Greater Love, Week 1 — The “Movement” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Embodied no little bit of irony.  Two days before the official release of “Simplify The Message; Multiply The Impact,” a book for all practical purposes on designing and delivering one point sermons, my sermon yesterday featured four … points.  Four movements.  No single bottom line.
  • The reason for that different kind of message is that I designed the sermon to introduce “The Beautiful Marriage Movement” to the congregation and  community at large. I had shared some of these thoughts at a Leader Gathering back in September.
  • Celebrated the beauty of gender as God’s good creation and then reminded the church that when Jesus could have redefined marriage, he reinforced it instead.
  • Set our audacious goals of touching 10,000 couples over seven years with life giving resources designed to prevent crises rather than manage them.  Along the way, we hope to cut divorce filings in half in our area.


So it has been about 15 months ago now that my wife and I hosted a wedding for our daughter. She got married in Nashville, outdoors, at a venue. It rained every day leading up to the wedding. It was bitter cold the day after the wedding. The day OF the weding? Perfect. Crisp, gold, red, perfect. It was one pretty wedding: (AV) Now: it was also a pretty EXPENSIVE wedding, which is why GROOME’S parents usually enjoy those weekends more than brides’ parents but that’s another sermon for another time. But it all helped me realize as a dad and as a pastor, we spend a lot of money and time on pretty weddings. We’ve got wedding planners, wedding venues, wedding bands; we’ve got Say Yes To The Dress, we’ve got Four Weddings, we’ve got My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and even Wedding Crashers. Pretty weddings are everywhere. Time, money, effort.

And all that is fine, all that is good, we’ve got WPlanners who go to Good Shepherd; it’s just that we have decided that for the next seven years at least, pretty weddings will be someone else’s business. Because I want to share with you for a few moments as we begin The House That Love Built to share with you that there is a MOVEMENT we have recently launched. It is a movement not of pretty weddings but instead of BEAUTIFUL MARRIAGES. Because a pretty wedding lasts a day while a BEAUTIFUL MARRIAGE takes a lifetime. And this message will be completely different from what you get most Sundays: no “one liner,” no snappy “bottom line”; I instead want to take you through a journey that will ultimately tell you that WHERE WE ARE GOING completely fuels WHAT WE ARE DOING. So you ready?
Because the journey begins with THE REALITY. One day not too long ago I was driving back from a UMC meeting in Greensboro and because my tank had gotten just below HALF FULL, I had a mini panic attack. To prevent the full on version, I pulled over to a gas station in Salisbury. As I pulled around, I noticed something happening with two cars in the back part of the parking lot. It was a man and a woman and two kids. And as I watched, I realized what I was seeing: the Friday afternoon custody transfer. Mom drives up, kids pile out, Dad gets out of car, little boy flings his arms around Dad’s legs as if to say, “I have missed you Daddy!” Mom and Dad say their stiff & simultaneous “Hi/Bye” and the transfer is done. It’s a Friday afternoon ritual all across our viewing area.
And some of you grew up in the middle of that hand off. Others of you had friends who did. And then I know I a lot of you are in the middle of it right now, even this weekend. A few of you remember all too well what those awkward encounters were like, you know the toll it took on your kids, and you’re glad that’s in the past. And then some of you may be wondering: is that in my future?

But I just want you to know the gravity of that situation. I have realized in recent years that every problem that comes into my office is related somehow to marriage. It’s marriages that are in crises now. It’s people in adulthood still struggling with the trauma that results from growing up in a marriage that was perpetually in crisis. It’s even the empty nesters whose own lives are overturned because all of a sudden instead of enjoying retirement they’re raising grandchildren. Why? Marriage crisis in their kids bled over into their once comfortable lives. Yep, every single problem is somehow tied back to marriage and the upheaval its unhealthy brings. Houses that started out being built on love get destroyed by complacency, deception, and hatred and all of us pay the price.

