A Word of Encouragement to the Small Town Pastor

Over the last dozen years or so I’ve had the privilege of ministering with dozens of pastors in other churches. Many of these were in person. Others were virtual. I’ve been in large and small churches. I’ve been to big cities and small towns with only one stop light. (Or none at all.).

In the process, I’ve learned a few things about pastors and churches. In fact, much of what I write this blog about comes from those experiences.

A couple years ago I had back to back weeks in small cities dealing with, by some standards, smaller churches. I realized quickly, probably because I was coming from a larger city and a larger church, they were going to be shy about sharing their success.

I led a leadership retreat for a church with 150 leaders from different churches in the room. I was amazed they could attract that size crowd in a small city – and actually bring people from different churches together. But, talking to the host pastor, it was as if they had no success at all – at least when compared to my perceived “success”. (I’ve realized, too, if you have a decently read blog and you’re from out of town – people credit you with more success than you deserve. I’m sometimes seen as the “expert”. Just please don’t ask our staff about that one.)

It wasn’t humility on this pastor’s part. I’m not saying he wasn’t a humble person, but I don’t think that was keeping him from talking about the good things God was doing through his church. It was more. I think it almost always is.

That’s when it occurred to me something I’ve observed numerous times, but never put into words.

Sometimes people don’t know how well they are doing.

It’s true.

Take my good friend Artie Davis as an example. His church is a mega impact on the small town of Orangeburg, SC. I would love to see the church I pastor have half the influence in the community where I live. Artie also leads The Sticks Network of churches ministering in small towns. The impact of those church is amazing every year I attended their conference.

Many times the small city pastors compare themselves to the big city churches. They compare numbers rather than progress. They compare size rather than context. They compare notoriety rather than influence.

And, because of that, many times, they don’t know how well they are really doing.

I see the connections, networking and influence the small town pastor has and I wish I could have this kind of Kingdom influence in my city. I see the respect they command in their community and know, in my context, in many ways they are miles ahead of me.

Small city pastor. God is using you. You are making a Kingdom difference. You just sometimes don’t know how well you are doing.

Do you know a small town pastor doing great Kingdom work?

7 Suggestions When a Good Marriage Isn’t Working

All marriages go through periods where things just aren’t as they should be. It’s a natural occurrence in any relationship involving people. (I suppose this would include most marriages). The stress and pace of life causes tension in the best marriages. Even good marriages suffer at times.

Cheryl and I have had several of those times, usually due to external pressures we did not cause or invite. It could be my work – or hers – or family situations. Outside stress causes tension in the relationship. Things aren’t falling apart. We aren’t questioning our commitment to each other, but we both know things aren’t working as well as they should be. We are having more miscommunication, we are more tense in our reaction to each other, or we may just feel we are passing each other through our days, not connecting as well as we usually do. Thankfully, we’ve always been intentional during those times.

Those times are usually seasonal and they happen in most every marriage. This appears especially true in the earlier years of the marriage, but we shouldn’t be surprised if they happen later in a marriage either. When major changes in the marriage or in life occur, such as children moving out of the house, loss of job, or other serious trauma, marriages can struggle for a time. That’s normal.

Those periods can last a week, a few weeks, or a month or more. It isn’t that the couple doesn’t love each other, or even that they want out of the marriage, but that they just aren’t on the same page as much as they should be. The key in those times isn’t to panic, but to intentionally work to restore total health to the marriage.

Has your marriage ever been there?

During these times the way a couple responds is critically important to the long-term strength of the marriage. Ignoring these times – or pretending they don’t exist – could have disastrous consequences.

Here are 7 suggestions for those seasons of marriage:

Communicate

It is especially important during stressful seasons you keep talking, to each other and to God. Even when it’s awkward to do so keep the lines of communication open. Admit where you are in the marriage. Again, this may hurt for a time, but it’s better to be honest now than to allow the marriage to fall apart or slip further from health later. You may need to schedule times to talk – timing is important – but don’t neglect this one.

