12 Challenges for the New Year Which Can Make Your Life Better

Challenge

The verdict appears mixed among the people I know of whether of not they make resolutions for a new year. And, I understand, many have tried before – it didn’t work – and so now they are like “why bother?”.

I believe there are probably some principles in place as to whether or not a resolution succeeds. For example, is it reasonable? Is it measurable? Is it sustainable? Do you have accountability in place? (But, at this point I’m writing another post – which I may – so let me get on with the point of this one.)

I wonder if the term itself is a problem. RESOLUTION. I hereby resolve! Sounds kind of formal – almost intimidating – doesn’t it? I hate to say I’m resolving to do something where chances are good I won’t.

I do believe strongly, however, we should work towards continual improvement in our life – whether this begins at the first of the year or in the middle doesn’t matter as much. But, the new year does provide a nice, clear place to start.

So, I want to offer a spin on the old resolution tradition and offer a new word.

Challenge.

Do you ever challenge yourself to do better? It’s easier than saying I resolve to do this. You’re not saying you will – you may not even be able to – it will be a challenge – but you’re willing to give it a try.

Let me give you some examples – maybe some challenges for you to consider. I can almost guarantee if you meet just a few of these challenges your world will be better. You won’t need to meet all of them – just the ones most “challenging” to you. But, you’ll have to trust me in this – meeting them – or even improving upon them – will brighten your life.

Here are 12 challenges for the new year:

Quit trying to be someone else

God made you to be you and He didn’t make a mistake. The more you live the you He intended the more you’ll enjoy the benefits and blessing. There’s something you can offer this world no one else can. Comparison only leads to disappointment.

Quit trying to carry all your burdens

And, the challenge here for you may be to quit trying to carry everyone else’s burden. God designed you (and me) to be insufficient without Him and to have a relational need for others. Sometimes the best thing you can do is admit you can do it anymore – and ask for help. In your weakness – He is strong, but you’ll have to admit your weakness before He usually allows His strength to kick into full gear.

Start embracing today

You can keep hoping your life away – that this would happen or that would happen – but when you begin to find contentment – TODAY becomes a great day – in spite of the challenges it holds. The Apostle Paul said he had learned “the secret of being content”. I’ve personally defined contentment in my life as “being satisfied with where God has allowed me to be in life – right now.” Perhaps your greatest challenge in the new year will be embracing where God has you now and waiting more patiently for what He will bring in the fullness of time.

Let the past go

As much as we can learn from history, we shouldn’t be bound by it. One of my favorite verses is Ecclesiastes 11:3, “Wherever the tree falls, there it lies.”. So simple, yet so profound! It speaks volumes to me. If the tree fell – there it lays. You can’t do anything about it now. It’s done. Finished. On the ground. All you can control now is your response to the tree which fell. If grief is holding you back – grieve – get help if needed. If it’s regret – reconcile the loss. If it’s guilt, or disappointment, or anger – whatever “it” is from your past – deal with it now. Admit the tree fell. It hurt – it stinks – and you wish it hadn’t happened – but, I challenge you to move forward in the new year.

Accept God’s grace

It’s always more than we deserve. You can’t earn it. It’s amazing grace. But, denying or refusing it ignores the beauty of it. Is the guilt of your past keeping you from enjoying all the blessings of being a child of God? Has there never been a time you received the gift of salvation? Have you been living more like a prodigal in exile than a child of the King? If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. If the Son has set you free – you are free indeed! I challenge you to embrace grace in the new year.

Live free of grudges and bitterness

The lack of forgiveness is a hidden destroyer of joy, peace and happiness. Someone reading this is holding on to a grudge, some bitterness, maybe anger – and it’s keeping you from fully enjoying life. Every time you hear a person’s name or see them you are reminded of the injury they caused. And, it’s hurting you more than it is them. Chances are they’ve moved on and you’re still struggling. Isn’t it time to let it go? (Let it go – could be a “Frozen” song you need to sing to yourself.)

Remember other people exist

Don’t be selfish or always command your way. People – even the best people – will never perform to all of your standards – and is it even fair to expect it of them? They may not even agree with you as to what is important. You cannot hold people to unrealistic expectations and not be disappointed often.

And, here’s a note to those of us disappointed with the things of this world. As followers of Christ, we can’t expect that everyone sees the world as we do. Of course, there are biblical principles through which we view the world and live, but can we really expect people who aren’t believers to embrace them?

