In Praise of a Godly Layman, Gary Riegel, upon His Death

Just before Christmas, on December 22nd, Gary Riegel, my father-in-law, entered glory and saw his Savior—faith became sight. It was an outcome we had been praying for because we were certain of his genuine salvation. His death after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis was quick–less than a year, but it was also God’s mercy.

Gary was born in Cody, Wyoming and spent most of his growing up years there, but spent most of his life in Laramie, Wyoming. The move was necessary, and there is a story behind it.

Gary with his Dad

Gary’s father, Ted, was a sniper for the Marines in World War II, and he fought in the Island-hopping campaigns of the South Pacific. It’s hard for us to imagine how stressful and dangerous this necessary service was. One night, so the story goes, the pressure broke Ted’s good friend, Francis. He started making noise that was going to give away their position, so Ted had to shoot his friend. That’s the story the family has told; it seems the type of thing that could happen in war. What we know for sure is that Francis died, and Ted named his only child, Gary Francis Riegel, in his buddy’s memory.

What Ted experienced in the war changed him. He came back and ever after struggled with drinking. Gary’s early years were years of consistent disappointment. He loved his dad, but his dad was trapped by his own sin.

Martha, Ted, and Gary

One example suffices. He promised Gary he would take him fishing. They drove off, and his dad said he needed to make a quick stop at a bar. He left Gary in the truck and went inside, and probably thought he would only be inside for a single drink, but he stayed there for hours. His young son finally got tired of waiting, got out of the truck, and walked home. Disappointments like that were normal for Gary as he grew up.

Ted was spending so much on alcohol that there wasn’t enough to buy groceries, so his wife made the tough decision of separating from him and moving to Laramie. Martha, Gary’s mom, never divorced his dad, but she never lived with him again. Even though they were separated, she loved him, and never said anything critical about him.

Martha had never heard the gospel until her brother-in-law and sister-in-law shared it with her. She was gloriously saved and through her witness, Gary trusted Christ too. He graduated from Laramie High in 1967 and married his teenage bride, Grace. Many marriages that start that early don’t last, but Gary and Grace were married over 45 years until her death.

Gary and Grace

They had nothing at the beginning; they were poor. But Gary and Grace always had their four children in church. They were of the generation that came every time the doors were open, and the doors were open a lot.

Gary started a body shop in 1976 that his oldest son owns today. Eventually the business grew and Gary and Grace had some extra room in their budget. Gary was a generous man with what God had given him. He supported several students at Bible college through the years, and he did it anonymously. He wanted them to believe that they could trust God for their needs. He supported his church at a generous level, and also supported missionaries, camp ministries, and many family members and friends. He used what God had blessed him with to bless others.

He was a godly layman for his entire adult life. He pursued Christ wholeheartedly. He was the first to volunteer when a ministry needed some physical labor. One of my youngest son’s memories is his grandpa taking him to a Christian camp in Wyoming and the two of them working on a building crew all week. That was Gary Riegel. When Laura and I were young marrieds and bought our first house, Gary would come out to North Carolina and put up a fence or build a small deck or whatever we needed. He was a servant. Through the years he served his small church as a deacon and also as treasurer.

Christ’s work in Gary’s life became increasingly evident. Like many of his generation, he didn’t have a lot of time for his children when they were young; he was always working. But he grew in Christ and made time for his adult children, their wives, and his grandkids. He was being sanctified.

My father-in-law was my go to guy for advice on cars, houses, and well… anything that required being handy. He patiently helped me. It was only a few years ago that I realized how merciful God had been to me through my in-laws. People make jokes about conflict with in-laws, and as a pastor I saw in-law situations that were very difficult. But Grace and Gary were a joy to me. They were kind and generous and humble. Gary was a godly father-in-law. Using his name in this blog is a bit jarring because I simply called him Dad.

When he retired, he and his wife would often start the day by listening to a sermon on the radio and talk about what they learned. They read God’s Word together. Grace died in 2014; they had a marriage that glorified God. Gary married Susan, and they were married until his death. She was a wonderful Christian woman whose husband had died a few years earlier.

