12.17.2013

Same Blog, New Home (Or, Goodbye to Blogger)

For over seven years, The Doc File has been hosted on Blogger. Blogger has several strengths, but also some shortcomings, and I considered switching to a different blogging several times over the years. Well, finally I have done so.
For the foreseeable future, you can find The Doc File at this www.lukedockery.com. Please update your links and bookmarks accordingly.
This new blogging service makes it easier for readers to share posts in a variety of social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and will also provide a lot of other features and functionality that I hope to introduce over the next several weeks.
Over the years, the readership of this blog has grown and I hope that will continue—I appreciate all of you.

11.19.2013

The Problem with the Church is ______.

I swear, someone must have declared 2013 to be the year where people would use their blogs to solve the “problems” of the church.1

I can’t tell you how many posts I’ve read this year which purport to explain what is wrong with the church or why certain people are leaving it. Many of these blog posts have come from within the fellowship of Churches of Christ (a relatively small group of people), but that fact has not prevented the analyses from being all over the place.

Depending on whose blog you’re reading, the main problem with Churches of Christ is that we are too left-brained—we are out of touch with our emotions and therefore unable to relate to our culture. Or, if you read someone else, the problem with the church is that we aren’t catering to the millennial generation (people who are roughly my age, give or take a few years). We aren’t valuing their perspectives and ideas, so they are leaving. Or, if you stumble upon a third blog, you’ll hear that people are leaving (especially preachers and ministers) because our practices in the area of church music, the role of women in the church, and leadership, are unacceptable and thus, driving them away.

After a while, reading these sorts of posts tends to frustrate me. Not because the church is problem-free (it isn’t), but because over and over again, the tone in the posts is that the author has discovered the problem in the church and is now proposing the solution. Of course, if they really had discovered the problem, you would expect there to be a little more overlap in the different posts rather than so much disparity.

Also, these posts tend to frustrate me because they are usually not based on real research, but rather on one person’s observations. I don’t mean to discount the relevance or importance of a person’s experience, but I do think we should be careful about making broad generalizations about an entire fellowship of churches based on one person’s (inherently limited) point of view.

Having vented these frustrations, I want to end this on a positive note by highlighting a couple of genuinely good things that I think posts like these indicate:

(1) People care about the church. If people didn’t care, they wouldn’t spend time and energy identifying problems and thinking up suggestions on how to fix things. Even if I disagree with some of the suggested problems or proposed solutions, I can still appreciate the authors’ intentions and the concern for the church which lies beneath them.

The alternative to this is people not caring, which is never a good thing. Apathy never solves anything, whether about politics, a football team, a business, or in the church. Generally speaking, even with people I disagree with, I can find some common ground  with people who are passionate about the church. On the other hand, there’s no point in even trying to work with people who don’t care.

(2) The Restoration spirit is alive and well, at least in one sense. People who work and worship in Churches of Christ will know this already, but for others who might be reading, Churches of Christ, while desiring to follow the teachings of the New Testament and emulate the church of that time, also have direct historical and theological roots in the American Restoration Movement of the 1800s. This movement was an attempt to unify people of different denominations by cutting away the manmade traditions and creeds which had accumulated over time in an attempt to “restore” the church of the New Testament.

That movement was only made possible by the fact that people were willing to take a hard look at church practices of the day, identify problems, and go about trying to fix them. Clearly, we still have men and women today who care enough about the church to do the same (I added the qualifier “at least in one sense” at the end, because while many of these folks are quick to point out problems in the church, they are not turning to the model of the New Testament church as the solution…but that’s a post for another day).

Restoration is an ongoing process. We should always be willing to examine what we do and make sure we’re not confusing traditional practices with biblical ones. And for those things which are just traditions, we should be willing to consider changing them if such a change would help us to better reach out to the lost or care for those who are already saved.


1By putting “problems” in quotation marks, I am not suggesting that there aren’t problems in the church. There certainly are, and this spat of bloggers have hit upon some of them. Rather, I am suggesting that not all of the issues proposed as “problems” by these bloggers are, in fact, genuine problems.

11.15.2013

The End of Greek

So, as you may have noticed, it has been a rough semester for blogging for me.

I always have to carve time out of my schedule for blogging between the demands of work, grad school, and family, and this semester an even heavier-than-normal school schedule has simply left me with little leftover time.

Having said that, I hope things will improve in the near future, as just this week, I finished one of my classes. That, in and of itself, probably isn’t worthy of a blog post, but this was my last Greek class!

I have enjoyed studying Greek in many ways over the last two and a half years and have learned a lot that will be helpful for me as I continue to study, teach, and preach from the New Testament. At the same time, I must confess that it will be nice to cease my formal study of the language.

Of course, in one sense, my most difficult task with regard to Greek will begin now, which is trying to keep up my Greek skills without being in a class that is forcing me to do so. Those who have studied languages before know how challenging this can be.

Okay, that’s all for now—I need to go study for a Hebrew exam.

10.16.2013

“Packaging” the Good News of Christ

In the marketing world, packaging is the “science, art, and technology of enclosing or protecting products for distribution, storage, sale, and use.”

I am sometimes hesitant to apply business principles and metaphors to the church, because I think that can lead to unhealthy practices, but in this case, the parallel easily applies. When it comes to evangelism or sharing our faith with others, all Christians, consciously or otherwise, take part in the process of packaging. We store our beliefs in a certain “package” which we can then share with others.

Unfortunately, on the whole, I think Christians have a major problem with packaging, and often fall into one of two problem areas:

The Not-So-Good News Package

(1) Honestly, I think some Christians don’t want the Kingdom of God to be as large or expansive as God Himself does. Of course, they will affirm that God loves all people and that Christ died for all, but by their actions they suggest that God’s grace is really only intended for the good, moral, “churchy” people. And so, perhaps to reinforce this idea, or to make the inherently appealing Good News a little less appealing, they wrap it up in a package of arrogance, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy. 

And sure enough, people of the world—those who are lost in sin and desperately need what the church is “selling”—take one look at the Not-So-Good News package and easily decide it’s not for them.

The “Better” News Package

(2) Some Christians have just the opposite problem though. Unlike the first group, they really, really want everyone to hear the Good News and accept the grace that God offers, made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But here’s the problem: Jesus and his disciples actually taught a lot of demanding, exclusive, hard-to-obey ideas, and a lot of the people in the world (and in the church!) don’t want to follow those teachings. So these good-hearted people, wanting to be as appealing to as many people as possible, water down the teachings of Jesus here and there and leave out some of the most objectionable material.