Admit mistakes readily

Sincere humility is an attractive quality – and it helps to free you from future regrets or guilt. We all can have “perfectionist” tendencies, yet none of us is perfect. If you want to live with less self-induced stress this year – admit you don’t have all the answers and sometimes you have none.

Give generously

Giving opens the heart to joy and contentment. Something happens when we give to others which causes us – though we have less – to feel like we have more. And, there are many needs around us. I challenge you to give more in the new year and see how it makes your life better!

Protect your heart

“Above all else” the Bible says. Where your heart is there your treasure will be also. Most likely there are activities, or people, or places where your heart is most easily injured. You may not be able to avoid them, but you can be aware so you can “guard your heart”. And, when you are aware you may be injured you will build guardrails to lessen the damage.

Take a new risk

The adrenaline of attempting something you’ve never done before fuels you for future success. It could be something you’ve always wanted to try or something you know God wants you to do, but, for whatever reason, you’ve resisted. Especially if it’s God-honoring, not sinful, will make your life or other’s life better, then what are you waiting for? Don’t let fear or thoughts of your inadequacies be your chief motivators in the new year. I challenge you – GO FOR IT!

Think and act eternally

There is more to this life than the world we know today. Thankfully, I might add. Jesus said to “store up treasures in heaven”. Whenever possible, I challenge you to consider the eternal consequences of the decisions, investments, and actions of your life. Jesus said to live in this world, but not be of this world. How are you making a difference in the world to come by your world today? The more intentional you are the more treasures you build for a future reward.

Which of these challenges are you willing to accept?

Which of the above do you most need to embrace?

What Is There to do the Day After Christmas?

open christmas gift

And all they that heard it wondered at those things, which were told them by the shepherds. Luke 2:18

It’s the day after Christmas.

Presents are opened. Trees are coming down. Reflecting is in full force. Plans are being made for a new year.

I can imagine the “wonder” happening in Bethlehem shortly after the birth of Christ. There was great wonder in the naming of this baby. Jesus, which means “salvation of God” – it was not something someone like Joseph and Mary typically would have named their son. Talk about high hopes for your children!

With the excitement going on in the town because of the census, it is probable that few took notice of Jesus’ birth. Therefore, when the shepherds go about joyfully, almost ecstatically, proclaiming the Good News, people most likely wondered “what baby?” “I didn’t see a baby”. They were so busy with their own celebrations they had missed the birth of a Savior!

What about you? As you clean up the torn packages from yesterday, and you pack away all the new gifts – as you travel back home or prepare to head back to work – as you explore how to spend your Christmas cash – what difference has Christmas made in your life?

Did the fact a Savior was born make a difference in your life this week/this year? Are you living a life that reflects that truth? Or – are you still wondering what all the excitement is about?

Many celebrated Christmas this year. How many really understood the why behind the celebration? Was it the center of their celebration or part of a checklist or after thought.

The parties are over and the gifts are open, and many will be sad the celebration is over, but the celebration alone will never completely fill a person’s heart. Only the true gift of Christmas, the one they named Jesus, can fill the void in a heart, which often dwells at the end of a Christmas celebration.

After the dust settles from the hustle and rush of buying, wrapping, opening gifts, stuffing ourselves with holiday treats and enjoying the company of friends and family is over, perhaps you and I should pause and wonder – pause and truly reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. 

Perhaps after Christmas is more important even than during.

A Savior has been born. He is Christ the Lord! The Savior grew, lived a sinless life, died on a cross, rose again, and now intercedes between God and man on behalf of those who believe. 

He wants to be a friend who sticks closer than a brother. He wants those who are weary and heavy-burdened to come to Him. He wants to bless our lives with true peace. Hope was born at Christmas.

And this part of the Christmas season – will last throughout the coming year – and throughout eternity!

10 Life Lessons and Reminders from “It’s a Wonderful Life”

wonderful life bank scare

“It’s a Wonderful Life” has to be one of my all-time favorite movies. I have probably seen it thirty times or more.

I read recently, the movie was not a success the first few years after it’s release. No one could sit through the hard part to get to the happy ending. Aren’t we like this with life sometimes?

A couple years ago Cheryl and I saw it on the big screen. One of our local, historic theaters, shared the film for Christmas. There was something even more wonderful about “It’s a Wonderful Life” in this setting.

