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Have you ever been a member of a church somewhere? If so, what was it like? Did it have any major impact on your life? How you lived? This week, Blake Holmes teaches us about the church and church membership. He teaches us how the church is a people, how it is a family, body, flock of sheep, and an embassy, and how church membership matters.
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Have you ever been a member of a church somewhere? If so, what was it like? Did it have any major impact on your life? How you lived? This week, Blake Holmes teaches us about the church and church membership. He teaches us how the church is a people, how it is a family, body, flock of sheep, and an embassy, and how church membership matters.
Good morning! A recent cover of Newsweek had a feature article. The title on the front of it just simply said, "Forget the Church, Follow Jesus." This is what it looked like. Follow Jesus but forget the church. Sadly, this is the sentiment of many people. It's popular today to talk about how people like Jesus but they want nothing to do with his church.
I hear this often with people I engage with in my community, with friends, neighbors, the waiters and waitresses I engage with when I invite them to come to church. "I'm into the Jesus thing. He's okay. I like Jesus. I just don't want anything to do with church." It's popular to say, "I'm spiritual but not really religious."
Tragically, that's not only true of how many people feel out there. According to LifeWay Publishing in a recent survey they did, it is true of how many people feel in here. Surveying those who identify as Christians, LifeWay found most people do not believe they need the church in order to grow spiritually.
Of the people they surveyed, 48 percent agreed with this statement: "I intentionally spend time with other believers in order to help them grow in their faith." Only 48 percent said they agree with that, and 65 percent of the people they surveyed agreed with this statement: "I can walk with God without the help of other believers." Basically, 65 percent are saying, "I've got this figured out! I can do it alone. I don't need God's church. I don't need the help of other people. It's just me and Jesus."
The problem is we are not the best judge of what is good for us. Scriptures even say that in Proverbs, chapter 16. " There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death." We all know this to be true. We're not the best judge of what is good for us. You don't believe me? Just ask your kids if they want donuts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day this week, and, of course, they'll sign up for that! The problem is it's just not good for them, and we don't outgrow that.
The Bible teaches us that our hearts are deceitful. It's deceptive. We're not the best judge. We need others. We need the church. The church is a means of God's grace. Sadly, we live in an individualistic, consumer-minded culture. That's just the truth. We are quick to better deal other people because we experienced what my kids taught me as FOMO (the fear of missing out, for those of you who don't know what that means).
We view ourselves as owners rather than stewards of the money entrusted to us ("That's my money!") and not what the Bible says is a gift of God that we are to steward. "It's mine!" We are able to custom order anything we want. Just consider what it takes to get through the line at Starbucks every morning.
You stand behind that joker who orders something with 20 different peculiar items in his coffee. I'm like, "Come on, man! Just order it black!" They should have a line for all of the special snowflakes and a line for all of the people who just want jet fuel. Thank you! Now, you know my pain.
We have been told the customer is always right, and we believe it. We see ourselves as the customers. Life is a grand department store, and we are right. Tragically, gang, this mindset impacts the way in which we view the church, and we have a problem. In this room, the church, we have a problem.
We judge a church based on several factors. Let's just be honest. The entertainment value it is teaching, the quality of its worship music, and the usefulness of its weekly programs. Just consider how your typical conversation goes at brunch following church. I've been at the table before.
"He was a little long today. Too many stories. Not enough stories. Not enough Bible. Too much Bible. Hard to follow. Too simple. Needs more meat. Too hot in there. Too cold in there. The music is too loud. I can't hear other people sing. I parked too far away. The coffee is too hot. Too small a cup. They made me sit where I didn't want to sit. I had to move in."
I get it! That's true. Tell me I'm not telling the truth! Come on! We think of joining the church like we think of joining a club. We evaluate the perks, the conveniences, the privileges, and the programs. We are the consumers, and we certainly bristle at any notion of submitting to the church's leadership or being accountable to one another. That just seems crazy!
"Who are you to tell me how I should live my life? You can't judge me!" Or as my kids used to say, "You're not the boss of me! You're not the boss of me!" We are a proud, self-sufficient people, we revel in our self-autonomy, and we resent the admonishment of others. That's just true, and I think you know it.
