certain she does me. But, I have to find contentment in seeing her love and support and depend upon her husband. I find joy in knowing that Jeb has an exceptional wife, partner and supporter – because I know what kind of young woman and daughter she is. I find satisfaction in knowing that as he drives down the road with her sitting next to him, holding his hand, that he is thinking, “I can hardly believe I have such an amazing woman!” My greatest joy though, is in knowing that they both – as one – make God smile as He looks down on their union and sees His plan in action – a plan which he used me and Carol to help bring to fruition.

Resolutions Representing Many Christians…

Regarding COVID 19 Restrictions:

Whereas we have demonstrated obedience to the Scriptures (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-20) and shown respect and deference to the governor of Illinois and the executive orders regarding the “Stay At Home Order” issued in response to the COVID 19 crisis,

Whereas we have honored the request to stay at home to help “flatten the curve” that was issued in the middle of March and extended through April and May, we now recognize that the “flatten the curve” goal has morphed into “until a vaccine is developed” and “until it [Corona virus] is eradicated.”  And as we realize this original request has changed from 4-6 weeks to 12-18 months,

Whereas we do love our neighbor and we have no desire to contribute to the spread of this or any pandemic, we also have observed that the projections of the danger of COVID 19 have not materialized, our medical system is not overwhelmed, and our community has been exposed – yet without a major outbreak; we are therefore no longer convinced that our opening up for services – with voluntary attendance and reasonable social distancing – constitutes a credible danger to our community,

Whereas we have been permitted to utilize essential businesses and we have observed that there are multitudes of individuals congregating at local stores, we know that we are able to assemble in our church building and still practice the same degree of social distancing and protective measures that are being practiced at these local stores as essential businesses,

Whereas the numbers permitted for assembly in churches (ten in stage 3 and fifty in stage 4 of the reopening plans) are arbitrary for churches, inconsistent with what is permitted for other essential businesses, and unreasonably restrictive for most churches,

Whereas the very meaning of the word “church” comes from the Biblical Greek word “ekklesia” which means “an assembly,” we recognize that our very nature is to assemble and we cannot indefinitely endure without physically congregating,

Whereas the activities of the church instructed in the Bible cannot be accomplished digitally and that corporate assembly is required in order to practice as the Bible teaches; these instructions are, but are not limited to: preaching and teaching the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 14:26); congregational singing (Colossians 3:18), corporate praying (1 Corinthians 14:15-17), partaking of the Lord’s Table – also called Communion (1 Corinthians 11:23-33); assembling together to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25),

Whereas the Constitution of the State of Illinois guarantees the free exercise of religion and that voluntary assembly with social distancing does not constitute any more of a threat to the safety of the State than going to the grocery store,

Whereas the Constitution of the United States guarantees the free exercise of religion and as the writers of that constitution were fully aware of plagues and yet did not make a provision to suspend the freedom of religion during a pandemic,

Be it Resolved that we strongly encourage the governor to remove the restrictions that have been placed on churches for assembly,

Be it further Resolved that we will take all reasonable measures to ensure the health and safety of church attendees,

Be it further Resolved that we will make every effort to honor the requests or suggestions of the government where reasonable and possible,

Be it further Resolved that should the governor refuse to permit us to reassemble in the very near future, he will leave us no choice but to consider his orders intolerable and force us to make the decision to assemble in opposition to orders which we believe contain unnecessary, unreasonable, and unfair restrictions and expectations on churches,

Be it further Resolved that should any legal action be taken against us that we will follow the example of the Apostle Paul and use our citizenship to vigorously defend ourselves to the full provision of the law (Acts 16:37-38; 22:24-29; 25:11; 28:19),

Be it further Resolved that we will lobby our state and federal legislators to ensure that laws are in place to make sure that this kind of infringement does not happen again,

Be it finally Resolved that God is our ultimate authority and regardless of the outcome of any litigation or legislation, we are bound to obey our consciences as they are calibrated to the Word of God.  The authority of human government is delegated by God, and when government unjustly makes demands that are in conflict with the free exercise of our faith, we will always live in obedience to the Scriptures.

