A Wedding Charge

You are surrounded today by your family and friends who love you, support you, and celebrate this momentous day with you. We can say with confidence the blessing of God is on you as you each have entrusted your lives to God and are following His lead in the step you are taking today.

Your families have invested their lives in you, prayed for you, and hoped with you for the right person, at the right time, for you to marry. I think I can speak for them and say they are thankful for you and proud of you today.

During the past couple of years, my wife and I have enjoyed getting to know you and speaking into your lives. We’ve laughed a lot and cried some too through conversations and counseling, while we kept a few local Mexican restaurants in business.

A wedding is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on things that matter in life. In a world where we are barraged with thousands of trivialities every day, this moment is one of the most exalted and truly meaningful experiences a human being can have, or observe – a man and a woman who up to this day have lived separately and independently, willingly giving up their separateness and laying down their independence and joining themselves together into one, vowing before God and witnesses to have, hold, love, cherish, respect, and submit until the end of their earthly lives. This is big stuff! It’s worth watching!

One of the most significant elements of a Christian wedding is the countercultural nature of it. The prevailing attitude in many marriages is, “We’re getting married so we can be happy.” Marriage can bring you happiness, but if that’s your primary goal, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. I like Gary Thomas’ way of addressing this in his book, Sacred Marriage, when he says, “God did not primarily intend marriage to make you happy, but to make you holy.” If you make it your goal to grow in holiness, and to help each other grow in holiness, you will find fulfillment, and happiness will be a by-product of your pursuit.

Can I ask you to think about one quality today? I believe it is the key to your marriage being everything God designed it to be, and everything you hope it will be.

There’s an old story about a loving wife who had her beautiful knee-length hair cut and sold it so she could buy her husband a platinum chain for his prized pocket watch. When she presented his gift, she discovered he had sold the watch to buy her a set of jeweled combs she had wished to use in her hair.

This story illustrates the quality of unselfishness. Each sacrificed their most prized possession so they could give something valuable to the other. That’s the quality I hope will resurface in your minds after the whirlwind of this day. Learn to live unselfishly. Learn to sacrifice what is important to you so you can give to help each other, meet one another’s needs, encourage each other, and delight one another.

This is what scripture means when it says, “Husbands love your wives” and when it says older women should teach younger women to “love their husbands.”  

It’s what scripture instructs us to do when it says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Marriage reveals selfishness in ways you haven’t experienced yet. We naturally think of ourselves first, take care of ourselves before helping others, and choose what pleases us. Many marriages die from a thousand cuts inflicted by selfishness. In a marriage that lasts and thrives, you will learn to do unselfish things over and over again.

And you won’t just make big life-changing sacrifices, but thousands of small ones. But they all add up to a life of love. This love is not just squishy, feely, happy feelings of, “I’m in love,” but steady, solid, relentless, self-sacrificing love.

Thankfully you don’t have to wrestle with your selfishness on your own. As Christians, you have the Holy Spirit residing in you, enabling you to produce fruit consisting of character qualities, the first of which is love. As you walk in the Spirit daily, allowing His Word to direct you, you will know how to supplant selfishness with love.

And you have each other. A marriage of Christians doesn’t mean you have perfect harmony all the time. But when sparks fly, it’s an opportunity to speak truth in love, to be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, and to learn about the selfishness in your heart. Sometimes your spouse will help you recognize that selfishness, and it’s time to confess it, be forgiven, and grow.

In fact, the wisest man said,
Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm;
But how can one be warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered by another
[an enemy, like selfishness],
Two can withstand him.
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

That will be your story.

All of this points us to another story. In fact it’s been called the greatest story ever told.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

This is the message all need to hear. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. God loved us so much He gave His Son as a substitute. He died for our sins and rose from the dead so we can be forgiven and have eternal life.

This free gift is promised to those who believe in Him – who trust in Jesus and no one or nothing else. You have done that, and I know you desire for the people you care about to know and believe also.

As you live out your lives together, and learn to love each other, you will display God’s kind of love for others to see. In a day when marriage is viewed very casually, or as a convenience, or inconvenience, God’s plan is for marriage to be a covenant for life before Him, and for you to display His glory together all your days.

May the Lord bless you and keep you
May the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.
(Numbers 6:24-26)

Amen.

Leading Through Change Podcast Notes

Shepherdology: A Pastor’s Friend podcast Episodes 21 & 22 address essential steps for a pastor to follow when leading through change.

Episode 21 – Essential Steps to Leading Through Change (Part 1)

A concise outline of what I covered is below.

Also, here is the link to Leading Through Change Without Splitting the Church, an article I referred to which is very helpful.

1. Start with Why

  • Scripture
  • Mission, Objectives, Plan
  • What is our purpose? What is the desired outcome? What will our church look like in 5 years if we take this step of growth? 10 years?

2. Prayerfully Evaluate

  • Is there a biblical basis for this step of growth?
  • Why are we considering this? Intentional or reactive?
  • Who would it help?
  • Who would it impact negatively?
  • What are the negatives of doing this?
  • What are the unintended consequences?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen if we take this step? The best thing?
  • Is there consensus among the pastoral team? What about the deacons?
  • What do we believe is the best way to move forward?

The law of unintended consequences: Any significant organization will have reactions that extend well beyond the change itself.    Thom Ranier

Categories of people’s receptivenesss to change:

5% Eager for change. This group is wondering what’s taking you so long.

20% Open to change. They need to understand the details of the change, but they typically will be okay with it.

30% Followers. They tend to move where the loudest and most convincing voices are.

25% Resistant to change. They like the church just the way it is.