Stay close

Keep doing things together. Sleep in the same bed. Find times to do special activities. Have regular date nights. Talk. This will help protect your heart from wandering. You must not let the tension of the times become a wedge between you. This includes letting other people – friends, coworkers, in-laws, parents, even children – should not intefere in the closeness you share with your spouse. Protect the integrity of your relationship. At one time you would have probably considered yourselves best friends. Rekindle those days.

Discipline yourself

There will be times when you are tempted to say the wrong things or treat your spouse unkindly. It will require discipline to do the right thing, and say the right thing, but it will help protect the marriage. Here’s where you may have to use the Spirit of God’s strength working in you. Before you start to say something you may regret – whisper a prayer asking for God’s help.

I always suggest this question. Would you let other people talk to your spouse the way you are talking to them?

Get help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – and, don’t wait until things are beyond repair to do so. Even the best marriages need some at times. This may be counseling, meeting with Christian friends you trust, or doing a Bible study together, but it is important you invite someone to speak into your life. This is an investment in your marriage which may help you get to a new level of trust and intimacy you’ve never experienced – or haven’t experienced in a while.

Of course, the greatest help you can get is from the Creator of marriage. Now is a time to grow your relationship with God individually and as a couple.

Learn

There are always principles to strengthen your marriage that can be learned during these times. Cheryl and I have learned, for example, that during especially stressful periods we have to be more intentional with our marriage. You may need to learn how to communicate better, how to handle conflict, or how to dream together again. This is a great season to do some of those things. It’s also a good idea to surround yourself with people in stronger marriages – maybe even find an older, mature couple to mentor you in marriage. (This is usually not parents. You need more objective voices.)

Be Patient

When you are in a “season” you’ll want change immediately, but relationships don’t work that way. Chances are it will take longer than you expect or want it to take to get through this period. Be patient. A good marriage is worth it.

Hang on

This may be the most important. Don’t give up! Renew your commitment to the marriage and each other. These seasons won’t last forever if you continue to work on your marriage. Be committed enough to your marriage to stick with it until this season passes. Every marriage can be restored and improved with two parties working together – especially if you are intentional and do something before things get desperate.

Keep in mind, I’m not talking about times of abuse, neglect, affairs, or severe marriage issues. I’m speaking of times when the marriage just isn’t as much fun anymore. This is also when both spouses still want the marriage to work and are willing to work at making the marriage better. If any of those more serious issues are occurring, get serious help immediately.

You might also read my post “Making Marriage Fun Again“.

Again, have you been there?

Help others out. How did your marriage survive through a stressful time in marriage?

How to Correctly Identify Constructive Criticism

Organizations, churches, and societies need this...

Constructive:

Serving a useful purpose; tending to build up.

Criticism:

The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

Constructive Criticism

You’ve heard the term. As a leader, I hear it all the time.

If you’re a leader then you’ve certainly had people offer criticism. Some even say they are just giving “constructive criticism”. Or, they believe so at the time.

Most of my pastor friends have heard, “Pastor, let me give you a little constructive criticism” — (Sometimes just as they are about to deliver the weekly message. 🙂 )

So, what does “constructive criticism” mean?

I’m thinking we often misuse the phrase.

And, it’s not just with leaders. It’s in every phase of life. I think it’s a societal issue. It’s even on social media. We think we are offering “constructive criticism” when we update our Facebook status or Tweet about our service with an airline or a restaurant or a school system – for example. Or anywhere else we feel a need to criticize for some reason. We may not label it that way, but I’m convinced it’s what we think we are doing – offering constructive criticism.

In reality, I’ve learned that phrase – constructive criticism – is sometimes just a nice way to say, “I have a personal complaint about a personal issue, but it will make me sound less self-serving and more justified if I label it (maybe just in my mind) as constructive criticism.”

I have been thinking about the term lately – even as I might use it personally.

First, let me be clear, I’m not down on constructive criticism. I think it’s good. And, often needed.

Using the definition (serving a useful purpose; tending to build up) constructive criticism serves a place within any organization – even the church. It can, by definition, help us all.

There is a place for constructive criticism.

