Flirting with temptation; playing with fire

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” (Proverbs 27:6)

Perhaps the most dangerous place on the church campus is the pastor’s counseling office.

When the minister is shut up in a tight space with a vulnerable female who confides in him the most personal things of her life, often the two people do something completely natural and end up bonding emotionally.

The bonding process is simple: she opens up to him, he sympathizes with her, she reaches out to him, and there it goes.

Many a ministry and a great many marriages have been destroyed in the counseling room.

Can we talk about this?

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Why pastors bang their heads against the wall and counselors resign

Michelle Singletary writes a financial advice column for the Washington Post.

Some years ago, a fellow wrote Ms. Singletary for advice. He was planning to marry his fiancee of 18 months as soon as they dealt with her spending habits which were clearly out of control. Her closet contained 400 pairs of shoes, many still new, and was overflowing with clothing. She justified her spendthrift ways by saying she works two jobs and looks for bargains.

The man asked Michelle Singletary, “What can I do to help her curb her spending habits without making her feel bad or as though I am putting her down?”

Ms. Singletary urged him to postpone this marriage. They were not close to being ready until this was solved. She suggested pulling credit reports, seeing what that revealed and then finding a credit counselor.

That was ten or more years ago.

The other day, Michelle Singletary received an email from that guy telling her what happened.  The news is not good.

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Why some marriages make it–against all expectations

My mother once asked if when couples come to see me with marriage plans, do I try to talk them out of it. She was teasing, but that’s not entirely a joke. If the preacher can, he perhaps ought to.

The problem is by the time they get to the pastor’s office, their minds are made up and no one can talk them into changing their plans. Unfortunately, in many cases, neither can you talk them into changing their mindsets.

But, we keep trying.

We preachers deliver sermonettes to them in the office, counsel them on what they’ve learned about themselves and each other, and hand them books to read, all in an attempt to get some new ideas into their minds and some growth into their relationship.

We give them Gary Chapman’s book, Five Love Languages, and say, “Don’t come back until you’ve read it. We’ll be talking about its insights at the next session.” Once, when the groom-to-be said he had not had the time to read it, I lowered the boom on him. “Remember I told you I’m not charging you anything for my services? Well, if I’m going to sacrifice a little, you ought to, also!” I looked at him and said sternly, “Read the book!”

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Some weddings you never forget. As much as you’d like to.

(I’m in the middle of my “wedding season.” Did one wedding last weekend, this weekend will marry my granddaughter Abigail to Cody, and have a couple more scheduled for this year.  And that prompted the following.)

Most pastors agree we will take a funeral over a wedding any day.

You don’t have to rehearse a funeral. And there are no formal meals or receptions involved. You stand up in front of the honored guest, and do your thing, say your prayers, enjoy a couple of great songs, and go your way.

But with weddings,  you have these rehearsals where a thousand things can go wrong, where the bride and her mother argue, where bridesmaids sometimes see how risque’ they can dress, and the groomsmen how rambunctious they can behave.  You have a wedding director who may or may not be capable. (I’ll take a drill sergeant from Parris Island any day over a lazy director who has no idea all the awful things that can happen the next day.)

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What the pastor should say in the wedding

“…the  two shall become one….” (Matthew 19:5)

The wedding ceremony is a great time–once in a lifetime for most people–for the pastor to get something across to two people in particular while hundreds are eavesdropping.

Not that they will remember a thing you say.

Friday, April 13, 1962, when Margaret and I stood at the altar, our pastor said some wonderful things that I found fascinating and inspiring.  Alas, my mind retained his insightful words for exactly half an hour, so whatever he said is gone forever.

These days, someone is recording your wedding service. So, you’ll be able to listen later when life returns to normal.

Presumably, that’s when the minister’s words are finally heard and begin to sink in.

So, what do you tell them, pastor? What words of lasting value and incredible help can you utter during the ceremony which will make a huge difference down the road a year or two or ten?  Now, you have only so much time, and this is not the time nor place for a full sermon. Still, choose a few great points you wish to lodge in their hearts forever and give it a shot.

Here are my suggestions on what you want to tell the couple….

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What true love looks like

No one will ever convince me Solomon wrote the “Song” attributed to him in the Old Testament.

