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Posts from July 2016

Reflections from a Wedding

The summer is winding down and while there is no "official season" for weddings, we still see more weddings scheduled during the months of May through July here in our area. This year has been significant in my life regarding weddings. I have been to dozens of weddings - in most I have had the honor of serving as pastor (of officiant, to be precise.) Just over two months ago, I once again stood before the bride and groom, but also had the privilege of walking the bride down the aisle as in this very special wedding, the bride was my daughter.

Last night, I stepped in front of the crowd once more and led a man and woman into the covenant relationship of marriage. Once again, it was a beautiful wedding ceremony capped off with a fun reception for family and friends. 

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Photo credit: pixel pro photography via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

While I am not the "wedding expert" (those people tend to be relegated to TLC shows and special wedding blogs) I have been to my fair share of weddings and I have experienced these ceremonies from various perspectives, so here are some random (totally random) thoughts on weddings. Remember, these are from a pastor's perspective...and a man's.

RANDOM THOUGHT ON WEDDINGS & RECEPTIONS

  • Watch the groom. When the bride begins to walk down the aisle, you (the crowd) need to stand and look at her, but take a look at the groom. In most cases, this is the first time he has seen her in the dress and in my experience, the look on his face is priceless. Take a picture of him.
  • Flower girls and ring bearers are cute, but once they come down the aisle, they don't need to be the ones everyone is watching. So if they're really young, don't let stand up front with the bridal party unless they can handle standing still for about 45 minutes.
  • Take your pictures of the bride and groom, but if you're told to not use a flash - please turn it off. You may be frustrated that your photos are not as clear and Instagram-worthy, but no worries, in most cases a professional photographer has been paid to get higher resolution and better quality pictures. Don't be a distraction.
  • Uncle Guido needs to stay off the stage. This is a direct reference to one wedding I attended at our church. I was not officiating this one, but had a great seat because I was running the sound system for it. I'm not sure the uncle's name was Guido, but he looked like an Uncle Guido. His metallic, shiny shirt, with the top four buttons undone, hairy chest showing with gold medallion around his neck (for full effect, picture Danny DeVito at a disco) walked up on the stage to get some photographs DURING the ceremony. And, just so the image is complete, his camera was one of the cardboard, throw-away cameras that were popular about twenty years ago. So you hear this "click" then the loud winding of the film. The guy was really nice, but let's just say, he was a bit of a distraction.
  • When a worship service breaks out at the wedding, it is a good thing. In fact, it should be the case at each wedding since the imagery of husband and wife is God's choice for illustrating best Christ's relationship with his church. God-honoring weddings hit the mark. When the wedding centers upon his greatness and grace, everything falls into place. Of course, this means that the husband and wife should both be Christians. This makes that "equally yoked" concept clear. 
  • On that note, Christians should only marry Christians. That's not legalistic. It's not my idea. It's a biblical construct that shows obedience. I am sad to say that far too many weddings I see are built on the foundation of physical attraction, eros love, and "my biological clock is ticking and all my friends are getting married." Nevertheless, poor marriage preparation does keep the marriage counselors in business.
  • The marriage is more important than the wedding. Now, more than ever, this must be declared. When the state gives marriage license discounts for couples who have gone through pre-marital counseling, it's clear that even those who do not affirm God's plan for marriage see preparation as vital. We use SYMBIS (Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts) and it has provided for intense evaluation and open and frank conversations. Of course pre-marital counseling is only as effective as the couple is open and the facilitator is prepared.
  • The perfect wedding is one where a man and woman covenant to stay holy and faithful and to love and respect each other "until death do they part." Young ladies, especially, are inundated with Photoshopped images and finely edited videos of "perfect" weddings. Pinterest is not really a problem, but I have not been to a wedding in the past five years that was not influenced greatly by something the bride saw on Pinterest. Add that to "Say Yes to the Dress" and "I Found the Gown" and a host of other "reality" shows and undue pressure for perfection arises.
  • Godly weddings do not have to be in church buildings. There was a day when weddings held outside of church facilities raised the eyebrows of those in the community. Whispers such as "They're not allowed to be married in the church" would develop and in some cases that was true. Nevertheless, I am seeing many weddings held in facilities and even outdoors that are centered on God and his love. Sometimes, it's just a venue issue and the preference of the family and the bride. Remember, if this is a once-in-a-lifetime event having a beautiful venue in photographs and videos does not remove God from the ceremony. To be honest, I have been to my fair share of weddings in the church building that were less that worshipful.
  • The bride is beautiful! She is and she should be told this by others. In many cases, these women have spent hours getting ready for this moment. The most beautiful bride is the one who truly loves the Lord. I know it sounds cliche´, but it's not. The beauty of a woman devoted to God shines through and when she can actually wear that white dress as a sign of her purity saved for her husband, it is wonderful.
  • Tissues please. Even the strongest will have leaky eyes at times. I have learned to have tissues on hand for the bride, groom (and the father of the bride.) 