But, how can we make sure the criticism we offer is actually constructive?

And, what is it actually? I think this is the bigger issue.

How do we know when it is “constructive criticism”?

And, how can we give constructive criticism to others?

By definition, here are 7 indicators of constructive criticism:

It builds up the body or organization for everyone,

It’s helpful for the good of the entire vision. Everyone can benefit from constructive criticism.

It is not self-serving.

This is a huge one. Constructive criticism doesn’t seek a merely personal gain. Scripture makes humility an ideal, encourages unity among believers and commands us to consider others better than ourselves – even to pray for our enemies.

It offers suggestions for improvement.

I’m not saying it does every time. Sometimes we just know something is wrong, but this would certainly be an indicator the criticism is actually constructive (again, simply by definition).

It creates useful dialogue.

And, here again, this may not happen every time, but if conversation can lead to the benefit of everyone, then it could be an indicator of being constructive – it helps build – construct.

It affirms others or the vision.

As I understand the terms, constructive criticism would never tear down the overarching goals and objectives of the body or organization. This would seem to contradict the definition. Criticism might, but not constructive criticism.

It can be realistically implemented or discussed.

I’m just working with the term and definition here, so if the criticism is an impossibility – would never work – then it seems to me it isn’t “serving a useful purpose”. (Extreme example: I once had someone criticize my allowance of phones in the worship center. They thought I should be like a school teacher and take them up at the door. Okay…)

It is not overly divisive.

Constructive criticism serves to build up – not tear down, so to meet the definition it must not divide people as much as it at least makes an attempt to bring people together around common values and vision. Of course, this is not always possible. It’s near impossible to get everyone to agree on anything, but constructive criticism doesn’t seem to be the type criticism which would splinter the groups opinions or divide people extensively.

This may simply be my personal rambling thoughts on the issue – maybe it’s not even constructive, but I’m all for offering better criticism. Constructive criticism seems like a better societal way to go.

There may be a need for non-constructive or destructive criticism sometime. Jesus cleared the temple this way. We may need to clear some things. If so, let’s deconstruct.

But, all I’m saying is – if we are going to attempt to constructively criticize constructive criticism should live up its name.

5 Insights I Have Learned About Failure

I deal with people who feel like failures. Everyday.

It could be because of relationships gone bad. Business setbacks. A personal life – which was private – but is not anymore, because of intentional bad decisions or circumstances out of the person’s control.

And there are so many other examples I could share – but, the person feels like a failure.

One reason people seem to identify with my teaching is I’m not perfect. I’ve made lots of mistakes. In all the areas I listed above – I’ve experienced failure. (Where do you think I got the list?) I didn’t enter the ministry until I was 38 years old and there was plenty of time to gain valuable life experiences, which can only be learned the hard way. (And, I haven’t quit making mistakes in ministry.)

Here’s what you need to understand though.

I’ve had failures – but I’m not a failure.

Because I got back up every time I failed.

(If this is your story, maybe you need to repeat that line to yourself. I’ve had failures – but I’m not a failure.)

Along the way I’ve gained some insight into failure. There are some misunderstandings about failing you don’t necessarily know during the failing process.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned about failing:

Not everyone is talking about you.

This is a critical understanding, because it sometimes feels the opposite. As a result, sometimes we avoid people – even though we may need people in our life more than ever. Sometimes we refuse to get back in the game – even to attend church – because we assume we are the news on people’s mind.

Yes, some people may be talking about you – for a while – but not for long. I’m not saying you aren’t important, but there will be a bigger story out there soon. Trust me. And, yours won’t be the flavor of the month for long. And, for those who do like to talk about others – I’ve learned they are often trying to shift attention from their own failures. (You can also remind them it is a sin to gossip.)

Your attachment to the failure may never fully go away.

That’s hard, but it’s true. Rahab was always known as a “harlot” in the Bible. She kept her title. Yet, she also made it into the famed “Faith Chapter” (Hebrews 11)

When triggered in someone’s mind, they may remember your failure for years. History books record great failures of people with great success. You may have consequences to face because of your failure. Grace eliminates the condemnation of failure, but not always the impact on you or others.