Gary Riegel was a good man because Jesus saved him decades ago. He wasn’t naturally good. He was the only child of a drunk father, raised by his mother alone, and he married too young. Life was stacked against Gary, but he became a new creation when he trusted Christ as his Savior (2 Cor 5:17). Jesus takes rebels and makes them good through Christ’s righteousness. I’m thankful for my father-in-law’s salvation; he made some missteps as we all do, but he pursued Jesus with all his heart. When he could no longer remember his family members, he could still sing Amazing Grace–the grace of God that he never got over. He left a legacy where his grandkids can see God’s goodness. I hope my kids will remember their grandpa, be thankful, and pursue Christ like he did.

Gary with my kids in 2005

Decaeuxarista [Deca-eucharista] 2023—Ten Thanks?!

A boss of mine in college memorably said, “Never squelch praise.” Since 2009 I have compiled an annual list of 10 reasons I’m thankful for each member of my family. I think it began as a project I might assign to certain counselees to help them grow in gratefulness for people around them that they struggled with. When I started doing it in this format (2009), my children were 8 to 14 years old. They are all adults now, and they still look forward to my sharing it with them. It’s similar to a family practice we do for every family birthday–we each share why we appreciate this person. We lately have added telling a fun story about the birthday person too. These are just some ways to keep from squelching praise.

I call this my Decaeuxarista–I’m not a Greek scholar, but it’s my attempt at making up a word that means Ten Thanks (and my kids know it by this made-up name. They expect it around Christmas). It’s good for me to intentionally think about why I’m grateful for each family member. This is the list I shared with them this year. May this list encourage you to edify your family members too.

Laura [1]I’ve included my wife’s name, but not my kids’ names.

  1. I probably often start with some variation on the theme of you being so kind or easy to like. It’s because it’s the trait that I experience most often. Your kindness often softens the prickly parts of my personality—or should I just say my prickly personality—no parts to it; it’s all prickly. (Thanks for the cactus by the way.) But next to you even I appear at times to be likable. Your kindness rubs off on me.
  2. I’m thankful for how committed you are to our marriage. We celebrated our 30th this year, and you have always been faithful and trustworthy. I’ve never doubted that you loved me. That’s given us security in our relationship. Some of our acquaintances have marriages that have been a struggle or have even dissolved. You have fought for our marriage.
  3. You enjoy it when your kids and I gang up on you in a humorous way to joke about some of the funny things you say and do. Some people cannot be teased, but you actually often enjoy it.
  4. I really appreciate your sense of humor. We were at the Laramie Jubilee Days Parade and you yelled at your nieces as they marched with a banner, “You guys are awesome!” in that funny, overly enthusiastic voice you use sometimes. It makes me laugh. You give me some funny comebacks at times and make me laugh. Sometimes, you know this, you whisper a joke to me and I steal it by making it public.
  5. You love your kids well. From your thoughtful gifts that you gather throughout the year for stocking stuffers, Christmas and birthday gifts, to your kindness in person with them, to your joy every time they call. You also speak biblical truth to them as they need it. You challenge me to love our kids better.
  6. #3 was right when he said on your birthday that you soften me. I have become more gracious and kind through your influence. God’s Spirit has used you to help me grow that way.
  7. You love me well. It’s probably selfish for me to mention this as something I appreciate about you, but it’s true. You know when I’m down, and you make extra time for me. You are quick to rub my hand or just be with me since you know I enjoy time with you. You are thoughtful in how you spend your time when we’re home together. Even if you have stuff to do, you think about how we can be together while you do it. I am a well-loved husband.
  8. I appreciate your spiritual courage. You flew out and spent 10 days with your Dad when your family needed help. You loved him so well even when he was opposing you because of his Alzheimer’s. You were gracious and kind and firm even though he misunderstood.
  9. You challenge yourself to grow. Taking Expository Teaching is an example of this. You could have just audited it, and it would have been so much easier. After all, you’re not working towards a degree anyway. But you wanted to get better at speaking, to understand God’s Word and have confidence when you teach. It was a lot of work. You accepted the Assistant Dean of Women position knowing it would stretch you. You’re not afraid of that. You work for growth in your spiritual life and in your ministry abilities.
  10. I know it was hard for you, but I’ve really appreciated how you have related to your dad this year. Several times we’ve visited him with his Alzheimer’s, and you are patient with him. You repeat who you are and remind him of his interests like cars and his pets. You smile brightly and tell him clearly that you love him. I’ve just sat in awe sometimes at how tender you are with him. I get there and don’t know what to do. You look like you were gifted for this. 
  11. And one extra: You asked for prayer when we were with all the family for Dad’s funeral that you would redeem the time for God’s glory (my words). You wanted not just to fellowship, but to investigate where your nephews and nieces and cousins were with Christ. You made your conversations purposeful because you love Jesus and love people.