  • The bride gets final say. I tell the brides this clearly prior to the rehearsal. This is her wedding (and the groom, too, but he's just rented a tux and stands there waiting for her, so we let her decide all this.) That means this is not the wedding coordinator's wedding. It's really not the mother of the bride's wedding (though she likely paid for it). In most every case decisions are already made and the mother of the bride and the bride collaborated on it. In many cases, the ceremony had been planned since the bride was about eight. Nevertheless, I always ask the bride "Is this what you want?" if there's a change or question. If she doesn't like it, I become the bad guy and just say "No, we're doing it this way." If I make a mother of the bride or groom mad, it's no big deal. I won't be sitting with these folks at Christmas, Thanksgiving, and birthdays for the next few decades and that bride will. So, I figure, let's let the woman have her day.
  • One man to one woman marriage only.  (Yeah, I know there were polygamists in Scripture, but even those instances were not God's holy desire.) This was not an issue when I first began doing wedding ceremonies, but now that same-sex weddings are legal, some heretofore understood ideas are having to be declared clearly. Just to be clear, I will not perform the ceremony for same-sex couples or transgendered individuals. Our church won't host these ceremonies and none of our pastors or ministers will perform these either. While it's easy to declare us as "haters" the reality is that we believe we cannot honor God's plans and His word by playing a role in such events. Even as I led the wedding ceremony last night, I was made aware once more how many "man/woman" and "husband/wife" commands from Scripture are part of my vows and charge to the couple. I know that over 150,000 same-sex weddings have taken place in the US since the Obergefell case led to the legalization of such unions, but just because something is legal does not make it biblical. 
  • Husbands are to love their wives. Wives are to respect their husbands. For the first time, I added this in the ceremony yesterday. After the rings were given, the vows taken and the unity candle lit, the couple stood before me ready for the big "I declare you married, now kiss your bride" moment when I asked the groom plainly "Do you love her?" He answered yes! Then, I looked to the bride and said, "We've talked about this. You know the Bible commands the husband to love his wife, but the command to the wife is different." She remembered and said to me "Respect." I smiled and said, "That's how we men feel loved. So, do you respect him?" She said yes! It was a moment. You know, one of those moments where people in the room go "Oh, that's good." and then, of course the couple kissed and walked back down the aisle as one. Love and respect. Check out Dr. Emerson Eggerichs' book on this. Good stuff.
  • RSVPs matter. To be honest, there have been many times I have forgotten to RSVP for receptions. Once we (my wife and I) began putting together the details for our daughter's wedding and reception (which had limited seating) I began to see the value of the RSVP. So, send that back. Oh, apparently, some don't know what RSVP means. It's French for "SEND BACK YOUR RESPONSE." 
  • Only RSVP the number reserved. Regarding RSVPs, if there is a number pre-printed on your invitation, that means there is limited seating, so don't get mad and say "I'm adding my boyfriend or fourth child or uncle or whomever." If the invitation says "We've reserved 3 seats for you" it means there are only 3 seats, so either say "Yes, we three will be there" or signify a number less than three or just say no.
  • Show up. If you RSVP saying you'll be there and don't show up, especially if it's for the reception and a dinner is provided, you've just rudely cost the parents of the bride money. This wasn't the case really for our daughter's wedding, but I have seen it happen. Okay, here's the deal - I look at the empty chair next to me at the reception last night and wonder why the person said they were coming, had the family pay for that plate and then decided to not show. I'll go with benefit of the doubt and hope the person was sick (that's not really right, is it?) and couldn't make it. Oh yeah, sometimes people just plain forget and they miss an event. That's understandable, too. We're human. But....if you say "YES" and then the wedding day comes and you're at home and laying on the couch and just decided not to come because you, well, just don't want to come...DON'T. Get up, get dressed, put on some deodorant, comb your hair and go to the wedding. It's the right thing to do.
  • Dry receptions can be fun, and you'll remember it the next day sans headache. Drunks at wedding receptions are embarrassing and while funny, become a black mark on an otherwise beautiful ceremony. So, for one night just drink the tea, coffee, and watermelon-infused carbonated beverage (I have no idea what that is, but it was an option last night.)
  • Wedding reception music is important. Here's what I've observed - The Cupid Shuffle allows many people with only ten percent of dancing ability and rhythm to engage in a non-threatening "dance" and it looks fun. Music from the 80s is a must. This allows the 40 and 50-somethings in the crowd (these are often the parents, uncles, aunts, and mentors) to feel young and have flashbacks to high school. Be ready though, once "Footloose" starts playing, someone is going to try to dance like Kevin Bacon but look more like Chris Penn. Now that the "kids" are getting older, some classic pop music from N*Sync, the Backstreet Boys, and the Spice Girls tends to bring more people onto the dance floor.
  • Dancing is a misnomer as most of the white, Baptist people weddings I have attended show that clearly. The truth is clear, it's not that Baptists don't dance. It's that most Baptists (of which I am one) cannot dance. And since most Baptists don't drink publicly, these are sober people acting the fool on a dance floor. When these dance moments happen, iPhones appear. I'm always careful.
  • All weddings need drones. This is a new thing. At last night's wedding, the videographer had a drone! Yes, a drone. It was incredible. From my vantage point on stage, as the bride and groom exited the church building, the doors opened and they were greeted with a drone and I imagine the video is incredible. Of course, it's best to warn the wedding party the drone is there, otherwise they may think that Skynet has taken over.
  • Weddings must be holy, but should be fun at the same time. These are not mutually exclusive.
  • Outdoor weddings at 2pm in August in Florida are not best. Done these before. Good thing my suit is black and the sweat isn't noticeable. 
  • A good exit song is a must. Yesterday they played "Signed, Sealed, Delivered." It was fun.