I’m not sure, however, if it should be our goal to completely lose any reminder of our failure. It’s actually a way we can demonstrate grace. We can be an example to others who have failed and are seeking hope. God uses our failures as a source of strength for others. But, whether or not people can label you a failure will depend on how you respond to failure – how you proceed after the failure.

Plus, and this has proved important in my life, failure keeps us humble and, if responded to correctly, can actually fuel us for future success.

God loves you more than you can imagine, even when you fail.

In fact, in my experience with failure, whether it was by intentional sin or through no fault of your own, it breaks your heart at some point. My Bible says God is close to the brokenhearted. And, your failure is what makes you a great candidate for grace – something God loves to extend to those who will receive it. Nothing you do can make God love you less or more than He does right now. He made you. You are His.

Forgiving yourself may be the most difficult thing.

It’s true. The hardest person to forgive for failing is almost always ourselves. We usually hold our failures against ourselves much longer than the world does. And, the enemy understands this and loves to use it against us too. Why not? It works, right?

But, forgiveness is a choice. Receiving God’s grace is a choice. Moving forward is a choice. Choosing your next steps wisely – that’s a choice too. You may need to preach the Gospel – to yourself.

The best days of your life may be after the failure – not before.

Wow! If only I could have understood this during some of my darker moments due to failure. If you refuse to let failure control you and you allow God, by His grace, to shape the rest of your story you may just experience some of your best moments of life in the days ahead. That’s my story. And, I’m thankful. I wouldn’t be the husband, father, pastor or friend without some of the failures I’ve experienced.

Obviously, no one should ever desire failure so they can learn from it. But, failure is a part of living in a fallen world. The key is to not allow failure to be our dominant identification. That’s determined by what we do after the failure.

What have you learned from failure?

The Biggest Mistake of My Life

I hope you learn from my error...

One of our boys has always been such a deep thinker. When he was 3 years old, watching a movie with him was a chore, because he would analyze every aspect of the plot. We would try to explain to him it was only a cartoon, without a ton of hidden meanings, but it was never enough. Even today he’s the analyzer of life. He asks the deep questions.

Personally, he takes after me (although he’s much deeper than I am). I’m a questioner too – and believe it’s been a help to me in life, ministry and leadership.

The best questions get the best answers.

So it was not surprising when one day – he was an early teenager – seemingly out of nowhere Nate asked, Daddy, what’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life?”

I didn’t have to think long.

We had owned a very successful, fast-growing business. We stood to make lots of money in the years ahead. We sold that business to buy another. It was devastating. If it could go wrong it did.

Although it’s a very long story and we felt we were doing the right thing at the time, it proved to be a very painful five year experience until we sold the business, basically walking away with nothing and starting over again financially.

I told Nate (we call him Nathaniel) that selling one successful business and buying the other business was obviously the biggest mistake of my life.

Nate countered quickly, “Yea, but you’ve said you probably would have never surrendered to ministry had that experience not occurred.

You’re right,” I replied. “I was too busy chasing a dream. God worked it for good. But, that was definitely my biggest mistake in life.”

As I said, I’m an analyzer too, so several days later, while I was in a time of prayer, Nate’s question came to my mind. I decided to ask God about it. In my prayer, I remember saying something such as, “God, why did you allow me to make the biggest decision of my life? I would have followed you if you had made it clear. Why couldn’t you let me do it another way? That was such a difficult time in our life.

(It was one of those rare pity parties I had with God. Don’t be afraid to have them. He understands.)

God seemed to interrupt me before I could continue. Now please understand, I have never heard God audibly. I’d love to say He speaks to me everyday, but, there have been a few times where I am certain I heard the impression of God on my heart – where I know God “spoke” clearly to me. This was one of those times.

(As a side note, these times will always line up with truth from God’s word. God will never contradict Himself.)

Anyway, I sensed God say, “Ron (I’m so glad He knows my name), your biggest mistake was not buying that business.”

