A Non-Apostolic, New Testament Church Planting Model

I’ve given a lot of thought to church planting, though that is not the direction in which God led me when I finished school.  The first church which I pastored as senior pastor was only 9 years old and had an average attendance in the 20’s when I went there.  During the 15 years that I pastored there we went through the processes of legal incorporation and tax exemption, writing a church doctrinal statement, constitution, and by-laws, electing officers, creating and maintaining budgets, purchasing and remodeling a building, supporting missionaries, starting ministries, etc.  So, I’ve had some similar experiences to what a church planter will go through during the early stages.  However, I do not claim to be a church planter.

Church planting is a popular topic among evangelical Christians.  Many missionaries and mission organizations use this phraseology to define their work.  Books, instructional conferences, and college/seminary classes all give guidance to the church planter on the best and latest methods of starting and building a church.

Before I get into the bulk of this post, I want to assert that this is not a negative post.  The Bible teaches that once a person has been evangelized, the remainder of his/her life on this earth is to be occupied with edification, which is primarily accomplished in the church.  So, if a new believer is going to be edified, a church is necessary.  Furthermore, Jesus promised, “I will build my church,” so it is a very Biblical expectation to be seeing churches planted wherever evangelism is taking place.

Most modern church planting instruction will be gleaned from the history of the growth of the N.T. church as recorded by Luke in the book of Acts.  A couple of things should be remembered about the book of Acts: 1) the book of Acts should be interpreted as descriptive (telling us what happened), not necessarily prescriptive (telling us how it must be done); 2) the church planting that is seen there will have been accomplished by those who functioned with apostolic authority and had been endowed with miraculous power and sign gifts.

Frankly, there is no place in the N.T. that gives specific instruction on how a new church is planted.  The epistles of Paul to Timothy direct him as the pastor of a church that is already in existence.  The letter of Paul to Titus instructs him to ordain elders in the cities on the island of Crete (which is an insinuation that churches were being planted on the island, but no specifics are detailed).  We can only speculate as to why there is no N.T. epistle on how to start a church.  What we call “The Great Commission” simply says to “make disciples.”

Many principles about church planting, leadership, structure, administration, and etc., can be gleaned from the entirety of the N.T.  However, I believe that deep within the history of the church in Colossae, we can observe the birth of a church that was accomplished without apostolic authority and miraculous power, but rather by a follower of the Lord Jesus who fulfilled his responsibility to make disciples.  For a 21st Century believer who desires to be a tool through which Jesus will continue to build His church, I’m convinced that Epaphras is the best model.

The History of the Colossian Church

The epistle was written during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment around 61-62 A.D.  In 4:3, 10, and 18, Paul wrote of his imprisonment.  Apparently, Paul had never been in Colossae (at least as a believer); in 2:1, Paul grouped the Colossian and Laodicean believers with those who had never met him in person.

The Colossian church met in the house of Philemon (Philemon 1:2), whom Paul had evangelized (Philemon 1:19) in another place at another time, possibly in Ephesus (Acts 19:10).  It was currently pastored by Archippus (Colossians 4:17), who was facing a difficult task of dealing with the false teachers and their errant or non-existent Christology (Colossians 4:17).  It is probable that Archippus was the son of Apphia and Philemon (Philemon 1:2).

The Colossian believers had been evangelized and discipled by Epaphras.  In the introductory sentences of the book as Paul was describing his thankfulness for their knowledge of the grace of God, he clearly stated that they had learned these truths from Epaphras (Colossians 1:3-8; 2:7).  Epaphras’ hometown was Colossae and he had a deep love for the Colossian people, as well as those in the neighboring towns of Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:12-13).

As nearly as we can reconstruct the history, the Colossian believers received the gospel and were discipled as a result of the labors of Epaphras.  He or others from Colossae, also went and evangelized in the cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis.  These other two towns had born in them churches that had a close relationship with the Colossian church (Colossians 2:2; 4:13, 15-16).  Evidently, leaving Archippus to lead the church in Colossae, Epaphras traveled to Rome and ended up in prison with Paul in Rome (Philemon 1:23); it is possible that Epaphras went to Rome for the purpose of finding Paul, perhaps to relate to him the struggles with the false teachers.  At the same time, Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus, was imprisoned, and under the witnessing of the Apostle Paul was converted (Philemon 1:10).  After Paul learned of the issues in Colossae, he wrote this letter back to the church to instruct them with a correct Christology.  The primary purpose of the Colossian epistle is an accurate Christology; it serves that purpose beautifully in its contribution to the body of Scripture.  The letter, along with the one to Philemon, was carried back to Colossae, by two men: Onesimus, the runaway and now converted slave, and Tychicus, the seemingly ubiquitous emissary of Paul.