I took time to reflect on the moment. I was reminded how many life lessons this movie provides.

Here are 10 life lessons from “It’s a Wonderful Life”:

It’s not just about us. Other lives matter. We are better, richer, because of other people.

When we hurt, we hurt others. When we are in pain, we tend to feel we are suffering alone, but this is never the case. When someone we love hurts – we hurt.

We can’t hide our pain from people we love. They know. They may not know how to help or even how to express their concern – at least not in a way we will receive it – but they know – and care.

We need community. We really do need people in our life. We never realize this more than when we are in need. (I can’t imagine my life personally without the church.)

There is power in cooperation. We can do great things when we work together. I love this quote by Aimee Semple McPherson, “With God, I can do great things! But with God and you, and the people who you can interest, by the grace of God, we’re gonna change the world!” So true.

We seldom know the impact we have on others. Or, the good we are doing. I think God may protect us from foolish pride this way – thinking it is all about us. But, when we care – when we love others – when we strive to make a difference – we make a bigger splash on humanity than we could ever measure.

Character speaks louder than cash. Every. Single. Time. I’d rather have my integrity than a stuffed wallet any day. And, I’d rather have friends I can trust – and strive to be like – than friends who can buy my lunch.

“All you can take with you is that which you have given away”. (Peter Bailey) There are so many Biblical principles in this movie – this is one of them. Storing up treasures where moth and rust cannot destroy – it really does make for a wonderful life.

No man is a failure who has friends.” (Clarence) You can’t watch the movie and not wonder if you’d have friends come through for you as George Bailey did. I’m reminded the best way to have a friend is to be one. It worked for George – and it still works today.

Our life matters. Your life matters. (“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – Clarence.) God makes no mistake with His creation. He has a purpose for every soul, in which He breathes life.

What did I miss?

5 Suggestions for Finding More Joy at Christmas

Christmas package

But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. Luke 2:10-11

As I read the Scriptures, the ability to have joy is a gift. We may not always be “happy” with our circumstances, but we can have joy. Joy is a condition of our heart beyond the situations life may bring. It was “good news of great joy” the angels announced at the birth of Christ.

For many, however, living in the reality of joy at Christmas is harder than other times of the year. Memories of loved ones, financial struggles, health issues, and relationship woes often make for a very difficult celebration. And, have you spent much time watching the news recently? It’s enough to depress anyone.

Do you ever wonder why everyone else seems to find it, but you’ve been “left out” when it comes to “good news of great joy”?

How do we find the joy of Chrismas? (You may want to read my previous post 10 Ways to Overcome a Sense of Christmas Loss. This post come from another angle.

Here are five suggestions to greater joy at Christmas:

Lower expectations of others

We falsely expect others to respond as we want them to respond – or thin we would. We expect them to react to our gift as we felt when we bought it for them. We thought they’d remember us and they didn’t. We sent a card – they didn’t. We tried to be nice – and they weren’t so nice. We shouldn’t hold others to an expectation we set for them. People, even the best of people, will disappoint us. And, people are different from us. We aren’t responsible for the reactions of others. We are only responsible for our actions.

Increase your investment in others 

If we aren’t careful, Christmas can become so commercialized, even within our own families, we unintentionally become selfish towards others. Something supernatural happens when we share with people. Giving has an intrinsic value, which can’t be duplicated in any other way. This includes extending grace, as it was given to us – this includes granting forgiveness to those who disappointed us. Giving frees our heart of selfishness and self-centered tendencies we all have at times.

Examine your life and address sin

You can’t experience complete joy with a holy God if you are living contrary to His desires for your life. Where does your life need a realignment with God’s purposes and plan for you? Chances are good you already know. Is it an unforgiving spirit? Are you holding on to anger? Do you have continued, repetitive sin in your life? Christmas is a great time to make new commitments, and re-dedicate your life to Christ. Then you have a whole year to strive in this area of personal growth.

Change your perspective

Choosing to be joyful is not based on circumstances, but often comes by perspective. Where we stand always determines what we see. Stand in faith and we will see the world from a different and more positive viewpoint. The Apostle Paul wrote one of his most joy-filled letters – Philippians- while chained in a jail cell. (Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8) The fact is – joy is a gift. It’s not based on what we have done or could do, but on His grace towards us. It’s based on the hope of the righteous, not the reality of the moment. We can choose joy. And, then choose it again. And again. And again.

