Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
Installation Service Recap
The evening of Sunday, January 20, 2013, Bethlehem Baptist Church installed her 15th senior pastor, Jason Curtis Meyer, as Pastor for Preaching & Vision.
Below are the respective addresses (in order of appearance) from Tom Schreiner (Pastor Jason's mentor and former Bethlehem Elder), Pastor John, and responses from Cara Meyer & Pastor Jason. A video testimony narrating Pastor Jason's path to Bethlehem followed Tom Schreiner's message.
Tom Schreiner (Message to Congregation & the Elders of Bethlehem)
I am honored to speak today, for Bethlehem Baptist was our church for 11 years (1986–1997). Diane and I have so many wonderful memories of our years here, and we made so many dear friends during those years as well. What a great work the Lord has done at Bethlehem Baptist. I am so thankful to the Lord for bringing me to Bethlehem—John Piper has had such a massive impact on my theology and spiritual life.
In addition, Jason Meyer was one of my students and is a beloved friend. What a thrill to see how God has gifted Jason and what a remarkable wife he has given to him in Cara. The Lord has given Jason an unusual ability to explain the Scriptures with clarity and passion. How merciful God has been to Bethlehem to give you a pastor like Jason Meyer. But time is short ... My task today is to speak to you and challenge you as a church, and so I want to consider briefly two verses about leaders in Hebrews 13.
What the writer says about leaders I am going to apply to your relationship with Jason Meyer. So, I am not addressing Jason here, but you as a congregation, and I am speaking to the other elders as well. It is significant that the two verses come from Hebrews. For the main point of Hebrews is found in the warning passages that pervade the letter. The readers are warned in the most urgent terms about the danger of falling away, about the danger of apostasy. I conclude that the verses about leaders in Hebrews fit with the main purpose of the letter. In other words, God has given you pastors so that you will not fall away from him, so that you will keep following him until the end. The devil would love to quench the witness of Bethlehem. He would love to see its focus on the gospel disappear, so be on your guard.
First, let’s consider Hebrews 13:7, where he summons the readers to remember their leaders:
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
What lessons can we learn from verse 7? Most commentators believe that the author of Hebrews asks the readers here to remember their leaders who have died, their leaders from the past. Praise the Lord that John Piper is still alive and with you, but he is now your past leader. As Jason takes the reins of leadership, remember John's leadership as your pastor. And honor Jason as you have honored John.
1 Thessalonians 5:13 says to esteem your leaders very highly because of their work. Not just highly but very highly. What is the best way to honor and esteem Jason? I think we get a hint from the next phrase in Hebrews. The writer says that leaders speak the word of God. Jason's fundamental calling is to proclaim the word of God to you. So, you will serve him by freeing him up to study the word. Don't entangle him in other matters if they take him away from the word of God and prayer. Preaching pastors need quiet time to meditate on the word, and they need time to restore their own souls, so that they minister out of fullness. So, Jason doesn't just need time to prepare messages. He needs time alone to strengthen and replenish his own heart in the truths of God's word. And he needs some time to read widely. He needs time to digest and think about what is happening in our culture, so he can apply God's word to all of life. What a gift you have in a man who is gifted and eager to proclaim to you the word of God.
- Nuture him in that gift.
- Pray for his preparation week by week.
- Pray that the hearts of the congregation will be softened to hear and obey what he preaches.
- Pray that your own heart will find delight in the preached word, and that you will obey what is proclaimed.
The heart of the pastoral ministry is the preaching of the word, and Satan would love to attack Bethlehem here. It may seem unlikely that Bethlehem would ever fall, but Paul warned the elders of Ephesus about this very danger, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears” (Acts 20:29–31). Notice what he says: From the eldership itself wolves will arise and speak what is twisted.
- Remember. Remember, the ministry of John Piper.
- And pray for the ministry of Jason Meyer.
- Be on guard against false teachers.
- Watch out for elders in your midst who subvert the gospel. False teachers may have leadership gifts, and wonderful personalities, and psychologically healthy children, but they are false if they place their confidence in their own wisdom instead of the word of God.
- Most false teachers are nice guys with great personalities.
How many churches in the US have moved away from God's word. It usually begins subtly, not blatantly, so be on your guard. Don’t forget what made this church great: a reliance upon the word of God.