Facts about Epaphras

  1.  He was not an apostle
  2. He was a native Colossian (4:12).
  3. He was a faithful minister of Christ, a dear fellow servant of Paul, and a fervent prayer partner on behalf of the Colossians, and jealous of the spiritual well being of the Colossians, Laodiceans, and those of Hierapolis (1:7; 4:12-13).
  4. He was an energized spiritual leader who diligently established converts in truth (1:7, 23; 2:7).
  5. Though he likely told Paul of the doctrinal struggles, he certainly relayed to Paul the spiritual strengths. (1:4)

Presumptions About Epaphras’ Ministry

  1.  He left a successor when he departed (4:17).
  2. He and the Colossian church reached out into neighboring communities (2:1; 4:13, 15-16).

Lessons From a N.T. and Non-Apostolic Church Planter

1. You do not have to be the apostle with supernatural abilities.  We know nothing of Epaphras’ secular background or family.  We only know what is recorded of him in the Epistles of Colossians and Philemon.  Epaphras was just a normal Christian man Christ had gifted for this ministry (as He does all evangelists and pastors/teachers – Ephesians 4:8,11) and implanted a desire for this ministry (1st Timothy 3:1).  Epaphras was no different than any gospel minister, whether in the First Century or the Twenty-First Century.  There is no record of miracles performed by him, no raising from the dead, no speaking in tongues, he did not receive special revelation and inspiration to write any N.T. Scripture, he was not called an apostle.  In fact, he was called a beloved fellow-slave, a faithful servant (deacon by etymology) of Jesus Christ, one of you, a slave of Jesus Christ, and a eventually a fellow prisoner of Paul.  He was not called an elder, a bishop, or a pastor, but it is clear from the kind of work that he did, that he was that kind of a minister of Christ to the church.  A missionary or a church planter is under no compulsion to be anything other than what God created him to be.  One of the most liberating lessons I ever learned came from Philipps Brooks book, The Joy of Preaching, in which he basically described preaching as “truth presented through personality.”  God intended me to be me and He intended to use who He had made me as a vessel to convey His truth to people.

2. You should connect with your culture.  Paul wrote to the Colossians that Epaphras was “one of you.”  Colossae was not a great city in Asia Minor.  It was not on the scale of Ephesus or Corinth and certainly not Rome.  This city, community, and culture were familiar to him.  He understood the people, their habits, their strengths and weaknesses, their philosophies, their educational system, their religions(s), their societal structure, their economy, their entertainments, their idiosyncrasies, and even their secrets.  He was uniquely able to communicate with them.  I have at various times considered starting a church or even moving to an existing church in both the Northeast and the Northwest, but each time, the Lord would not give peace that I would be able to minister effectively in either of those regions.  In fact, every one of the three churches in which I have ministered has been a mid-western church. I’m from Missouri and my wife is from our border state of Illinois; I have pastored in Illinois and in Missouri.  Mid-westerners are my people.  I can get along in either midwestern city of St. Louis or Chicago; I am completely at home in a cattle or grain farm culture, I can hunt and fish, I love morel mushrooms – both finding and eating, I love the midwestern sport of baseball, I can drive in snow and ice and I can sweat in hot and humid weather.  The midwest is my country.  Does this mean that a midwesterner can’t plant a church in any other region?  No! Consider missionaries that go to other countries.  But I was a missions major in my undergraduate studies and well remember the classes called “Culture Shock” and “Life and Work on the Mission Field.”  I’ve travelled to a few other countries and have talked to missionaries and know that culture shock is a real thing.  This is true not only of foreign countries, but also of new regions even in your own home country.  Even as a midwesterner, when I moved to northern Illinois to begin in vocational ministry for the first time, I realized that the men of our church spent time together – golfing and playing basketball – at basketball, I was a novice and at golf, my experience had been putt putt only – so I bought left-handed clubs and attempted to learn the game.  When you are in your own culture, you have an advantage of understanding your audience and them understanding you, whenever you begin to interact.  I’m convinced that this is why the Apostle Paul usually began ministering in a new city in the synagogue – even though he was a believer in Jesus Christ, he was still an ethnic Jew and was better versed in the Jewish religion than even the rabbis in their synagogues.  The contrast of this is that all of the apostles who lived for any length of time after Pentecost, ended up going to a foreign place, none of them stayed in Israel.  So obviously, you are not restricted to your birthplace as a place of ministry.  However, Epaphras, worked and labored effectively in his home town.  He had a deep love for these people as evidenced by the way that Paul reminded the Colossians of his ministry of teaching and praying on their behalf.