Set your eyes on the prize

If you’re struggling to find joy in life, set your eyes on Jesus – the author and perfecter of your faith. (If indeed He is your Savior – if not choose His grace by faith now.) Set your sight on the glory to be revealed through your trials and circumstances. God will write the final chapter of your story – and He’s not finished yet! You can trust Him. Look again at the manger – Jesus, the One who existed before time began, set the stars in place, lowered Himself in the form of a baby and was placed on a feeding trough, so He may give us access (through the Cross and resurrection) to a Holy God! I can find joy in this fact! Can you?

What suggestions do you have for finding more joy at Christmas?

7 Secrets to Being a High Achiever

Green extra mile sign

I get asked frequently how I am able to get so much done and still take care of myself and my family. 

I pastor a large church. I maintain a separate non-profit ministry, where I speak at various conferences and events. I have an active online presence. I mentor about a dozen pastors – some in groups and some as individuals, plus I mentor 4 young leaders in our church. And, I try to stay active in the community – serving on a number of non-profit boards. But, mostly, I strive to be the person, husband and father my congregation could seek to follow.

Okay, typing out a list of my activities does remind me – I’m busy. Productive would be subject to interpretation, but certainly I have adequate (and more than adequate) activity in my life.

Honestly, I never feel I’ve accomplished as much as I would like, but after receiving the question so many times, perhaps I should attempt to answer.

As I’ve reflected of what helps me accomplish much, I came up with some thoughts as to how I’m able to maintain productivity.

Here are 7 secrets to being a high achiever:

I’m intentional

This is probably number one. I strive to live my life for a purpose, which carries over into everything I do. (Notice there are even 7 steps in this answer. This was intentional.) If you could name one word to describe who I am as a pastor, leader, husband, father, friend and child of God, it would be intentional. (By the way, I’m intentional about resting too.) I even put the last sentence about rest in here intentionally, because I knew someone would wonder. :)

I don’t sit still long without a purpose

Being still is a discipline for me. Some seasons I’m better at it than others. I realize some people have no trouble with this, but I do. As I said about being intentional, I have to make myself rest. My mind is constantly in motion. If I’m watching a television program, which isn’t often, I’m doing attempting to do something productive while I watch – otherwise I feel I’ve “wasted” time. I wish I could say I’m always doing the “best” things, but certainly more activity leads to the potential for more productivity. Doesn’t always work this way, which is why some of the other points I’m listing are far more valuable than this one. But, I try to be productive even with down time – and, although it’s taken years to understand this, resting is a productive time.

I strive to maintain my health

I’d love to say I always watch what I eat, and I do to a certain extent, but mostly I exercise to stay fit. I’ve learned the more out of shape I am the less effective I am in all I attempt to do. It impacts me physically, emotionally and spiritually when I skip my time exercising. I’m more productive when I’m most physically fit. I’ve recently learned too my body needs to be adequately hydrated to feel at my best. 

I work from a plan

Whether it’s long-term or short-term planning, I try to have one. I begin most every Monday morning (or sometimes Sunday nights) planning the week ahead. I find I’m more successful in my week if I’ve put some plans on paper prior to beginning any activity. Daily I begin by reviewing my plans for the day. I begin each day with 5 minutes spent on making a checklist of what I have to get done. At the beginning of a year, I plan the year. I periodically look over larger time spans of my life and plan or review where I’m going. Now, the further I get from the date, the more difficult it is to solidify my plans – life disrupts – but without a plan I find I’m spinning my wheels more than making progress.

I take advantage of opportunities

Did you catch that? It is not complicated, but it is a powerful principle. Networking. Delegation. Time-management. Learning something new. Cultivating dead times. I am intentional (there’s that word again) at looking for opportunities as they present themselves. If I’m waiting at the doctor’s office, I’m probably writing a blog post or replying to emails. Small opportunities lead to huge opportunities. I seek those moments. (By the way, I always have something with me where I can make notes. When ideas come – I want to be ready. Intentionally ready.)

I try to stay ahead

This is hard. I’m a procrastinator by nature – like most people are – but the more I can, I try to stay one step ahead of the snowballs in my schedule. They happen to all of us. If I’m prepared when those times arrive I can better keep them from being a disruption in my productivity.

