Thanksgiving Pie and Obedience To God

See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it. Deuteronomy 12:32 NIV

Mandarin Orange Pie

1 graham cracker crust

1 small container whipped topping (Cool Whip)

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1 can mandarin oranges (11 oz)

1/3 cup “Minute Maid” juice

Heat crust 5 minutes at 325 degrees. Drain, then mash with fork 2/3 of oranges and place in a large bowl. (save remainder whole for garnish) Add whipped topping, sweetened condensed milk and juice. Beat on low until well blended. Pour into graham cracker crust and refrigerate. Garnish with remaining mandarin oranges if desired.

This is a quick, easy holiday treat. It’s delicious. There is only one problem with the above recipe. I didn’t give you the full instructions. This is a recipe given to me by one of my best friends. The pie is delicious. I made it for the first time a few years ago, and it turned out wonderfully. When I tried it another year at Thanksgiving it was a flop. It never got firm enough to eat. My father enjoyed eating it with a spoon.

I gave you the recipe just as I had it written down. Why did the recipe fail? I called my friend’s wife to ask her and she quickly saw my error. You see, I was using 1/3 cup of Minute Maid “orange” juice. I should have been using 1/3 cup of Minute Maid (or any brand) “lemon” juice. It makes all the difference in the world. There must be something about the acid in the lemon juice, which helps in the gelling process.

So why do I share this? Well, it gives you another pie recipe you can try, but really to illustrate that, if you don’t follow the directions carefully, your recipes will fail. So it is in the Christian life, or any life for that matter. God has a plan. He has spelled it out in His Word. If we follow it, we will experience rich reward. His first command is to “love the Lord with all our heart”. Then, we are told to “love your neighbor as yourself”. The rest of the commands are in the Book. We aren’t saved by what we do or don’t do and we don’t remain saved by our works (we are saved by faith), but Jesus said “If you love Me, you will do as I command.” So our proper response to God’s love is obedience. In fact, it’s how life works best.

Is there something God is calling you to do? Why not demonstrate your love for Him through your obedience?

And, feel free to try out the recipe of the day! You can actually substitute other fruits for the mandarin oranges. Just don’t forget the lemon juice!

What Does It Mean To Surrender To Christ?

Here Are My PrayersI preached Sunday at Grace Community Church on the need to surrender everything to Christ.  What a lofty concept.  I realize how ambiguous that statement is.  I explained more, and you can listen to that message HERE (or watch it HERE), but I received additional questions after the message.  Personally, I love when that happens.  To me it means people left thinking.

A typical question went something like this:

What exactly does it mean to “surrender”?  How do you do that?

In an attempt to help continue this thought process, here is an answer I emailed to one questioner:

Dear _________:

You have asked a difficult question to answer.  If you can fully understand surrendering, you can help a whole lot of people…and sell some books.  Surrender is almost as mysterious as when Jesus was talking to Nicodemus in John 3 about being “born again”.  It’s a concept hard to get our minds to comprehend.

I need to start by saying:

Surrender is less about a formula and more about knowing the person of Christ.

Surrender is less about an action plan and more about devoting one’s self to Jesus.

Surrender is less about finding answers and more about obedience to His plan as He reveals it.

Surrender is less about solving a specific problem and more about creating a lifestyle of following Christ.

With those understandings, let me share that one way to understand the concept of surrender may be to compare it to something you do understand.  What does surrender look like in a relationship with Jesus?  Put it in terms of a relationship you have now and understand (at least most days).

The day you first met your husband, you may or may not have liked him at first, but almost certainly, if he had asked you that day to move to strange city with him, you may have looked at him as if he was crazy.  You may have even slapped his face.  As you began to get to know him, you started to trust him increasingly, and at some point, you were more willing to follow him.  Obviously, you moved here to be with him.

It is similar with your surrender to Christ.  While your husband may never be 100% trustworthy, because he’s human…God is!  The more you know Him, the more you will know His voice and the better you will hear His commands…And the more willing you will be to follow Him wherever He leads.

In my understanding, that’s what surrender is all about…

How would you have answered?

For more devotional thoughts, click HERE.

The Delicate Balance Between Yes And No

Yes or no buttonsAs a leader, I prefer to say yes. I love when our staff comes to me with a proposal for a new ministry or a new expenditure and I can simply say, “Yes, go for it!” I love being the guy who gets to encourage another person’s big dream. I am not a fan of micro managing. Saying yes allows me to empower others to do their work well.