#1 Child

  1. You are a social person. We got an extra week with you after New Year’s and you enjoy people. You went to the college retreat with me and two different parties at the Capons that week. And you met new people and got to know them. Being social is a tangible way of loving others, and I think you love others purposely.
  2. I appreciate your steadiness. I used to tell you as a teen that you only had one speed and it wasn’t normally urgent which was a pessimistic way to state what I’m trying to say. You don’t tend to be frantic or panicky. Your steadiness is comforting to people around you. It lowers stress and anxiety for others. That’s nice.
  3. You are generous, or another way of saying it is that money doesn’t seem that important to you. You are quick to give it away and to use it to serve others, and not just your family members. I think your friends and roommates experience this side of you too. Generosity is a great Christlike trait that is evident in your life.
  4. Your sense of humor is MOSTLY a welcome release in a stressful situation. 😉 You are like me in that your response to stress is often humor. I think it’s a benefit to you and to those you’re around. It can help people relax and give them perspective.
  5. I like that you share funny work stories with us. Your fellow pilots and enlisted do some funny things and you love laughing with us, but also about your own funny things. You do some humorous things at work, and you’re willing to share them even when they are embarrassing. That’s humble.
  6. You are responsible in your job. I think Chris R. told us that it only takes a few years to figure out if a Navy officer is just putting in time or if he is actually someone that you can count on. The latter get more and more responsibility. That’s been you. You are giving the US government what they paid for and more. I think that work ethic honors God.
  7. I was reminded today when I was reviewing my devotions from 2012 how graciously you have responded to me throughout your life. You’ve treated me far better that I treated my own father—especially when I was sinfully angry or annoyed with you. You have been gracious and kind in spite of my sin. That’s overcoming evil with good (Rom 12), and you have done that well with me in your teenage years.
  8. You call your Mom regularly even when you are extremely busy like you are on deployment. You have a great relationship with her that I think foretells a little about what kind of husband you will be someday. I love that you love your Mom so much.
  9. You have faced some disappointments in your life and career that have knocked you off balance, but you always ultimately get righted as you contemplate good theology—what you know about God. You are comforted by his sovereignty, his wisdom, and his care for you. I’m grateful that when we talk about these things, you are working hard to trust God. You recognize his plan is sometimes different than yours.
  10. You love Jesus and the gospel. You are committed to your church which is shown by attendance and service. I enjoy our conversations on biblical topics, and you often initiate them because you want to know God’s Word well.

