The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

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A New Chapter

Yesterday was one of the most challenging days of my life, as I announced that I would be leaving the Farmington Church of Christ, my home and family for the last 13 years, to beginning working with a new congregation at the end of May/beginning of June.

Here was the statement that I read:

In June, Caroline and the kids and I will be moving to Searcy, Arkansas, where I have accepted the role of Youth In Family Minister at the Cloverdale Church of Christ. This is not a decision that we have made lightly, but over the last 18 months and with a great deal of prayer, Caroline and I have become increasingly convinced that this is God’s will for our lives.

Working with the church at Cloverdale will also make it possible for me to teach some youth ministry courses at Harding on occasion, and will also give me the opportunity to work year-round in training college students who are interested in going into youth ministry. This position would also put us close to Kinsley’s neurologist in Little Rock, and would be a great financial blessing for our family as well.

As excited as we are about this opportunity, we are equally sad about the notion of leaving Northwest Arkansas, and especially, our Farmington family. That word—family—is frequently thrown around when discussing church, but I do not use it lightly. Over the last 13 years, you all really have become our family. You celebrated our marriage and the birth of our children; you have wept with us during difficult times, rejoiced with us during happy times, and have supported us throughout. Words fail me to describe the love we have for this family of God’s people, and the sadness we feel at moving.

I have been blessed to work with two preachers while I have been at Farmington, and they have both been great friends to me and have taught me much. Mike is one of the finest ministers I have ever known, the most generous person I have ever met, and I will greatly miss working side by side with him. I know that he will continue to be a wonderful blessing to the congregation here.

I have been blessed to work alongside great elders in my time here. They have always been supportive of me, and I have always felt valued and trusted. They have always valued the young people of our congregation, and have made hard decisions at times (like hiring me in the first place!) to make sure that our young people were taken care of. I know they will continue to do that moving forward.

There are so many others who I would like to mention by name, but I won’t, in fear of overlooking someone. The reality is that this room is filled with people who have blessed our lives, and I thank you for it.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to say how blessed I have been to work with dozens and dozens of teens of the Farmington church over the last 13 years. It is such an honor to be invited alongside our young people and develop close ties with them. One of the greatest joys of my life has been to watch them grow up, marry, have children, serve as deacons and Bible class teachers, and remain devoted to their faith in Jesus. To all of my former students and my current ones, I love you, I will always be cheering for you, and nothing will make me prouder than your continued faithfulness in God’s kingdom.

I spend my life trying to teach teenagers that the most important thing in life is to figure out God’s will for your life and then to do that thing. For Caroline and I, that’s what this is about. If we aren’t willing to step out in faith to do God’s will in our own lives, then I have no business telling others what they need to do.

Of course, we’re not moving just yet, and the next three months will be busy as we seek to make healthy transitions for the future of the church here at Farmington. And even after we’re gone, you won’t really be rid of us, because you visit your family—and that’s what you are to us.

Thank you.

Everyone was very loving and supportive, but it was a very challenging and emotional day.

Over the next couple of months, one of my primary tasks is being involved in the process of finding the man who will replace me as the Associate Minister at Farmington. Toward that end, if you (or someone you know) might be interested in the role, you can find a full job description (with contact information) here.

Amidst all the sadness, Caroline and I look forward to the next chapter in our lives with a lot of excitement, and trust that God will be with us on this adventure, as He always has been in the past.

The Story of the Bible

Beginning in September 2017, our Sunday morning adult Bible classes at Farmington began an 18-month journey through Scripture called The Story of the Bible. This biblical survey is based on videos from The Bible Project, and in addition to providing background information on each biblical book, it also discusses key themes of each book and offers points of application for our lives today.

This was a major undertaking for us, and is actually part of the reason that I didn’t get to write as much here at The Doc File as I wanted to over the last couple of years—it took hours and hours to write and edit lessons for this project.

We finished this series this past week at Farmington, and I am pleased to offer both the Old and New Testament books for free download on the Resources page. The Story of the Bible is all about digging into Scripture in order to better see how it is a unified story that points us to Jesus and the redemption of creation; I hope it is beneficial to you!

