Resolutions Representing Many Christians…

John Wesley

Regarding COVID 19 Restrictions:

Whereas we have demonstrated obedience to the Scriptures (Romans 13:1-7; 1st 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 (1st Corinthians 14:26); congregational singing (Colossians 3:18), corporate praying (1stCorinthians 14:15-17), partaking of the Lord’s Table – also called Communion (1st 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

IMG_5436.JPG

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.

wikipedia-m60-patton-tank.jpg

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

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

 

What my Dad taught me about life…

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

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

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

 

Should we shake hands during the church service?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blest Be the Tie That Binds

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

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

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

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

~John Fawcett

 

One of the first things that drew me to her…

Carol's Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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