Discipleship, Grace

Being Direct

As the earth seems to crumble, and the structures we have built up to carry us through seem to teeter under the weight of a global pandemic, environmental disaster, and political upheaval, each of us is being stretched and made to bend in difficult ways.

I have spent a lot of breath on calling my friends, family, and church to be sure not to waste the pandemic but come through it in such a way that it is clear they have been with Jesus. That’s what we all want isn’t it? At least those of us who call Jesus savior! But more than mere exhortation away from waste of time and energy on things temporary, I also believe we each need spurs, those that can speak directly to us and tell us the truth when we are blinded by bias and a cherishing of self over all things.

To that end, this morning I had a direct conversation with a member of our church. Now, I don’t think I am known for sugar-coating things, and have always attempted to be forthcoming and direct. Today was no exception, although I am not sure he appreciated by directness.

As a pastor that will stand before Jesus and give an account of how I cared for his flock, I take the task seriously and I couldn’t avoid the conversation any longer. As I have watched this guy interact (or refuse to) over the last six months I have had an increasing unease about where he has been placing his hope and the things he was valuing.

So I told him. I let him know that I was concerned that he had been missing, intentionally, the biblical call to “love one another” in the church and the way he was putting his preference before the value of the body of believers was sinful. He has essentially been speaking with his actions that the church is not worth sacrificing for and participation was only worthwhile when his pet-opinions were highlighted over everyone else’s.

But there was more. I also told him that I was convinced he had zero positive influence with his neighbors because of the way he condescends to those holding differing political views. I told him I thought the candidate he supports is actually an anti-Christ and I gave Scripture to show it. That didn’t land as well as it should have but it is true.

What’s more, I told him that it was clear his wife and kids were merely floating along in the cultural river of fear, gossip, conspiracy, and intrigue because he refused to show them Jesus in meaningful ways. No husband or father likes to hear that he is failing to lead spiritually but sometimes we have to face the truth.

By this point in the conversation I am pretty sure he was more prepared to fight than break down in tears admitting his fault in repentance. Shoot, I was ready to fight. This guy has been pissing me off and I am pretty sure he has even been badmouthing me to others.

Rather than press further into his faults, I looked him the eyes as best I could and told him that he was exactly who Jesus decided to spend his life for. That even in all of these failed opportunities, in his political idolatry, in his obsession with gun rights and mask-wearing, Jesus took on the cross for him. All of those things could never cloud his Savior’s love for him and universe bending desire for his heart.

As best I could, I relayed to this guy that Jesus’ approval of him was not determined or diminished because he had focused on other things. That Christ’s work truly was finished and from that work now he could live with hope, joy, and purpose far better than all those temporary things. I told him that he was forgiven and made the righteousness of God by the God-man willingly becoming sin for him.

That seemed to be what he needed to hear. And at that moment we took a deep breath and prayed that Jesus would forgive us of the way we have let distractions get in the way this year (he is quick to forgive!), asking for strength to choose what is right and pure and glorifying to Christ, that he would be transformed all the more by the grace of Jesus for him.

I raised a hearty “amen” and mentioned how it was God’s loving kindness that brings us to repentance, and because that’s true we could be honest about our sin and selfishness. Jesus loves us still.

Then I got up from my chair and started on the list of tasks set for the day. You see, the member of our church was me. I needed some direct talk and a thick application of the gospel of grace. I won’t always get things right, but Jesus will keep me.

And friend, he will keep you too. You are probably getting a lot of things wrong right now and wasting energy on things that don’t matter. Know that Jesus loves you still. He frees you by his grace to cling to what is good. And he will carry you all the way home. Turn to him. Smile and get on with the day.

And if all else fails, just give me a call and I will be as direct with you as I can!

Book Review

How the world knows

To this day I can remember the interview with the deacon at the Assemblies of God church I grew up in. My family, of which I am gladly the youngest child, had just completed the multi-week membership class and we were taking the plunge to become members of the church. Its just what your do as a Christian, right?

Thankfully, for the reputation of the church, I was only made a “junior member” and had to wait until I was 18 to obtain full membership. In the ensuing years, I actually became a gospel believing and professing Christian and have been a “member” at a few churches. I have to put that in quotes because each church had its own understanding of membership (from none, to name only to actual, accountable membership). And now as a pastor of a church in transition, membership is an important part of the life of our church going forward.

I will one day tell stories of the guy that left the church because he couldn’t be considered for eldership because he refused to be a member, or the time that only “leaders” could be members and that was just for insurance reasons… But the purpose of this post is to recommend the little book Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman. This short book is a perfect primer for church membership for churches thinking through the process of having members, those thinking membership isn’t biblical and everyone in-between.

Leeman knows church membership. He has written more extensive material like his book The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love (I still have the copy Michael Lawrence gave me when I was part of a church plant that was toying with membership). This new volume is part of the vastly beneficial 9Marks Building Healthy Churches series and it brings church membership to the digestible and biblical level.

Leeman’s writing is casual in this books and many of the stories are from his experience in church life. The book is accessible and worth a read. Here are some choice quotes:

“We’ll start with what the local church is not. If you are a Christian, the local church is not a club. It is not a voluntary organization where membership is optional for you. It is not a friendly group of people who share an interest in religious things and so gather weekly to talk about the divine.”

“A local church is a group of Christians who regularly gather in Christ’s name to officially affirm and oversee one another’s membership in Jesus Christ and his kingdom through gospel preaching and gospel ordinances.”

“It’s true that a Christian must choose to join a church, but that does not make it a voluntary organization. We are, in fact, obligated to choose a local church just as we are obligated to choose Christ. Having chosen Christ, a Christian has no choice but to choose a church to join.”

“How should we respond to the person who claims to belong to the body of Christ universally but never actually joins a body of Christ on earth? We should say the is self-deceived and should repent.”

“Churches must not look for the people who are never jerks, but for the people who admit that they are jerks and are willing to fight it.”

“It’s not as if there is some area of our life that is exempt from considering the interests of others better than our own. Specifically, we should give ourselves to our churches publicly, physically, socially, affectionately, financially, vocationally, ethically, and spiritually.”

Leeman also gives you helpful insights into church discipline and if membership should look the same at each church. One area I would like to hear more on is member longevity and committing to a church, through membership, for a long time.

Grab the book. It’s helpful.