#2 Child

  1. You are a thoughtful person—a lot like your Mom. I received a thoughtful Father’s Day card from you in my luggage. It was long and sweet. That’s normal for you. I think every family member has gotten a “wordy” letter or card from you over the years because you are so thoughtful.
  2. I don’t think I would have asked Trevor Lawrence for his picture. You have grown so much in overcoming your fear of man, and that is one example. You are willing to take risks, and you’re okay if they don’t pan out, which is, I guess, the definition of taking risks. Fear doesn’t keep you on the sidelines.
  3. You embrace your nerdiness, your geekiness. Some are not that confident in it, but you normally don’t seem to mind that you are a bit dorky. And I use all those words with love. I haven’t seen you on the dance floor, but from your description I think there is more confidence than skill. 😉 And confidence is attractive.
  4. You call your Mom and share funny stories, you ask her advice, and you have sweet mother-daughter conversations (I assume since I’m sometimes not invited into them). I appreciate how you open up to her and listen to her. Your mom loves that.
  5. You love to laugh, and I like that especially. And you have a pretty good laugh. Mostly you don’t take yourself too seriously. While you enjoy laughing at the funny antics of your roommates and family members, you are also happy to laugh at your own mistakes. Laughing is a disarming trait; it’s a welcoming characteristic.
  6. You have started running which shows self-discipline. Maybe you’ve let off a little recently but you did it for months and being self-disciplined with physical exercise is hard. It shows a willingness to start something difficult.
  7. You have graciously responded throughout your teen years and young adult years to your Dad when I have been obviously wrong and sinful. That’s a wonderful response to my anger. It pleases God.
  8. You are an inclusive person. What I mean is you include others. You introduce yourself to visitors at your church I think. You love social events and you want others even on the margins to come to them. You look for those that feel outside, and you love them.
  9. You are teachable. You respond to my or your Mom’s rebukes with grace normally. You actually seek out advice on spiritual and practical issues. You call us when you have decisions to make or when you just need advice with a friend or with a car. Both show a heart that is willing to listen. Proverbs says that’s a good trait of a wise person. You are growing in wisdom.
  10. You have a sweet relationship with #4 that is a neat sister bond. I could hear you laughing with each other when you visited at Thanksgiving after Mom and I went to bed. You are different personalities but clearly are really good friends. Not all sisters get along, but you do. You both put effort into it, but I think when you were cool in high school, and let’s face it, #4 wasn’t,;) you loved being with your sister and including her. It’s a sweet relationship that will hopefully last a lifetime.

#3 Child

  1. You don’t know how to do anything halfway. You cannot be partially committed to something. Whatever you do you try to do it with excellence. You’re not a guy that does enough to get by. I admire that.
  2. You have a good sense of humor that loves to push buttons for us. I like that sense of humor since it matches mine. But you are willing to ask forgiveness when you hurt someone with your sense of humor. That’s growing maturity.
  3. I enjoyed watching the process of you buying your Toyota Rav 4. You were careful, sought advice, got a mechanic to look at it, prayed, sought to make a wise decision. I was impressed. It seems a mature way to make financial decisions.  
  4. It was fun to hear the USAFA Women’s Basketball coaches gush over your work as the manager while we were there for Parents’ Weekend. At least three of them, including the head coach, talked about how happy they were that you were doing it. One mentioned your interview process as so impressive to her. If you commit to a job, you do it seriously and thoroughly. That’s a great character trait.
  5. You are disciplined in talking to your family. Mom expects your call every Sunday after church. I know you call your siblings regularly too. You put effort into family relationships and that’s unusual for your age group. It’s a good trait for a future family. I think you thought all your siblings were just as disciplined and were surprised to find out they are more spontaneous than disciplined callers, but it doesn’t stop you from consistently calling.
  6. You like to be active. Actually three of you kids enjoy running, but you’re probably the most passionate about it. You’ve always been a mover; early on maybe it kept you from studying or reading like you should. That’s not the case anymore. You’re not a couch potato. You have a good balance between physical exercise and intellectual growth.
  7. You love your family. Some cadets get to USAFA and don’t care about their families anymore. They are happy to get away. You have always been glad to see your geeky parents whenever we’ve come out for Parents Weekend or other times. You enjoy coming home and seeing your siblings. You’ve visited #1 on your own while at the academy. You’ve even considered graduate school in FL because it is closer to #2 and possibly even #1 if he gets moved there. Loving your family is an unusual trait in your environment, but you don’t care.
  8. You are far more gracious and thankful than I was as a young man. You share several heartfelt and thoughtful things you appreciate about each one of us on our birthdays. That shows a growing thankfulness. Growth in gratefulness shows growth in humility and contentment.
  9. I think you work to share Christ with other students at USAFA. You’ve told us of conversations you’ve had. You are active in Navigators and have talked to some attendees that seem not to understand the gospel. Having Christian friends that can encourage your faith is important to you, and God has provided them for you.
  10. I appreciate how your relationship has grown with your Mom. You really enjoy her. You call her every week. You love having your Mom rub your hair because it feels good, but also because you love your Mom.