3.  Your Christian character should be genuine and observable. I would love to have all of the things which Paul said about Epaphras to be said of me.  Paul described him as a dear fellow servant; this is literally a beloved brother slave.  The idea of this kind of slave is similar to the bond-slave of the O.T. who had decided that life with the good master was better than life on his own and he therefore submitted himself to having his ear bore through with an awl to publicly mark that he was committed for life to the master.  Not only did Epaphras share this status with Paul, but as a fellow slave, he was deeply loved.  Paul respected Epaphras.  He was also described as a faithful servant of Christ.  Faithful, indicates a steadfastness of character as a minister of Christ.  The word minister is the root from which we get the word deacon.  This context does not lend itself to the idea that he had the office of the deacon in the church of Colossae, but rather that he essentially served Christ by serving His church in Colossae.  The deacon is often referred to as the “table waiter.”  Epaphras was their teacher of truth, but everything that he did was in service to Christ.  Paul continued by telling the Colossians (if they didn’t already know) that he always labors in prayer for their spiritual growth and well being.  Epaphras was aware of the philosophies which were of men, but  not of Christ which were being introduced into the church there.  Obviously, this was a great burden to him (it is possible that one of the reasons he was in Rome was to consult with Paul on this very subject).  In his physical absence from Colossae, Epaphras was devoted to spiritually contending on their behalf through agonizing prayer.  This description indicates time, energy, tears, sweat, probably fasting and focus for the individual believers who made up this assembly in Colossae.  This commitment to the spiritual well being of the Colossians was not limited to just that church and city, but Paul said this zeal was also poured out on those of Laodicea and Hierapolis.  These other cities were several hours walking distance away, but the energy of Epaphras was also spent on the believers and churches in these sister cities.  Incidentally, the connection between these sibling churches should serve as an example to N.T. churches today.  Paul told them to share their epistles, which indicated that the problems addressed and corrected by Paul in one letter, was to be used for the edification of the other churches.  They were not to be myopic and isolated.

4.  You should demonstrate love with positivity.  Epaphras’ character was recognized by his positivity, his candid commendations of them, and in a sense his hopefulness.  He demonstrated love in the way that Paul spoke of in 1st Corinthians 13, “love thinketh no evil” and “love believeth all things.”  I haven’t been sucked into the psychology of positivity, but I must acknowledge that though Epaphras was most probably the one who told Paul of the infiltration of false teachers and the twisted principles they sought to introduce into the church (2:8,17-23), he was also the one who would have told Paul of the love and faith which they had toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints (1:4).  The distinct (Greek) prepositions for the English repeated word “toward” carries two different meanings.  The first was that their love and faith was “toward” the Lord Jesus and indicates that their love and faith was founded and established on the Lord Jesus.  The second was that the love and faith established on the Lord Jesus and “toward” all the saints means that it penetrated the lives of other believers; their love and faith had a deep and penetrating influence into the lives of other saints.  Epaphras carried this news to Paul, they have their lives established on Christ, and that foundation is carrying a deep impact in other believers (and his concern was that they had philosophers who were turning them after things other than Christ).  Furthermore, Paul ended that section by telling the Colossians that Epaphras had “declared to us your love in the Spirit.”  Most of these people (except for Philemon, and possibly Apphia and Archippus) had never met Paul, yet their love has been relayed to him by Epaphras.