I'm here to raise my hand and tell you that's a problem. I'm going to show you today and talk to you about what the church is, and I want to start by telling you the church is a people. I'm going to argue… Mark this. If you miss anything, just don't miss this main point. I want it etched in your mind.
You will never experience all that God intends for you apart from his church. That's going to be what I'm going to argue throughout this message, and I'm going to make a case for that biblically. You will never experience all that the Lord intends for you apart from his church. It's very countercultural. According to this survey, 50 percent of you don't believe me, and I hope to change your mind, because then I'm going to call you to commit to a local church where membership matters.
I want to start with this. The church is a people. We have to get out of our minds that the church is a building, a program, a service, an address, a denomination, or a club. That's not what the church is biblically. The word church literally means those who are called out ones. We are a people who have been called out of bondage by God's transforming grace. That's who we are. If you want to know who the church is, just turn to 1 Peter, chapter 2. Read verses 9 through 11.
" But you[church]are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as [sojourners and as exiles] …"
The implication means this is not your home. As those who have been redeemed and chosen by God and called out by God, you are an exile in this world. You're an alien. You're a stranger. There should be something different about you in the way you live and relate to one another. He says, "…abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul."
Now, I want to take so much time, for this message could be a whole series. I want to make a point really quickly. When the Bible speaks of the church or when theologians speak of the church, it is true that there are two ways we talk about the church. We talk about the universal church, and the universal church includes all of those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their one and only Savior.
Across every tribe and every tongue and every continent from the time of Pentecost, God's people (God's church) have been called out and known by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. The universal church includes all of the redeemed, but there is also a local church, and I'd love to get into the history of this and where this comes from. This is not unique to me, but it was certainly solidified during the time of the Reformation. If you want to know the marks of a healthy local church, it includes at least four things.
The first one is the faithful proclamation and submission to the Word of God. Do you want to know where God's people are and where God's church is? You will find the faithful preaching and submission to the Word of God. If you don't hear that and if you don't see that, it may be a club, or it may be a cult, but it's just not God's people.
The second characteristic of a healthy church is the practice of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Baptism and the Lord's Supper aren't just empty exercises we go through. Those who are baptized… That is a symbolic entrance into the family of God. It marks our journey into the family of God where we are identifying with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, publicly proclaiming. It's our first step of obedience. If you're a believer and you have not been baptized, that's a step you need to take. It's a step you're commanded to take.
The Lord's Supper is where we gather as the family of God and remind ourselves of God's provision and where we look back at what Christ has done for us. We examine our hearts and anticipate his return. Where you see a healthy church you'll see the practice of baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Where you see a healthy church you'll see the establishment of godly leaders with elders over the church. It's why Paul said, "First, appoint elders." You'll see a healthy leadership structure of men who lead the church according to biblical qualifications, and you will see the care and correction of its members.
Those are the four marks of a healthy church that the reformers and others continued to hammer home. If you want to know where the church is, you will see these four things. Apart from those things, you'd better question whether or not you have a healthy church. The church, gang, is God's plan A to change the world. It's not plan B. It truly is the hope of the world.
To use the language of the Sermon on the Mount that we've been studying, we are to be salt and light in a world that is dark and devoid of any meaning or taste apart from Christ. There is no substitute for the local church. You can go to your neighborhood Bible studies. You can go to your favorite parachurch ministry. You can watch church online. You can listen to a podcast.
I get it. I benefit from all of those all of the time. They're great supplements to your faith, but they are no substitute to living life within the local church, submitting to, being accountable to, contributing in, and supporting within the local church. Those are great supplements, but they're no substitute. They're like Cliff bars. Have you ever had a Cliff bar? Those are awesome when you're hungry and you need something quick. You don't want to eat a Cliff bar every day at every meal. Trust me.
Here's what I want you to hear me say. It's that you will never experience all the Lord intends from you apart from his church. I'm going to give you four biblical metaphors you'll find within Scripture to describe the church. Again, I'm trying to change your way of thinking. If LifeWay were to ask you, "What do you think?" you would understand what Scripture would call you to. When you see Newsweek, you go, "That may sell a magazine; I just don't buy that, because it's so unbiblical."
