This Question Can Change Your Life

I was watching an episode of Modern Family recently. I don’t watch much television and this isn’t a show I necessarily follow, but I was out of town, it was the only thing I saw on, and I needed something mindless to unwind from a busy day.

The show certainly wouldn’t be the normal place to discover life or leadership advice, but in this episode a nugget principle struck me. It’s huge.

In this particular episode, Phil, the father of the main family, asked his father-in-law Jay for some business advice. He had been offered a new position with a company. It was a tremendous opportunity; a dream job for him, but Phil wasn’t sure he had the skills required for the job. He wanted to know Jay’s advice before he approached his wife about the situation.

Jay’s advice was classic; the kind only someone seasoned with life experience can usually offer. Jay simply asked Phil a question:

“What do you really want to do?”

As Phil pondered the answer, he knew what he had to do.

The question Jay asked is critical. It’s something everyone faces at various crossroads of life. It’s what you need to consider when you have a dream or a vision, but aren’t sure if how it will be received or if you really have what it takes to make the dream a reality.

Where’s your heart? What do you really want to do?

As with any dream:

There will be risks

You’ll be afraid

You may fail.

But, if you’re heart is in it. If God’s not against it. Most especially if God is calling you to it.

You need to follow your heart.

We typically follow most closely and passionately after those things which hold our heart.

You’ll typically find more success in life when you follow your heart.

Of course, this means you have to make sure your heart is pure, you are following after the right things in life, and you have an end desire to please Christ, but, after that, pursuing the dream of your heart will prevent you from living with one of life’s great disappointments… which is missing out on a dream because fear kept you from following through.

Don’t allow fear to be a roadblock to realizing the dreams of your heart.

Do you have any dreams you regret not pursuing?

Move and move now.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for theLord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

3 Keys to Effective Accountability

Accountability is defined as the state of being accountable, liable, or answerable. Over the years I’ve tried to be accountable to other men in my life. I have certain standards, goals and principles that I strive for, and I use accountability to help guide my life in those directions.

I realize that I’m tempted as much, if not more at times, as everyone in my church. Sometimes I feel Satan gives pastors “extra” attention. I’m sure everyone feels that way at times. Accountability is one way I attempt to guard my heart. I highly recommend it. Accountability is not a fool proof method to keep a person (or me) from a major moral failure. I know (and you know) people who had plenty of accountability, but still had a catastrophic personal failure. Ultimately the quality of a person’s heart and walk with Christ will protect him or her. I believe, however, if it is done well, it can certainly help limit a person from many downward spirals.

I’ve done accountability in a number of ways. I’ve met with a few guys weekly. I’ve met with one guy weekly or bi-weekly. I’ve met with guys long distance. (I don’t recommend this method as the best option. I think there is value in face-to-face encounters, but it’s better than doing nothing.)

I’ve learned there are three keys to effective accountability:

Consistency – You have to meet “regularly”. That doesn’t have to be weekly, but it shouldn’t be annually. I think monthly would be about as far as I would stretch an accountability relationship. You need to meet frequently enough that you begin to recognize when there could be a problem in each other’s life. That requires a constant, growing relationship.

Honesty – There is no true accountability until people are willing to be transparent with each other. You have to be vulnerable with each other and trust each other enough to share what’s really going on in your heart and life.  That type relationship doesn’t develop quickly and, frankly, doesn’t happen every time you try. I’ve had relationships, which were initiated to be accountable relationships, that never fully formed the closeness needed for true honesty to exist.

Intentionality – If you want to be in an accountable relationship, you must be intentional. You will have to seek out someone. You’ll have to build a relationship. You’ll have to open your heart. You’ll have to take a risk of trust. You’ll have to follow through on your commitment to meet together. You’ll have to discipline your time. Nothing happens of any great value without intentionality.

I’m not sure you can do accountability without either of these three.

What about you? Have you ever been in what you would consider an accountable relationship?

Describe how it worked for you.