And for some people in the world, this Better News package (“better” because it involves little moral correction or personal sacrifice) looks really good, but when they buy it, they end up settling for a substitute rather than the real thing (which, when you think about it, isn’t good news after all).

The Solution

If we want to be faithful Christians, we need to avoid either extreme. To put it another way, Jesus was characterized by grace and truth (John 1.14), and so our presentation of the gospel should be too. The Not-So-Good News package emphasizes truth at the expense of grace, while the “Better” News package emphasizes grace at the expense of truth. Neither of these alternatives are acceptable. Instead, we need to “package” the Good News as Jesus Himself did—with grace and mercy and love, but also with clear teaching on the personal sacrifice required by real discipleship. 

Some people will look at that package and snatch it up immediately, while others will leave it on the shelf. But that shouldn’t surprise us—they did the same thing with Jesus. Ultimately, as a follower of Jesus, it is not my task to present Christianity in a way that tastes good to others. Rather, it is my task to present it faithfully, and let others decide if they want to swallow it or spit it out.

10.08.2013

Atlanta Braves To-Do List for 2014

So it’s been a while since I’ve written about baseball, but my Braves were eliminated early from the playoffs last night, in what has become an all-too-familiar pattern. 

I was saddened by last night’s events, but not surprised by them—Braves fans are conditioned to generally expect heartbreak in the postseason, and I was specifically convinced that this Braves team was not assembled in such a way as to contend for a championship (more on that below).

So what do the Braves need in 2014 to be better (And by “better,” I don’t just mean win more games—the Braves won 96 games in the regular season, so that isn’t the problem. I mean win games when it counts.)? Here are a few things:

(1) Get a legitimate ace. The Braves have several good pitchers, but it’s been quite a while that we had a legitimate ace who we could trot out in game one of a postseason series and feel confident that a win was coming. I love Tim Hudson, but he will turn 39 next year. Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, and Julio Teheran are all good, promising young pitchers. Maybe one of them will develop into an ace, but for now, we have a bunch of pretty good pitchers who, over the course of a season produce a lot of wins, but are overmatched in the playoffs.

(2) Get a better manager. I don’t think there’s any way that Fredi Gonzalez gets fired, which is too bad, because he’s not very good at his job. I don’t dislike him, and think he would make a great bench coach or first base coach, but his decision making is questionable—a lot. In Game 3, he left Teheran out too long when he was clearly off, and then did the same thing with Wood. In Game 4, he let Carpenter blow the game in the 8th inning while Craig Kimbrel, who has arguably put up the best three year stretch of any closer in history, sat on the bench and watched. Stuff like this happens frequently, and in my opinion, it happens because Fredi isn’t very good at his job.

(3) Get some guys who know how to field. It is so frustrating to watch Braves players bungle plays, either by making outright errors, or by making poor decisions in the field that turn singles into doubles and short innings into big rallies. By my reckoning, of the eight standard (non-pitcher) positions, the Braves have two excellent fielders, about two more who are above average, two who are mediocre, and two who are train wrecks. When it comes to playoff time, this does not work. You cannot have clueless outfielders at the corners and hope that somehow it won’t hurt you. It will, time and time again as this series against the Dodgers showed.

(4) Figure out something—anything—to do with Dan Uggla and BJ Upton. These are two of the biggest free agent busts in history (maybe it’s too early to say that about Upton, but with Uggla, it is more than clear by now). So much of Atlanta’s money is tied up in these two, and they get almost no return on the investment. I don’t know what the solution is, but we can’t keep trotting out .180 hitters all season, or the alternative, which is to basically bench two guys who are collectively making over $27 million a year.

Okay, my rant is over. Here is hoping to a more successful 2014!

10.04.2013

Friday Summary Report, October 4


Next week I am on fall break from school, which is awesome. The combination of the Hebrew and Greek classes that I am taking this semester is a heavy load (and has led to particularly infrequent posting here). It will be nice to have a week off from intensive study and to “just” focus on full-time ministry.

Here are a few links for your Friday reading:
  • This is an outstanding article from a youth minister friend of mine. Faith is more than just following a list of rules, it is placing ourselves within God’s story. And thus, teaching and training others in the faith is more about sharing that story than simply providing a list of Do’s and Don’ts.
  • Here is another great blog post that focuses on living in such a way that our future is better than our past. Here’s one brief excerpt: “We must see today as a starting point—a time to make good choices instead of bad ones (that’s part of what repentance is). Once we make the right decisions instead of ones we know to be wrong, we can finish without regret, without nostalgia, and without a desire to go back to now.”
  • Earlier in the week, I shared my review of a really good book. You can check that post for some good quotes, or better yet, get the book yourself!
I hope you have a blessed and relaxing weekend. On my end, I will be holding out hope that the Braves and Razorbacks are able to pull off some upsets!

9.30.2013

Book Review: The Derision of Heaven

I am a little behind on posting this because I had a very busy week last week, but I just wanted to share The Derision of Heaven by Michael Whitworth. I had previously read and reviewed The Epic of God, Whitworth’s book on Genesis, and since I enjoyed that book so much, I made sure to check out The Derision of Heaven, which focuses on the Book of Daniel.
a little bit about

If anything, I think I liked Derision even more than Epic. Part of this may have been because I read it in paperback rather than a digital version (I am old school when it comes to reading), but it was a really good book, and possessed the same tandem of qualities that made its predecessor such a joy to read as well: a balance between style and substance. By that, I mean that the book is very readable while still being very well-researched.

Before I get into the good stuff (sharing my favorite quotations), let me just add one point. The Book of Daniel is 12 chapters long. The first six chapters consist of relatively straightforward historical narrative, while the last six are filled with wild apocalyptic prophecy. Based on those last six chapters, all sorts of people have predicted all sorts of things, usually with little success. One of the things I appreciated most about this book was the author’s humility in interpreting these difficult passages while still covering them thoroughly and repeatedly emphasizing their main theme: God is at work behind the scenes, and is in control of the universe.