It’s true in the big picture as the incarceration rates for those raised without a father in the home are astronomical and it’s true in the small picture as a good chunk of your anxiety & depression – your “missing peace” – comes from the marriage you grew up in or the one you are in. In fact, I have to believe that our culture’s VERY SUCCESSFUL attempt to redefine marriage (now between two people regardless of gender & mark my words, THREEPLES are next) are because of the failure of traditional marriages. If “we” hadn’t failed, upcoming generations wouldn’t have “bailed.”

And in this REALITY, here is the typical church’s marriage ministry: CRISIS MANAGEMENT. I say that because it’s been OUR marriage ministry for years. We wait until you’re in trouble and then you bring the troubles into one of the pastors (often as a camouflage to say later, even the pastor couldn’t fix us!) and ask for help. And we counsel or refer or counsel then refer. And the great thing about that is that I have had a front row seat to the times God worked in spite of my fear and inexperience to bring about healing. I was there that time when, after a few sessions that I didn’t think had gone well, wife turns to husband and says, “I love you. We’re good now. I’m in.” They still are. Praise the Lord for that.

But note something there: typically churches (and us for years) have waited until couples got into the quicksand and then we jump in and tried to help pull them out. No effort or thought was given to Quicksand Avoidance, Crisis Prevention in the first place. That’s the reality out there and in here.

But with the REALITY, there is a REMEDY. Because the reality – EVERY problem in the world and my world connects to marital strife AND EVERY church adopts a CRISIS MANAGEMENT MINDSET – got me thinking. What if there was a church who let pretty weddings be someone else’s business and decided instead that they were going to be all about BEAUTIFUL MARRIAGES?
What if that same church set a ridiculous goal of touching 10,000 couples in seven years with life giving resources and teaching around marriage that was designed not to MANAGE CRISES BUT TO PREVENT THEM?
What if that same church coupled that audacious 10,000 Touch Goal with the equally ambitious one of cutting the divorce filings in southern Mecklenburg and northern York Counties IN HALF over the next seven years?

What if that same church became known throughout the community as “that church that cares about my marriage whether I go there or not”?
And what if that church knew that people who are single and single again are beloved by God and included in his community and that THEIR OWN RELATIONSAL HEALTH was indispensable for the entire ridiculousness of the goals they’re setting?

And when it came to parenting, what if that same church not only wanted parents who cared more about kids getting into heaven than to Harvard, but resourced them to make it happen?

What if that same church, knowing that all people, single or married, are IMPACTED by marriage harnessed its energy for this focus? So it’s programming wasn’t random & haphazard but strategic and heavenly?
What if that church so focused on healthy relationships that from the beginning, with ppl who are single, it’s as if we focused more on WELLNESS instead of HOSPICE?

And what if that church was US?

That’s the REMEDY and it’s what we’re calling The Beautiful Marriage Movement.

It’s a movement because we’re setting out to do this not to grow our church but to bless our community. Because healthy marriage leads to better subdivisions and stronger schools and lighter traffic (!), all to the point that seven years from now Steele Creek, Lake Wylie, Fort Mill and Pineville will be better, more loving, more thriving places to live than they are right now. We want to be known as that church that cares about your healthy relationships if you’re single and your beautiful marriage if you’re married EVEN IF YOU NEVER COME TO CHURCH HERE.

Wanna know something more about all this? Jesus happens to think that marriage is a big deal. The biblical reality is that marriage is the FIRST INSTITUTION that God created. Genesis 2:24:

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Before government, school, synagogue, church, the RNC or the DNC or even RUN DMC God created the institution of marriage. The biblical library begins with a marriage in a garden between a man and a woman and it ends in a garden with a marriage between the Lamb and his bride. And in between, in the Gospels in fact, when Jesus COULD HAVE redefined marriage, he reinforced instead.  Look at Matthew 19:4-6:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Begin, ending, and all points in between, it’s clear marriage is something on the heart of God the Father. We need to REMEDY the REALITY because we want to reflect Jesus’ heart for the world.

