WHO’S ON THE HOOK?

Two Priority Reasons for Timely Transferring of Church Membership

Crane hook

Last Sunday Jan and I joined our new church home in Idaho.

After years of partnership and ownership of the mission, community, and family at Orlando Grace, we now have covenanted for the same with Trinity Reformed Baptist.

And it mattered greatly to us for the transfer from one treasured fellowship to another to be intentional, official, and public.

I say that for numerous reasons, but will cite only a single biblical one—perhaps the most important—for the purposes of this post. Consider Hebrews 13:17.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

The first reason Jan and I made a priority of a timely—not too fast but not too slow—transition in church membership was for our own souls’ sake.

The writer of Hebrews commands a recognition of and submission to the servant authority entrusted to a local church’s leadership so that earthly shepherds know just whom they are responsible for in keeping watch over their spiritual condition. More on that in a moment.

As for me and my house, I know my heart. As the hymn writer put it, I am “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”

I require spiritual care. I need loving accountability. I want someone fighting for my soul by praying, teaching, exhorting, and confronting me when necessary to guard against the ever-present threat of spiritual drift (Heb. 2:1).

Failure to so identify and grant informed consent to a specific and particular body of shepherds in a local church of some kind puts you and me as sheep at risk. Have none of it!

The second reason Jan and I made a priority of a timely transition was for our churches’ sake—both of them.

This is true for their congregations and leaders alike, but this post concerns the leaderships’ demands first and foremost. Back to Hebrews 13:17.

Elders of a local church “keep watch over souls.” As such, they will give an account to the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4) one day for how well they executed their charge.

Our transfer of membership now takes the elders of OGC off the hook for the Heffelfinger household’s spiritual care AND puts the elders of TRBC on the hook for that care.

Love demands that we serve both churches this way. Alfred Poirer notes:

The New Testament writers assume that Christians can identify their leaders to whom they have voluntarily submitted themselves. . . . And conversely, they expect the leaders of a church to be able to identify those members for whom they must give an account. . . . Yet God will not hold a pastor liable for failing to discharge his duties as shepherd over sheep that he cannot determine are his own.

Membership matters for both the sheep and the shepherd. Who’s on the hook for your soul?

Question: What other reasons can you cite for the importance of a timely transfer of church membership?

Surviving Sorrow

I Married Up

How’s Nancy?

How are you?

I get these two questions a lot these days. I’m grateful. Caring by others adds greatly to comfort in trial and the soul sorrow it can bring.

As for question one . . .

My wife amazes me. Her devotion to a natural cancer-beating protocol nearly defies description. She has embraced this season’s demanded vocation – getting well – with whatever-it-takes zeal. By way of update, she continues to recover nicely from surgery. Last week the surgeon gave her a good report. Just a couple more weeks to go and she will be back to lifting those boxes of supplements all by herself again. Good thing. My back hurts.

Another blood test revealed slightly elevated CA-125 markers. The doc said “No surprise. Common after surgery.” Now we have a baseline for measuring effectiveness of the treatment regimen. We expect her to check these about monthly from this point on. That way we will have some idea of whether we are gaining, losing, or holding ground in the war against, as I prefer to call it, “this stupid disease.” As always, we would ask for prayer for God’s healing power to rid her body of every renegade cell.

As for question two . . .

How much time do you have? I fight daily on a number of fronts. Among them, sadness. Though January, gratefully, came and went, the sting of Josh’s death lingers. I don’t expect it ever to go away, though the burden does lessen with time. But fear of greater loss can compound my weight of sorrow. I feel it every day.

And yet, every day, it seems the Lord brings something to help me fight better to outlast my sorrow. This morning was no exception, as my daily Bible reading brought me to Matthew 26:36-46 (ESV).

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful
and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this Gethsemanecup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

Not just “sorrowful” but “troubled.” “Even to death.” The cross loomed on the horizon. The tempter lurked in a different garden hunting the Last Adam as he did the first (Genesis 3:1-7). More than ample reason for extreme distress.