I was surprised. I figured it must not be God to hear such a reply. So, I snapped back, almost as if I was sarcastically speaking to my own false thoughts, “Oh really, well then what was the biggest mistake of my life? Because I can’t think of one bigger.”

God interrupted again.

“Ron, your biggest mistake was following your will in your life and not mine.”

And, God was silent.

Point made. Point accepted. I had no more questions. And, God apparently had nothing else to say.

The truth is many had seen what God was doing in my life – including my wife, but I had ignored them – continually replying we are all “called to ministry”. I resisted the surrender to vocational ministry for many years.

God’s counsel that morning has proven true so many times, as I reflect back over my life and the decisions I have made. The greatest failures in my life always seem to be a result of when I do what I want to do rather than what God wants me to do.

Here’s hoping someone learns from my mistakes.

7 Steps To Having The Best Thanksgiving Ever

Want a guaranteed better Thanksgiving? Perhaps even the best Thanksgiving ever?

I actually believe Thanksgiving may be one of the most “Christian” holidays we can celebrate. As believers, we are to give thanks always – in every situation. And, we have reason to be thankful. Our God is on His throne – JESUS IS ALIVE – and we are loved with an everlasting love.

That’s enough, right?

But, let’s face it – Thanksgiving is hard for some people. They’ve lost loved ones. They are lonely. Another day off watching everyone celebrate how wonderful their life is online only makes it harder.

This has been an especially hard year for some. We’ve been more divided as a people than any year I remember. Some people simply don’t feel as “blessed” this year – perhaps even as thankful.

Others are so caught up in having the perfect meal and the perfect table setting – the house decorated just right – they get distracted with busyness and end up disappointed rather than enjoying some of the greatest blessings around them.

And, then there are those of us who simply take things for granted – and fail to stop and truly be thankful.

Here’s a checklist of activities, which will make your world look brighter and your holiday grander. I’m convinced. You may not be able to do all of them. I would encourage you to complete the ones you can.

Here are 7 steps to having the best Thanksgiving ever:

Read Psalm 136.

Slowly. Maybe even aloud. Maybe a couple times. Let the words dwell in you a while. Make the words a prayer of thanksgiving to God. Trust me on this.

Make a thankful list.

We used to do this as a family tradition when our boys were at home. I wrote about this in a previous POST, but one of the best ways to fill your heart with gratitude is to make a list of things for which you are thankful. When you reflect on the things you do have – rather than the things you don’t have – your heart grows in appreciation.

Spend time with family and friends.

You may not be able to be with them in person – and this is one of the harder parts of holidays for some – but even exchanging a text with someone you love can brighten your day. Reach out to some you haven’t heard from in a while. And, if you’re mourning over someone special this year – spend some time remembering why they are special to you.

And, if I may be so bold, some reading this are grieving so hard for someone they lost they fail to enjoy people they still have around them. I suspect the one you lost would want you to still enjoy life.

Smile often.

Smiling does something inside of you and always makes an impact on people around you. The ability to smile or not is almost always a reaction to a perspective. How’s your perspective this year? Sometimes a perspective check can change your attitude – the way you feel – everything.

Remember, as I wrote previously, Jesus is alive. The Gospel is good news! For the believer, our future is secure – and wonderful. Paul wrote these were “light and momentary troubles” and they were “achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Think on that thought and you’ll have to at least grin.

If you’re reading this and there has never been a time in your life where you surrendered your heart to Christ – I pray you will today. You don’t have to understand everything, it’s a faith decision, but the reality is we are all sinners, God is a holy God, and He loves us enough He sent His son to die for our sins. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

Give to others.

Not only can you do shopping online – you can give online to most churches, charities, and non-profits. There are lots of places you can serve others over the holidays. Salvation Army is usually a good place to start and most communities have numerous other helping ministries.

Giving is a catalyst for an internal smile. Giving releases hidden joy inside you which you can’t understand until you do. Paul credits Jesus with saying, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” The happiest, most content people I know are generous people.