Also, Hebrews 13:7 invites us to consider the godliness of Jason Meyer. Jason has recently come among you, but you have seen clear evidence of his godliness: his walk with God, and his love for Jesus Christ. Is there any doubt that Jason loves the Lord Jesus Christ with a burning passion? I have seen and so have you a godliness, humility, and love in Jason, which is the fruit of the Spirit's work in him. I have seen an intense desire in Jason to bring glory to God by being faithful to his word. And what drives his passion and desire? Hebrews tells us: It is his faith. It is his radical trust in God. Bethlehem, imitate his faith, and don't forsake the message that the greatest joy is knowing God. What makes this congregation radiant and strong is the touch of God upon it. So, don't turn away from that message as there is the changing of the guard.
Indeed, the next verse Hebrews 13:8 reminds us that we have an unchanging message, an unchanging Savior, even if we have changing leaders. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Leaders come and leaders go, but Jesus Christ remains the same. Your task is to stay faithful to what you have been taught. If you read history, you know that many churches that have had a remarkably faithful and effective pastor departed in the next generation from what they were taught. Doubtless, they thought they were being progressive, but we look back and see how they lost the passion for the truth they once had.
Bethlehem, by God's grace may you be an exception to the that rule and continue to be faithful.
And you can be faithful by submitting to Jason's leadership as Hebrews 13:17 teaches:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Let's apply this verse to you briefly as Jason becomes your pastor. First of all, you are summoned to obey and submit to Jason as your pastor. What a radical and counter-cultural word. How quick we are to explain it away. It just doesn’t fit with our modern egalitarian culture. Now of course there are exceptions to this command. There is no excuse here for being a tyrant. We must not follow leaders into evil or heresy. It doesn't mean Jason is always right or you must always agree with him. But your inclination, Bethlehem, should be to follow the leadership of the one you have appointed to be the preaching pastor. Yes, all the elders share authority, and the other elders should help Jason stay on track. But the preaching pastor plays a special role as the one who proclaims the word of God to the congregation. Many of your elders have other jobs, but Jason will devote himself full time to the church. He has a special burden for the church that the other elders do not have. Because of this special responsibility, he inevitably will become become the first among equals, and the congregation is rightly drawn to follow the one who opens the word week after week.
So, let his vision for the church be your vision. Let his passion kindle your passion. Be willing and eager to be guided by the one called to declare the word of God to you. Bethlehem, God has called Jason Meyer to apply the Scriptures to the situations you face as a church in the coming weeks, months, and Lord willing years. In calling him as your leader you are indicating that you are willing to follow his leadership. The writer also gives a reason the readers should submit to their leaders. He says to submit so their work will be joyful and they will not groan. Let me mention quickly 3 ways you can bring Jason joy:
First, regularly encourage him. Remember the rule of life. If you hear 10 positive words but one negative, you remember the negative. I imagine Jason is getting a lot of encouragement as he begins his ministry. That is typical for a new pastor. But 2 years in and 5 years in and 10 years in (Lord willing), it will be easy to take him for granted. Ask God to rekindle your love and appreciation for him regularly. Show appreciation and encouragement for his labor often.
Second, pray without ceasing for him and his family. There are unique pressures and strains for the preaching pastor and his family. Satan would love to bring Jason Meyer down. He would love to drag Jason into sin or to destroy his family life. Jason and Cara are just ordinary people who need God's grace every day, so ask God to sustain them. Make a special point to pray every week (every day for some of you) for your preaching pastor. May the Lord use you to preserve his faith and his fruitfulness.
Third, don't expect him to be perfect. Remember the words of James 3:2. We all stumble in many ways. Notice James includes himself here: We all stumble in many ways. I am constantly amazed at how often people turn against pastors when they see their weaknesses and sins. Remember the gods have not become men and dwelt among us. As you see Jason's weaknesses and sins (and you will), don't turn against him. No, true love is revealed when you see the weaknesses of Jason and you keep loving him. Jason isn't Jesus Christ. He is a sinner saved by grace. He loves Jesus Christ. He is amazingly gifted. He is remarkably mature, but like all of us he is flawed. Don't cause him groaning by focusing on his faults.
Let me close with Samuel's words to Israel in 1 Samuel 12. The occasion is fitting, for Samuel spoke these words when Saul was being installed as king. The ministry of Samuel was ending and the ministry of Saul was beginning. Samuel said to the people "Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you." Bethlehem, consider what great things the Lord has done for you in the past through the ministry of John Piper. And encourage Jason Meyer in the coming years by fearing the Lord and serving him faithfully with all your heart. Let's pray.