Now, on to the quotations (with my comments in brackets):

“As long as God lives and reigns, his people have hope. Christians should never fear the state; the book of Daniel assures us God has numbered the days of every wicked leader who wields power irresponsibly.” (6)

“Whether in times of disaster or disorientation, we can navigate turbulent waters, not by being the strongest, savviest, or most obnoxious, but by being faithful to God and bringing him glory as Daniel did.” (25)

“Being a light in the darkness doesn’t require our being a burr under the saddle.” (27)

“To pretend that our own political leaders hold office by the will of the people and not also by the will of God is to foolishly assume that these two things are mutually exclusive. They are not.” (38)

“Our personal talents and abilities matter less than our humble willingness to be used by God for his glory.” (39)

“Empires and superpowers rise and fall at God’s will. It’s this realization that causes me to be quite concerned about those Christians who seem prouder to be an American than a member of the church, God’s eternal kingdom, one that cannot be shaken…it’s not a sin to be a patriot unless patriotism becomes your idol. I wonder if some Christians aren’t bigger fans of the Constitution than the gospel.” (48-49) [I agree with his concern and frustration. Many who claim to be Christians take to social media with more passion over some political issue than they ever show on behalf of Christ. Sad but true.]

“Our attitude and behavior when under trial is a powerful testimony to the glory and love of God.” (65)

“In God’s way of working, progress and success often occur so slowly that they are unobservable.” (98)

“I want you to appreciate the tension that exists between “God can” and “God will.” We live our lives within that tension. We know God can do something about our suffering, but will he? In this tense area of in-between is where Satan thrives. In this soil, he plants seeds of doubt in our hearts and nurtures them until they have borne the ugly fruit of indignation, rebellion, and death. But there is something we can place in that gap to frustrate Satan’s schemes—not faith in God’s deliverance, for he does not always do so, but confidence that God will do what’s ultimately best for us. God always does whatever will bring him glory, and God glorifying himself is what is ultimately best for us.” (111) [This is such an important idea, I think, that I gave it its own post. The sooner we can understand and embrace this tension, the better it will be for our spiritual maturity and our own peace of mind.]

“You and I would be better off if we spent less time worrying about gun control, runaway deficit spending, and where/how long the president spends his vacation. We would be better served worrying less about how Liberals, Conservatives, Muslims, Atheists, or others not like us are destroying America. Instead, how would things be different if we confessed daily that Jesus, even now, held dominion over all the earth? What would it look like if we spent more time urging people to willingly kneel before King Jesus now before being compelled to do so on the final day? What would it look like if more Christians spent less time griping about earthly empires destines for history’s trash heap, and celebrated instead Jesus’ indestructible and eternal kingdom?” (132) [This is kind of a soapbox, but a much needed one. I completely agree with him.]

“In the dark days that lie ahead, let us resolve to fight God’s way, not the world’s way.” (185)

Hopefully, these quotations give you a taste of the book, and make you want to get a copy to read yourself. It would be an invaluable resource for anyone preparing to teach or preach on Daniel, but also beneficial for personal Bible study as well.

9.18.2013

The Best Prayers Are Short Prayers

Obviously the title of this post is not comprehensively true—there are certainly times when long, extended prayers are appropriate and necessary. The Bible teaches that, at times, Jesus went out and prayed for hours on end (Luke 6.12; Luke 22.39-46), and if He felt it was necessary to do so on occasion, how much more should we?

At the same time, I think we sometimes feel that brief prayers are less meaningful or less useful, and this certainly is not what the Bible teaches. In Matthew 6.7, Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” He then goes on to provide a prayer as model which is not lengthy at all.

I mentioned that I am studying Hebrew this semester, and in class, my teacher shared with us the words pictured above, which comprise a Hebrew Table Prayer (i.e., a prayer that would be said before a meal by an observant Jewish family).

Translated, the prayer goes something like this (words in [ ] convey additional meaning implied in the Hebrew):

Blessed are you, O LORD [God of covenant] 
Our God, [God of creation]
King of the universe [eternal king]
Who brings forth bread [food]
From the earth.
Amen.

As this illustrates, the briefest of prayers can convey great meaning, and simplicity can possess great power:

As the God of covenant, we are reminded that God desires relationship with his people, and that it is through our relationship with him that all spiritual blessings come. As the God of creation, we are reminded that everything which exists exists because God made it—we owe Him our very existence. As the eternal King of the universe, we are reminded that God’s dominion and authority extends over all things, and throughout (and beyond) all times. And as the One who brings forth food from the earth, we are reminded that we are dependent on God for our daily survival; He is our Sustainer as well as our Creator.

Some very important reminders in just a few simple words. Don’t sell short the power of a short prayer; it can convey the deep truths of life and faith!

9.17.2013

The Tension between God Can and God Will

I’m currently reading, The Derision of Heaven, which is a guide to the Book of Daniel written by Michael Whitworth. It’s been a great read so far and I plan on writing a review of it when I’m finished, but I came upon this quotation which was so good that I wanted to go ahead and share it:
“I want you to appreciate the tension that exists between “God can” and “God will.” We live our lives within that tension. We know God can do something about our suffering, but will he? In this tense area of in-between is where Satan thrives. In this soil, he plants seeds of doubt in our hearts and nurtures them until they have borne the ugly fruit of indignation, rebellion, and death. But there is something we can place in that gap to frustrate Satan’s schemes—not faith in God’s deliverance, for he does not always do so, but confidence that God will do what’s ultimately best for us. God always does whatever will bring him glory, and God glorifying himself is what is ultimately best for us.”
(The Derision of Heaven, p. 111) 

9.13.2013

What Language Study Has Taught Me About The Bible

School-wise, this semester has been (and will continue to be) a challenging one, so my posting here has had to take somewhat of a backseat. Sorry about that.

I have written before about my (mis)adventures in the study of languages, and this semester is a continuation of that trend, as I am simultaneously taking my final Greek class and my first Hebrew class. 

The two languages are different enough that, so far, I haven’t gotten them too mixed up in my head, but studying both at the same time has been difficult and has required a lot of my brainpower. Greek is now pretty familiar (this is my fourth class in it) and I actually enjoy working and translating it, but Hebrew is just so foreign that it has been a strain.

Having said all this, I am repeatedly struck by three significant lessons that I have learned from language study:

(1) We owe such a debt to those who have gone on before us and have translated the Scriptures into our own languages. Language study takes a lot of patience, diligence, and perseverance. Translating from one language to another is difficult, and is especially more difficult when you are translating from hard-to-read ancient texts. There was a time when the vast majority of church-going people were unable to read the Bible for themselves, and were completely reliant on what others told them about it. We are in such a position of privilege to be able to read Scripture in our own tongue, and to do so with a great degree of confidence that what we are reading is an accurate portrayal of the original.