Even so, in my position, I often have to say “No”. I have to consider the amount of money and energy expended as it relates to the entire church organization. Honestly, there are times I feel like the dream killer more than I get to be the dream enhancer, because I often have to be the “No” voice, but the fact is, as with any organization, we operate with limited resources and sometimes saying no is the right decision at the time. In these times, I have to walk the delicate balance between saying yes and saying no.

Some of the questions I try to consider when weighing a decision between yes and no are:

  • Does this decision benefit the entire church, or just one ministry? It is okay if it helps only one area, but that has to be a part of the equation in making a decision.
  • Is this decision in keeping with the overall vision of the church? Ultimately, it is important that the entire organization is heading in the same direction.
  • Has this decision been thought out adequately and any known fatal risks eliminated?
  • Does the leader of this area have the experience or expertise to lead a successful venture? If he or she is not qualified for the task, then is he or she willing and able to solicit help from others?
  • Are there other areas that have greater needs because of current demand or potential within the organization?
  • Will this decision solicit adequate buy-in from the entire staff and organization?
  • Is this the best timing for the new venture? Would waiting enhance or inhibit the decision’s success?
  • Is the cost reasonable compared to the benefit received for the project?
  • Is the volunteer or staff labor adequate to sustain the effort?

In the end, it is often a judgment call of whether to say yes or no, but thinking through the answer is one of the keys to making wise decisions and ultimately to leading well.

How do you balance the difference between saying “yes” and saying “no”?

For more thoughts on leadership, click HERE.

4 Reasons Change Is Difficult

Change is necessary if organizations want to continue to improve and grow, but change instantly raising resistance from some people.  Change requires a certain amount of faith.   Faith is much easier to believe, and even to preach, than it ever is to live by.

In my experience, there are at least 4 major reasons why change is difficult. Understanding them and identifying with the resistance of change can assist leaders in helping other team members adjust to change.

The four reasons are:

It’s unknown –One of life’s greatest fears is the unknown. It causes us to resist those things for which we cannot easily discern an outcome.

It’s challenging – Change stretches us out of our comfort zone.  Some of us like to be stretched more than other people do.

It’s uncertain – When we change, we are often introducing untested waters.  We prefer certainty.

It’s unpopular – The resistance to change is universal.  Change invites animosity and tension.

What changes have you been avoiding that you need to make?

Read some tips on implementing change HERE and HERE.

Read more about innovation HERE.

My Personal Spiritual Growth System

In our recent series “Hunger” at Grace Community Church, I shared a system I have used for spiritual growth that has helped me mature. I had numerous people ask me the following week to describe the details of my “system”. It really isn’t anything scientific or deeply thought out, but has helped me greatly.

Using a simple school folder with dividers and notebook paper in each section, and a calendar that fits in a 3 ring binder I have the following sections:

  1. Things that I’m reading in the Bible and what I am learning from it.
  2. Books that I’m reading and things I’m learning from them.
  3. Prayer requests for people I know well. Since I know many things to pray for them, so they all get their own page. I often spend a month on one page for one person before moving to the next page.
  4. Prayer requests from various people as they share them or I observe them.
  5. A calendar of prayer requests, mostly the ones in number 3 and 4, but it helps me to write them on the calendar each day as I pray for them.
  6. Verses that I’m trying to memorize.
  7. My personal journal of thoughts I have; written out to God.

To clarify, I do not use this system every day. In fact, I do not use it but every few years for a few months at a time, but when I really want to discipline myself for spiritual growth, this is the system I use.

More than anything, I encourage you to have a discipline for your spiritual growth. Your system doesn’t have to be this intense, but, from my experience, without discipline, you are less likely to mature.  For more thoughts on that, listen to my message on the subject HERE or watch the message HERE.

What is your system?

For more thoughts on devotions, click HERE.

Well Meaning Questions Better Left Unasked

Suprised expressionPart of being a mature person is learning when to speak and when not to speak. Consider the encouragement from the Book of James:

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. (James 1:26 NIV)

Do you ever struggle to say the right thing? Have you ever suffered from foot in mouth disease?

We all at times say things we shouldn’t say. Recently, while talking to someone that had just been offended by awkward questions about her life, I was reminded that there are some questions that, while probably well-meaning, are better left unasked unless you know the other person well. Some questions are simply not good conversational questions and they are often more hurtful than helpful.

Here are the ones that instantly come to mind:

When are you going to retire? One, it insinuates an age. Two, it is often interpreted that you think the person should.