Pastor John Piper ('The Gospel of the Glory of the Blessed God': A Charge to Jason Meyer at His Installation Service)
Jason, by embracing the Bethlehem Baptist Church Elder Affirmation of Faith, and by inviting Tom Schreiner and me to be part of your installation service, you have signaled your theological and ministerial lineage. The trademark of this lineage is expressed in 1 Timothy 1:11 in the apostolic phrase, “I have been entrusted with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.”
The phrase “the gospel of glory” occurs only one other place in the Bible, namely, 2 Corinthians 4:4 in the phrase “the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” So we know that “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” is the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. The gospel of the glory of God is the gospel of “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Which I take to mean that the glory of God comes to its most magnificent expression in the act that creates the gospel, namely, the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. The final aim of all things, Paul says, is “the praise of the glory of the grace of God” (Ephesians 1:6). That is, the grace of God is the apex of the glory of God. And to the astonishment of angels, the apex of the grace of God is the slaughter of the Lamb of God. “Worthy are you (Glorious are you! Beautiful are you!) to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered” (Revelation 5:9).
So, the apex of the glory of God is the glory of his grace, and the apex of the glory of his grace is the death of his Son. And this glory, the magnifying of this glory, the treasuring of this glory above all things, is the trademark of your theological lineage.
So, Jason, you have accepted a call into a lineage. It is the lineage of “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.” And my charge to you is that you learn the depths, and love the heights, and live the holy joy of this lineage.
To inspire you to do that, and to clarify the spiritual bloodline of this lineage, I’m simply going to let 21 of its representatives (from Moses to Thomas Schreiner) pour their passion for the glory of God over you. This is the lineage of the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.
Heralding the word of God over the escaping Israelites: “I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host ... And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” (Exodus 14:17–18)
Calling the disobedient Achan to reckon with the all-knowing God. “My son, give glory to the LORD God of Israel and give praise to him.” (Joshua 7:19)
Bowing before the righteousness of God and letting him have the last word: “Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor.” (Job 40:8–10)
Soaring again and again in the Psalms with the greatness of the glory of God: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” (Psalm 8:1)
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)
“All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.” (Psalm 86:9)
“Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name!” (Psalm 96:3, 7–8)
“Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.” (Psalm 29:2)
“Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory.” (Psalm 115:1)
Proclaiming the jealousy of God for his unparalleled glory: “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isaiah 42:8)
“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.” (Isaiah 43:6–7)
Warning us against the neglect of God’s glory: “Hear and give ear; be not proud, for the LORD has spoken. Give glory to the LORD your God before he brings darkness, before your feet stumble on the twilight mountains.” (Jeremiah 13:15–16)
Warning Sidon that she will have to reckon with the all-glorious God: “Behold, I am against you, O Sidon, and I will manifest my glory in your midst. And they shall know that I am the LORD.” (Ezekiel 28:22)
Letting Nebuchadnezzar recount the insanity of boasting over the all-sovereign God: “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” . . . And immediately . . . he was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation.” (Daniel 4:29–34)
Announcing one of the greatest promises in all the Bible: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)
Trumpeting the command of God to build a house for his glory: “Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD.” (Haggai 1:8)
Drawing the Old Testament toward a close with God’s purpose to make his glory central: “And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the LORD, and I will be the glory in her midst.’” (Zechariah 2:5)
Teaching us to pray for the glory of God: “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed by your name.” (Matthew 6:9)
And teaching us to live for the glory of God: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
While he himself raises the dead Lazarus for the glory of God: “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4)
And in spite of this omnipotent power, he walks toward the hour of his own death for the glory of God: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. . . And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:23, 27–28)
And finally he prays about his deepest longings for his followers: “Father... I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed ... Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory.” (John 17:1, 4–5, 24)
Celebrating the missionary purpose of the coming of Christ: “To confirm the promises given to the patriarchs and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” (Romans 15:8–9)
Praying for the unity of the church “that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5–6)
Exhorting us to live in the glory of Christ’s purchase: “You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)
And in everything we do: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
And reveling in the glorious way we are transformed in this life: “Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
And exulting in the overflowing ability of God to do in us more than we think: “To him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think ... to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20–21)
And making clear that the glory of Christ will in the end redound to the glory of the Father: “God has highly exalted so that ... every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11)
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” (Romans 11:36)
“To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)
Showing us how to serve by God’s strength and for God’s glory: “Whoever serves, let it be as one who serves in the strength that God supplies—so that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:11)
Acknowledging that if we are kept to the end it is owing to the glory of God: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24–25)
Over and over and over again exulting in the infinite worthiness of God and of the Lamb: “He loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood . . . to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” (Revelation 1:5–6)
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12)
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13)
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:12)
Then following the lineage outside the inspired scriptures,
Marking the most important day in his life, his conversion: "O Lord, my Helper and my Redeemer, I shall now tell and confess to the glory of your name how you released me from the fetters of lust . . . and from my slavery to the things of this world.” (Confessions Book VIII.)