1._ Church is a family_. The first metaphor God uses to describe his people is that the church is a family. In 1 Timothy 3, among many places, verses 14 and 15, he says, " I hope to come to you soon…" **This is Paul writing to Timothy."I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God…"**
That's just another word for the family of God, which is the church. The household of God or the family of God is the church. "…which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth." I love that language of a pillar and buttress of the truth. You go to the church or the family of God to learn what is true.
By implication and what Scripture teaches is that the Lord is our Father, and we enter into this family, gang, not by birth, not by what we give, not by playing church and just showing up on Sundays. That's not how we enter into the church by entering into a building. Entrance into the family of God is marked by repentance, recognizing we have all sinned and fallen short of his standard of perfection. We bring nothing to the cross except sin and resistance, but we recognize…
Romans 5:8 says, " But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." **He doesn't tell us to clean up our lives and have behavior modification, walk straight, and be moral people. He says,"Blessed are the poor in spirit…"** He begins the Sermon on the Mount with those who recognize they are bankrupt before God. We don't bring him our résumé, but we come and recognize we're a sinful people. We have rebelled against his will. We need his transforming grace.
The Bible assures us, if we confess our sins and believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ is Lord, then we're going to be saved. We acknowledge the fact that we can't earn it, but we receive the grace of God. Grace is simply God's unmerited favor, and when you receive that because you believe Jesus is who he is and he paid the penalty on the cross for you, he died, was buried, and was resurrected, and now you can be rightly restored to a relationship with God through means of God's grace through his Son, Jesus Christ, then you enter into the family of God.
It is made up of white, black, brown, rich, poor, tall, short, educated, and uneducated. That's God's church. Jesus redefines family not based on biology but based on those who have trusted in Jesus Christ. The church is a family, and there is always a seat at the table for those who have placed their faith in Christ. There is always a seat at the table, and the Lord's Supper reminds us of this.
I want you to meet a friend of mine. This is Mickey Frederick. Mickey is a good friend. To hear him tell his story… If you were to ask him, "What is the church?" the first thing he's going to tell you is the church is a family, because Mickey grew up with four dads. When he was 6 years old, his biological father left him. His mama loved him, but he never got over the wound his father created in his life by picking up and walking out of his home.
Not long after that, his mom remarried, and that man became like a real father to Mickey, but tragically, when he was in high school, his stepfather literally died in his arms suddenly, and he buried who he called Dad. Since that time, he has had two more step-dads. I was just talking to Mickey this week about the church and what the church means to him. "What do you think church is?"
He said, "Blake, let me just tell you something. In this church in the family of God, I have been re-parented. I have had men who have mentored me and have shown me what it means to be a godly husband, a godly father, and how to lead my company. Men have changed my life by coming alongside me and showing me all that God intends for me."
He's grateful to be a part of the family of God, not just attending on a Sunday. You see, when you talk to Mickey, church is so much more than just a club for bored adults. It's the place where he has experienced the hands and feet of Christ by those who have ministered to him and cared for his family and loved him. Church is a family.
Mickey is now leading within our church. On the Dallas campus, I should just tell you quickly that he's now what we're calling our first campus shepherd. If you were at the elders' night several weeks ago, you know what I mean by that. If you don't know what I mean by that, I would encourage you to check it out. Go back and listen to what we mean.
He is playing a significant leadership role on this particular campus, just like there are campus shepherds in Fort Worth and Plano and Frisco. It's the first time for us in Dallas where we felt like this really makes sense. He's serving alongside our elders and alongside our Dallas leadership team and increasing our span of care.
Do you know everyone in our church is in community and has a Community Group leader who is connected to a Community Group director who is connected to someone within leadership so we can care for every individual within our church? Every individual. Mickey is playing a role like that. He went from a place of isolation and rebellion to an integral part of this family. I wonder how many of you are experiencing that. The church is not just a family, but…
2._ The church is a body_. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, "For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body.