#4 Child

  1. You are not a complainer. Mom says that you don’t feel good about 75% of the time, but you don’t complain, and you never have. You just endure it.
  2. You love me and show it whenever you see me. You hold my hand or give me a hug and often tell me that you love me. Normally in a passive aggressive way like, “Do you know that I love you?” I’m kidding on the passive aggressiveness.
  3. You are good relationally, and all ages like you. Jessica S. told us humorously that you’re the “favorite daughter” of John and Shelley—your Minnesota parents. You have your senior saints that you go to lunch with on Sunday. Some your age might not be comfortable going to lunch with their own grandparents, but you enjoy your senior saints. You are earnest in your interest in others because you love others.
  4. You have a heart for ministry. You took a missions trip even though it was six weeks where you couldn’t earn money for school. And even thought it was in the jungle with outdoor bathrooms; I know you adapted well. You love Jesus and serve him. You intentionally build friendships with unbelievers to share Christ.
  5. You work hard to build relationships. You are intentional with time and money to love your family members and your friends. Even when others are not that responsive, you still pursue friendship. You’ve had relationships in high school and college where most of the relational heavy lifting fell on your shoulders, and you willingly did it. If you hadn’t maintained the relationship, it wouldn’t have existed. And you’re slightly introverted 😉 so this is actually a big deal. You work on your friendships.
  6. I tease you and mostly you are okay with it. 😉 You respond with laughter and kindness. You are able to laugh at some funny things about yourself.
  7. You are good with children. Andrew and Jessica S. told us that their kids love you; they have to be careful to keep them from bothering you because their kids like coming down to your room and interrupting you. Their kids were impressed with us because we were “#4’s mom and dad.”
  8. You love your church, and you have relationships with all ages. I especially enjoy that you have friends that are retired. It’s a mark of your love for CLBC. But even your joy in texting us about 17 members joining in October is a sign of your love for that group of believers.
  9. You are loyal to your friends. You defend them, and not just your Christian friends. You even push back against me when I razz you about them. You don’t join others in gossip or slander. You have a backbone to stand up against it.
  10. You are a grateful child. You appreciate the little ways Mom and I try to help with some of your living expenses, and I know this because you tell us. You don’t assume that we will pay for a meal or your phone or car expenses. You don’t fail to say thank you for stuff like this.

References[+]

References
1 I’ve included my wife’s name, but not my kids’ names.

Four Reasons Micah 5:2 is Compelling at Christmas

It is a dream of humanity to predict the future—some movie plots are based on figuring out the future. Investment advice is based on what the advisor sees as coming in the future. But it is impossible to predict the future—even just a few years from now. Well, it’s impossible for man but not for God. I couldn’t predict where my great-great-great-great grandchild would be born. Should God tarry His coming I can’t even be sure that my descendants 200 years from now will even be born in this country, much less predict the town they would be born in. Could your ancestors have predicted where you would be born? My ancestors mainly came from Germany. I’m sure they thought that their descendants would always live in Germany.

And yet, God predicted through Micah the prophet where the Messiah would be born.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Micah 5:2 (ESV)

Why is this verse significant? I’ve given you the first reason.

It Prophesies Christ’s Birth

Specifically that Christ would be born in Bethlehem, and as every child knows, that’s where Christ was born.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. Luke 2:4–5 (ESV)

Hundreds of years before it happened, God told us where it would happen. Only God can do that. The first-century Jewish leadership knew that this verse was referring to the Messiah because they told Herod so when the Wise Men inquired where Jesus would be born (Mt 2:3-6).

So this verse is significant because hundreds of years before Christ was born, it told us where He would be born.

It Describes the Humanity and Divinity of Jesus

It’s easy to see how this describes the humanity of Jesus. He will be born in Bethlehem. Babies are born.