5.  You must be established in truth yourself and then tirelessly preach it and teach it! For the purpose of this article, there is too much doctrine in 1:4-6, 23 and 2:7 for me to unpack and explain its necessity to a church-planter.  But suffice to say that Paul was praying that they would understand the truths: of Christ, of the gospel and its global expectation and impact, of Christian relationships, of the hope of eternity, of the grace of God, and of continuity of faith and growth in sanctification – all things which they had learned from Epaphras!  This man taught them the whole counsel of God!  (You might be inclined to think, “then why were they in danger of being led away by false teachers?  The answer is that the canon of Scripture had not been completed.  Epaphras didn’t have a New Testament to preach to them.  The letter which Paul wrote to them was later recognized as God-breathed and therefore was received as Scripture.) Evangelizing and the resulting establishing of a church today is much more than just seeing people make a profession of faith.  Every church needs to be being taught in doctrine, whether that church has just been established and is only a few weeks/months old, or whether that church is 48 years old (the age of the church I’m blessed to pastor) and has seen several generations of believers pass through it.

6. You should plan for the future.  It is possible that Epaphras only left Archippus to lead in his absence.  However, considering the likelihood that Epaphras was also laboring and leading in both Laodicea and Hierapolis, it is possible that the church in Colossae had been committed into the leadership of Archippus.  The letter from Paul to the church ended with the exhortation to the congregation to encourage this man “take heed to the ministry which thou has received in the Lord, that thou fulfill it!”  We don’t know the details of the transition, but somehow or another, when Epaphras left, Archippus was given leadership in the Lord.  How this happens in each church is going to be different.  The N.T. doesn’t give samples of bylaws on how an official transition takes place or how or even if a new pastor is elected, but Paul did lay the ground work for the perpetuity of the church by telling Timothy, “the things which thou has heard of me of many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2nd Timothy 2:2)  If you weren’t counting, that verse expresses 5 generations of truth repeaters: Paul to many witnesses to Timothy to faithful men to others also!

7. Evangelize in other places too.  I know that I risk splitting hairs here, but there isn’t a command in the N.T. for men to go start churches.  There is a command to preach the gospel to every creature, to baptize those who believe and to teach them everything that Christ taught.  Matthew’s Gospel makes it clear that Jesus was the One Who would build His church, but the expectation is that the fulfillment of the Great Commission will result in the birthing of churches.  Evangelize and churches will be the natural result of genuine conversions.  Though we don’t know for certain that Epaphras started the churches in Laodicea and Hierapolis, I have no doubt that he was evangelizing there and therefore we see the natural, the logical, and especially the divine result of churches being established.  Paul stated in no uncertain terms that Epaphras had the same zeal in ministry and prayer for those two churches as he did for the church in Colossae and so we know his labors were there – he wasn’t restricted to just Colossae (I’m challenged by the energy and the reach of Epaphras even as I write about it).

Conclusion: I wrote this article because I find great encouragement in learning from the example of normal Christians.  I know that we are exhorted to follow the example of Paul and the other apostles in the pursuit of Christ.  But I’ll never heal the sick, raise the dead, receive special revelation, or even be bitten – without harm – by a poisonous snake.  However, Epaphras was no different than me; I have the same indwelling Holy Spirit, the same humanity, the same limitations, the same grace – and I even have the completed Word of God!  To missionaries, to evangelists, to church-planters, to pastors and teachers, study Epaphras – his life and ministry is exemplary and encouraging!

Reading Better…

I’m not a great reader, I don’t even think I would classify myself as a good reader. In fact, with substantive books, I’m quite slow and comprehension has to be intentional. When I was an adolescent and then a teenager, I could absorb light fiction/novels (Illustrated Children’s Classics, Louis L’Amour, etc.) with an endless appetite because those stories are written primarily as entertainment. However, as I moved into college and then ministry, the content of my reading changed radically. Over the years, as I have collected more and more books and read more and more for education, edification, and ministry, I have learned some things to help overcome some of my literary shortcomings.