If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body."
Do you hear the metaphor? Jesus is the head, and we all play a significant role, meaning we all have our own part to play in the body. Just like my hand plays a part and my nose plays a part and my ears play a part, that's the argument Paul is making, and he says, "When God's people come together, when they believe in Jesus Christ, they become part of the body, and every part is useful."
I don't know about you, but I don't want to lose my left hand. I don't want to lose my nose. My hand is different from my nose. God has given every one of you a unique gift to function within the body and to further the kingdom of Christ and to further the gospel. That's the role you play. The church is not just a service. The church is not a building or an address. The church is a people. The church is a family. The church is a body.
I want you to meet Jeff and Kirsten Selby. I had so much fun talking on the phone with them this week. Their names were given to me. I was just asking people on our staff, "I'm talking about the church, and I want you to introduce me to people. I don't want to just get up here and talk about the friends I know."
Several people went, "You need to know the Selbys." I called them and talked to them. Jeff and Kirsten have been serving in this church and loving kids. They took a group of kids (Jeff with the guys and Kirsten with the girls) when they were in Crossroads 45. Those same kids now nine years later are seniors in high school, and because of Jeff and Kirsten's faithfulness, not just showing up and handing out Goldfish and making sure kids play safe with each other, they have invested their lives in the next generation of leaders. Nine years! Nine years!
Jeff said, "Blake, here's the crazy thing. The more we've served we have gotten more out of this than the kids within our groups ever have. The church has become smaller. I'm now more confident in how God has wired me and gifted me. I'm watching God transform people's lives. It's the greatest privilege." They now have three kids of their own over those nine years. Here's what's crazy. This is not just showing up every other month. This is weekly. This is retreats.
She said, "What's even crazier fitting along with the body analogy is that I think (I'm being conservative) we personally have paid for our babysitters for our own kids no more than 15 times over those nine years, and the reason is because the people in our Community Group and the people who go to Watermark say, 'I'm not able because of time and margin and all of those things to do what you're doing, but I can certainly help take care of your kids.'"
That is the body of Christ! They're not just showing up playing church. They're serving as the hands and feet of Christ. I'm wondering how many people in here are experiencing church like this or know the joy of serving and getting a front-row seat of God's transforming work.
3._ The church is a flock made up of sheep_. First Peter 5, says, " So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you…" He's saying to the elders, "You are a shepherd." Guess what that makes us. Sheep!
I don't know if you know much about sheep, but sheep are prone to wander. Sheep need constant care and attention. Sheep need correction. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd. That's how he's described later on in this passage. It's clear, he goes on to say, that we are called to humble ourselves and be open to the correction and the accountability and the admonishment of the church because we are prone to wander.
I want you to meet Russ Robertson. I loved getting to know Russ better this week. I was talking to him. Years ago, Russ was a leader in our church leading in re:generation. Then, Russ began really to start taking some steps to live in a way which was inconsistent with what he was professing. He started dating in a way that was not what Scripture had called him to.
He had friends, thankfully, who loved him enough to tell him the truth. "Russ, I love you. I'm not mad at you, but what you're doing and the choices you're making are inconsistent with what you profess in your baptism. That's inconsistent with what God's Word says. It's inconsistent with what a follower of Christ says they believe." Russ resented it. He resented their admonition. He went, "I don't need your help. I don't want to be judged by you." He spent some time in a season of rebellion and running and left the church. He just stiffened his neck and left.
His words to me were, "Blake, here's the deal. I tried to go to other churches. I tried to numb the pain, but I was starving for authentic, accountable, real relationships like I experienced at Watermark. I was playing church. I was going to the weekly club, but I was not part of the church, so I came home. I called those same guys who loved me enough to tell me the truth, and I said, 'Hey! I want to come home.' Every one of those guys put their arms around me and said, 'Come on, man! We love you!'"