(2) It is important to read from and consult multiple translations. As I mentioned above, translating from one language to another is difficult. Anyone who has engaged in the process knows that often, a certain Hebrew or Greek word can be translated in multiple ways in English, and the different options have to be weighed. Ultimately, a lot of opinion and subjective interpretation comes into play when translating from one language to another, not because people are biased or dishonest or irresponsible, but simply because there is no other way to translate. A certain degree of interpretation is inherently involved. One of the great things about consulting multiple translations is that they tend to have a way of correcting the biases and weaknesses of one another. In other words, if you’re holding onto a particular doctrinal position based on one translation which is in disagreement with all others, you probably need to reevaluate your position.

(3) The Bible is a masterpiece. Studying the Bible in its original languages emphasizes to me how awesome it is. It is so intricately woven together, with certain words or literary devices emphasizing themes or creating links between different stories, books, and even between the Old and New Testaments. It has reinforced to me the unity and diversity of Scripture: composed by dozens of human authors whose individual voices shine through, but ultimately inspired by the Spirit of God, who works all pieces together into a complete and complementary whole.

To sum it all up, while studying biblical languages has been (and will continue to be) a challenge, it has also been a blessing because of these important lessons I have learned (or relearned). Hopefully they will bless your lives as well.

9.03.2013

Syria, Obadiah, and Us

If you have paid any attention to the news over the last several days, you are aware that there is a country in the Middle East plagued by civil unrest and violent atrocities, and the United States finds itself in the position of determining if and how to intervene. Sounds like a story that we’ve heard several times before, doesn’t it?

Knowing the proper response to the messy situation in Syria is difficult. I am not a foreign policy expert, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. This helpful article has made the rounds on the internet, and basically suggests that although there is no good solution and military action is likely to be unhelpful in the long term, it is unacceptable for a brutal regime to attack its own citizen population with chemical weapons and not be punished for it (I recommend that you read the article linked to above if you haven’t already).

As I think about the situation in Syria (and similar conflicts in other parts of the world in which the U.S. has sometimes intervened in and sometimes not), I can’t help but think about the little Old Testament Book of Obadiah.

We don’t talk about Obadiah all that often. It is short—only one chapter long—and is hard to find tucked away in the minor prophets. Basically, the Book of Obadiah is a judgment against the people of Edom which proclaims their coming downfall. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, and thus cousins of the Israelites. Obadiah’s suggestion is that, as close relatives of the Israelites, the Edomites should have come to the aid of Judah during its conflict with Babylon, but they didn’t, and will be punished as a result (Obadiah 1.10-14). I find verse 11 to be particularly haunting (emphasis mine):
On the day that you stood aloof,
on the day that strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
and cast lots for Jerusalem,
you were like one of them.”
Now, I am aware that the situation of Edom and Judah (and Babylon) in Obadiah’s time and the situation today in Syria and the U.S. response to it are not direct parallels. I am further aware of the need for caution when it comes to seemingly removing a passage of Scripture from its context and applying it elsewhere. 

But at the same time, I’m also aware that Scripture teaches certain principles that seem to apply regardless of context, and I think this is one of them. The Bible teaches repeatedly that God blesses people not so they can hoard those blessings, but so that they can be a blessing to others. The Bible teaches that we are supposed to consider others to be our neighbors, and rather than ignoring their plight, to step in and help them as we can. The Bible teaches that when we come to the aid of the “least of these,” we are coming to the aid of Jesus Himself. 

So, that brings us back to Syria. What are we to do? Again, I am not a foreign policy expert, and in a real sense, I’m not qualified to give an answer. But at the least, it seems that we should consider tactical missile strikes against chemical weapons stockpiles (as the article above suggests).  

But maybe a different question that I am (somewhat) more suited to answer: what would the Bible suggest that we do? Biblically, I think we have to do something. At least try to help. Something more than standing aloof and being like one of them, which is the response I have unfortunately heard from several Christians. They give excuses like:
  • We shouldn’t get involved because it will be expensive.
  • We shouldn’t get involved because it’s none of our business.
  • We shouldn’t get involved because we have problems of our own to deal with.
  • We shouldn’t get involved because it will make other countries more annoyed with us than they already are.
Are those good enough reasons to justify standing aloof on the sidelines? I really don’t think so. In fact, I think the Edomites could have used some of those same excuses, and God wasn’t too pleased with them.

8.30.2013

Chris Wright on Salt and Light

I love this quotation from Christopher J. H. Wright’s, The Mission of God’s People:
“If a piece of meat goes rotten, it’s no use blaming the meat. That’s what happens when meat is left out on its own. The question to ask is, Where is the salt? If a house goes dark at night, it’s no use blaming the house. That’s what happens when the sun goes down. The question to ask is, Where is the light? If society becomes more corrupt and dark, it’s no use blaming society. That’s what fallen human nature does, left unchecked and unchallenged. The question to ask is, Where are the Christians?”
Good words to reflect on, I think.

8.19.2013

Big Lessons from the First Day of School

Today is the first day of school for a lot of people. As a youth minister, I’m very aware of this because my students were (generally) bummed about it yesterday at church. As a grad student, I’m also very aware of it because today I have taken the plunge and started the process of learning Hebrew. And if I wasn’t already aware that today was Back to School Day, I would’ve figured it out quickly once I checked Facebook this morning, as my news feed was blowing up with everyone’s pictures of their kids dressed up and ready for the First Day of School.

So for a lot of folks, today is a big day, and it got me thinking about some important lessons that the First Day of School reminds us of:

(1) We need to be prayerful on behalf of our students. As a youth minister this is something that I’m very aware of, but it is hard to overemphasize how difficult it is to be a young person today and to cling to Christian values, and how much our young people need our prayers and support. 

I am not trying to make a political statement or start a debate on the issue of prayer in schools or anything like that; I am simply making the observation that our society is an increasingly dark place, and this darkness is absolutely manifested in our schools. Teens (and even those who aren’t yet teens) are exposed to all sorts of things that are contrary to a Christian worldview, and resisting those things can be difficult.

But there’s good news as well: a shining light makes the biggest difference in a dark place! Pray not only that our students resist the darkness, but that they shine their lights and point others to Jesus Christ.

(2) We should be thankful for educators. On the whole, I think teachers tend to get a bad rap. Certainly some teachers are not as good, or as caring, or as dedicated as they could be, but on the whole, teachers are people who care about young people and want to do what they can to help them (come to think of it, that entire last sentence could probably be applied to youth ministers as well!).