I understand that since a part of my pastoral vocation is study, that I have an opportunity and an obligation to be in the books. I love doing it, but it is sometimes challenging. I normally read between three and four hours each day (sometimes significantly more, depending on my study), including my Bible, and so this is a big part of my life (I’m not including internet, social media, or news in this). I don’t think that reading is “natural” to me, as I’ve heard some people described. This is a discipline at which I’ve had to apply myself and grow. I want to share some practical hints which I believe can be very helpful in your development as a learner through the reading of books.

First, I will say that there are different types of reading. Some of my reading is reference work or commentaries; the tips which I’ll share here do not apply to that kind of reading. For instance, if I’m reading a Greek or Hebrew grammar or lexicon, I won’t be doing it with the methods I’ll suggest below. The same is true of commentaries, though they may have a little more relation to my regular reading. Example, I’m currently preaching through the book of Acts on Sunday evenings. I’ll typically read through 5 or 6 commentaries that relate to the passage that I’m preaching that particular week (or a little ahead), but like the Biblical language study, commentaries are also more reference reading to me.

The hints that I’m sharing here apply more to personal growth reading (including my regular Bible reading that is unrelated to preaching or teaching). Here are 3 things that have greatly helped my reading.

  1. Read a book more than once. When I was working on my Phd, the university had a policy for classwork that you read each text book twice. At first, this was frustrating to me since I considered myself to be a slow reader. However, after I read the first book, when I began reading it the second time, I started seeing things which I had missed the first time through. I was amazed at how much more I got out of the book the second time! I began chastising myself for the things I had missed the first time. I understand that this will not happen with every book; often I’ll complete a book (or get part way through it) and decide that “this is not worth reading a second time.” However, if I find a book which I would classify as a “good book” I will often read it a second time. Moving outside the realm of growth or academics, it dawned on me that I have often read works of history many times. I have read almost all of David McCullough’s books twice (other than the one or two that I haven’t read at all). I have read Shelby Foote’s “The Civil War – A Narrative” twice through (and am currently listening to it while on the treadmill). As I scan my history book shelves, I see many books that I’ve read more than once. Obviously, the Bible is a book that we read more than once. I haven’t kept track of how many times I’ve gone all the way through my Bible, but it has likely been a score or more.
  2. Listen to a book while you are reading it. My first kindle had a “text to speak” function which I began to use after learning of its value (despite the mechanical voice). I use Audible now, very regularly. Reading out loud is not new. It is the ancient method which was used in the synagogues of Jesus day since the Scriptures or books were not ubiquitous as they are now. This habit started with me while reading through the book “Things To Come” by Dwight Pentecost. I was having trouble plowing through some of it and decided to use my kindle’s text to speak option. I was amazed at what happened for me. I now do this regularly through audible. I often own both the paper copy of a book as well as the audio version and I listen to the audio version while following along in the paper edition with my eyes, pen and highlighter. I have found several benefits to this practice.
    • It involves more of your senses. The more of your senses that you involve in your learning activities, the better you will learn and the more you will retain.
    • It greatly reduces mindless reading and the resulting re-reading. How many times have you finished a paragraph or page and then questioned yourself “what did I just read?” Then you go back and reread it again to ensure that you didn’t miss anything of importance.
    • It enhances understanding because of the vocal inflections of the professional reader. I’ve realized this, especially as I listen to the minor prophets in the O.T. Personally, the minor prophets are some of the most difficult upon which to concentrate. Listening to another voice reading correctly, greatly enhances my comprehension.
    • It increases your speed. As I mentioned, I’m not a fast reader. I’ve found that as I listen to another person’s voice, I cover pages with comprehension at almost twice the rate of speed as when I read it myself.
    • If I don’t have or can’t find an audio book to go along with my paper copy, I will often read it aloud to myself in order to utilize more senses. However, this sacrifices speed for me.
  3. Stand up and/or walk. Very candidly, though I have a recliner in my study, ostensibly for the purpose of reading, it is actually used more for naps than reading. I get sleepy when I’m reading. As a pastor, I have access to our church auditorium where I spend hours walking around with a book in my hands and AirPods in my ears. It may be your basement, your living room, your garage, your yard, or your treadmill (when I went into the gym the other day, there was a woman on the treadmill with a book opened in her hands as she was walking). The reason for this is obvious, it keeps you from dozing off while reading.