Pastor Levi Deatrick, BBS, MBS, PhD.

May 18, 2020

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Grandma’s Gift

Grandmas Afghan

A man doesn’t normally post a picture of himself with his lap covered by a multicolored afghan.  However, this blanket is one which has incalculable worth to me.  My Grandma Tate made each of my siblings and my cousins one of these as a high school graduation gift (with various colors).  At the time, it was in my shortsighted mind, a nice gesture – but a rather common one – because Grandma was always making something with yarn.  However, over the last 26 years, this afghan has been a constant companion.  I used it the gap year living at home after high school.  Then, I had it with me during some months of rebellion, discouragement, and confusion before I started college.  It was on my bed all of the way through college (perhaps some of my roommates remember it?).  I don’t think I took it on our honeymoon, but it has been in our house for the last 20 plus years of marriage.  Sometimes it was used as a throw blanket on the couch or love seat; often it has been on my recliner where I would use it for an occasional nap.  Many nights when our children were young and sick, teething, or just restless, I would rest in the recliner with one of them on my chest and  we were both covered by this blanket.  Over the last several years though, Carol has adopted it and it has migrated to our bedroom and her side of the bed (unless I get it for a Sunday afternoon nap).  When we travel, Carol brings it along, often covering herself in the front seat of the van as I drive (we have different temperature preferences like most other couples).  When we were first married, she didn’t like the color(s) of it – it was just too bright and really didn’t match anything.  Now, for Carol, the color not only doesn’t matter, but actually makes it unique and special.  This afghan also makes Carol feel a connection with my Grandma.  Grandma Tate  She really loves the weight of it and the physical and emotional comfort that it provides.  When I occasionally travel without her, as you can imagine, she has this blanket with her.  When she began sheepishly asking to “borrow” my blanket years ago, I would tease her and say, “well I guess part of my marriage vows were ‘with all my worldly goods I thee endow'”.  I gladly let her use it.

This afghan has been a part of our lives for more than a quarter of a century and while it has been important and its sentimental value was recognized – I’ve thought much more about it this last week and the worth of it has multiplied.  Carol has been quite sick for a couple of weeks and she has had this blanket with her the entire time.  When we left for the emergency room last Saturday evening, Carol was so weak that Joel and I had to walk her arm in arm and side by side all the way to the truck – as we were walking out of the house, Carol said, “someone bring the afghan!”  When we buckled her in the truck, we wrapped it all around her; when we got to the emergency room and the nurse met me with a wheel chair, we covered her with it; the 6 hours in the emergency room observation bed were spent under it; she rode home from the hospital covered with this blanket.  When we returned to the hospital a few days ago, I asked her if she wanted to leave it home, but again she wanted to bring it (probably after 8 baby deliveries she knows you get cold in a hospital bed sometimes).  She has been under this blanket much over the last couple of days. 

Even though we brought it for Carol, she has let me use it at nights while I’m sleeping in the recliner in her hospital room (I’m sitting/sleeping under the air vent and her bed is well supplied with blankets).  As I was sitting here with quite a bit of thinking time, I was simply staring at the afghan across my lap and started thinking of my Grandma’s fingers making this blanket all of those years ago.  When she made it, she was thinking of me, as I use it, I’m thinking of her.  Then as I think of her, I not only think of this handiwork, but of so many other things about her. 