Well, these are just thoughts and worth about what you expect. 

As I look back at over twenty years of officiating weddings, I cannot help but smile that many of the couples remain married, committed to the Lord and to each other. Oh, it's not a perfect record, but in every case, we sought to do the ceremony and the marriage right. It's not easy being married. As stressful as putting together a wedding may be, the real challenge comes once the ceremony ends. Yet, as it says in the Bible regarding all that God created, the marriage union, founded on him and his Word is GOOD.


Pastors and Politics - How To Lead In An Election Year

Every four years, at a minimum, questions are raised within the church regarding politics and political involvement. 

This year is no different and while the national stage has been set for the presidential election with Republican nominee Donald Trump and the Democrat nominee being Hillary Clinton, many Christians are now perplexed as for whom to vote. Of course there are some in both camps who are adamant about their candidate, but something interesting has happened this year. The development of the #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary camps within each respective party has created a bit of a conundrum.

A Vote "For" Is Really a Vote "Against"

We have all heard these reasonings. Mostly from friends and family members (and maybe from our own mouths) regarding intentions come November. One group just cannot stomach voting for Trump, so they will vote for Clinton. Another group fears what may happen if Clinton is President, so they will vote for Trump. It's the "lesser of two evils" argument.

Still others, due to convictions and conscience will opt to vote for neither and will either leave that block blank or pick a third-party candidate. 

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Photo credit: DonkeyHotey via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

In a recent post on The Gospel Coalition site, Justin Taylor addresses this issue head-on. He quotes Matthew Franck, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Radford University and Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute who argues "it is wrong to think of a vote not cast for Leading Contender A as a de facto vote cast for Leading Contender B."

Not everyone agrees with Franck's assessment, but the argument is clear. Click here to read the full posting by Taylor.

All Politics Is Local

I know no pastor who hasn't been inundated with questions and strong opinions regarding elections each cycle. Our local community is not unlike yours, I would bet. 

There have always been, and likely always will be, the local church that candidates attend or join simply for the political push. I was sitting with an elected official at a prayer breakfast two years ago when the local cycle of elections was in full swing (as they are now.) The room for the community prayer breakfast was full. The official leaned over to me and said, "Well, you can tell it's an election year." I laughed because I knew exactly what that meant. This person then said, "I'm a member of _______ Church (not mine and not a church in my denomination) and I get these mailings from candidates that state they are active members of my church, but I know good and well that they joined the church just last week. Happens every year."