But it also describes the divinity of Jesus. It tells us that His coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. That’s a strange way to describe a baby, isn’t it? No one claims a baby is old, except it’s said about this baby. It’s describing the things that the Messiah did before He was born. The Bible tells us that He created and sustained the universe. He appeared as the Angel of Jehovah. All this happened before He was ever born. Only God can do that.

“Messiah’s generation as man coming forth unto God to do His will on earth is from Beth-lehem; but as Son of God, His goings forth are from everlasting.”[1]Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. … Continue reading

Your Savior was both God and man. He had to be God for His sacrifice to be sufficient, but He had to be man in order for the sacrifice to be accepted.

It Illustrates God’s Use of the Insignificant

We are not talking about some minor king somewhere in the world. We are talking about the King of kings! Shouldn’t the greatest king ever be born in the power center of Israel—Jerusalem? But instead He’s born in a humble town.

It’s not even as if He’s born a big fish in a small pond. He’s not born in the biggest house in little Bethlehem. He’s born in a stable. That’s where cattle are born—not kings! Bethlehem was such a small town that when the towns of Israel were listed in Joshua 15:21 and Nehemiah 11:25, Bethlehem wasn’t even mentioned. It was too insignificant to be listed.

Our God delights in using the insignificant, the unexpected. A town that the world would overlook is where the Messiah was born.

Have you ever felt insignificant? Do you look around you at those that are so much more talented and gifted and imagine that God can use them but not you? God can use those that come from good families with wonderful backgrounds but you didn’t. You’re broken. You’ve made bad choices. You haven’t been given all the benefits that others have been given. Your family abused you. Maybe you never really knew your dad. Your parents divorced. They were poor. You couldn’t achieve a good education. You don’t have wonderful social gifts. You have never been the life of the party. You’re not popular.

Good! God delights in using people like that. People like you. People like me.

You know who else was from Bethlehem? Israel’s greatest king, David, was also from Bethlehem. His family was a group of insignificant shepherds when God chose David. They weren’t anything.

God can use the gifted, but He often chooses to use the rest of us. Think about who was humanly responsible for your salvation. It probably wasn’t some powerhouse pastor. It could have been a faithful mom or dad. It could have been a faithful friend or coworker. Probably it was someone that the world might overlook, but God used him or her to see you come to Christ.

God uses the insignificant.

It Tells Us the Purpose of Christ’s Birth

How does it do that? Through the use of the short phrase, “for me.”

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Micah 5:2 (ESV)

Who’s saying that? “Me” is capitalized because translators recognize that this pronoun is referring to God the Father. The Messiah’s life, sacrifice, Resurrection, and rule would be for God. The ultimate purpose of our redemption is God’s glory.

Christ was born in an insignificant town over 2000 years ago for God. Do you live for God? Do people see your love for God during the Christmas season? Or do you forget God in this busiest time of year? Your redeemed life is all about God. Even Jesus came to earth for God.

One verse in one of the minor prophetic books in the Old Testament tells us so much about Christ. And at Christmas, I need this reminder.

References[+]

References
1 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (Mic 5:2). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

God Gave His Best Gift

What was the best gift you ever got at Christmas? One year my wife gave me an old, ratty, used soft rifle case. And I was thankful. I think she would agree with that. Turns out she had also gotten me a rifle to put in it as well, but she gave it to me separately. That was a pretty memorable gift.

Probably most memorable gifts are something we got when we were kids. Don’t those seem to be better gifts? We anticipate them more. We aren’t as jaded and cynical about Christmas when we are children.

In Ephesians 1:20-23, Paul is trying to communicate how much God the Father thinks of Jesus. And because He thinks so much of Jesus, God wants us to think a lot of Jesus too. In fact, what we learn here is God gave His best gift to us.

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Eph 1:22-23 (ESV)

So Paul is saying that God made Jesus head over all creation and also gave Jesus to the church. All human authorities are put down by force—they are under His feet. But His relationship to the church is not as conqueror, but as a gift from the Father.

So we could read it as, “And he put all things under his feet and gave [Jesus] … to the church….”

“So what?” is maybe what you’re thinking. But isn’t it true that the gifts we give say something about us?