Putting the central aim of his life in one phrase: “To set before [man], as the prime motive of his existence, zeal to illustrate the glory of God" (John Dillenberger, John Calvin, Selections From His Writings, [Scholars Press, 1975], p. 89).
With words that are unparalleled in their exultation in the centrality of the glory of God: “All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God's works is included in that one phrase, the glory of God ... The refulgence shines upon and into the creature, and is reflected back to the luminary. The beams of glory come from God, and are something of God and are refunded back again to their original. So that the whole is of God, and in God, and to God, and God is the beginning, middle and end in this affair.”
(Jonathan Edwards, The Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 8, ed. Paul Ramsey [New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989], 526, 531.)
Your mentor, and whose life work and greatest books are radiant with the heartbeat of this lineage: “God's purpose in all that he does is to bring honor to himself and to Jesus Christ. The New Testament is radically God-centered. We could say that the New Testament is about God magnifying himself in Christ through the Spirit. ... Redemptive history is fundamental to grasping the message of the New Testament, still, God's ultimate purpose is not the fulfillment of his plan. He must have a purpose, and aim, a goal in such a plan. Here the purpose of all salvation history emerges. God works out his saving plan so that he would be magnified in Christ, so that his name would be honored. ... Thus the most important thing in life is that God's name be honored and hallowed. ... The ultimate purpose for mission is the glory of God, so that his name will be magnified among all peoples.”
(Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008], pp. 13–14, 126, 144)
Jason, this is the legacy you have entered. Which brings us now to this present moment when you will be installed as the Pastor for Preaching and Vision of Bethlehem Baptist Church. In this installation you embrace the Bethlehem Baptist Church Elder Affirmation of Faith. And in doing so you not only affirm that you will make the glory of God in Christ—the “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God”—the highest goal of our ministry, but you also embrace the gospel truth that this goal is reached in the God-centered joy of this people.
Listen to the joy of your charter:
The Bethlehem Baptist Church Elder Affirmation of Faith
Paragraph 3.1: We believe that God, from all eternity, in order to display the full extent of His glory for the eternal and ever-increasing enjoyment of all who love Him, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His will, freely and unchangeably ordain and foreknow whatever comes to pass.
Paragraph 4.1: Having no deficiency in Himself, nor moved by any incompleteness in His joyful self-sufficiency, God was pleased in creation to display His glory for the everlasting joy of the redeemed, from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
Paragraph 12.1: We believe that the ultimate purpose of the Church is to glorify God in the everlasting and ever-increasing gladness of worship.
Paragraph 14.3: We believe that the end of all things in this age will be the beginning of a never-ending, ever-increasing happiness in the hearts of the redeemed, as God displays more and more of His infinite and inexhaustible greatness and glory for the enjoyment of His people.
Therefore, my charge to you again, Jason, is that you learn the depths, and love the heights, and live the holy joy of this lineage. You have been entrusted with “the gospel of the glory of the happy God.”
Response From Cara Meyer ('A Pastor's Wife's Commitment')
I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that this all feels a bit overwhelming. In my flesh I would love to either look to my own resources, or in my lack of resources and in each of those cases, I would want to run! But I can stand in strength here tonight because I am a fellow heir of Christ, a daughter of the King. My confidence doesn’t lie in my own abilities, but it soars in the One who is always steadfast, keeps all his promises and will never leave nor forsake.
You all are my spiritual family and each week I am falling more in love with you. I know you aren’t perfect, but neither am I. I can joyfully love you because our identity doesn’t lie in how well we perform with each other or with God. Our perfection and identity lies in Christ and gives us freedom to be real and to accept each other where we are at. Our sins and imperfections are covered under the blood and there is great freedom in forgiveness and the giving of grace.
So here is my vow to you, Bethlehem:
- I promise in the strength of the God to love the Lord with all my heart, soul and mind. To follow him unswervingly to the end of my days. Knowing that my own strength will daily fail me, I will rest in the work and power of Christ that will keep me and continue to sanctify me.