Jeroboam and the Lure of Political Power

The Story of Jeroboam

Jeroboam is one of the Bible’s incredibly tragic characters. He was a man who God granted an amazing opportunity, and he squandered it away. 

Jeroboam’s story begins with King Solomon, who himself was a tragic character: a man who was given wisdom, power, and great wealth by God, but who turned away from God and began to worship other gods (1 Kings 11.1-8). Because of this, God ultimately determines to divide the kingdom of Israel in the days of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. Rehoboam remains king over two tribes in the south (creating the Southern Kingdom of Judah), while Jeroboam is established as king over the remaining ten tribes (creating the Northern Kingdom of Israel).

The story is absolutely clear that God, in His grace, has offered a covenant agreement to Jeroboam: God will bless him, make him king over Israel, and give Him all that he desires if he will listen to God’s commands and walk in His ways like David did. And moreover, God promises to build Jeroboam a house or a dynasty like He did for David. 

Jeroboam’s rise to power was the work of God’s providential hand, and Jeroboam knew this. And yet, as soon as he sits down on the throne, Jeroboam’s thinking seems to shift from providential to pragmatic: the question Jeroboam asks himself is, “What do I need to do to stay in power?” 

Ironically, Jeroboam already had the answer—God had told him he simply needed to listen to God’s commands and walk in His ways as David did, but Jeroboam ignores that answer and pursues his own plans instead.

After some initial efforts to fortify some of his cities, Jeroboam makes his big mistake. He reasons that if the citizens of the Northern Kingdom return to the Jerusalem Temple (in the Southern Kingdom) to offer sacrifices as they are supposed to, it will draw their hearts back to Rehoboam king of Judah, and then they won’t want to follow Jeroboam anymore, and will overthrow him and return to Rehoboam and Judah. So Jeroboam gets what he thinks is a brilliant idea, and he makes two golden calves; he sets one up in Dan and another in Bethel, representing the northern and southern borders of the territory of the Northern Kingdom.

Scholars debate whether Jeroboam is trying to get the Israelites to worship another god by doing this, or, rather, if he is simply introducing an innovation in the way in which they worship Jehovah/Yahweh. I tend to think it is the latter, but calves are so closely related with Canaanite pagan religion that it is hard to be sure.

Either way, it doesn’t really matter. Even if Jeroboam was not setting up worship of a new god (and thus not violating the first commandment),  he was still guilty of creating an image to serve as a symbol of God (which violates the second commandment). So at the very least, he perverted the worship of the true God. Jeroboam’s disregard for the religious statues that God had set up did not stop there, as he also created alternate worship sites on high places at Dan and Bethel, put in place non-Levitical priests, and instituted his own feast day. These actions broke God’s commandments, and also revealed Jeroboam’s feelings that civil matters were more important than religious conviction.

Jeroboam has not been on the throne for long, but already he has dramatically departed from God’s instruction to walk in all His ways as David did. Instead, Jeroboam seems to have forgotten Who placed him on the throne in the first place, and rather than obey the real Power behind the throne, takes matters into his own hands to secure his position by his own power.

In 1 Kings 13, a prophet comes from God and condemns what Jeroboam has done, also predicting that judgment will come upon him because of it:

O altar, altar, thus says the LORD: “Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.” And he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign that the LORD has spoken: ‘Behold, the altar shall be torn down, and the ashes that are on it shall be poured out.’”

(1 Kings 13.2-3)

Not surprisingly, Jeroboam isn’t a big fan of this message and stretches out his hand: “Seize him!” But as soon as this happens, his hand “dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself” (1 Kings 13.4). Ironically, in this very act, Jeroboam actually gives credibility to the prophecy—clearly, there is some power behind it because Jeroboam’s hand shrivels up, and furthermore, the altar was torn down as the prophecy said. Jeroboam asks the prophet to entreat God for him that his hand might be restored, and the prophet does so, and Jeroboam is healed.