The result of all this is THE MOVEMENT. So we are about five months into THE BEAUTIFUL MARRIAGE MOVEMENT and can I tell you something fascinating? We come up with this crazy idea and these ridiculous goal – HOW IN THE WORLD CAN A CHURCH CUT DIVORCE FILINGS IN HALF? – when UNBENOWNST to us, a publishing firm we really respect (their children’s stuff is what your kids are using right now!) comes up with an entire ministry and strategy that revolves around PREVENTION rather than INTERVENTION. They’re called MarriedPeople and we love them and use their stuff and they love us and use our brashness! And places like Jacksonville and PHX are already embarking on city wide marriage strengthening movements (but, OK, The Beautiful Marriage Movment language? All ours.). It’s as if God said, “You had this idea. Great. You only think you had it; I gave it to you because I want you to join what I am already doing.” Glory!  It’s things like that that let you know being a pastor is worth it.

So the movement involves this marvelous blend of Large Group events (coming 2.29.20!), Small Group Experiences (what we’re calling Grow Groups that have a specified curriculum and starting and ending point as opposed to LifeGroups which go on) and Couple Experiences. And get this: because we know people need to prepare themselves BEFORE they promise themselves, one of these Grow Group is reserved for single people and it’s about Relational Health …

You may have even wondered: well, how do you know when a marriage is beautiful? What’s the standard. With our friends at MarriedPeople, we believe a BEAUTIFUL MARRIAGE happens when: (AV) 1: Couples have SERIOUS FUN 2. Couples have BOTH LOVE & RESPECT 3. Couples PREPARE FOR AND PRACTICE THEIR PROMISES 4. Couples LOVE GOD FIRST. That’s it. Beautiful Marriages won’t be identical but we do believe they share those four commonalities. In fact, this language and these habits have formed the basis on not only of the CRISIS PREVENTION we’re not focusing on but the CRISIS MANAGEMENT that will always be part of it.

We simply have this crazy idea that when people learn to have healthy relationships before they’re married, are dialed into Christ from the first moment of marriage, and focus on this beauty during marriage, we will prevent so many crises before they even arrive. That’s a movement to be part of and proud of.

And then there’s THE ENERGY. Here’s what is so great. We do we DO at GS? Been doing it for a long time? Inviting all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ. No 7 year movement will alter that eternal mission. But where are we going? On a seven year journey, empowered by a movement, where this area will see a dramatic increase in the # of households built on love and an major decrease in the # of divorce filings. All while we continue to preach, teach, take “library” trips, baptize, bury, and more. But this is an occasion in which WHERE WE ARE GOING fuels WHAT WE ARE DOING. Huh? See, we had an idea early on that the ppl of this church would find it easier to invite their friends w/ out a church to events designed to build marriages than they would to a regular Sunday service. Because people who DON’T GO TO CHURCH LIKE THE IDEA OF BETTER MARRIAGES just as much as those who do! Duh! And so we deeply suspected that the BMM would amp up our INVITATIONAL MOXIE at Good Shepherd.

And boy did it. Five months in, we know this! Some of you know we did an enormous DATE NIGHT in November in which the staff of the church provided children’s programming so that couples could go on a Guided Conversation Pizza Date Night. (AV) AND we encouraged couples in the church to INVITE people who don’t go here to be blessed by it. Guess what? Over 30 families who had never before been on our campus on a Sunday morning took part. 30! We get guests every Sunday but not 30 new households bringing about 70 new kids. In fact, would you like to hear some of what couples who were part of this first really big event in the BEAUTIFUL MARRIAGE MOVEMENT had to say about the night? About what we – what you – empowered and enabled? Check it out: READ and project some of the Thank Yous.

That’s only the beginning. That’s the foundation of a house of love. That’s a movement we want you in. Ready to join up?

We had only been on three dates in six years! Thank you to this church for making it possible.

Our kids had so much fun they cried when we came to get them!

At the restaurant we saw other couples with the same Date Night Package and at the end we left them with still OTHER folks so they could use the prompts, too!

Best. Night. Ever.

My husband and I husband talked about how everything was done with excellence from start to finish and we couldn’t be happier with the experience. (One of 37 “newbies”)