And really, they have pretty tough jobs: they have to do a lot of work to stay current in their field, they have to deal with children with significant behavior problems (and the parents who produced them!), they get to work long hours before and after school grading papers, working on lesson plans, and going to school activities, and often they spend significant portions of their (not always great) salaries to buy additional resources for their classrooms and students.

Be thankful for educators! Encourage them, tell them you appreciate their efforts, and try to be cooperative when they need something from you (helping your child with homework, getting a paper signed, coming to a parent/teacher conference, etc.).

(3) We should realize how quickly our lives pass by. My first day of Kindergarten was 25 years ago, a quarter of a century. But seriously, I can remember it like it was just yesterday! A repeated theme I saw on Facebook today was parents who couldn’t quite believe that their kids had gotten so old so fast!

I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but it really is amazing how quickly time flies. The Bible says that our life is like a mist, something that is here for a short time and then vanishes. And as I see pictures on my news feed of college students who I think should still be in high school, high school students who should still be in grade school, and kindergarteners who should still be in diapers, it really hits home.

Our lives will be gone before we know it; we must make the most of the time we have!

(4) We need to never stop being students. I’m not talking about formal education here, but rather that we need to always have the attitude of being learners—we should never think of ourselves as knowing all there is to know on a given subject and always be willing to learn more. 

This is one of my favorite things about the preaching minister that I work with. He is in his 50s and has decades of experience in ministry, but he is always looking to learn new things so he can stay current. He reads constantly, and is always interested in examining things that I come across in my studies. What a great example that is!

I know so much more about life, ministry, and theology than I did two, five, and ten years ago. But I am by no means I finished product, and I hope and expect to know a lot more in two, five, and ten years down the road than I do now.

One of these days, if the Lord wills, I will finish my grad school education. But that won’t be mark the end of my learning, as I plan to continue doing that until the end of my life.

What do you think? Agree or disagree? Did you think of an important Back to School Lesson that I left out?

8.09.2013

Friday Summary Report, August 9

This week I am working on finishing up research for an exegetical paper on 1 Peter which I will hopefully be able to write next week. It is somewhat important that I finish it up next week, as the following week my fall classes in Greek and Hebrew begin. Yuck.

Here are a few random articles and other items for you to consider:

(1) I enjoyed this blog post which discussed the importance of benevolence ministry in helping those in our world who are in need. As a minister, I can tell you that those whom we help through providing food or clothing will rarely go on to a life of discipleship, but the point of this article is that that doesn’t matter. Here is a takeaway thought that I think is important: “Jesus showed compassion and mercy to people who would never become disciples and so should we.”

(2) Here is a thought-provoking post called, “3 Phrases Christians Should Quit Relying On.” I strongly agree with his distaste for the first two phrases he discusses, although I take issue with the third one.

(3) Earlier in the week my wife and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary. Here is a post I wrote about that.

(4) This is completely random, but I am excited about some things that are happening and are in the works at the Farmington Church of Christ. If you don’t have a church family that you are a part of, come check us out!

Happy Friday!

8.07.2013

William Thornton on George Washington

Monday was my anniversary, so I spent the day hanging out with Caroline, and we did all sorts of fun things, including a visit to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It was pretty neat, and one of the parts I enjoyed was an exhibit they had on George Washington which featured papers of his, letters written to him, portraits of him, etc. 

One which particularly caught my eye was written by William Thornton, a man who served as the architect of the Capitol and knew Washington quite well. Apparently, the notion had developed that Washington was a very grave and somber man, and so, about 25 years after his death, Thornton wrote to give a more detailed description of what the first US President was like:
“He was occasionally grave, when other men laughed, for he had much to think of…He was a man of genius, & wrote some beautiful little pieces of poetry. But above all he was a man of piety, a real Christian, and in the language of scripture, walked humbly before God.” 
–William Thornton of George Washington, August 16, 1823
That’s a tribute I would be proud of.

8.06.2013

God and Government

I go back and forth quite a bit in my thoughts on the relationship between God, government, Christians, politics, etc. I read this yesterday in a journal article and found it helpful:

“Jesus lived in a conquered province in an empire whose imperialistic ruler stood for everything that was antagonistic to the revealed faith of the Jews. Jesus was not a revolutionary but instead conformed to the laws of civil government. Nowhere did he denounce the legitimate power of the state. Jesus paid his taxes (Matthew 17.24-27). He recognized the authority of Pontius Pilate, even when Pilate unjustly delivered him over to his enemies (John 19.11). Jesus reminded him, however, that his authority was not autonomous (John 19.10-11) but that it was delegated from the One who was above. Thus, in practice and precept Jesus recognized that the government under which he lived was ordained of God.”

–David Plaster, in Grace Theological Journal 6 (Fall 1985), p. 437.

8.05.2013

The Best Seven Years Of My Life

Seven years ago today, I said “I do”, and chose Caroline to be my wife.

She was beautiful, funny, intelligent, playful, serious about her faith, and a Braves fan, and I thought she would be an excellent wife.

And how she has exceeded my expectations! Consistently drawing me closer to God, Caroline cheers me on when I succeed, encourages me when I fail, and corrects me when I step out of line. We have so much fun together, and there is no one I would rather talk to or spend time with.

And if I were writing this a couple of years ago, perhaps that is all I would say. But then our sweet daughter Kinsley was born, and I got to witness my beloved wife become the World’s Greatest Mom as well. Kinsley is wonderful—she is an adorable little girl, so fun and happy, and she fills her parents’ hearts with joy. 

And yet, at the same time (this probably will not surprise you), can I tell you that it is hard to raise a beautiful little girl with significant special needs? The revelation of Kinsley’s condition has significantly changed our lives, but it has also helped me to see how truly amazing the woman I married seven years ago is.

Caroline takes Kinsley to therapy eight times a week now (eight!). At therapy, she learns all she can so that she can work with Kinsley additionally when they are at home together. Also at home, she provides all the special care that Kinsley requires: patching her eyes to help her vision, adding thickener to her drinks, giving her all the anti-seizure medicine she needs, making sure she spends time in her stander. She researches Kinsley’s condition on the internet, and learns as much as she can from other mothers with special needs children.

She does all this while making sure that we pay our bills and eat food and all the little things that keep our house running smoothly. And she does it all with less help than she deserves from a husband who possesses a (wonderful) job which demands much of his time and a grad school program that does as well. She is, unquestionably, the rock of our family.

Caroline, from the bottom of my heart, I echo the words of Proverbs 31.29:
“Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
Our adventure together has taken some unexpected and unchosen turns, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love you and choose you forever.