Jeroboam is probably grateful to the man of God for his healing, and invites him to dine with him, but the prophet refuses because God had commanded him to return directly after his mission was completed. It is possible that dining with the king would have made the prophet appear to approve of the religious apostasy that Jeroboam was promoting.

Here, the narrative takes leave of Jeroboam and follows the young prophet and his strange interaction with an old prophet from Bethel. Since our focus is on Jeroboam we won’t dwell on this, but it is a tragic story of the young prophet from Judah being deceived by the older prophet from Israel, disobeying God, and dying as a result. This may seem like strange information to include in an extended narrative on the reign of Jeroboam, but it reinforces the idea that God expects to be obeyed, and severe consequences fall upon those who refuse to do so.

Regardless of this cautionary tale, 1 Kings 13 ends by saying:

After this thing Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way, but made priests for the high places again from among all the people. Any who would, he ordained to be priests of the high places. And this thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth.

(1 Kings 13.33-34)

So this story also shows us that Jeroboam remains unrepentant—he is determined to continue his disobedience to God. 

The rest of Jeroboam’s reign isn’t very happy. His son grows sick, and when he enquires of a prophet of God to determine if his sone will recover, he learns that not only will his son die, but because Jeroboam had incited the wrath of heaven by leading the Northern Kingdom into idolatry instead of being faithful to the covenant God had offered him, judgment had been pronounced not just on Jeroboam, but on every male from his house—the line of Jeroboam will be wiped out.

We also know that he was a man of war, and that he warred constantly with Rehoboam, and also fought against Rehoboam’s son, Abijam/Abijah and was defeated by him (2 Chronicles 13) and never recovered the level of power he had previously had. 

And that is basically what we know about Jeroboam.

Sacrificing Principle for Political Gain

Jeroboam is one of the truly tragic characters of Scripture. His legacy is that he is the man who “made Israel to sin”—this lamentable epitaph is mentioned over 20 times in Scripture, and his sinfulness really summarizes the entire period of the Divided Kingdom. I think there are a lot of things we can learn from the sad story of Jeroboam, but I want to focus on just one that I believe is particularly relevant for a lot of people today.

Jeroboam’s blessing, security, and power rested in his obedience to God. Instead of trusting in God, however, he chose to do the pragmatic thing. He made religious changes for political reasons, thinking that this would ensure his longevity as king. Instead, it led to the downfall of his kingdom. Jeroboam’s power and position rested on his faithfulness, not his politics. 

If there is a lesson that I think American Christians need to hear in 2019—a time of rampant political division and rabid political devotion—it might be this one: political power is not the means by which Christians are called to change the world. 

As most of my readers know, I am a part of Churches of Christ, which find historical roots in the American Restoration Movement. Our heritage has an interesting and diverse relationship with politics. Some Restorationist voices were highly involved in politics: Alexander Campbell, one of the key early leaders in the movement, served as a member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829-30. James A. Garfield, 20th President of the United States, was a Restoration Movement preacher. 

Others had a much different view of politics. David Lipscomb, the longtime Gospel Advocate editor and a major leader in Churches of Christ in the decades following the Civil War, was avowedly apolitical. He was a pacifist who didn’t think Christians should serve in the military or even vote. J.N. Armstrong, the first President of Harding College, was strongly influenced by Lipscomb and had similar views.

I take this brief historical detour as a way of saying that I think that, in the spirit of Romans 14, the Christian’s relationship to politics is one of those areas where we are to do our best to follow the teachings and ethics of Jesus and be careful not to judge the scruples of others. 

Having said that, when it comes to politics, let us never sacrifice principle for political expediency.

In the crisis of the moment, it might seem like a good thing to do, but as Jeroboam learned, it never pays off. I think Jeroboam’s disobedience was largely motivated by fear—he was afraid of what would happen if he let the people go to Judah to worship, so out of his fear, he made a politically expedient decision. 

We live in an environment where political fervor always seems to be at a fever pitch. If we aren’t focused on a current or coming election, we are enamored with the latest political scandal or partisan feud.