That too is true, I'm sure. 

Now, I'm not faulting the churches. We all want people to join our fellowships. We really like it when they are becoming part of our church families due to the leading of the Holy Spirit and the desire to serve God. Yet, sometimes other things motivate members and we still love them and serve them and guide them as best we can as pastors.

Sometimes, however, the politics in the community can be used by the Enemy to not only divide people by political parties, but to create division within the family of God. It happens all the time and in every community, no doubt. 

I lament the loss of church family members due to these issues. 

How Political Should the Church Be?

Pastor - here's a truth I offer you today that you can bank on.

You will never be political enough for some in your church and at the same time, you will be way too political for others.

One friend left our church after months of living frustrated over things that, in my opinion, weren't that vital to the gospel or the mission of the church. When he joined a sister church in the community, he felt "led" to email me one last message. In this one (and there were many prior) he stated, "This other church's pastor is more political than you and speaks from the pulpit all the time about elections, voting and whom we should vote for." He went on about the glory of the politically divisive and yet, I know his pastor and I know he (the pastor) does not do as was stated. Yet, perception is reality, I guess.

Politics is a way of life in our culture. To avoid it is to skip out on a subject that must be addressed from the gospel perspective. I believe Dr. Russell Moore, the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission states it well in this short video.

 

What To Do?

Simply put, as Christians, we should be involved in the process of voting. We should speak clearly on the issues that are addressed in Scripture. We must remember that God ordains all that lead and that He alone is our answer and rescuer and no politician or political party can usurp (or should, at least) that role.

Christians should be more evangelistic about Jesus than their candidate of choice.

Can you imagine if the effort to tell people about the Redeemer was as intense as the effort to get people to vote for one's preferred candidate what may happen?

Pastors - regardless where you land regarding how political you are publicly, pray for God's lead and be ready with a biblical, godly, gospel-saturated answer for all you do and say. Remember, you're not called to shepherd people for just the next term, but to lead them into eternity as citizens of the Kingdom of God - faithful and true.

Oh, and please vote. Lead your people to participate not check out and stay home on election day. There's nothing wrong with having voting registration at your church. Don't lead your church to passively ignore their responsibility as citizens, but moreso as followers of Christ. 


What the Dallas Shootings Reveal

This past week has been horrific. Stories flooding social media and airwaves first from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, then Minnesota, and finally from Dallas, Texas.

 

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A Dallas police sergeant wears a mourning band on his badge during a prayer vigil in a park following the multiple police shooting in Dallas. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Regarding the Dallas story, Twitter and Facebook erupted with first-person accounts. Some were authentic. Some were likely fabricated. Some were posted too soon (remember the gentleman with the rifle who was peacefully protesting and immediately became the suspect due to an improperly posted image?) It happens all the time. In the midst of the reports (and we now live in a world where "official" reports from reputable news agencies are often too quickly posted just as uninformed tweets and FB postings.) Evil seems to be winning. Maybe evil is winning, but remember, the game is not over and, as in sports, it doesn't matter who's in the lead at half-time.

Everything Is Political

The politicization of every tragedy seems to be the norm now. Maybe this was always the case, but with immediate, as-it-happens news updates, it now seems no public statement can be made without a politically-based leaning. Words are parsed. Spin is set. And the populace continues to shake their collective heads as if to say "Really? Wow! That's all you have?" knowing that tepid statements from leaders and influencers mean little.

Our nation has been divided since...oh, about 1776...along political and relational lines. Even our forefathers weren't exactly best friends (just read about the John Adams and Thomas Jefferson relationship.) The blackest time in our nation's history centers around division where brothers took up arms agains each other. Division has developed over religious, political, racial and even generational differences. The "United" States of America has always struggled to live up to that name. Yet, to be clear, I still believe the great experiment known as the USA is valuable, honorable, and the best option available among a world that has strived since the beginning for meaning, hope, and purpose. While I admit that not every founding father was a Christian, I believe God ordained the founding of this nation and did so for His glory.