The following thoughts are random and unorganized, but they are flowing from precious memories.  Grandpa and Grandma Tate lived in North Carolina and I grew up in Missouri so we would make a couple of annual trips to visit her and Grandpa; those visits were the highlight of our year.  Grandma always had dessert after a meal (because Grandpa wanted it).  I remember her Moravian Sugar Cake and her Banana Pudding (or Puddin’) as she called it).  I miss the Thanksgiving feasts that she and my mom and aunts would prepare for us.  She used to drink her coffee out of a shallow bowl/saucer after she had made it in an old style percolator.  I remember her walking down to feed her chickens or bustle around the rabbit pens, or pick up the peacock feathers while mimicking their squawk back at them.  I remember seeing her pull a black snake – longer than she was tall – out of her chicken coop.  I watched in awe and terror as she carried it  high in one hand, dragging it to the woods, all the while giving that snake a verbal lashing “You stay of of my eggs! I better not ever catch you in there again!” before giving it a good whip and fling into the woods! (Her verbal lashings contained passion, not curses.)  She and Grandpa introduced us to “The Andy Griffith Show” which they watched religiously every evening just before the local news and weather (as every farmer used to do before smartphones); they were proud of the fact that the fictional “Mayberry” was only about 45 minutes up the road from where they lived.  Grandma would laugh more at that show than about any other thing I can remember.  They had watched all the episodes so many times that, when it came on, she and Grandpa would start a “play-by-play” of the episode and start laughing about what was going to happen before the show had really even started.  I loved to see them laugh and enjoy the memory of it now even more than when I saw it first hand.

I went through a difficult emotional and spiritual time when I was 19 years old.  I lived with Grandpa and Grandma Tate from August through December of 1995.  It was a tremendous time of uncertainty for me, yet Grandpa and Grandma were as stable as ever – they were the same people that I had known my entire life and I needed to be with them (though I didn’t realize it at the time); nothing ever upset the normalcy of who they were.  There was never any pressure on me and the quietness of living with them allowed the Holy Spirit to redirect and calibrate my thinking.  I went to church with them.  I was working two jobs at the time, but I would have lunch with them every day between my jobs.  Grandma would fix my supper to take to the factory where I worked 3-11.  I specifically remember that I would often have a fried pork chop in a microwaveable dish that I could heat up in the break room – I doubt anyone in that factory had a better meal than I did on a regular basis.  On a weekend, if I wasn’t working, they would take me out to some restaurant to eat with several of the older couples that were their close friends – they made me so welcome with those other couples.  (Imagine a 19 year old kid, instead of dating and/or partying, eating out most weekends with 4-6 septuagenarians – but God knew what I needed.)   When out with those other senior couples, Grandpa would usually be the one discussing (or arguing) politics, but it was not uncommon for Grandma to insert some potent and witty comment that either hushed every one or made them laugh.  Her logic was sharp, one particular evidence of Grandma’s wit was revealed shortly after Grandpa had gotten a new tractor.  Grandma’s clothes dryer went bad and she wanted to get a new one.  Grandpa complained that women used to hang the clothes out on the line, to which Grandma retorted “farmers also used to use horses…”  She had her new dryer very soon.  Grandma’s house was full of clocks; and they all seemed to have some kind of chime, bell, or cuckoo every hour (but each clock was a minute or two off from each other) – if a person was going to get any sleep, he had to learn to ignore the clocks.  There were always skeins of various colored yarns as well as needles laying on the back of her couch and if she wasn’t reading her Bible or the newspaper (the funnies or comics included), she was probably knitting or crocheting something.  Her Bible also laid on the back of her couch and it was well used.

So, the afghan across my lap has not only comforted my wife through this trial and kept me warm as I’ve slept fitfully in this hospital room recliner, but it also enlivens the memory of one dear lady who was typical of that age that has become ubiquitously known in our country as “The Greatest Generation.”

The thoughts of this afghan made me think of the N.T. saint, Dorcas, as recorded by Luke in Acts 9:39.  After her death, they brought Peter to her body and “all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.”  The garments that she made were a tangible sign of her love and character.

I think of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31:21, “She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.”  Verse 28 of the same chapter states that “her children arise up, and call her blessed.”  I believe her grandchildren will call her blessed too!

Thank you, Grandma for this afghan!  Thank You, Lord, for my heritage – my Grandma!