In the last Presidential election, I heard a lot of fear from Christians (regardless of their political views) about what was going to happen. Speaking for myself (again, in the spirit of Romans 14, I am not placing judgment on those who disagree), I found myself unable to vote for either major party candidate. Both candidates had been in the public eye for a long time, and I knew plenty about the kind of people they were and the sort of character they had, and I didn’t feel like I could vote for either one. What really bothered me, though, was how often I was told or read from other Christians who supported one candidate or the other (because I got this from both sides of the aisle), that I basically needed to ignore my principles and vote for the “lesser of two evils” (whoever that may have been depending on the person I was talking to at the time), with the implication being that if I didn’t, our next President would likely bring about the end of the world.

You know, I don’t care who you vote for, but it does bother me:

  • When Christians encourage others to choose the lesser evil…because we aren’t supposed to choose evil in greater or lesser varieties!
  • When Christians encourage others to ignore their principles…because we aren’t supposed to ignore our principles!
  • When Christians suggest that the future hinges upon some human ruler…because God is the one who is in charge! When Pharaoh ruled the world, God freed His people from Egypt! When Nebuchadnezzar ruled the world, God saved three Hebrew teenagers from a fiery death! When Nero ruled the world, God orchestrated the greatest growth in the history of the church!

It is up to you to choose what your relationship with politics will be, and in my personal opinion, our political voice is an opportunity that we have to glorify God. However, let us never make the mistake of thinking that political power is the means by which Christians are called to change the world, or that it is acceptable for us to sacrifice our principles for the sake of political expediency.

The lure of political power is strong, and it can easily deceive us into thinking that the ends justify the means. But as Jeroboam learned, they do not. 

Small Church Strengths

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of doing a Youth In Family Ministry Seminar at the Nicholasville Church of Christ, in Nicholasville, Kentucky. The Nicholasville church is a small (Sunday attendance in the 90s) but vibrant community of believers, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them.

Also, my time with them prompted me to reflect on church size, and how congregations of different sizes have different strengths and challenges. We live in a society that tends to default to the “bigger is better” mentality, but I don’t think this is necessarily true. On the contrary, I think small churches have some real advantages.[1] I don’t pretend to be an expert on small churches by any means, but I wanted to share some of those thoughts with you:

  • Small churches naturally foster relationships. This is maybe the characteristic that people think of first, and I think it is true. It is much easier to get to know people and establish close relationships in smaller groups. This is why a lot of larger congregations begin some sort of small group ministry—they realize that they have lost a feeling of intimacy, and so they intentionally become smaller to make that intimacy possible again. One of the key components of the youth ministry philosophy I believe in is that it is vital that young people form genuine relationships with as many mature Christians from the congregation as possible. This happens with a great deal of care and planning in larger congregations; it happens naturally in smaller ones.[2]
  • Small churches can more easily focus on what they’re good at. I work with a wonderful congregation of about 230, and we have grown quite a bit over the last five years or so. We have a lot of talented people and a lot of big ideas. Sometimes, though, we can get distracted by trying to do too many things at the same time, rather than just focusing on a few things that we do really well.[3] Alternatively, in my experience, because smaller churches know they don’t have the resources and manpower to try everything, they can focus instead on doing fewer things better. I am aware of small congregations that have been remarkably effective at supporting missions, training preachers, reaching out to their surrounding communities, and more.
  • Small churches can be very generous. As churches grow in size, they tend to require additional staff and additional space, and both of these can be very expensive. When a sizeable portion of the church budget is tied up in salaries and building payments, it is hard to be as giving to others as you would like. Because smaller churches tend to have smaller, older facilities that are often paid off to go along with a small paid staff (supported by many volunteers), they frequently have a higher percentage of their communal funds to give away in support of missionaries and those who are in need.

I am sure there are other benefits as well, but these were some that quickly came to mind for me. What did I miss?

Small churches come with their share of challenges as well, so I don’t want to idealize them and make it seem like small churches are perfect or that larger congregations are somehow inferior. But in a cultural moment where it can be easy to overlook small things, I wanted to highlight some real strengths.