8.02.2013

Thirty.


So, I turn 30 tomorrow.

Knowing for some time that this day has been coming, I have had a lot of opportunity for reflection and a variety of thoughts…

–Thoughts about our youth-obsessed culture, and how we frantically try to hold on to youth and wish that we were younger than we are.

–Thoughts about how, as a product of my culture, I also wish I was younger than I am.

–Thoughts about how quickly life passes (James 4.13-14). Can I really be this old? Was high school over a decade ago?

–Thoughts about how much (little?) I have accomplished in my life. What have I done with the time I have been given?

–Thoughts about the future, and how weary I get sojourning in this place that is not my true home (Philippians 3.20).

–Thoughts about how my body doesn’t do things as quickly or as strongly or as well as it used to, and how it seems to always hurt.

–Thoughts about being an “old youth minister”, and the challenges of relating to teens who are more than a decade younger than I am.

–Thoughts about how much I’ve learned over the last several years, and how much more I still have to learn.

–Thoughts about all the blessings which God has heaped upon me, and the curious anticipation of what He has in store for me.

Psalm 90, recorded as a prayer of Moses, contains some relevant and profound thoughts:
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God. 
You return man to dust 
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night. 
You sweep them away as with a flood; 
they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers. 
For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence. 
For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you? 
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil. 
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!”
My prayer is that I learn to number my days, appreciating each as a gift from God, and using each to His glory.

7.29.2013

2013 Summer Trip Recap


Every year, one of the high points for our youth group is a summer trip. Generally, we combine some type of service project with some fun activities. This year, we went to Morrilton, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee. 

Old Gym from the 1920s
In Morrilton, we stayed at Southern Christian Home, where we helped to move a ton of furniture, get things organized for a huge yard sale they were having, and also did some painting. It was good to meet the people there and see the campus and the work they were doing, and to help out a little. 

For me, one of the highlights of that part of the trip was getting to work in the main building on the campus, which back in the 1920s served as the campus of my alma mater, Harding University. Specifically, I was working down in the basement, which had originally been a basketball gymnasium. Though in need of a lot of work, it is an incredible building, and still has the original hardwood flooring from 1919!
View from the assassin’s window today (top) and in 1968

After a couple of nights in Morrilton, we headed to Memphis. While there, we visited the National Civil Rights Museum. I wasn’t sure how this part of the trip would go over, because teens don’t always appreciate educational experiences during their summer vacations, but several of them mentioned how cool it was and how much they enjoyed it. The museum itself is across the street from the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, and everything has been carefully preserved. The museum itself is actually the converted boarding house from which the shot was fired.

I like museums, and enjoyed it a lot (even though some of the exhibits were closed because of construction). I learned a lot of details about the assassination which I didn’t know before, and it was pretty neat to watch my teens grasp the significance (or at least some part of it) of what they were experiencing.

Part of our group at Sky Zone Memphis
From there, we spent some time at a mall and then went back to our hotel to swim and hang out. The next morning, we went to Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park in Memphis. There we spent a couple of hours jumping, flipping, and playing dodgeball. It was a lot of fun, though exhausting as well (I am still sore a couple days later).

After that, we loaded up and began the process of heading home. All in all, we had a great trip: we were able to accomplish some work at the Children’s Home, the teens had a great time and were well-behaved, and I had some really good chaperones who helped a ton. I think it was the most stress-free trip I’ve ever had, which was awesome.

7.24.2013

Book Review: “The Epic of God”

Last night I finished reading Michael Whitworth’s The Epic of God, which is a guide to the Book of Genesis (rather than a full commentary), and it was a really good book.

The Epic of God is not written to be a scholarly commentary, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, I would argue that what Whitworth has done is equally if not more valuable: he has produced a text which is informed and supported by scholarship (it is a well-researched book) but is easily read and understood by the average Christian. This is an important accomplishment, and I am always appreciative of efforts which bridge the gap between the church and the academy.

Anyway, I wrote a somewhat more in-depth review on the book’s Amazon page, but here I just wanted to do what I enjoy—share good quotations! Here they are (with my comments in brackets):

“After Adam was created and placed in Eden, he was given the task of working and keeping the garden. Work is often though to be a consequence of the Fall, but notice that in the perfect world that God created, man was created to work as a means of glorifying the Lord.” (26) [Amen! Work is a good thing!]

“Sin is not a blunder we can flippantly dismiss with ‘Everyone makes mistakes.’ A mistake is wearing two socks that don’t match; sin is an offense and abomination against a holy God. Our sins cost God the life of his Son.” (79)

“There is never an excuse to be selfish with God’s blessings.” (120)

“The God of Abraham has fixed an appointed time, unknown to all but him, when all suffering will come to a fantastic end! It will be the moment when the Son comes to be glorified with his church and render awestruck all who have put their faith in him…knowing that our heartache will eventually give way to hallelujahs can help us bear the pain a little while longer. God sees. God knows. God cares. He has appointed a time when he will visit his people in their distress and bring with him the redemption of the ages!” (165) [One of the definite strengths of the book is the way the author ties the story of Genesis into God’s greater story of the redemption and salvation of his creation.]

“And this is the truth that Abraham discovered on that occasion, that God’s commitment to justice is greater than our own…But his commitment to mercy is equally greater than our own.” (167-68)

“The life of faith is an odyssey of unexpected twists and turns.” (190) [This has certainly been true in my life!]

“If you are having difficulty surrendering to God what is most valuable to you, perhaps you have never acknowledged it as coming form him to begin with.” (215) [Ouch.]

“Prayer is for our benefit, not God’s. Praying for something that is in the will of God shapes us spiritually in ways few other things can. God’s desires become our own, and we start to see things as he does.” (232-33)

“It is natural and healthy for parents to want their children to succeed in every area. But what shall it profit a child if he becomes a Rhodes scholar or wins the Heisman trophy, yet loses his soul? (303) [Yeah, I wish every youth group parent I have or will ever have would read this quote about three times a day.]

“It is not healthy, not does it deepen our faith, to play the what-if game…when we find ourselves in the throes of suffering and pain, we must refuse to play the what-if game. Ask instead, ‘What if God is greater than my current circumstances? If God is indeed working out a plan to bring himself greater glory, how should I react?’ Then respond accordingly, confident that he can use our disappointments to deepen our faith and bring our lives into greater harmony with him.” (327) [This was very helpful for me to read, as I struggle with playing the what-if game.]

