When new individuals or families begin attending the church, it takes me several years to discuss membership with them. In most cases, though, I will have a meeting with them early on to discuss hot-button issues like Calvinism, eschatology, etc. Part of the reason is that I like being open and honest with them so they know what they’re going to get from the beginning. Of course, there’s a much more personal reason. My church is my family. I love people quickly and easily, and it hurts when they leave.
There have been many times over the years that folks have come, excited and enthusiastic about I.H.B.C. and the teaching here. Then a year passes. Suddenly, the Reformed Baptist theology offends. Or the commitment to the local Church. Or the amillennial and even partial-preterist eschatology. Or my glacial approach to change. Or the fact that I am just as welcoming and loving to people who believe differently than myself (and them) as I am to those who agree with me 100%. Or the fact that my commitment to Scripture means I’m not going to let you gossip or regularly skip worship. Or my less-than-stellar communication abilities. Or my tendency to occasionally make less-than-wise and impulsive decisions from a heart of compassion. Or whatever other awesome thing about me that should be endearing (in my lowly opinion) but eventually becomes grating and annoying and frustrating to you.
And after a year, the folks that I’ve welcomed into my heart are cool to me, bitter in spirit, suddenly mouthing against the doctrine preached from the pulpit like it’s something new, or are just gone without a word. It hurts. I take it personally (in a sad, not angry way).
Last night I was up with a sick little one and thinking about what I call (in my head) the “Michael Effect” – odds are that while you’re happy to have me as your pastor now, you’ll get over it. It was then that I noticed the acronym: “M.E.”
Well, that put things into perspective.
We are never, ever, ever, ever done in this life dying to ourselves. Just when we think we’re selfless and humble, we kick over a rock in our souls (stubbing our toe in the process) and find a big, hissing, ugly thing of pride. I have a Sunday School teacher who regularly jokes that he is proud of the fact that he is the most humble person in the congregation. Sad enough, that joke creeps into my self-identity too many times as my unconfessed confession. I have a long list of folks who’ve broken my heart because they’ve broken fellowship with me (the M.E.). I am a humble, lowly victim. Just like Jesus.
Wow, that’s ugly.
I was meditating on this passage in the Psalms yesterday: “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses. Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins” (Psalm 25:16-18). Oh, I will pray and pray and pray (like Jesus!) the first phrases over and over as I wallow in the M.E. But it’s the last phrase that I need the most. Whatever afflictions or rejections that come my way (be they real or imagined), that’s not my greatest problem. My hardships do not negate “all my sins.” The list of spiritual family members who are now removed from me does not atone for or balance out the list of my sins before God. I need the forgiveness and wrath-covering that is gracefully given (not earned by my sufferings) through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
It is His Church, purchased with His blood (Acts 20:28), and I am just another member who is a sinner justified by faith in Him alone. I am thankful that, in the middle of the night, He shows me the acronym (M.E.) of my prideful, injured humility and disciplines me in Fatherly love (Hebrews 12:1-17).
I am the chief of sinners, not the chief of innocent sufferers. That would be Jesus, Whose obedient life, sacrifice, resurrection, and heavenly intercession I need more than the continual affection of a fan base.
This is why the cross junction includes the word “daily” (Luke 9:23), beloved.