Politics Will Not Solve Our Issues

Every generation has likely stated that "It's never been this bad, though," and that could be true. There have been moments of national unity, but often they're fleeting and prefaced by a tragedy (The Alamo, Pearl Harbor, 9/11, etc.) At times of crisis, the populace looks for a word of hope, of encouragement, of direction. At these times, those with an audience, those with influence, must speak and speak well.

In our nation, the President has been the one that most look to for words of hope and strength during times of war, fear, sadness and crisis. This has been the case throughout our limited history.

It is easy to see that, under the sharp discipline of civil war, the nation is beginning a new life. - Abraham Lincoln

We Americans of today, together with our allies, are passing through a period of supreme test. It is a test of our courage—of our resolve—of our wisdom—our essential democracy. If we meet that test—successfully and honorably—we shall perform a service of historic importance which men and women and children will honor throughout all time. - Franklin D. Roosevelt

America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand. - Harry S. Truman

I call upon Chairman Khrushchev to halt and eliminate this clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace… He has an opportunity now to move the world back from the abyss of destruction. - John F. Kennedy

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! - Ronald Reagan

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them — this morning, as they prepared for their journey, and waved good-bye, and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God." - Ronald Reagan

I can hear you, the rest of the world can hear you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon. - George W. Bush

I believe that I speak for every single American when I say that we are horrified over these events, and that we stand united with the people and the police department in Dallas. - Barack Obama

Yet, even with these words of strength, clarity, and comfort...fear remains.

More Than a Race Problem

Is there a race problem in America? Absolutely. While we have come far, we are continually reminded that we have far to go. There is still a race problem. This became evident to me last week as I was driving through a small town in northern Arkansas and saw a billboard advertising "White Pride Radio." Now, in case you haven't checked...I'm white. Lily white. I've always been white. I identify as white. I don't even tan well. Yet, when I saw the billboard, I was angered. Cloaked in "racial pride" and featuring an image of a young girl holding a puppy along with the word "Love" plastered on the sign, I was angered at the deception. This wasn't love. It was hate disguised as love. I went to the website and immediately it changed to a KKK online radio station. Yeah, I deleted my browser history.

Now, I realize that one billboard does not define an entire town. There are people in every community who are "color blind." There are true Christians of all races and in every neighborhood who value life because we are God's image-bearers.

 

I cannot speak as a black man, brown man, tan man, red man, yellow man, or any other shade of melanin man because, as I stated before, I'm a white man. It's a bit disingenuous to speak on behalf of a person or people group that one does not belong. Yet, here's what I do know to be true - hatred is not reserved for any one race. Well, I take that back. Hatred is something that develops within a particular race all too well - the human race

This is why political statements and posturing will never completely solve the problem. Division is the nature of man. Pride is the default setting. Anger is natural. Evil and depravity need not be taught. 

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9 ESV

It's our nature. It's why we have crime. It's why we need laws. It's why we need police officers.

So, as the stories unfold and sadly, another tragedy will hit the news soon, I fear (not because I know any specifics, but because I know the heart of man) we can rest assured that within the storms, within the crises, in the midst of the fear and the anger and the danger known in this world, evil only appears to be winning. Ultimately, love does win. Not the watered down hashtag of #LoveWins that has been used the past few years, but the agape, grace-centered, gospel-founded love that is Jesus Christ! 

In the meantime, we pray. 

Yes - Pray!

Yet, let's be more preemptive in our prayers. Don't wait for the tragedy to create the latest #PrayFor_____ trend (which I've used and will, so I'm not knocking that) but let's pray now for those grieving and mourning, for those seeking to get through today and the next, for those who are sworn to protect us, for the black lives, for the brown lives, for the red lives, for the yellow lives, for the white lives (I just had a flashback to the "Jesus Loves the Little Children" song I learned as a child) and for the mixed races (which at this point in our history includes just about everyone on the planet) and the blue lives (which include all the previous ones listed but whom wear badges and run to danger.)

 

Let's pray for strength, protection, and security, but let's amp it up a bit. Let's pray for salvation and the rescue of the depraved and desperate hearts that Jeremiah mentioned are within us all. Let's pray for those who do not know the rescuer, the ransomer of hearts, the redeemer of souls, the way, truth and life to know and surrender all to him. And let's not just pray for them, but be obedient to tell them of this great salvation.

For you see, apart from Christ...there is no hope.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 ESV

But with Christ, we have true hope. A hope that gives assurance that in all the craziness we experience, God remains sovereign.