I prioritize

I say no often. It may not seem like it to an outside observation, but I do. I say no a lot. I have come to the realization that I can’t do everything or be everywhere. I’ve tried to figure out what’s most important in my life, my work, and my walk with God and I put those things first. I even schedule some of them to make sure nothing gets in the way. I ask myself consistently questions such as, “Am I the right one to be doing this?”, “Is this the best use of my time?” Again, intentional.

It should finally be noted – I’m in a different season of life these days. I’m an empty-nester. When my boys were home life was different. I was intentional then too, but in different ways.

Which of these would help you the most? Any you would add to help others (and me)?

10 Things I Have Learned Leading Church Change

Bellfry of old Russian church against blue sky

I left the church planting world to help revitalize and grow an established church. It’s proven to be challenging – maybe slightly more than I thought it would be.

But, God has allowed us to experience incredible energy and excitement. I am not big on sharing numbers in this format, but let me simply say – God is working. Amazingly working. The potential in the days ahead is astounding to me.

Needless to say, there has been a lot of change since I made the transition. I tend to like change. I think it’s necessary if any organization, church or relationship wants to grow – or even remain alive. But, some change came fast. It didn’t necessarily seem fast to me, and certainly not monumental, but I know, in a church over 100 years old – what is slow change to me is considered fast to others.

For the most part, the reception to change has been good. Still, change, no matter how necessary, is never easy. Along the way, I have learned a few things. I share this knowing over fifty percent of the readers of this blog are in ministry. Hopefully some of what we’ve learned will help others.

Here are 10 things I’ve learned in leading church change:

Don’t try to be the church down the street.

You have to be true to the DNA, heritage and culture of the church you lead. This doesn’t mean don’t change, but does mean change should be relevant to context. It’s a mistake to think you can “cookie-cutter” someone else’s success.

Don’t oppose everything old.

When you’re against everything done in the past you push people into a corner to defend themselves. The old – whatever it is – got you to where you are today. It may not be all bad. In fact, at one time it might have been very good – the best. The old was once new. The new is simply where the most energy is at currently. (Someday it will be old.)

Celebrate history and change will be easier.

People were there years ago, building the church where you serve today. My granddaddy would say, “Don’t forget what brung ya!” I especially love hearing the stories of how the church grew through other times of change. It may sound like a strange connection, but I’ve observed when people get a chance to tell their story they feel better about the change you are proposing.

Many times information overcomes objection.

Many times. I might even say most times. You can’t over-communicate in times of change. The more they know the “why”, the less they will resist the “what”. (By the way, my interview with Zig Ziglar confirmed this principle.)

It sometimes seems easier to let a church slowly die than to try to change things.

There. I said it. But, it’s true. Some people are not going to want the church to change. Period. End of story. And, most likely, they will find a way to let you know. (Most likely that will be some way other than telling you – but you’ll hear it.) But, that doesn’t mean the church can’t, won’t and shouldn’t change – and thrive again.

Change is uncomfortable for everyone.

It’s just more uncomfortable for some than others. You might read THIS POST about a recent sobering reminder I had about the relativism of objection to change.

Some days all you’ll hear are the critics.

This is just life. I think Satan even has a hand in this one. You’ll think no one is on your side. You’ll think you’re wasting your time. You’ll have a one-day (or multiple day) pity party. On those days, you’ll need to remember the vision God called you to complete. Keep going.

The degree of pain determines the degree of resistance to change.

When people are injured – or afraid – or lack trust, they are more likely to cling to what’s comfortable and resist what’s new. That is true in their personal life or their church life. When leading change in a place where injury is present, there will be resistance based solely on that pain. You may have to lead people to a place of forgiveness before you can lead them to a place of change.

The best supporters are often silent.

I don’t know why. They just are. They are satisfied. Happy. Ecstatic even perhaps. They just don’t always tell you they are. But, good news, they are usually telling others. And, that’s fueling more growth. And, God is faithful. Somehow, just when you need it most, God seems to send an encourager.

Change speed is relative to change frequency. The longer there’s been no change, the longer it will take to implement change. The longer a church has plateaued or been in decline, the longer it will be before the church can grow again.

These are some things I’ve learned about leading change. I hope something here is helpful to you.

What have you learned in leading change?