The job of a shepherd: Encouragement for Pastors and Teachers

You can’t change a person’s heart.

That’s the work of God’s Spirit.

Many pastors and teachers get frustrated when people fail to live up to their expectations, or when they come so far only to mess up again. I’ll join you in that frustration. Some take it personal. Even if they are doing all they know to do and are called to do, people wander. Many pastors and teachers I know blame themselves. They allow it to impact their self-esteem or use it as a measure of their effectiveness.

But…

The job of the shepherd is to lead sheep to the source of provision, not be the provision.

Shepherds point people to truth and grace, but you can (and should) trust God with people’s hearts.

The job of a shepherd is not to make grass or water. It’s to lead the sheep to quality grass and water.

You can’t change another person’s heart, so don’t be too frustrated when people don’t seem to change.

That’s God’s job.

Do the leading…let God do the changing.

Do you get frustrated when sheep run astray?

Even in the best restaurants…

They still put napkins under a wobbly table.

They just use nicer napkins.

Recently I was made aware of a wealthy family took advantage of someone of lesser means. It was frustrating, because they were “legal” in their actions, but completely inflexible and hurtful in their actions.

I hate when that happens.

Shortly afterwards, Cheryl and I ate in a really nice restaurant. We were on vacation and treated ourselves to a great meal. It was one of those white tablecloth places where we had more than one waiter/waitress.

At the table next to us sat a nice, well-dressed couple, also enjoying a romantic evening. I could tell the couple, especially the man, were struggling with the rocking table. It wobbled whenever he leaned on it.

What did he do?

He leaned over, lifted the table slightly, and stuck a folded napkin underneath the leg. Problem solved.

The two stories working together reminded me:

While some of us may think we are better than others…when it comes to a wobbly table…we are all the same.

My mom used to say, “Everyone puts there pants on one leg at a time.”

I say, “Everyone fixes a wobbly table with a folded napkin.”

God says, “Don’t think you are better than you really are.” (Romans 12:3)

Have you been looking down others who have less than you?

Be honest. We can all be guilty of it at some level. God, continue to mold us into who you want us to be; seeing others as you see them.

Two Words of Wisdom that will Change Your Life

Be Purposeful.

In parenting.

In marriage.

In forgiveness.

In ministry.

In your relationship with God.

In your career.

In your social media activity.

In your education.

In your financial life.

In your life planning.

In relationship building.

In leadership.

The “secret” that separates many from succeeding or failing is the degree in which they were purposeful in attaining what they hope to achieve.

Not getting the success you’re looking for these day? What’s the secret?

Be purposeful.

Try it.

In what area of your life do you need to be more purposeful?

What’s holding you back?

He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap. Ecclesiastes 11:4

You’ve been holding back, haven’t you?

You want to move forward, don’t you?

You just can’t seem to move forward.

Someone told you you couldn’t…

They said you didn’t have what it takes…

Someone you loved hurt you…

They lied to or about you, cheated on you, misled you,

You failed miserably…

It was a public failure…everyone knows about it.

You disappointed the people you love the most…

Whatever the reason…

You feel like a miserable wretch.

(Is that a fair assessment?)

Maybe this is your theme verse:

Bend an ear, God; answer me. I’m one miserable wretch!

Psalm 86:1…I’ve had days I’ve thought it was written for me.

It’s kept you from taking a risk…

It’s kept you from living your life…

At some point…

You’ll have to try again…

You’ll have to get back up…

You’ll have to move forward…

The beauty of grace is that it gives you a fresh start.

You can begin again. You can start anew.

Pray this prayer. God, I’ve messed up. I’m messed up. Others messed me up! God, I can’t hide from you. I believe Jesus paid all the price for my sins…and the sins of others. I know real life is found only in you, and in you there is hope. All things can be made new. God, by your grace and power, renew me. Cleanse me. Strengthen me. Help me take the first step. Permit me, push me, shove me forward. Whatever your will…Let’s go! In Jesus name! Amen.