He thanked them for having the courage to tell him the truth. Russ is now leading his fifth re:generation group. He's a leader within this church serving as a Community Group Shepherd and serving in a variety of ways. This is so countercultural to our way of thinking. Caring, correcting, admonishment, accountability, church discipline…
We just bristle at that whole concept. It's so foreign to us, but you need to know that church discipline is a completely biblical idea. If you don't believe me, look at Matthew 18. There are so many passages. It's always motivated by love. You have to understand that. It's not punitive. It's always motivated by love.
It shows love for the individual that he or she might be warned and brought back to repentance. "Russ, this is not going to go well for you," and sure enough, it didn't, and he has the scars and the pain to tell you about it. It shows love for the church that weaker sheep might be protected. It shows love for the watching world that it might see Christ's transforming power, and it shows love for Christ that churches might uphold his holy name and obey him.
Gang, the sad fact of the matter is too few churches practice care and correction, and because of that, your neighbor and those you're speaking to and inviting to church, their first response is, "The church is full of hypocrites and full of hypocrisy. Why would I want to go there? I see people practicing one thing and saying another all of the time," and they're right, because no one lovingly comes alongside us to say, "That's not consistent with what Scripture says, and I'm going to love you enough to tell you the truth."
" Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy," Proverbs teaches. Gang, let me be clear. To remove all mystery, I have been under church discipline several times a week. "Blake, that wasn't your best moment. Blake, you always have to have the last word. Blake, your temper was right there. Blake, I'm going to love you enough to tell you that just looked prideful."
I pray that I always clothe myself in humility enough to go, "Thank you," but I've been in the room where it has taken a few people to gang tackle me, because in my stubborn rebellion, I think, "Well, it's a personality problem," or "You don't like me." People have lovingly helped me see the log in my eye. Are you experiencing that when you think of church? Does anybody in your life love you enough to tell you the truth? Anyone? Are you experiencing church as family, body, or flock? Too few of us are.
4._ The church is an embassy_. I love this metaphor. This is my favorite one. The church is an embassy. " Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation."
That's what we have: ambassadors for Christ. Look at what it says in verse 20. " Therefore, we are ambassadors…" We live in an embassy. We are on mission. We represent the King of Kings, and we have his message, and we serve at his pleasure. We are ambassadors for Christ equipped for every good work, and God is making his appeal through us in this broken, fallen, dark world.
He says, "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." Do you see the image there? You are an ambassador. Jesus is the King of Kings. You've been given a message. You are to live differently. You are to live as an alien and as a stranger. People should look at you and say, "What is different about you? The way you date, the way you spend money, the way you relate to people, the way you serve, what you value, and what you find entertaining is crazy," to which we go, "Yeah! Let me tell you what God has done in my heart."
If that's not happening and if people aren't looking at you going, "Bro, you represent something different," I just have to ask you, "Are you part of God's church?" I'm just reading Scripture. Are you an ambassador for Christ? I want you to meet Brian Kelly. I had so much fun talking to Brian on the phone this week. Guys, I had more stories and more people I wanted to talk to than I could get to. It's happening all of the time.
Brian Kelly told me his story. Brian was convicted of murder and spent 22 years in prison. While in prison, he trusted in Jesus Christ and someone told him about Watermark. In God's provision, he was in a halfway house not far from here. He dressed up one Sunday morning in July many years ago in a coat and tie, and he started walking here.
There was a couple who saw him walking who pulled up who happened to be members of Watermark. They pull up and go, "Do you need a ride? Are you going to church?" He goes, "Yeah! Actually I am." They go, "What church are you going to?" He goes, "Well, I'm going to this place called Watermark." They go, "That's where we go. Get in the car. We'll take you."
He jumps in the car. Of course, they probably didn't notice at first when they pulled up to talk to him, but Brian had an ankle bracelet on. Talking to Brian, which is hilarious, he said to me, "Blake, when they pulled up and started talking to me, they were strangers, and I was kind of nervous getting in the car with them." I go, "Hold on. You're a convicted murderer, Brian. You killed someone."
"Yeah, I know. It seems strange, doesn't it? But I was nervous." We just laughed. This guy's life has been transformed. He came to Watermark, and I kid you not, on that particular Sunday Todd was preaching and talking about the grace of God, what the church is, and how there is always a place for those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ.