20% Highly resistant to change. This group is not much fun.

from Who Moved My Pulpit?: Leading Change in the Church by Thom S. Rainer

3. Teach truth that prepares the congregation.

4. Establish a realistic timetable.

5. Patiently respond to questions and resistance.

6. Lead by objective.

7. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

A Pastor’s Antidote for Comparison

Comparison eats at pastors. We tend to to measure other pastors, categorize them in our minds, and rank ourselves accordingly. This leads to viewing other pastors and their ministries through a lens of either condescension or envy.

Peter had a problem with comparison. When Jesus predicted the disciples would abandon Him at His arrest, Peter claimed, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26:33). Peter believed himself to be a better man than James, Matthew, Andrew, John, Thomas, and the rest of the twelve. We know how that turned out.

This comparison reflex did not go away when Peter reconciled with Jesus and was commissioned to spiritual leadership. We know this because, as usual, whatever was on Peter’s mind came out of his mouth. The exchange between Jesus and Peter is recorded in John 21.

After reestablishing fellowship with Peter (“Do you love me?” “Yes, I love you.”) Jesus oriented him toward his new calling (“Feed my sheep”). Peter’s shepherding vocation would take him down a hard path to a painful end. “ ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.’ This He said to show by what death He was to glorify God. And after saying this He said to him, ‘Follow me’” (John 21:18-19). Although Peter may not have fully understood it then, Jesus was predicting Peter’s ministry would lead to prison and an agonizing death.

As they walked and talked, John lingered close by. He enjoyed a unique closeness to Jesus. As John recounted this event, he called himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved, the one who also had leaned back against Him during the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’” (John 21:20). John enjoyed the privilege of being positioned in the number one spot near Jesus during the Last Supper and sharing very personal conversation with Him.

I wonder if the details of John’s proximity to Jesus are included to highlight John’s intimacy in contrast to Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. For some reason, Peter compared himself to John. Whether he was thinking of John’s privileged relationship, or just because he was in view, Peter blurted, “Lord, what about this man?” (John 21:21).

We all have our comparison traps. Other churches in your community have full parking lots and hold multiple weekend services while your membership has plateaued or is declining. Your friend from seminary days gets invited to speak at national conferences and your only outside speaking engagement is the local Rotary club luncheon. As you hear a bi-vocational pastor describe the struggle of meeting the demands of a full-time job, church responsibilities, and a growing family, you feel pity from the vantage point of your fully paid pastoral position with support staff. Or envy if the circumstances are reversed. You visit a church while on vacation and have a running critique going through your head of the facilities, the volunteers, and the sermon, affirming yourself for how you do it better, or wishing you could. 

The possibilities are endless as our naturally prideful hearts evaluate, calculate, categorize, and pass judgment on others or ourselves. We feel the Holy Spirit’s conviction in our hearts about it. How can we put off this unholy attitude?

Attack the comparison mentality with the truth Jesus spoke to Peter. He said, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22). Jesus wasn’t stating that John wouldn’t die (see verse 23). He was making a point.

Jesus said to Peter in essence, “If God in His sovereign plan determines John will be exempt from the natural laws of aging and death, or maybe walk with God and disappear into heaven like Enoch, or a that a fiery chariot will pick him up and drop him off in glory like Elijah, but you, before you’ve even finished out your natural time on earth, will be tortured and executed as a criminal, dying in the worst, most shameful way, the difference is not your concern. You have no right to expect the same treatment as the other guy. Your circumstances may seem inequitably harsh. But I am the Chief Shepherd. Keep your eyes on me. Complete my will for you. You, Peter, you follow me.”

Your ministry setting, the people you shepherd, and the circumstances in each season of your ministry are all part of the Chief Shepherd’s assignment for you. Stop comparing yourself with others. You, pastor friend, keep your eyes on Jesus. You follow Christ.

Notice Jesus’ words, “If it is my will . . . you follow me” (verse 22). Literally the first part says, “If I am willing him.” Several translations say, “If I want him” (NASB, NET, CSB, NIV). Young’s Literal Translation captures the essence – “If him I will to remain till I come, what – to thee?”

Jesus claimed absolute authority over the circumstances of John’s life, even how long John lived, and by implication, over the circumstances and longevity of Peter’s life, and the manner of his death as well (verses 18-19).

Jesus revealed that He has a specific will for individuals and their ministries. He had a sovereignly determined plan for John and a different one for Peter. This reality applies to us as well. Jesus Christ sovereignly determines the circumstances of a pastor’s life and ministry. His will may include what we view as favorable circumstances or unfavorable circumstances. And His will for one pastor and ministry may vary significantly from another’s.

How can you gain control of your comparison reflex? Start with submitting yourself to the sovereign will of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Turn Jesus’ words into a daily prayer: “Lord Jesus, I bow to you and submit to your will for me and my ministry. Help me to not concern myself with the seeming advantages or disadvantages of others. Jesus, I’m following you.”

Then you can rejoice with and pray for others with a sincere heart. “Lord, thank you for how you are blessing my brother and his ministry. Give him wisdom to shepherd his flock through this season of prosperity. Guide him in using his gifts to minister for your glory. Keep Satan from gaining an advantage and tearing down what you are building up.” Or, “Lord, I see my brother struggling under heavy burdens. Channel grace to him for every difficult situation he faces. Strengthen him to fulfill your will for his ministry. Help him to follow you.”

Turn the comparison impulse into a reminder that Jesus Christ is preeminent in the church, it is His right to assign undershepherds where He wills, and each of us is responsible to follow Him.