No one with hundreds of wives and a gymnasiumful of ready-made girlfriends can focus on one woman the way the writer of that poetic rhapsody did.  (If you love the Song of Solomon, good. I’m only saying there is no way it’s from the pen and heart of this Israeli king. See my note at the end.)

True love is not about being enamored by the sheen in her hair or the gleam in her brown eyes.  It’s far deeper than that.

I was preaching a revival in Elberta, Alabama, a sweet little community near the coastal resort town of Gulf Shores.  One morning, host pastor Mike Keech and I met for breakfast at a quaint little cafe called Grits ‘n Gravy. I’d brought along my sketch pad, so over the next hour we table-hopped and I drew all the diners, a dozen or more, as well as Patrick the owner and Megan the counter lady.  Everyone was friendly and the chatter was delightful, but no one was more memorable than the senior couple sitting in a corner booth.

The man had a long white beard. I walked over and said, “Folks, I’m a cartoonist and I draw people. And you, sir, are just crying to be drawn.”  “Oh?” he said. “Yes sir. You look like a character and I do love to draw characters.”

“I’m not a character,” he said solemnly.

His wife said with a smile, “He is most definitely a character.”

I sat down beside them and sketched both.

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Adultery’s Lies: The unspoken heartaches

A friend in another state emailed that the membership of her church is being plundered and savaged by adulterous affairs. She is asking for prayer.

Let’s talk about how the enemy sabotages the Lord’s people through the lies of adultery.

I recommend J. Allan Petersen’s 1984 book “The Myth of the Greener Grass.” It should be bought and devoured and kept by every married person, particularly those in the Lord’s work. (See the note from this book below, at the end of this piece.)

Here is my own personal list of the devil’s lies concerning adultery. See if any have been dangled before your eyes.

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The room in your home no one knows about

“I’ve got a secret!”  –Popular television game show of the 1960s and 1970s.

A man I know once wrote of the secrets his family was harboring as they struggled to deal with an addictive, out-of-control relative.

“You know how the family gets ready to host a guest and the house is clean and in order and nothing out of place?  The guest is impressed.  He wishes his house could be this neat and organized with nothing out of place.”

“But what he doesn’t know is that there is one room where you have stored all the junk and clutter.  If he were to open the door to that room, he would be amazed.”

That, he said, is how things are for a family that tries to keep up an image when they are about to come apart.

They push things back into that private room, whose door they dare not open.

It’s about family secrets.

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Want to hear a funny story about a wedding?

When you’ve been in the ministry as long as I have–I began pastoring when JFK was president!–there are few things you haven’t seen or experienced.  This one is about weddings I have done (or had done to me!).

There was this one wedding….

–Which was attended by Sandra Bullock. I didn’t know it at the time, and learned it later. The famous movie star was all of 10 years old. The bride was her aunt or a cousin of her mama’s or something. (I wonder if she remembers me. lol. )

–Where I called the groom by the name of the best man. Oops. (Thereafter, I wrote the names of the bride and groom in large letters at the top of my materials.)

–Where I dropped the ring. For years in rehearsals, I would instruct the bride and groom, “If it drops, let it go. No one will know and we’ll get it later.”  So, when it happened  I’m the one stooping down to pick it up. Oh, well. Not that big a deal.

–Where the groom was wearing cowboy boots with his formal tux. During the picture-taking, I said to the bride, “Debbie, you should have worn yours.” With that, she hiked her dress up and showed me. She was wearing her boots too.

–Where the bride fainted. See below.

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Discovered: The secret to a great marriage

God brought her to Adam.  And Adam said, “At last!”  –Genesis 2:22-23, pretty much.

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.  — Romans 12:10  In lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself.  –Philippians 2:3

My wife and I each think we got the better part of the deal.

That’s it.  That’s our “secret.”

After 52 years of marriage–she to Gary and I to Margaret–Bertha Pepper Fagan and I met four years ago, February 15, 2016, and knew that week that the Lord had put us together. We were married the following January 11.  Next week we celebrate our third anniversary.

Everyone on my side of the family delights in my bride. And, as far as I can tell, Bertha’s side all seem okay with her pick of a hubby. So, we’re doing great.

We could wish every couple felt this way.

Have you ever known anyone who felt they married beneath themselves? That they could have done better?

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