5 Suggestions to Attract Young People to Church

young people

I have never met a church which didn’t want to reach young people. Every church sees the value in younger people becoming a an active part of the church. They know the future life of the church depends upon it.

The problem is often the church doesn’t act like what they claim to value.

If a church is more interested in protecting traditions, for example, than it is in creating a future, then it will most likely fail to attract young people.

At least that’s been my experience.

If a church is interested in attracting young people, it must think strategically about doing so. And, let’s be honest- we are all figuring out this subject. I’m totally open to learning from you. These are just some things I’ve observed. 

Here are 5 suggestions for attracting young people to church:

Value them and their ideas

Young people will want to do things differently. They see things differently. We must give them a voice and an access to authority. This doesn’t mean we have to change anything we believe or teach, but it does mean we have to listen to them and not dismiss what’s on their heart and minds. I’ve found I must make time in my schedule for the younger generation. I need to engage them regularly. They want to know me personally. But, when I do, it’s huge to them – and I have more credibility to speak into their life. (And, it fuels me personally.) 

Give them a place to serve

Find ways to let young people assist others. It’s a huge value for them. For the newer generation, it appears service may be the new front door. They will care more about serving than they will about “membership”. They want to make a difference meeting real needs. I’ve discovered they like hands on experiences. And, they usually aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. 

Be genuine with them

Young people can spot phonies. Let them see you are real. Authentic and transparent have been admired cultural values all their life – so they will accept nothing else. Be honest with them – about your shortcomings, your flaws and your fears. Let them learn from your mistakes and the things you did right.

Love them

Young people want to sense they are loved – even when they mess up. In my experience, young people want a safe place to be transparent and they want you to love them even when they do things – and believe things – of which you wouldn’t approve. If you want an opportunity to speak into their life, they have to know you genuinely care for them. 

Guide them

Young people want direction and they want to learn from your experience. If you talk about the concept of mentoring – they are into it. If a more experienced person is willing to invest in them – they’ll listen. This is a huge opportunity for the church in reaching a newer generation.

These are a few of my observations. Feel free to add your own. There are so many things drawing our young people’s attention these days. The opportunities before them are unlimited. And, frankly, church is only one small option for most of them. We must be intentional and strategic if we want to reach them. 

7 Suggestions to Have the Best Christmas Ever

Christmas music

It’s Christmas time again. Seems to come every year about this time. The most wonderful time of the year.

There’ll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories
Of Christmases long, long ago
It’s the most wonderful time of the year

(That could almost be a song. Wait a minute — I think it is.)

But, if you’re like many of us, Christmas will be over before you took time to enjoy it. You might even get past Christmas, realize how fast it passed, and so you set some new year’s resolutions to slow down and — maybe — enjoy Christmas more next year.

What if you could do that this year? Why not? Sounds like a good goal to me. Enjoy the celebration of Christmas. The birth of our Savior. Relish the time with family. Savor every moment.

I posted this last year, but it’s even more important this year it seems. Does this seem to be a harder year than usual to you?

Here are 7 suggestions to make this the best Christmas ever:

Set a limit on expenditures.

Something happens when Christmas becomes more about the value of the gifts than the value of the season. More, more, more only produces energy in a direction that can never really be sustained. (Read Ecclesiastes 5:10) Start with a budget. Be realistic. Stop comparing. One problem for many of us is that we are trying to compete with everyone else. Obviously, if you have more money you can spend more money (and less — less). But, make it your goal to invest more in people this year than in things you can buy. And, don’t feel obligated or pressured to buy gifts you can’t afford for people. It will only be a temporary satisfaction and produce a lot of guilt in the new year when you see those credit card bills start arriving in the mail. (And, usually the guilt starts as soon as the cashier hands you the receipt or you push the purchase button online.)

Set boundaries in relationships.

This is especially true for younger couples and families, but really for most of us. You can feel pressured by extended family and friends to be a dozen different places. Remember, you aren’t responsible for pleasing everyone — in fact — you can’t. It’s impossible. (Some have a harder time with that than others.) Don’t let everyone else determine your Christmas schedule. You may have to have some difficult, but direct conversations with relatives or friends. Again, be realistic. You can’t be everywhere. There are some places you can’t (or shouldn’t) avoid, but, as much as possible, control your schedule rather than having it controlled by others.

Plan and prioritize your time.