He said, "I don't care if you have murdered someone, you cannot out-sin the love of God," and Brian goes, "This is the place for me." He has since gotten plugged in, and he is the tip of the spear in leading our effort to minister to men and women in prison. There are over 1,000 people in his program of inmates and over 300 volunteers. He speaks at churches everywhere, and he is a member of this church. He is an ambassador for Christ.
How many people are just showing up on a weekly basis checking the box and going through the motions, but you're not experiencing that kind of life change? Many of us. Many of us. My call or my challenge to you is to commit to a local church where membership matters. Let me be really clear. I don't care if it's this one. I really don't. Find a church where they preach the gospel and they hold to the care and correction of their members where you see baptism and the Lord's Supper and godly leaders in place. Find a local church.
This is not about increasing the rolls here. I couldn't care less. Our membership goes to zero every year, because we don't want people just to have their name on a roll or some database somewhere. We want to care for people. Membership matters here. I hear people say all of the time, "Blake, the Bible doesn't talk about church membership. It doesn't say to join a local church."
I want to be really clear. Church membership is not man's idea. It is assumed throughout all of Scripture. It's just simply assumed. It's just a given. If you don't believe me, consider the church's leadership structure. Hebrews 13: " 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." Do you hear that?
The leaders of the church will one day stand before God. If my Bible is true (Hebrews 13), the elders of this church will stand before God and give an account for how they shepherded every member in this church. What an awesome and terrible privilege! Without membership, to whom are the elders accountable for shepherding before God? How does this passage even make sense?
Membership is just assumed through the "one-another" passages of Scripture. Hebrews 10, verses 24 and 25: " And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." Without membership, it just doesn't make any sense. To whom are we called to meet with on a regular basis and to encourage? There are dozens of one-another passages.
Membership is assumed through the care of the church. If you look at 1 Timothy 5, it talks about the care of the widows and those who are vulnerable amongst us and those who are enrolled in the qualifications of the vulnerable widows who should be enrolled to be cared for by the church. Without membership, how do the widows enroll? How does it make any sense? Membership is assumed through the correction of the church. First Corinthians 5 says,
"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you."
Paul is not playing around. He's saying, "You have a guy in your church making a mockery of the gospel, and you're just turning a deaf ear to it or a blind eye. You don't even care, and people are mocking the gospel. Do something about it." Without membership, how do we practice care and correction?
I've spent the majority of this time talking about the metaphors of the church which simply imply church membership. Think about the family. How does the family metaphor make any sense unless we become a people who commit to one another? It's like me going to my wife, Rebecca, when we were dating and going, "Rebecca, I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to get married. I just want nothing to do with your family." It's going to go over really well.
You just don't have that option with Jesus. Study your Bible. See what Jesus says about family. You don't get Jesus without his church. You don't get Jesus without his family. To not join the church, gang, is to, in effect, say, "I don't want to be a part of his family. I would rather be orphaned." That's really what it means. "I don't want to be a part of his body. I'd rather be dismembered. I don't want to be a part of his flock. Just let me be isolated. I don't want to be a part of his kingdom. Just let me be exiled."
I want to read to you an email I received from one member who leads our membership process on our Frisco campus. It's a little long. Just bear with me. He says, "As an individual recovering from a faith anchored on performance-based acceptance, pursuing membership and being fully known was the last thing I wanted to do. I was a professional Christian activity box-checker, but membership? Being accountable to others? Give me any other spiritual quota to complete but that one.
In fact, it took six years of regularly attending Watermark to faithfully respond to the call of membership. I was believing the lie that I was a strong Christian and proud of the fact that I was doing it without a community of believers surrounding me. This false sense of godliness magnified my struggle with pride, anger, and lust leaving a wake of broken friendships in the ethos of loving things and using people.
Since being a member, I have grown day after day and more in my more in my knowledge of and love of Christ and his people. I'm fully known and loved by this community that continually reminds me to pursue Christ by devoting daily, pursuing others relationally, counseling biblically, living authentically, admonishing faithfully, and engaging missionally. Show me someone who thinks they can grow in their love for God and others without being connected to his body, and I'll show you a friend who needs to hear the sobering truth that the faith they think they have in Christ is, in fact, a faith in only themselves."