“We frail and pathetic humans have a bad habit of gauging God’s presence based on our circumstances…But veterans of the life of faith know that circumstances are no better a barometer of whether God is with you than overcast skies are proof that the sun has vanished completely.” (329) [Wow.]

I know that was a lot of quotations, but like I said, it was a really good book! The Epic of God will  deepen your understanding of the Book of Genesis, but more importantly, it will deepen your faith as well!

7.22.2013

How to Have a Great VBS

This past Wednesday, we wrapped up our 2013 Vacation Bible School at Farmington. If I have done my math correctly, this was my ninth consecutive year to help direct VBS, and although it is a lot of work, it is a lot of fun as well.

I think some people have the idea that VBS is a hopelessly outdated program from a bygone era. I do think that some congregations have a VBS like this, but I don’t think it has to be this way. VBS is one of the highlights of the year for our congregation, and while what we do is by no means perfect, I thought I would share some of the things that have made it successful.

What Does “Successful” Mean?
Before you have a VBS (or any program really), it’s important that you have specific goals, or at the very least, a general idea of what it is that you are shooting for. If you don’t have any idea of what a successful VBS will look like for your congregation, then it’s impossible to know if you’ve had one or not when you are finished.

For us, Vacation Bible School provides a lot of benefits, and I generally consider our VBS to be a success if these things happen:

(1) Kids have fun. Vacation Bible School is supposed to be fun. If kids from the community come and are then bored out of their minds, then all your hard work has been for naught (at least with that particular child).

(2) The church gets excited. The summer months can be somewhat of an energy drain on a congregation. A lot of people travel, so attendance and giving sags. Sometimes it seems that you go for weeks and weeks without seeing people that you care about and are used to seeing on a weekly basis. For us, VBS is an antidote to the summer slump, as every year it provides an energy boost to our congregation. A lot of people pool their talents and abilities for a common purpose, and then get to experience the satisfaction of watching their plans and efforts come to fruition. This is an important thing.

(3) Our reputation in the community is enhanced. Vacation Bible School provides a great opportunity for your congregation to increase its visibility and reputation in the community. If you get visitors from the community to come and then put on a quality Bible school, children and their parents will leave with a good impression of your church.

(4) A lot of people come. Numbers aren’t the most important thing (which is why I listed this one last), but they are important. After all, what does it matter if you have the most amazing VBS in the world if no one is there to see it? Attendance of visitors is especially important, as the church should always be trying to reach out to bring more people in. This year we were blessed with the largest attendance we have had in my time year (Also, related to the second point, if a lot of people come it definitely adds to the excitement factor of your congregation).

Tips for a Successful VBS
Now that you know how I define a successful VBS, here are some tips for bringing it about:

(1) Recruit a lot of talented helpers to do what they are good at. If you do it right, VBS takes a lot of work. So, you can either have a few people try to do everything, or you can recruit a lot of people who can focus on specific tasks. I have tried it both ways, and believe me, the second way is preferable. When you do it the second way, you end up having a better product, fewer burned-out people, and more church involvement. For example, this year we had:
  • A coach in charge of our outdoor games and activities
  • Someone who had studied theater in college working with our skits
  • Teens with years of experience doing Puppet Theater at Lads to Leaders doing the puppet shows
  • A talented song-leader directing our time in the auditorium
  • People with strong organizational skills doing registration and refreshments
  • Some very talented ladies doing decorations and crafts
All of these people used specific skills they possessed to enhance our VBS. And as a result, I got to do less work!

(2) Provide something for the adults to do. Kids may be the primary focus of VBS, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore your adults. Some parents will drop off their kids and leave, but others live far enough away that they would rather stay if there was a reason for them to. And what about adult members of the congregation who aren’t helping to run things? Shouldn’t they get to be around the fun as well? We have had good classes for adults in the past, but this year we focused on it more, bringing in one speaker for all four nights to present a topic that was different from what people generally get to hear (biblical archaeology). The class was excellent, our adult numbers swelled, and I heard from members and guests alike how much they enjoyed the class and how it strengthened their faith. 

(3) Get teens involved on the service side. Several years ago we made the decision that, rather than having the teens come and sit through a Bible class, we would get them involved in serving during VBS, and I think it was one of the best decisions we could have made. Our teens spend hours at the building the week before VBS moving furniture, decorating, and cleaning. During VBS itself, they are the primary characters and teachers in the story rooms, they do puppets, they help lead the kids around from place to place, and they help run games outside. Not only do our teens really enjoy these roles, it also provides opportunities for them to interact with all generations of the congregation: they get to work alongside those who are older than they are, and teach and lead those who are younger (this is hugely important!).

(4) Provide a variety of activities for the kids. Our hi-tech digital society does not cultivate long attention spans in children. Just the opposite. So if your VBS schedule calls for children to sit in class for 90 minutes listening to a teacher, then it will probably be hard for the teachers and rough on the kids. I absolutely believe that biblical instruction is important, and that is at the center of what we do. But the lessons are taught through skits in decorated rooms and then reinforced in craft time and puppet skits. Kids also get to play games outside, sing, have refreshments, and buy trinkets in the VBS store with coins they have earned by bringing guests and answering questions in class.

(5) Choose good material. Not all VBS material is created equally. Some of it looks really nice; some of it looks like it was made in 1975. Some of it looks like it was made for children; some of it seems like it was made by someone who had never even seen children before. We have found some VBS curriculum that we like, but even it isn’t good every year. This year we actually re-used (good) curriculum from 2009 rather than use the new (not-as-good) stuff. Personally, I am a fan of VBS themes that try to transport the kids to Bible time and places (this year our theme was “Rome: Paul and the Underground Church”) rather than those odd topical themes that don’t make sense and seem incredibly lame to me (things like “VBS Pirates: Searching for Buried Treasure in God’s Word” or “Tropical VBS: Learning Lessons from God’s Word in an Island Paradise”).

(6) Advertise. Honestly, I didn’t do a great job advertising this year; if I had, we might’ve had even more people. There are a lot of ways to advertise. You can send out flyers to area congregations. If your VBS is early in the summer, you can see about sending home flyers at local elementary schools. You can hang attractive banners outside of your church building for those who drive by. For us, the best method of advertising is contacting those parents from our community whom we already know through Thursday Bible School. If you have a similar program at your congregation, these are exactly the sort of people who would be interested in participating in your VBS. 