This is similar, but also includes how we spend our own time at Christmas. There are usually more demands for our time than time for our demands. Just as you did in creating a money budget, create a time budget. Set aside some time for you to celebrate Christmas as an immediate family — or in a way where you best celebrate. Then build around that time. It’s okay to say no. (Do you need to read that sentence again?) If you don’t, you’ll run out of time before you feel you ever really celebrated. It’s hard, but again, you’re trying to actually celebrate Christmas — the birth of baby Jesus. That’s hard to do when you have lost all control of your time.

Lower your expectations.

That you have on others and on yourself. Sometimes we set very unrealistic expectations on what others will buy or how they will respond to what we buy. We look for the “perfect” gift — to give or receive — and our enjoyment of Christmas is based on that search — rather than the real joy of the season. We also set unrealistic expectations on relationships. We watch too many Hallmark Christmas movies where everything works out in the end to the perfect holiday celebration and when it doesn’t happen at our house quite like that we get disappointed. Remember, we aren’t characters in a movie. We are characters in real life. Real life is almost never perfect. Learn to enjoy your celebration with all the quirkiness that makes your family unique from every other family. (Because every family is quirky in some way — in real life.)

Practice health disciplines.

Sometimes in the name of “celebrating” we over do it only to have guilt about it later. Don’t overeat or over-indulge. You will occasionally – it’s part of the season — but, be reasonable. Keep exercising. Sample rather than eat full portions. You’ll feel better and have less regrets after the holidays have ended.

Serve others.

Find and establish a Christmas tradition of service. Whether it’s serving at a food kitchen, ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, or just picking up trash along the side of the road, you’ll better appreciate Christmas when you serve. The real meaning of Christmas is based around serving others. The baby born at Christmas came to be a servant. The best way to celebrate His birth is to give back expecting nothing in return. You’ll be the bigger recipient when you do.

Remember the reason for the season.

Yea, I saved the best and most important for last. On purpose. It’s also the one we push to last if we aren’t careful and the ultimate purpose of this post, so I wanted it to be the last impression on your mind. Jesus — the reason for the season. It’s simple — even cliche, but, it’s true and it’s powerful — if you do it genuinely. In the midst of the madness, rediscover the miracle of Christmas. A Savior — who is Christ the Lord — has been born to you. Establish a tradition that helps you best identify with the true meaning of Christmas. You could take time to explore a character of the Christmas story you’ve not considered previously. Research elements of the setting and culture. Read the major passages in Matthew and Luke repeatedly through the season. Listen to only Christmas music. Attend special Christmas services. Whatever works for you. Be intentional to practice celebrating the real joy of Christmas.

Not all of these will apply to everyone, but my guess is if there are a couple here you need to work on — to better celebrate Christmas — you already knew it. As we begin the rush of the Christmas season, pause right now, take a few deep breaths, and let’s make this the best Christmas ever.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

10 Ways to Overcome a Sense of Christmas Loss

Christmas tree gifts

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. As the song goes, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year“.

But, for some people, Christmas can be a miserable time.

Many have lost a loved one, suffered the end of a significant relationship, or even had a severe personal loss of income or health. For the, Christmas is a just another reminder of what they no longer have. If we aren’t careful, the joy of Christmas is covered over with the emotions of loss, and rather than appreciating what we have or looking forward to what’s to come, we find ourselves in Christmas misery.

Several years ago, to prepare for a Christmas message, I consulted with two professional Christian counselors in our church Jennifer Degler and Elizabeth Ellis. With their advice and some of my own, I’m offering some practical ways to overcome a sense of Christmas loss.

Ideally, Christ is the answer. Apart from Christ there is no Christmas and there is no peace. These suggestions are not designed to take the place of that truth, but rather to give some practical tips to help you deal with loss at Christmas.

Here are 10 ways to overcome a sense of Christmas loss:

List your losses – Death, divorce, injury, finances, children moved out this year – whatever they are – write them down. I’ve personally found journaling to be helpful. Admit the pain – write them down.

Share them – Certainly with God, but with a close friend, or with people who have experienced your loss. Don’t be ashamed to see a professional counselor. Find support in a Bible study group or prayer group. We were designed for community, especially for times like this.