At Watermark, we covenant to believe in essential doctrines of the inspiration of Scripture, the Trinity, the sinfulness of humanity, the full deity and humanity of Christ and his bodily resurrection, salvation by grace through faith alone, and the return of Jesus Christ. Every member here and every year we reaffirm our belief in that. Every year in our 4B Form.
We say, "I still believe in those things unapologetically." That's what unites us. Every believer here says, "I want to belong to his body by living in authentic community. I'm going to pursue relationally, engage missionally, and devote daily." They say they're going to be trained by God's truth by growing in an understanding and application of his Word, and they commit to being strong and living a life of godliness and worship.
That's what it means to be a member here at Watermark, to believe, belong, be trained, and be strong (the four Bs). Every year we say, "Do you want back in? Do you want to continue to do this?" Tragically, every year there are several people who say, "I don't care. Not really." I hear it. I hear people go, "The 4B form…"
I'm like, "Do you recommit to your gym?" "Well, yeah." If you make it a priority to recommit to your gym, what about your church? To make this a little more lighthearted, I love The _Babylon Bee. Are you familiar with _The_ Babylon Bee? By the way, it's all satire. It's crazy how many people read something on _TheBabylon Bee and forward it thinking it's true! These are jokes! Please!
I love this. It says, "Local man Tim Rubidoux has refused to join a local gym, claiming instead that his membership in the 'invisible, universal gym' should be enough to get him into shape. 'Yeah, I'm not really into the whole "organized fitness" thing,' he told reporters, stating that he has been 'burned a few times' by gyms that didn't cater to his every whim.
'I'm into fitness, but I'm not religious about it.' He also launched into a long diatribe about the hypocrisy of other people he sees at the gym, who are working out but aren't perfectly fit yet. 'That really turned me off of the whole institutional exercise thing. It's just not for me.' Rubidoux states that he simply exercises on his own time whenever he feels like it, with no disciplined routine or partners to keep him accountable. 'Nature is my gym.' At publishing time, sources had been able to confirm that Rubidoux hasn't exercised in 14 years."
I like it! Gang, I'm calling you to commit to a local church where membership matters. I hope it's this one, but if it's not, find a church. Quit church shopping. Quit playing the game that is so common in Dallas. Whatever you do, please don't make the deal. You've heard Todd talk about this many times, and it's in his book.
Basically, the deal goes like this. Members agree to validate pastors and leaders by showing up fairly regularly and agreeing to pay enough offerings to keep the lights on and keep the weekly activity of church operational. In return, pastors agree to preach civil, encouraging, self-help life messages never asking too much of those attending, and they both tell each other they are doing what God wants them to do.
It's terrible. I don't want to be a part of a church like that. I'm not giving my life to that, and I don't think you want that. If you're not experiencing the church as family, body, embassy, and a flock, then you're missing out on what God intends for you. You just are. I implore you to consider what Scripture teaches. I want to introduce you to one more friend or friends. I want you to meet the Stevensons. This is Hugh and Amy Stephenson's story. Let's watch this.
Amy Stephenson: I am Amy. I am married to Hugh. We've been married about 33-1/2 years.
Hugh Stephenson: We met on a blind date in college. I'm originally from Atlanta and moved back to Dallas in 2004.
Amy: We have three adult children (Tori, Jack, and Thomas). My identity is the perfect mom syndrome. I read a lot of self-help books trying to do it right, and I really didn't want any input from Hugh. I really shut him out.
Hugh: I kept telling myself, "Everything is fine. You have the house. You have the kids. You have the job. You have the stuff. We go to church. We do these things." From the outside looking in, everything seemed okay, but there was an underlying sense that I really was on the wrong track. I had very high expectations of myself. Fear and anxiety controlled me. I would withdraw into my study at home and medicate myself with alcohol and porn.
