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 Unworthiness

“Feed my sheep.”

These words were spoken in a beautiful outdoor setting. Early morning air. The lake’s glassy surface reflecting the pink edges of sunrise in the eastern sky. Warm fire crackling on the shore, the satisfaction of a full stomach, the comfort of friends. But for one man, the pleasure of these circumstances was overshadowed by deep, aching regret.

Sea of Galillee ©Dean H. Taylor

Peter’s self-preserving impulse came back to bite him hard as the One he had denied served him a cooked breakfast, then went right for the heart.

The familiar smell of woodsmoke triggered a painful memory – his refusal to be associated with the arrested Galilean. He could not unsay those words, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 27:74). Now here the friend he abandoned stood face-to-face, asking a strange question. Not, “Why did you deny me?” but, “Do you love me?” (John 21:15).

The Greek word for “charcoal fire” is used in the New Testament in John 21:9 and in one other setting. It is the word used of the fire outside the high priest’s house where Peter and others stayed warm while Jesus was interrogated inside (Luke 22:55).

There by that fire, Peter lied. He swore. He refused to be connected to Jesus.

Then his regret tore him up inside. He wept bitterly (Luke 22:62).

Now his friend is dead. But then – risen!!! And the message, “He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him” (Matthew 28:7).

Dread. But anticipation. Peter would face Jesus. What would He say?

“Catching anything boys? Try the other side of the boat!”

“It is the Lord!”

“Come have breakfast.” A fire.

“Peter, do you love me?” (John 21)

If the fire was not enough to signal to Peter this was an opportunity to move back toward Jesus, to right the wrong, then the question Jesus asked – three times! – was. Jesus laid out a path of restoration for Peter. The first step, really the one big step, was not mere acknowledgment or association, but loyal devotion – “Do you love me?”

Peter’s heart hurt at what he had done to Jesus (John 21:17), but he leaped at the opportunity to make it right, to renounce disloyalty and declare love. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” (John 21:15). Jesus could have justly disowned Peter. But instead He offered Peter the opportunity to declare his loyal love once and for all time, and to follow Jesus through his life, to the death. What grace.

Here, my pastor friend, is something we must all remember. Like Peter, we are in ministry, not by virtue of any goodness in us, but because of God’s magnanimous grace.

Not only at the time of our salvation, but again and again, we realize we don’t deserve the position we are in, that of being right with God. Those who are appointed to ministry are frequently reminded of this fact. Who are we, not only to benefit from God’s grace ourselves, but to be messengers of that grace to others and to have a leadership role in God’s work?

We remember the ways we have disappointed our Lord. We feel unworthy to fellowship with Him, much less to represent Him in ministry. But His grace superabundantly exceeds our sin (Romans 5:20-21).

Jesus’ instruction to Peter is His commission to every pastor: “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15). Three times He asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter affirmed his love. Three times Jesus directed Peter what to do next. Jesus restored Peter’s fellowship with Him, then commissioned him to ministry. “Tend my sheep” (verse 16). “Feed my sheep” (verse 17).

The instruction, “Feed my sheep,” was referenced by the apostle Paul when he charged the Ephesian pastors as recorded in Acts 20:28, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (NASB95).

Peter himself applied the same instruction to pastors in 1 Peter 5:2, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you.”

In each case, the privilege of filling the role of shepherd – pastor – is in view. Pastors are not self-made, but Spirit-made (Acts 20:28). And we are not owners or masters. We care for “the church of God which He obtained with His own blood” (Acts 20:28), the “flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2). Those terms marking out God’s ownership and authority are reminders that pastors are in their positions not by right, but by God’s gracious choice.

How does the fact that you, my pastor friend, are what you are by the grace of God impact you ? Is there a connection between Peter’s conversation with Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and your position as a pastor today?

Here is one connection I see. God’s grace in saving you and putting you in ministry is the antidote for unworthiness.

During my 25 years as a pastor, I think I doubted my ability and right to care for souls every day. Who am I to tell people how to live? Memories of past sins and the sharp consciousness of present, daily struggles eroded my confidence for ministering to others. Do you experience this?

Satan, the accuser, reminds us regularly of our unworthiness. But the ever-cleansing blood of Christ removes the basis for our unworthiness. The great transaction of justification places us into a right relationship with God. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

Justified pastor friend, you have peace with God. You have access to God. You stand in grace! You have hope as your source of joy. You were unworthy, but you are made worthy in Jesus Christ.

Take a few minutes and review these truths in your mind. Receive them as reassurances from God Himself individually to you. Allow them to purge out shame, doubt, guilt, regret, and paralyzing feelings of unworthiness.

I am justified by God’s free favor through my faith in the substitutionary death and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ the Lord.

I am right with God. My right standing with God is objective truth. Formerly an enemy, I am officially at peace with God.

I was unworthy to draw near to God myself, even less worthy to represent Him to others. But now I stand in grace. I am in God’s favor. My past performance did not earn God’s favor. My present performance does not keep me in God’s favor. My position in God’s favor is secure.

God’s gracious provision for me includes my place in the body of Christ. His free, unmerited and unmeritable favor that provided me with salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9) also granted my role as a pastor (Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-12).

I am a pastor by the grace of God. I am humbly grateful, and will move forward in confidence, not in my worthiness, but in God’s sovereign choice and limitless grace.

Allow these truths to saturate your soul, to fill your mind, to channel your thoughts. Review them regularly. Reflect them to God in prayers of thanksgiving. Speak them to your own soul. Step into your pulpit, drive to that visit, enter your next counseling appointment, in grace-based confidence.

Paul gratefully acknowledged he was in ministry only by God’s grace.

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.

But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.   

1 Timothy 1:12-17

Every leader serves in Christ’s church-building work because of God’s overflowing grace.

Grace doesn’t deny our unworthiness. It overpowers it. It redirects the focus from us to God. Because of our unworthiness, Jesus can display His faithfulness, love, and patience. We and all who know us can exclaim, “To Him be the glory forever and ever.”

So, push aside those feelings of unworthiness, and go take care of your sheep.