Reading is essential because of the wealth of knowledge, information, and inspiration which it provides to me, but it is not natural and so it has to be intentional. So, over the years I have found ways to improve my reading and comprehension. Not everyone is the same kind of learner, but these methods/habits have greatly enhanced my reading speed, attention, comprehension, and retention. I hope they will help you too!

Dying well…

Yesterday, I completed two books that confirmed and added to some things upon which I’ve been meditating for a couple of years. I finished “Bonhoeffer – Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” by Eric Metaxas and I finished Eusebius’ “The Church History” by Paul Maier. The Church History gave a generous sampling of the martyrdoms and persecutions throughout the first 4 centuries of church history. Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazi regime only a couple of weeks before Hitler’s suicide and the fall of Germany near the end of WWII. Bonhoeffer individually, and the martyrdoms corporately, displayed an amazing approach to death that I believe has eluded the majority of western Christians living in the relative ease of the 21st Century. Bonhoeffer’s evaluation of his death was this, as he was being retrieved by the Gestapo for the last time, he bid farewell to an acquaintance and said, “this is the end, for me the beginning of life.”

My own view of death was radically changed during the early months of 2021. My brother, Nathan’s wife, Jenny, discovered that she had breast cancer in December of 2019 and that cancer ended her earthly race in March of 2021, she was only 42. In the providence of God, our family moved from Illinois to North Carolina in August of 2020 and so we were near Jenny and her family for the last 8 months of her life on earth. As Jenny’s body wasted away, her spirit grew in life in a way which none of us had observed before. The approach of her eternal reward and the tangible grace which accompanied her final months made it hard to feel sorry for her (other than the sympathy for her physical suffering); she was living in anticipation of the voice of Jesus. Of course, we experienced the pain of our loss. Our hearts ached for Nathan, her children, the rest of our family, and the church family which loved her so dearly. But her disengagement from the things of earth, her determination to prepare her family for eternity, and her devotion to the love of her Saviour who she would soon meet, were inspiring – and that is an understatement.

I had known Jenny since we were in college together. Before she and Nathan started dating, she and I were actually “study buddies” in the college library. Her manner of thinking was critical, systematic, and logical – like my own, and so we had many good conversations. I was thankful for her friendship and especially pleased that the Lord allowed her to marry my brother. Nathan is one of my best friends and so their union brought me great joy.

It is not my intent to describe everything about Jenny’s last few years and months here. One of the greatest honors of my life was when Nathan asked me to write and deliver Jenny’s eulogy at her funeral. I spent hours in prayer, tears, and joyful reflection of memories of her as I prepared these words to share with those who attended the memorial service for her. I will simply share her eulogy here, and then challenge you to consider, are you ready to die well?

Jenny Deatrick – Eulogy


“The word eulogy, quite literally means, “good word.” I intend to speak good words about Jenny, but you must understand from the very beginning that good words are spoken about Jenny because of her Great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. So, everything that I say about Jenny is most certainly a reflection of Jesus Christ.

Jenny’s obituary is available to you online and in other places, so I won’t take the time to read it to you this afternoon.

I’ve known Jenny for the exact amount of time that I’ve known my own wife. 25 years ago this August, they, as two young ladies from Illinois, rode in the same car with Jenny’s parents to Ambassador Baptist College – and in the providence of God ended up marrying brothers.

I’ve watched her over the years in various roles:

First and foremost, she was a child of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ. That permeated her life from her teen years until last Sunday afternoon. Everything else that I will say about Jenny must be filtered through that fact.

She was a daughter with unqualified respect and honor for her father and mother. The same was true as a daughter-in-law.

As a sibling, she was loyal to her brothers and sisters. I didn’t know any of them well, but she always spoke with sincere love, appreciation, and liking for each of them.

As an aunt, she was serious, but genuine. From the youngest to the eldest, she spoke meaningful words to them. She treated them like she understood them and that they were worth her time.