[1] How big is a “small church”? It depends on who you ask. For the purposes of this post, I am thinking of churches that are smaller than 100 people or so, but I am not thinking in terms of rigid categories.

[2] As I met with members from the Nicholasville church over the weekend, one of the endearing characteristics that I kept noticing was how everyone kept referring to different young people in the congregation by their first names, and everyone else knew who they were talking about. There was no need for clarification because the adults knew the kids and teens. This would not be the case in larger congregations.

[3] When it comes to this particular problem, I (to channel the apostle Paul) am the chief of sinners.

Book Review: A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

With today being Martin Luther King Jr. day, I thought it would be an appropriate time to post a review of one of the last (and best) books I read last year: A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard. The book is a product of the King Papers Project, which seeks to share information about King’s life and ideas.

Of course, King is an iconic figure in our society, but like many Americans, I have probably been guilty of assuming that I know him better than I do, when really, I have just heard the “I Have a Dream” speech several times, read lots of quotations from him, and learned about him in school. This book, which provides the transcripts of eleven of his most significant speeches, represents the beginning of an effort on my part to better understand the life and thinking of this profoundly important and complex character.

One of the things that I liked about reading King’s speeches firsthand is that it reminded me that he was, first and foremost, a preacher. His speeches possess the rhythm and cadence of well-crafted sermons, and are saturated with biblical allusions and the prophetic call for justice. King’s speeches feature not only beautiful eloquence but profound theological insight.

Here are some of my favorite quotations; I will include the page numbers from the book, as well as the speech from which the quotations came (and I omitted any quotes from I Have a Dream; I figured they would be familiar already):

“And certainly, certainly, this is the glory of America, with all of its faults. This is the glory of our democracy. If we were incarcerated behind the iron curtains of a Communistic nation we couldn’t do this. If we were dropped in the dungeon of a totalitarian regime we couldn’t do this. But the greatest glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right.” (9, Address to the First Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) Mass Meeting)

“The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation. The aftermath of violence are emptiness and bitterness. This is the thing I’m concerned about. Let us fight passionately and unrelentingly for the goals of justice and peace. But let’s be sure that our hands are clean in this struggle. Let us never fight with falsehood and violence and hate and malice, but always fight with love, so that, when the day comes that the walls of segregation have completely crumbled in Montgomery, that we will be able to live with people as their brothers and sisters. Oh, my friend, our aim must not be to defeat Mr. Engelhardt, not to defeat Mr. Sellers and Mr. Gayle and Mr. Parks. Our aim must be to defeat the evil that’s in them.” (32-33, The Birth of a New Nation)

“And this is the peace that we are seeking: not an old negative obnoxious peace which is merely the absence of tension, but a positive, lasting peace, which is the presence of brotherhood and justice. And it is never brought about without this temporary period of tension.” (35, The Birth of a New Nation)

“There is something in our Christian faith, at the center of it, which says to us that Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter.” (54, Give Us the Ballot)

“For nonviolence not only calls upon its adherents to avoid external physical violence, but it calls upon them to avoid internal violence of spirit. It calls on them to engage in that something called love. And I know it is difficult sometimes. When I say “love” at this point, I’m not talking about an affection emotion. It’s nonsense to urge people, oppressed people, to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense. I’m talking about something much deeper. I’m talking about a sort of understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men.” (67, Freedom Rally in Cobo Hall)

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” (107, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech)

“And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go on ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society of peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.” (130, Selma to Montgomery March).

“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic…it is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our times.” (186-87, Where Do We Go From Here?)

“And the other thing is, I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood. I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can‘t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens’ Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love.” (191-92, Where Do We Go From Here?)

I know I shared a lot of quotations here, but really, it is only a taste: this is a rich collection of great thoughts from one of our nation’s most influential leaders.

For my reviews in 2019, I want to begin the practice of ending each one by giving a recommendation as to whether or not I think the book in question is one that I think others should check out. In the case of A Call to Conscience, I found it to be an emotional and profound read, and my verdict is an easy one: read it.

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