(7) Follow up with the guests who come. We have, admittedly, been weak on this in the past, but are trying to do better this year. If you have registration information on all of the children who came, then you should have contact information for those whose parents are not members. Send a card thanking them for their attendance. Send a letter or brochure telling them more about your church family and the programs you have available.

(8) Plan for next year. Soon, we will have a follow-up meeting to reflect on things that worked well, and things that we could improve for next year. It’s important that we do this now, while this year’s VBS is still fresh on our minds. No matter how successful things were this year, there’s always something that could be done better or more people who could be involved.

Vacation Bible School can be a powerful ministry for your congregation if only you put the necessary time, planning, and effort into it. The ideas I have suggested above might not be the only “right” way to do VBS, but it certainly works for us!

7.16.2013

The Fall of Man and the Ecological Consequences of Sin

In the first post of this series on the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 and the widespread devastation of sin, I mentioned that we tend to focus on the theological and personal consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin while ignoring some of the other areas. I think the most ignored of those other areas is the ecological consequences associated with the sin in the Garden of Eden. 

Men and women were created to live in relationship with God and with one another, and, in a sense, with creation as well. This is clear in the early chapters of Genesis. Genesis 1.26-30 recounts how Adam and Eve were to have dominion over creation, and Genesis 2.15 mentions that they were to work it and keep it. So in effect, Adam and Eve were to rule over creation, but to do so as stewards who would take care of what God had made. 

But following their disobedience to God’s command to not eat of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3, the ecological consequence is evident, as a curse is placed on creation in Genesis 3.17-19: 
“And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’cursed is the ground because of you; 
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’” 
This curse makes it clear that the relationship between man and creation has been destroyed as well. And that’s pretty easy to see, right? Rather than embrace our role as stewards of God’s earth, we tend to exploit creation to satisfy our own selfish desires. There are countless examples of companies which have carelessly polluted in order to cut corners and maximize profits, and even “little” problems like widespread littering show a basic lack of respect for the home God has created for us. 

And I think there is significant indication in Scripture that the problem isn’t all one-sided: creation itself doesn’t operate the way it was intended to. In Romans 8.20-22, Paul makes this point, speaking of creation in personified terms: 
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” 
A creation that is subjected to futility, bound to corruption and groans in the pains of childbirth seems distinctly different from the creation that God made and called “good.” I suppose this is ultimately unprovable, but my personal opinion is that the natural disasters that plague our lives—tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.—are symptomatic of the problems Paul refers to, as creation lives out a cursed existence different from the one for which it was intended.1 

In sum, sin has devastated this aspect of our existence as well. Creation is less than the good and hospitable home for humanity for which it was created to be, and we fail to care for it as we should.2
• • •
1If my thinking on this is correct, then it stands in judgment against the hurtful things that some religious people say in very public ways following a natural disaster such as “Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment against the wickedness of New Orleans”. Natural disasters are a condition of our broken world, rather than God’s wrath against a specific people/place. Incidentally, I think the promise made to Noah following the flood (Genesis 9.8-17) that man and creation would not again be judged by a massive flood (and perhaps, by extension, other natural disasters) supports this idea.
2I mentioned the general neglect of this topic, and I think that neglect is itself evidence of the distorted relationship we have with creation. In a significant portion of Christendom, discussion of the creation care is considered to be a “political” or “liberal” idea, despite the fact that environmental stewardship is a clearly biblical principle!

7.12.2013

Book Review: “Why They Left”

For quite some time I’ve wanted to read, “Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ,” by Flavil R. Yeakley Jr. This week I finally got around to doing so, and am glad that I did—it’s a great book.

The title is pretty self-explanatory, but basically, Dr. Yeakley (a long-time preacher, university professor, and statistician) conducted 325 surveys of people who had left the fellowship of Churches of Christ and then categorized and responded to the reasons they had for doing so.

The insights gleaned from those who left are helpful, but equally useful (if not more so) in the book are Yeakley’s brief but thoughtful responses to some of the issues which those who have left brought up. The book is an easy read, and I was surprised at how good of a writer Yeakley was (I don’t know why I was surprised; I guess I assumed that a statistician would produce a boring book, but it was an excellent read overall).

Here are some of my favorite quotations from the book (with random thoughts by me in brackets):
“When the average parents in the congregations attend regularly and have specific church work assignments, their children are much more likely to remain in Churches of Christ after they grow up and leave home. The retention rate in those churches was around 75 to 80 percent. In congregations where the average family has one parent who is an active and involved member but the other is not, the retention rate was around 50 percent. In churches where the typical family was one in which neither parent was active and involved, the retention rate was around 20 to 25 percent.” (40) [The youth ministers reading this are amen-ing out loud and trying to figure out the best way of sharing this quotation with all of their parents.] 
“…We should recognize that campus ministries are partners in Christian higher education. We should support the few campus ministries that Churches of Christ already operate, and we should establish many more.” (44) 
“The conclusion based on these positive and negative references to judging [in the New Testament] seems obvious to me. Christians should judge to distinguish between truth and error, right and wrong, or good and evil. It is acceptable for Christians to judge to settle disputes between or among brethren. Christians must judge the conduct of other Christians who sin and refuse to repent in spite of repeated admonitions. Christians must judge doctrines and practices. But we are not supposed to judge the heart, the motives or the eternal destiny of another person. We must leave it to God to pronounce the final judgment.” (62-63). [This is excellent. Yeakley’s discussion of NT passages on judging and his synthesis of them is almost an aside to the book, but the book would be worth reading just for this.] 
“Grace must never be used as an excuse for failing to correct known errors in our lives or in our understanding of God’s will.” (63) [I love this. It is almost worthy of a t-shirt or a bumper sticker.] 
“Churches of Christ reject…‘Once saved always saved’…but a doctrine of ‘If saved, barely saved’ is just as wrong.” (70) 
“My personal observation is that in far too many Churches of Christ, the elders are doing deacons’ work; the deacons have very little to do; and the church-supported ministers do most of the pastoral work. If strategic planning is done at all, it is done by ministers.” (141) [I think this is an accurate statement. I am thankful that the leaders of my congregation are working hard to get away from this mindset.] 
“Christ did not accept us on the basis of our perfect understanding or our perfect obedience. He accepted us because of our acceptance of Him.” (201) 
“The more friends new members make in the church the less likely they are to leave the church…the sooner new converts get involved in some area of ministry the more likely they are to stay in the church.” (208)
If you are a member of a church of Christ and are concerned about the future of Churches of Christ and are interested in doing what you can to help minister to the people in our churches, I highly recommend this book.

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