Are you praying?

You Don’t Have to Address Every Fear

But it’s not necessarily a bad idea to address any known fear.

It prepares you to face other fears.

I didn’t have to jump out of an airplane. But, I faced a fear. I addressed a personal fear and now, the thought of doing it again gives me far less anxiety.

I’ve learned over the years that God assignments are likely to bring me fear. Each assignment seems bigger than the last.

I’m not alone. Throughout the Bible God called people to incredible tasks and the most common reaction was fear.

God calls people to tasks which are big, seemingly impossible and scary. (Ever been a church planter?)

You’ll probably never completely eliminate fear from your life. The world is full of the unknown. I encourage you, however, to face some of your personal fears…even the ones you don’t have to face.

You’ll be more willing and better prepared to face the fears that come from the assignments God brings into your life.

You may want to read

7 Questions When Facing Fear

5 Reminders for Ridding Your Life of Fear

A Devotional Encouragement on Overcoming Fear

What’s one fear you have? Do you need to address it?

There really are few second chances. If any.

There really are few second chances. If any.

Which also makes our first chance…and first impressions…so incredibly important.

Oh, I know, we always say “God gives second chances” and “You’ll get another chance”.

And, that’s based on some truth…but it’s really not.

True, that is.

There are actually very few second chances.

We try so hard to do it all over again, but in the process, I wonder if we waste a lot of energy…trying to create a second chance that will never come.

Circumstances will be different. You’ll know more. You’ll know better. You’ll be experienced. Everyone around you will have changed. You’ll have a hard time getting all the factors aligned exactly as with the first chance.

It will likely never be the same again.

You can try as many times as you like. You can begin again.

God extends grace after grace after grace…far more than your sins will ever wear out…

But, second chance…maybe not.

You’ll just be disappointed trying to produce a second chance that never comes.

And, that’s okay. Don’t be dismayed.

A fresh start is always better than a second chance.

If that’s true…if there are few second chances…

And I’m fully convinced it is…

Don’t try for a second chance.

Make it another first chance.

Only do it better this time.

7 Ways I Protect My Sabbath

This is a hard word for some pastors, but after a recent post I was asked about how I protect my Sabbath. That’s a great question, because many pastors struggle in this area. In fact, many pastors I know who would teach their church to observe the Sabbath, seldom do so personally. This fact alone is one of the leading causes of pastoral burnout, in my opinion.

Protecting my Sabbath has proven to be crucial in protecting my ministry.

I observe my Sabbath day on Saturday most weeks. It’s my day with Cheryl. It’s not a day where I do nothing. That’s not how I rest. It’s a day where I do what I want to do. On my Sabbath, I don’t work. I play. I rest. I recharge. I clear my head and prepare for the week ahead.

Here are 7 ways I protect my Sabbath:

Recognize the value – I have to realize there is a reason to observe a Sabbath. It’s almost like God knew what He was doing. :) If I value it enough, I’ll make it a priority. The value of a Sabbath is not only for myself, but it aligns me with God’s design for mankind. “On the 7th day He rested”. Have you read that somewhere? We were created with a need for the Sabbath. That makes it valuable.

Make it a priority – Not only do I value the importance, but I make it a priority in my week. As important as any other day, my Sabbath is a must do part of my week. A Sabbath is good for the pastor, the pastor’s family and the church. That’s worth prioritizing.

Place it on the calendar – The Sabbath needs to be planned in advance. If you think it’s going to happen when you “catch up”, you’ll never take a Sabbath. Depending on the size of your staff or the demands of your church, your day may not be the same as mine, but you choose a day that works best and calendar it regularly.

Trust others – One of the leading reasons I hear for pastors not taking a day off is that they don’t have anyone who can handle their responsibilities. This is especially true in churches where the pastor is the only staff member. Regardless of staff size, pastors need to surround themselves with some healthy people and take a risk on them. I delegate well so that when I’m gone I know things will continue to operate efficiently. Ultimately, however, when I honor my Sabbath I’m demonstrating that I trust God. After all, the plan was His idea.