- I promise in the strength of the Lord to love my husband and serve him with joy and honor. I promise to continue to laugh at your jokes and think you are the most adorable man on the face of the earth and enjoy just being with you. To be by your side through good times and in hard times. To love you and cherish you. Jason, I commit to pray for you daily that the Lord would be your All and your Enough, your supreme treasure and your fullest joy!
- I promise in the Lord’s strength to not abandon but continue to joyfully walk in my calling of motherhood. I promise to say “no” to things when it hinders my duties as a mother. I will remember the high and holy calling that this is upon my life, my mission field. Gracie, Allie, Jonathan, and David, I promise to strive to be a joyful mother, who takes time to give you hugs and snuggles, to listen to your hearts, and to pray with you and pray for you. I will endeavor to see you not on the basis of what you are doing or not doing, but as a person created in the image of God. I will strive in the strength of the Lord to love you unconditionally, to reflect Christ in all I do and to point you to the One to whom can capture your hearts with joy and call you to himself.
- And my Bethlehem family: I promise in the strength of the Lord that for better for worse, through success or failure, in brokenness and in health, that I will pray for you, that I will love you, to cherish you until the Lord us do part. I promise to keep my callings in their right places and if any of you feel they are out of line that I will be open to loving correction.
These vows I cannot keep perfectly nor even remotely do on my own. I will stumble and fail at times and in desperation I lean on Christ who is the only one where any goodness in me will come from. I pray that the Lord would keep me humble and teachable that he would give me pure eyes to see his beauty, the beauty of his creation and the people that he has made.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20–21).
Response From Pastor Jason ('Pastoral Vows')
I asked the Lord how I should feel. It was January 5 at the Downtown Campus. I walked in the Sanctuary for my first sermon as Pastor for Preaching & Vision. "How should I feel, Lord?" I was filled with joy when the answer came in like a flood of simple beauty that washed over me. Rightness. It just felt right. That deep, confirming sense that it is well; this is God’s doing and it is marvelous in my eyes. I have the same feeling today with one exception—today I feel the weight of it even more.
Today feels like the solemnizing ceremony of marriage between pastor and people, shepherd and flock. Further gravity comes when considering that I am the 15th pastor here. I do not look merely at the 33-year old ministry of my preciously esteemed predecessor (trust me, that is gravity enough). I look at over 140 years of life together as a church. I am awed and overjoyed—and I am full of fear and trembling.
I make no vows of all that I will be. This transition was never about a man, but a mission to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. Therefore, my aim is singular and simple. My vow is to be an undershepherd who joyfully, single-mindedly follows Jesus as the Chief Shepherd of the flock. I once heard a pastor at another church say in a moment of power grabbing: “This is my church—I am the head of this church.” I speak a forceful “no”‚— a thousand times “no” to thinking that way. A thousand times “yes” to the truth that Bethlehem belongs to Jesus. Does that not fill you with joy? If he began the work, he will complete it (Philippians 1:6). "We rest on Thee our Shield and our Defender. Thine is the battle; Thine shall be the praise.”
The praise is His and so I will pursue his glory and our joy. I take my cues from faithful undershepherds from the past. I vow, like Paul, to “not seek glory from people, whether from you or from others (1 Thessalonians 2:6). I will be gentle as Paul was “as a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7) and as the Chief Shepherd was, “a bruised reed he did not break” (Matthew 12:20). My family will together be like Paul saying, “Because we were affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
We will pass through hard times and deep waters together. I will be here to not just walk beside you—I will wade into the deep end with you. There will be sorrow, but we will always be rejoicing, because Jesus is with us always—never leaving, never forsaking, always leading. One day the joy to come will eclipse all sorrow. Yes, we will pass through the waters, but, O Bethlehem, we will also pass through gates of splendor. I will be able to say something like Paul said to the Thessalonians on that day, “What is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you [Bethlehem]? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19–20). So let us listen together joyfully at the vows that our Chief Shepherd has taken already for our church.
I, Jesus, take you Bethlehem, to be my bride, to have and to hold from this day forth for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and health, and death will never us part. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world; no one can snatch you out of my hand (John 16:33, 10:28).
So we reaffirm our vows to Jesus as a church as we have for over 140 years. We, Bethlehem, take you Jesus, to be our bridegroom, our Lord, the head of our church, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and health, and death will never us part. Our soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, you’ll never, no never, no never forsake. This is your work. We have your promise. We believe you are able to do what you have promised. Receive glory from this church from our hearts. This day and always. Amen.
Many thanks to Rick Busch, Nick & Laur Weisensel, and Francis Cheung for their photography at the Installation Service.