When are you getting married? This is often a sensitive question. It could be the person wants to be married, but hasn’t found the right person to marry. It also could be the person has no desire to be married.

When are you having children? This could be one of the most difficult and awkward questions on the list. It often is received as more painful than it is inquisitive.

Which child is yours? This is often asked of blended families or families with adopted children. Most likely, the parents feel as though ALL the children are theirs.

Are you pregnant? If you make a mistake in your diagnosis, you are in obvious trouble.

How long have you been married? For blended families, this question can be embarrassing. If they have children older than the years of their marriage, they can see you doing the math in your head.

The bottom line is to avoid asking questions that may be seen as too personal for a casual conversation. The end goal is to think before you ask.

What would you add to the list? Have you been offended by other people’s questions about your life?

For more posts of encouragement, click HERE.

The Responsibilities of a Pastor

I recently got the question, “What do you do when it’s not Sunday?”  Before I could answer his first question, my friend asked, “Does a preacher have anything to do when you aren’t preaching?”

I was tempted to say, “No, we just work that one hour (in our case three hours) and then we are done”, but I remembered that typical cliché’ joke aggravates me and this guy was not trying to be funny.  He simply didn’t know.

I tried to explain some of what my average week looks like.  Activities of a normal week include items such as:

  • Preparing to preach…Bible reading, prayer, research…
  • Church administration and budgeting…
  • Counseling, coaching and disciple-making…
  • Managing and leading a staff…
  • Writing…
  • Vision-casting…
  • Planning and dreaming…
  • Networking…
  • Community involvement…

Of course, it is ministry, so there isn’t really a “normal” week.  Each week has its own unexpected circumstances, but these are the things that have to be done in a typical week.  I also realize our church is different from other churches, so other pastors have different responsibilities.  For comparison purposes, we are a mid-sized 4 year old church averaging about 1,500 per week attendance.  The size of the church usually does alter the role and responsibility of the pastor.

What did you think were the responsibilities of a pastor between Sundays?

For more posts on ministry click HERE.

Your Life Can Change In One Day

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One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro… (Exodus 3:1)

It began as just a normal day for Moses. That morning, Moses set out, just as he had many years, to tend to his father-in-laws flock of sheep. Shepherding was a dirty, thankless job, but it was Moses’ livelihood and so in typical fashion, he began another day’s work. As the story goes, however, it was not just a normal day for Moses. This particular day would change the course of Moses’ life forever.

If you know the story in Exodus 3, this was the day Moses met God in the burning bush. This was the day God recruited Moses for Kingdom service. This was the day Moses became the chief representative for God to the Israelites. Beginning this day, Moses led the people out of Egypt towards the Promise Land. Along the way, God used Moses to lead the people through a parted sea, deliver the 10 Commandments, and feed the people with manna and quail. Oh yea, and Moses got to speak to a rock and watch as water poured out also. Moses life was never the same from that day forward.

The story of Moses is a great reminder to me of the power contained within a day. In one day, a life can be changed. One change of direction can alter a person’s future for good or bad. One new resolve, one decision to do the right thing (or the wrong thing), or one personal conviction can alter the outcome of a person’s life in positive or negative ways.

That really leaves me with one question for you: How are you allowing your “one days” to shape your life? Is there something in your life you know you need to be doing, some change of direction you need to make, some new commitment, but so far, you have not been obedient to what you know to do?

Could this be a day you surrender to the will of God for your life? Will this be the day you begin to head your life in the direction you actually want it to end? Will the resolve you make today carry you towards the vision you have for your life?

Life altering decisions usually begin “one day”. Is this your day?

For more devotional thoughts, click HERE.

The Value of Community

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I learned to v
alue of community last week…

Cheryl’s father passed away

You can read about him HERE…He was a great man…

I was amazed at how people around us responded…

Our community group reached out…we love them…

Karen in our office did a special slide show for the service…

We received so many texts, emails, visits and phone calls

The APSU community of friends were amazing…

People continued to care even into this week…

People who understand through their own loss reached out to us…

Thank you…

It’s great to be surrounded by people who know how to show love…

Do you have community in your life?

I Am Sorry…Asking Forgiveness…Receiving Grace

I was wrong.

I had a right to be upset and my emotions appeared justified…

But there are two sides to every issue…

And I didn’t handle my reaction well…

It was a friend and I should not have responded the way I did…

I apologized….

He accepted my apology…

We are moving forward…

I am thankful for grace and the amazing way God continues to shape me…

Do you need to say “I’m sorry” to someone so you can move forward again with the relationship?