How then does Jesus fight? What cues can we take from Him for surviving sorrow, whatever form it takes in our gardens of suffering? Four things: surrounding, seeking, serving, submitting.

One, surrounding ourselves with support. Jesus did not head for that garden alone. He took the disciples with him. The closest of the close he staged a stone’s throw away. He needed them. “Watch WITH me,” was His plea.

Two, seeking God’s help. Falling on His face He prayed. Let those words sink in. Some things only God can fix. Some hurts only the Lord can manage. Some pains only the Father can ease. Some challenges only I AM can handle. The two most important words out of our mouths when struggling to survive sorrow are “My Father,” because they mean we’ve turned heavenward, the only hope of avoiding collapse. And we must persist in this pattern. Three times Jesus went before the Father to voice His prayer. As long as the sorrow hangs around, take it to the Lord in prayer.

Three, serving others in love. The disciples favored a strategy often turned to in sorrow. Sleep. Jesus does not berate them. Even though subject to the temptation of temptations Himself, His best friends no comforters at all, He does not lash out. Rather He teaches and warns. Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. First the example, next the instruction. You’ve got to watch and pray to survive your sorrows. I’m grateful for the stewardship of pastoral ministry. The call to serve others helps pull me out of sorrow’s tractor beam grip that so often leads to self-pity and despair.

Fourth, submitting to God’s will. If the two most important words out of the gate in sorrow are “My Father,” then the four most strategic words at the finish line are “Your will be done.” Who prays this way? Only those who believe Psalm 115:3. Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. The Son of God treasured the Father’s sovereignty in all things. He submitted Himself perfectly to His will. He delighted to do that will, even to the point of death, death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8).

So when I don’t fare so well on any given day in my fight to survive my sorrow, or perhaps my comforters fall asleep on me, I try to remember the One who fought His sorrows and won for me what I cannot do for myself. I commend the same strategy to you as you go through your valley of the shadow whenever and wherever it may come.

The Grace of Clothing with Humility

Today’s message from 1 Peter 4:19-5:7 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

John Calvin said this of the proverbial expression, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble:

We are to imagine that; God has two hands; the one, which like a hammer beats down and breaks in pieces those who raise up themselves; and the other, which raises up the humble who willingly let down themselves, and is like a firm prop to sustain them. Were we really convinced of this, and had it deeply fixed in our minds, who of us would dare by pride to urge war with God? But the hope of impunity now makes us fearlessly to raise up our horn to heaven. Let, then, this declaration of Peter be as a celestial thunderbolt to make men humble.

May God strike us with humility’s celestial thunderbolt! Then we will have sheep who submit to their shepherds. Then we will have people given wholeheartedly to lowly-mindedness toward one another.

What could be lovelier before our eyes and more glorifying to our God than a report like: Oh yes, I know OGC, a more lowly-minded, humble community you will rarely find!?

Strength from the God of Keen Senses

Today’s message from Genesis 16 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

Charles Spurgeon made this comment about the grace of God that pursued Hagar through the angel of the Lord:

I think I see her there, her eyes red with weeping, her spirit broken down with the hunger of her journey, sitting a while and refreshed a moment, and resolved not to stoop and never to go back—and then, again, shuddering at the darkness that lay before her and afraid to go on. It was in such a state as that that God met with her! To all intents and purposes she was a friendless, outcast woman. She had left the only tents where she could claim a shelter. She had gone into the wilderness—no father, no mother, no brother, no sister to care for her. She turned her back upon those who had any interest in her and now she was left alone—alone, alone in a desert land without an eye to pity or a hand to help! It was then, under those peculiar circumstances of trial and of sin commingled, that God met with her.

When you least expect it, when you least deserve it, the God of keen senses will find you and give you strength.

The Quiet of the Heart

Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1647), commenting on Phil. 4:11 – I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content – wrote this about contentment:

Contentment in every condition is a great art, a spiritual mystery. It is to be learned and to be learned as a mystery. And so in verse 12, [Paul] affirms, “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound:every where and in all things I am instructed.” The word that is translated instructed is derived from the word that signifies “mystery.” It is just as if he had said, “I have learned the mystery of this business.” Contentment is to be learned as a great mystery, and those who are thoroughly trained in this art, which is like Samson’s riddle to a natural man, have learned a deep mystery…Ioffer the following description: Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition. I shall break open this description, for it is a box of precious ointment and very comforting and useful for troubled hearts in troubled times and conditions.