My family had some pretty humble Christmases as I was growing up. I don’t remember getting more than two or three gifts at Christmas.  Now maybe I remember things as slightly more difficult than they actually were, but I think that’s accurate. I averaged two, maybe three small presents from my parents at Christmas.

Now that says something about my parents; it says they didn’t have a whole lot of money. It doesn’t say something bad, but it does say that we were poor as I was growing up. Maybe it also says that they tried to keep Christ in Christmas for us kids. My parents would tell us what they had budgeted for Christmas and then they would give half of that amount to Jesus in an offering at church. That says something about them too. Something wonderful.

So our gifts do say something about us, don’t they? You know this. Isn’t there a difference between the gifts you give your children and the gift you bring for the white elephant gift exchange at the company party? You don’t wrap up the kitchen trash for your children to open on Christmas morning. You give them something valuable. And you give them more valuable gifts than you contribute to the white elephant gift exchange, right? When I have a white elephant gift, it’s typically something I grabbed off a dusty shelf in the basement as I was running around trying to find something at the last minute. It doesn’t get my full attention or effort. I don’t think about it ahead of time. That probably says something about me too. But with your family you put in more effort. The gift means something.

The gift that God gave the church means something too. What’s the best gift that God could have given to the Church? Is there a better one? When God was looking for the best gift that He could give to believers, there was only one choice—Jesus.

Jesus is God’s best gift. He loves His Son and wants you and me to love Him too. So He gave Jesus to the church. God didn’t give us some cast off gift. No, God gave the very best gift He had. And while giving Jesus does show that God loves the church, it shows even more that God loves Jesus.

The gift of His Son says something great about God. He is generous. He is gracious. And he gives the best gifts. He gave the only gift that can satisfy our thirst—Jesus Christ (Jn 7:37).

Are you thankful for the best gift?

Six Evidences for Church Membership

The church is not only nice, but it’s necessary for a believer’s spiritual growth. And maybe you agree with that as many Christians do, but you’re not sure that the extra step of membership is necessary. It’s true that Scripture doesn’t command membership, but I believe the New Testament assumes it. Here are six evidences—from lesser to greater—that support the principle of church membership.

Local Churches Couldn’t Exist if All Christians Made the Choice Not to Join a Church

Just extrapolate, what would churches look like if all Christians decided not to join? A local church couldn’t conduct ministry; it couldn’t exist.

Before Covid I knew some people that were anti-vaccine for childhood diseases. In other words, they wouldn’t get their kids immunized. Their theory as I understood it was that their child was more likely to get the disease (or have a side effect) through the immunization than they were in normal life. And that was true. Because immunization has been so successful, a  child was more likely to get some childhood diseases through the immunization than through normal life. It was a very tiny percentage, but it was possible.

Don’t let the battles over Covid 19 vaccinations inform your understanding of this illustration; hang with me here. Why could some parents choose not to immunize their children against childhood diseases? Because the risks of immunizing seemed greater than the risks of not immunizing. And why did it seem that way? Only because most parents did immunize their children. If all parents made the decision not to immunize their children, then childhood diseases would come back with a vengeance. Some parents could choose not to immunize because they were presuming upon the majority of parents that did immunize.

I believe that some Christians can choose not to be members only because most Christians choose to be members. If all Christians chose not to join churches, then churches couldn’t exist. What would the church look like if everybody made the decision not to be a member? There would be no structure. Could you call a pastor, or own a building, or support missionaries, or vote on a budget? Without some members, churches couldn’t exist.

Church Membership Provides Many More Opportunities to Use Your Gifts (1 Cor 12).

Most churches have some ministries that are open to non-members, but most must be restricted to members. A church cannot have non-members working with children or teens, for example. You can’t have non-members on most committees. You cannot have non-members leading Bible studies—what guidance or authority are they submitted to? A church vouches for the genuine salvation of its members, so if you don’t join, they cannot vouch for you.[1]A student, Mercedez Long, suggested this in an assignment. It would be inappropriate to have non-members whose salvation testimony has not been examined serve in many ministries. The scope of ministries where you can use your gifts is seriously reduced if you don’t join a church, but you are supposed to use your gifts.