Discipline myself – I just do it. I make myself take a day off. (You should consider this discipline!) Now, here’s the hard part of that. In addition to saying “Yes” to yourself, you have to discipline yourself to say “No” to others. Without a doubt, if you try to protect a day there will be multiple invitations, seemingly good opportunities, and non-emergency interruptions. It will happen. You’ll have to continually help others (and yourself) understand the value in this discipline. It’s part of being a healthy pastor. And, I assume, most churches want that. Frankly some will never understand the value in your Sabbath (even if they see the value for themselves), but they will also be the first one to complain if you aren’t performing at your best in other areas of your ministry.

Prepare for it – I have to work hard prior to a Sabbath so I can comfortably take it without reservation. That means I handle any details I can in advance. Whether a pastor works five or six days a week, (I personally work 6) it is important to work hard and smart enough where there is no guilt in taking your deserved and commanded sabbath. Not trying to be cruel here, but if you are not finding time to take a Sabbath, it could be a planning and organizational problem as much as it is a demand of your time problem.

Learn to enjoy -Some pastors, like me, are not wired for a Sabbath. I realize some people have no problem taking a day off, but I honestly would work seven days straight if no one stopped me. There’s always plenty to do. I’ve learned, however, that I function better the other 6 days if I have one day that I’m not working. It’s been a challenge to maintain it, but I now truly look forward to the rest. It’s proven to be as important for my wife as it is for me and when she’s happy, I’m happy.

Now, please understand, there are no perfect plans. This works most of the time for me, but not all of the time. There are, of course, exceptions, interruptions, and Kingdom opportunities, which cause me to not be able to protect every Sabbath day. (Jesus had those too.) As much as is possible, however, I stick with this plan, and when it is interrupted, especially if it happens several weeks in a row, I will make up the time with some extra time away. I try to get my downtime back at some point. It’s that important to me now.

Pastor, are you protecting your Sabbath? Be honest.

The strength and success of your ministry may depend on it.

Pastor, what tips do you have for helping some of my burned out pastor friends maintain a weekly Sabbath?

Bonus question: Pastor, do you have a plan for extended time a way…a Sabbatical of some form? Could you share what you do in this area to help the rest of us?

I Needed Those Scars

My friend Kenny York launched one of the fastest growing non-profit ministries I’ve ever seen. Manna Cafe is a mobile feeding ministry in my hometown. They take food to where the homeless and hungry live. It was amazing to watch them flourish in two fast moving years and I was happy to be a small part of it.

Recently Kenny and I were talking about his story. He has some “baggage” in his past. There were times of partying…a little more than most of us have partied. There was the period of homelessness. There were the days that were so dark he couldn’t even see any hope of future light.

He calls it his “wilderness experience”.

Many of us have similar stories, but they didn’t all run as deep as Kenny’s did.

Today Kenny is an ordained Gospel preacher. They call him Pastor Bubba and he is reaching people who will never enter most of our churches.

I’m so proud to call Kenny my friend.

Kenny said something in our conversation I thought was worth repeating. Perhaps it applies to you in your story. Maybe you are doubting the purpose for your struggles, or at least how God could ever use them for good. Perhaps you are in a leadership position, but you feel slightly unqualified because of your past. You fear if people knew the real you, they may not respect you…or even love you anymore.

Maybe Kenny’s story can help.

Kenny said:

Without my wilderness experience, I wouldn’t have the scars I needed to do what I’m doing right now.

Wow!

Have you ever thought of it that way?

Your scars have shaped you into who you need to be, so God could use you how you were designed to be used. The scars you are now developing, even though you can’t see it at this time, are achieving a greater glory that will someday be revealed.

You wouldn’t be who you are designed to be…without your scars.

He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:4

Are you at a point yet where you can see how God is using your scars?