As a sister-in-law, to my wife and the other ladies – I could not even begin to touch on the richness of spirit that her camaraderie brought to each of their lives. Her conversation always pointed to the certain truths of God’s Word. As my sister-in-law, two things are prevalent in my mind: First) Lemuel’s first description of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 was that her price is far above rubies. The very next thing that he said of her in that long list is that “the heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She was God’s gracious gift to my brother and no man has been happier with who God gave him. Second) Also, as my sister-in-law, she has deepened my perspective on life and eternity. As we sat together as a family last Friday evening, she spoke some astounding words to me and all of us. Her focus on heaven and Christ was like a laser! In 17 years of ministry and 44 years of life, I’ve never been with someone that close to heaven, so coherently and intentionally meditating on Jesus and eternity. It was an indescribable privilege to watch Jenny approach the arms of Jesus – because that, not only in her perspective, but in reality, is what her journey has been.

As a mother, Jenny could not have taken her responsibility more seriously. She majored in education in college, not for a vocation, but for her anticipated children. Though some may look at Emalyn, Audrey, Judson, and Elaina and think that their mother was taken too early, the reality is that she did for them, all that God asked of her in her 20 years as a mother. As her children “continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety” it will be proof to all of us what kind of mother she was. Though her body and physical presence are gone, her legacy – the reality of her life, lessons, and love will live in them and their future generations.

As a wife, Jenny brought great satisfaction to Nathan. I remember the day that Nathan told me “I’m going to invite Jenny Shreeves to the Valentine Banquet” (I don’t know why he used her last name, I knew who she was – she and I were already good friends). I remember their wedding day and the unfettered joy that exuded from them both. I remember him telling me of kissing her on an old bridge on a dirt road outside of Wayland, Missouri. In almost 23 years of marriage – it only got better. When I watched Nathan kiss Jenny on her bed the other night, the fire of their love had not diminished. Cancer can’t quench real love. As I listened to Jenny talking to my wife and I last Thursday and Friday, I was struck by how often she referred to Nathan as “my husband.” It dawned on me that she was doing it intentionally. She had chosen, in life, to honor not just the man that God had given to her, but the relationship that God had designed. And as we know of Jenny, she was not just a product of a Christian culture or sub-culture, her thinking was calibrated by the absolute authority of the Word of God.

As a pastor’s wife, Jenny was just Jenny. The Scriptures have very little to say about what a pastor’s wife should be. Millions of people and churches have developed paradigms for what they think is an ideal pastor’s wife, Jenny would have chuckled at most of that. She walked with God, she supported her husband, she discipled her children, she lived with holy behavior, she guarded her tongue, and she taught and exemplified good things – especially to the younger women.

As a sister-in-Christ… one of Jenny’s very few regrets, was not getting to spend more time with many of you in the last couple of weeks and days of her life. However, her times were in God’s hands and for some reason He didn’t permit that for many of you who would have liked to have seen her. So, I feel the responsibility to share with you of some of those last days

These were some of her last words that I heard with my own ears (in no specific order):

“I told my husband, if God is giving me grace to go through this, then he will also give you the grace to go through this.”

“I’m not surviving, I’m thriving!”

I’ll be so glad to get to heaven and no longer have the earthly inhibitions of praise.” She chuckled and said, “I want to dance before the LORD, like David did!”

“When I get to heaven, I won’t wonder who Jesus is, I’ll know His voice!”

“Since there is no time in heaven, it won’t seem like long before you all are there too!”

“He is worthy!”

“Jesus is better!”

Finally, when she and Nathan had received the final diagnosis of her cancer, she said, “I laid myself on the altar and said, this is God’s will for me to go …. and I embrace it, actually, I love it!”

I told you at the beginning that this eulogy, the “good words” regarding Jenny, would be a reflection of Jesus Christ. So, I finish this by saying, that our sister-in-Christ, lived as a Christian should live, and she died as a Christian should die! God graced all of us with an earthly reflection of Jesus.” (End of Jenny’s eulogy)

So, I ask you, how will you die? I want to live well and die well. Believers have been exemplary in death for thousands of years and I want to be reckoned among those. As the author of the book of Hebrews so distinctly wrote, “these all died in faith…”


Nathan and his family are doing well. Within a year, God brought him a new wife, Grace. We have embraced her and love her as the family that she is. They are expecting a child together next summer. As far I as I can see, Jenny’s children are doing well, though I exhort you to continue much in prayer for them – losing your mother as a teenager is difficult, but they will depend on God’s grace to sustain them.

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.