Blood saves lives…

Red Cross Sweatshirt

I donated blood for the first time around 2004.  It didn’t go very well.  I didn’t want to donate out of my left arm since I’m left handed, but when I tried my right arm, we discovered that I have a spaghetti interchange of veins in my right arm.  So that first time, I got poked in both arms.

The benefit of that first time is that my new donor card told me that I had O Negative blood.  I didn’t really think about the blood type too much until about 5 years or 6 years ago when the school was hosting blood drives and motivating parents to donate by giving prizes to their kids.  I signed up and when I showed the Red Cross technicians my old donor card that showed my blood type, they talked me into trying the power red donation which is the equivalent of donating 2 units of blood.  I nearly passed out that time and was thoroughly embarrassed to be a grown man in what I thought was prime health having to be tipped back with my feet elevated as everyone in the room looked at my ghostly complexion.  The next time wasn’t much better.  I grew pretty frustrated when I saw an elderly lady come donate a pint in about 5 minutes, and get up and walk out as if nothing had happened to her.

However, several things had happened to establish my determination to figure out how to donate.  In December of 2007, my sister-in-law hemorrhaged badly during child birth and aside from the more than 30 units of blood given to her, she would have died.  I also learned the scarcity of O Negative blood.  According to the American Red Cross, only 7% percent of the population has O Negative blood.  The value of that type of blood is that it is universal, meaning that any blood type can have a transfusion with O Negative.  It is therefore the most frequently used kind of blood whenever someone’s blood type is not known, as in an accident, injury, or emergency surgery.  (The drawback of having O Negative blood is that I can only ever have O Negative given to me.)  As I thought on those two reasons, I felt obligated to figure out how to donate efficiently.  As in the case of my sister-in-law, my donation could save the life of another person.  I always receive an e-mail to let me know the locations where my donation was used – Peoria, St. Louis, Chicago, Virginia Beach, and others that I can’t remember.  One time it was Rush Hospital in Chicago and I wondered if it was given to the victim of an auto accident, or even more likely – a shooting victim.  But the most compelling reason that I’ve felt obligated to give is that God gave me this very unique kind of blood; it is a gift given to me to be a giver of life to others.

In order to be able to donate without passing out, I talked to our family doctor (who it turns out had been a Red Cross technician when in medical school).  She gave me several tips to help get through it: drink plenty of water, eat iron rich foods, drink a soda just before to get a sugar boost, ask to be reclined before the blood draw even begins, etc.  As I’ve implemented her suggestions, I’m able to not only donate a whole blood pint, but I can do the power red using the pheresis machine with relative ease.  My next pint will put me at 24 units (or 3 gallons).  I intend to keep doing it as long as my health permits.  The Red Cross calls me several times a year to make sure I’m donating as frequently as the guidelines permit.  They consider O Negative donors to be their “Trauma Team.”  We are given special rewards each year, such as the sweatshirt which I just received in the mail this week.  I feel especially blessed that God has permitted me to help others in such a unique way.

While I’m proud of the type of blood I have, I realize that I had absolutely nothing to do with the selection of it; it was God’s act in creating me.  One thing keeps coming to mind though, my blood type is valued for its universal ability to save lives.

As a Christian, and as a pastor whose job it is teach and illustrate truth, I can’t help but thinking of the blood of our precious Savior, Jesus Christ.  The Apostle John, stated that Christ “loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” (Revelation 1:5).  I’m teaching through the book of Hebrews in which the sacrifice of Christ is compared to the Old Testament sacrificial system; the Scripture clearly states that “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission.” (Hebrews 9:22)  “Remission” means “to forgive” or “to put away.”  Very basically, the shedding of the blood of Christ on the cross, accomplished the forgiveness and putting away of our sins.  It saved my life, spiritually and eternally.

My blood is valuable because it is unique and universally able to save the physical life of anyone on the earth.  The blood of Jesus Christ alone will spiritually and eternally save the life of any who come to Him in faith.  Think about it…

 

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.”