Grieve the loss – Every loss must be grieved. The intensity of the grief may be determined by the intensity of the loss. Some form of depression is a normal response to grief. We’ve almost created a culture where we think suffering is abnormal. Don’t be afraid to grieve – even publicly at times. It’s okay to be human.

Resist falling into despair – That’s where you live in a false reality that all hope is gone. It’s not. By the way, you don’t do that by ignoring them.

Take care of your physical body– Eat well, exercise, and get adequate rest. It’s more important during a sense of loss.

Be aware of negative thinking – Catch the negative thoughts and replace them with thoughts that are positive and true. See Philippians 4:8.

Do something for someone else – There are many opportunities during the holidays to help people. Helping other people reminds us loss is universal and other people are struggling with you. Plus, something about giving fuels positive emotions.

Force yourself to participate in social activities – You won’t feel like it, but social support is critical in recovering from loss. No one benefits by becoming a recluse. In fact, you actually increase the likelihood you will become clinically depressed.

Avoid the comparison game – Don’t compare your losses to other people’s losses. Significant loss naturally makes us focus inward, but that never works. And, it’s dangerous.

Honor you losses with new traditions – Begin some new family rituals that will help you reflect on the good things you experienced with the person you have lost or will help you remember happier days to come.

In my Christmas message, I shared one more suggestion – one I believe is the most powerful of all. It’s this:

We have to learn to worship in tears. You have to learn to worship even in pain. When you realize God is good – even when it doesn’t seem life is good – you are better equipped to face the storms of life, which are sure to come.

Obviously, Christ is the peace of Christmas, and He can fill your brokenness. You can trust Him. This Christmas, let the Christ of Christmas fill the void and loss you have in your heart and life.

You can find all my messages on my Vimeo page at vimeo.com/ronedmondson. The message referenced is titled Obstacles to Christmas Joy: Loss.

7 Hard Words Every Pastor Needs to Hear

senior pastor

I love pastors. I love to encourage pastors. And, it’s Biblical. (Ephesians 4:29 – or something like that.)

Seriously, I’m a pastor. And, I work with pastors everyday. Having not been a pastor – in the business world longer than I’ve been a pastor – I’ve still got somewhat of an objective — almost outside perspective. 

And, now I am a pastor – having been one for over a decade – sometimes I wish I could share with pastors what I’m really thinking.

Well, maybe I can.

Here are 7 hard words every pastor needs to hear:

Your family should not be second to your ministry – Your ministry is important. It’s your calling — hopefully your passion. But, so is your family. Or, at least, they should be. In fact, I’d claim if your family suffers, almost without exception, so will your ministry.

You may never feel completely in control – I realize the ministry has so many unknowns. You work mostly with volunteers. You can’t seem to motivate people to do what people need to be doing. That’s not going to change. You are walking by faith – remember.

You need someone in your life, besides your spouse, who knows the dark places – Your spouse will usually feel the need to cover for you, defend you — and, hopefully, usually sees the best in you. You need someone who knows you well, but can look at you and boldly say, “You’re not telling me the whole story. What’s the real deal?”

Your pace often determines your longevity – If you run too fast — you’ll burnout. If you run too slow — you’ll get bored. And, either is dangerous.

You aren’t the only one who can do it – Whatever it is – you aren’t indispensable. In fact, God has designed the church as a Body with many parts who can do many things. Are you seriously allowing yourself to be held responsible for everything? You’ll be far more successful in ministry if you learn to equip and release.

Your church can function without you – You also aren’t irreplaceable. You’re awesome — and wonderful — and the greatest pastor ever — maybe — but the “Church” has lasted for several centuries without you. Sorry to break it to you, but when we come to realize this as true, it is a freeing reality. Jesus is in control. He promised this. He cannot be replaced. 

You’re doing better than you think you are – Admit it. You’re tempted to compare yourself to others — aren’t you? And, it’s depressing at times. How can they contribute the same or even less effort than you and seem to get more results? Why are there numbers bigger? Why are they growing? If only you had their incredible staff, or building, or location, or ______. You know the comparison drill. But, God has a plan for you. It’s unique from His plan for everyone else. Be faithful to Him and compare yourself to how obedient you are being to what He has called you to do. 

And, don’t worry about everyone else. And, someday — I’m convinced — I’m sure of it — you’ll indeed hear “Well done good and faithful servant — well done.”

Pastor, do you have a hard word you’d share with other pastors? (Here’s your chance!)