1 Cor 12:7 (ESV) To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

God wants you to use your gifts. I believe God wants you to have a wide range of areas where you can use your gifts. Church membership gives you more opportunities to use your spiritual gifts.

Pastors Have to Know Whom to Shepherd (1 Peter 5:2-3)

1 Peter 5:2 (ESV) shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;

Pastors have to know who’s in and who’s out in order to shepherd the flock. How can a pastor be expected to faithfully shepherd a flock when he can’t know who’s in the flock? Attendance is not enough. People float in and out of attendance pretty freely. And if non-membership is the norm, then there’s no way to know whom to shepherd. A pastor cannot be held responsible if the flock isn’t defined. But pastors are held responsible—they are commanded to shepherd the flock, so the flock must be defined somehow. The obvious way to distinguish one flock from another or one flock from wolves is through membership.

Non-Members Cannot Submit to Pastoral Leadership (Heb 13:17)

Heb 13:17 (ESV) 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.

Is it possible for non-members to submit to pastors? I don’t think so. A pastor isn’t watching for your soul if you haven’t committed to his flock. And you aren’t submissive to him if you’re not a member. Christians at large that walk through the doors of a church are clearly not expecting to submit to pastoral leadership, and the Bible doesn’t expect them too. All Christians shouldn’t submit to just any elder’s leadership either. So what group should submit to pastoral authority? It has to be those that are part of that specific church. Church membership makes it clear to the Christian that they need to submit to pastoral authority.

The Metaphor of the Body Implies Church Membership (Rom 12:3-5; 1 Cor 12:18–27)

1 Cor 12:27 (ESV) Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Obviously my body parts are members of my physical body. It wouldn’t make sense for my hand to be off by itself somewhere. And it wouldn’t make sense for my hand to come along with me, but not be attached to my body. If my left hand is detached from my arm but in my front shirt pocket, even though it goes everywhere with me, no one would think that my hand was a member of my body. Using this picture it used to be a part of my body, but it’s not now.

Of this passage in 1 Corinthians 12, John Piper says,

Church membership is implied in the metaphor of the body in 1 Corinthians 12:12–31. The original meaning of the word member is member of a body, like hand and foot and eye and ear. That’s the imagery behind the word member in the text. Verse 12: “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”

So the question this imagery raises for the local church that Paul is describing in 1 Corinthians 12 is: Who intends to be treated as a hand or foot or eye or ear of this body? There is a unity and organic relationship implied in the imagery of the body. There is something unnatural about a Christian attaching himself to a body of believers and not being a member of the body.[2] http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/how-important-is-church-membership, Accessed on 2/22/2011.

The metaphor of the church as a body only makes sense if church membership is the norm—if church membership exists.

You Can’t Be Dismissed from Something You’re Not in (1 Cor 5:12-13; Mt 18:15-20)

1 Cor 5:12–13 (ESV) For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

The church discipline passages in the New Testament indicate that persistently sinning Christians that refuse to repent are supposed to be dismissed from the church. According to Matthew 18 we ultimately treat the unrepentant Christian as a Gentile and tax collector (Mt 18:17). That means to treat this person as an unbeliever. Are unbelievers allowed in a local church? Of course they are. So dismissing them doesn’t mean keeping them from attending church. It must mean excluding them from the ordinances and serving in the church.

There has to be an outside if there is an inside. So some people are inside the church and some people are outside. Who are those people that are inside? It cannot be simple attendance. If a Christian shows up one Sunday with unrepentant sin, a church doesn’t have the responsibility of pursuing church discipline just because they attended. So if it’s not attendance, how do we distinguish between those inside and those outside? Membership is the obvious criteria. Without membership existing, those church discipline passages just don’t make sense.

So, are you a member of a local church? I hope so. It’s for God’s glory, your good, and even your neighbor’s good. Pursue church membership. Every believer needs it.

References[+]

References
1 A student, Mercedez Long, suggested this in an assignment.
2 http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/how-important-is-church-membership, Accessed on 2/22/2011.
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