To read the rest of the article and savor the aroma of that box of the precious ointment of contentment click here.

How To Tell the True Shepherd from the False (6)

The last in the series of messages from the Good Shepherd discourse in John 10:11-18 is now on the web.

You can listen to the message here.

I summarized the sermon this way:

How then should we respond to such sovereign goodness that lays down its life for the sheep in a loving, substitutionary, particular, global, voluntary, and designed sacrifice? Don’t take your cue from Captain Miller in that scene on the bridge where, mortally wounded, he grabs hold of Private Ryan and gasps his final words. Do you remember what he said? Earn this. In other words, show yourself worthy of this by making something good out of the rest of your life. Don’t let these soldiers have died in vain. Indeed the movie ends with the aged Ryan along with his family visiting the Miller’s grave in the allied cemetery and France. It’s a gripping scene. The man is torn up with angst over whether or not he has indeed earned it. He pleads with his wife, Tell me I’m a good man.

Jesus never once said from the cross, Earn this. He did say, Father, forgive them. So what are we to do with so herculean a sacrifice by so very good a shepherd. Receive it for the priceless gift it is. You CAN’T earn it. You must believe it and trust in it as your only hope for deliverance from sin and death. Believe in Jesus as the Messiah, if you have yet to do so. Receive the gift of abundant life that only Jesus the good shepherd can give because of His death on the cross for you and His resurrection from the dead.

Seven Benefits of Church Membership from the Book of Hebrews

Recently I finished another edition of Discover OGC, our newcomer orientation series. Over the next few weeks our officers are interviewing various candidates for membership at our local church.

Perhaps you have yet to make this decision. I commend these brief thoughts from Hebrews to your consideration as ample argument for moving ahead with membership. If you have made such a  decision and are a covenant member at OGC or some other local church, I commend these thoughts to you as well as an encouragment that such a choice is in your best interest.

1. It will help protect you from the peril of spiritual drift (Heb. 2:1,3). The writer pleads for greater attention to spiritual realities “lest we drift away” and warns “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” Connection to a church body can be one strategy to counter the tendency to drift.

2. It can protect against the danger of an evil heart of unbelief (3:12-13). “Exhort one another daily . . . lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin,” the text says. Membership puts you more readily in touch with people who will do that for you. And, of course, it assumes that you will do the same for them.

3. It will add to the extent of your eternal reward (6:10). “God is not unjust to forget what you do toward His name, in ministering to other saints.” Where will you more readily find other saints to which to minister than in your church where you are a member?

4. It puts you in a place where mutual provocation can take place (10:24-25). Love and good deeds continually require external stimuli, the kind which comes from not forsaking assembling together but exhorting one another more and more.

5. It enables the pursuit of sanctification (12:14). We are to pursue peace with all and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. No one grows in a vacuum. We need each other to achieve Christ-likeness. Mark Dever calls church membership “an assurance of salvation cooperative.” We need each other in covenant community to help promote the assurance that we are indeed saved based upon some degree of evident sanctification in our lives manifested within the church and among its membership.

6. It more readily exposes you to examples worth imitating (13:7). Hebrews assumes the necessity of leaders whose lifestyles set a pace worth emulating.

7. It offers you the benefit and profit of glad spiritual oversight (13:17). How are you to ensure adequate shepherding of your life if you do not readily “arrange yourself under” (the literal meaning of the Greek for submit) spiritual leaders and gladly receive their spiritual ministrations on your behalf? Notice how often the writer emphasizes the assumption that you have spiritual leaders who rule over you – vv. 7, 13, and 24.

Don’t give in to modern evangelicalism’s pervasive plague of individualism. Covenant to become a member of your local church. The stakes are too high to neglect this gracious provision of God on our behalf.