The first major wakeup call for me came the night of December 10, 2010. I stayed out all night partying and drinking with a friend, and I found myself at 3:00 in the morning on the side of the road with no way to get home. At 3:30 in the morning, my phone rang, and it was Amy. I told her where I was, and she came and got me, and I spent three days in bed recovering from that binge. Everything I wanted and worked for in my life was really hanging by a thread.
Amy: In 2012 we had a major family crisis. We had no foundation despite having gone to church for 20 years. I didn't know where to turn. In the midst of our family crisis, one of our sons who was a believer said, "I'm going to go to Watermark, and if you want to go with me, that's where I'm going."
Hugh: We went to the service there and sat way up in the back. I remember Jon Abel saying from the stage, "Welcome to Watermark. We're a lost and broken people. We're glad you're here." I had never heard anything like that at a church.
Amy: We saw people's lives transformed, and we knew we wanted that. We knew that was a relationship with Christ. We wanted that. How do we get that? I started pursuing God's Word myself because I wanted to have a relationship with Jesus Christ that I saw so many others have. We started going to re:generation, Watermark's recovery ministry, and we saw people who were authentic and dealing with their sin struggles like food addiction, which I was dealing with. I had a desire for ease and comfort. I was controlling, and I had major pride issues.
Hugh: I realized I was out of control, and I prayed, and I told God that I surrendered. I couldn't cure myself, and I was surrendering to him. My blaming everybody else for the problems in my life was wrong. I love the saying, "Draw the circle around yourself and change everything inside the circle." That's the message I heard over and over and over again, and I knew through God's
Word, God's Spirit, and God's people I would learn how to have my new life in Christ I had always wanted that would give me the joy and abundance God had planned for me.
Amy: I started to see the changes in Hugh, but, frankly, I was a little skeptical at first, because I had seen some of these changes before, but over time, I saw he was a different person. He began to ask for forgiveness for things. He wanted to pray together in the morning. He would ask me, "How can I love and serve you today?" Over time, I saw how God transformed him into a godly man, and I wanted to follow him, and now we're a team.
Hugh: What Amy and I have learned on this journey is that God is who he says he is. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and he has a plan for our lives that is better than our own.
[End of video]
Amen! I hear that. There are so many Hughs out there going to church. Did you hear that? Twenty years of going to church. Twenty years, and he was miserable, an alcoholic addicted to porn, wrecking his family and wrecking his marriage, and no one loved him to tell him the truth until someone, his own son, said, "I'm going to Watermark."
This isn't about a Watermark thing. Save your emails. It's not about Watermark. It's about the church. It's about the church. Hugh happened to walk into this place, and he said, "I'm going to be really honest with you. I just heard Watermark was a cult from the very beginning, and I wasn't going there, but then it was undeniable that people's lives were being changed, and they were calling me to something, and I just couldn't keep playing church," and it changed a life.
I don't know if you're experiencing church like you heard me explain, but if you have trusted in Jesus Christ as your one and only Savior and you aren't experiencing that, you are not experiencing all that God intends for you. You're just not, so I invite you to come. Come on September 8 or October 6 or one day on November 2 when we spend the whole day going through all three classes together. You can knock it out in one shot. Come and be a part of a local church where membership matters. Let me pray for us.
Father in heaven, I thank you for your Word and the clarity in which it speaks. I thank you for each one's name, Lord, who I mentioned today, for their transparent, courageous faith in you. Father, I thank you that they are serving as the family or the body or the flock or the embassy. I thank you, Lord, that we're in a church where we don't just talk about life change but, Lord, we're able to read about it every week in the Watermark News. It's not because of Watermark; it's because of your Spirit that is alive and active.
Lord, for those who, like those surveyed in the LifeWay survey I mentioned before, are in this room and just simply don't believe, I pray they would wrestle with your Word and wrestle with your Scriptures. Not with me but with what your Word says. I pray, Lord, you'd strengthen the faith and the heart of those who are actively participating in this church, that we would be a light in the city of Dallas.
Thank you for the many ways people are serving all over this world and using their gifts because they're a part of this body. How that has ministered to me! How my family has been transformed by the faithfulness of the members here and the leaders in this church! Lord, we love you, and we thank you. In Christ's name, amen.