If this one grabs your attention for more, listen to a message I did on this subject HERE.

Exercise, take a nap and drink some water.

This one may seem out of place in a list like this, but I’ve learned whenever I don’t feel well many times it is because I’m partially dehydrated. And, we all run at a fast pace of life. Taking some time to relax and catch up on your sleep may be the best gift you can give yourself for a better Thanksgiving. And, you know you need to exercise, right? Even the smallest activity can make you feel so much better.

Think others first.

This may be the most important. For example, if you wear your feelings on your shoulders or you’re easily offended by what others did or didn’t do for you – you’ll have a miserable holiday. On the other hand, if you clothe yourself with an attitude of humility and consider others even before your own needs – the rest of this list will take care of itself. And, here’s the strange thing, you’ll be blessed as you do!

There are my suggestions for the best Thanksgiving ever. You may not be able to do all of them this weekend. The key is to complete as many as you can.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Any you would add to my list?

10 Realities Every Young Leader Needs to Understand

There's some gold nuggets here.

I work with young leaders everyday. And, I have to say it’s one of my favorite parts of leading. I have two incredible young leaders as sons. (The picture with this post is with them a few years ago – taken the day we moved to Kentucky.)

Occasionally, when I am talking to a younger leader something becomes apparent. They often think what they are experiencing is unique. And, perhaps more surprising, they think their struggle is no longer mine – like somehow I’ve “outgrown” their struggles as a leader.

After experiencing this numerous times, I was prompted to write this post. These are simply some things you need to understand to be a leader long-term.

Here are 10 realities every young leader needs to know:

At times you will feel overwhelmed.

You know the feeling, right? Like you can’t get it all done and you’re not sure you know where to start. Those feelings don’t ever leave you completely as a leader. There will be seasons where they are stronger than others, but if you’re doing anything of value you will occasionally feel overwhelmed. These times are a part of life – and work. Something you’ll never completely outgrow.

You’ll not always know what to do.

You don’t ever get to a point in life where you’ve learned everything. You get better at some things. Okay, lots of things. Obviously, wisdom and experience has its benefits. But, regardless of your age – if you’re doing anything productive – you’ll learn something knew everyday.

Seldom will you be 100% certain.

Whenever you’re making decisions – like the really big decisions of life – you’ll seldom be absolutely, without any reservations, fully convinced it is the absolute best decision. You’ll always have an element of risk in your life. You will be forced to move forward by faith – based on the best information you know at the time (from your own experience and the collective wisdom of others) – then trusting God with what you don’t know. And, this is a good thing. It keeps you grounded and on your knees before God.

Sometimes it’s just for the learning experience.

And this is huge to understand. Perhaps it’s a job you don’t particularly like. Maybe you put all your effort into a project and it doesn’t work – or its not as good as you thought it would be. You might try a new business and the business fails. It’s easy to get frustrated – even lose hope. But, the process will teach you something if you allow it to. And, the value of the learning experience may prove to be life-changing for you in years to come. Never miss the life principles intended for you.

You’ll many times feel under-appreciated.

There will be lots of things you do that no one will notice. You may be doing great things – trophy-deserving things. It may appear at times like no one noticed or even cares. And, this may not be true. They may simply be living a full life like you are – overwhelmed like you are – and they simply didn’t take the time to let you know how much you are appreciated. Plus, the more you do something well, the more it becomes expected and the less recognition you receive for it. But, all this can leave you feeling under-appreciated if you dwell on it too long. Like all leaders who last, eventually we have to find our reward in the knowledge and personal satisfaction of our work well done as much, if not more, than the public recognition of our work.

People are watching.

If you position yourself to lead in any way, you become a target of spectators. What you do. What you say. And, what you post on social media. Some will agree. Some will not. Some will agree just to get on your good side – disappoint them and they will leave. Some will not agree because they are jealous of a leader with an opportunity. All this said, don’t shy away from people. This never the right response. Just be aware. Be gentle as a dove and wise as a serpent. And, while you have people watching, lead them somewhere noble, somewhere better than their current reality. This is what great leaders do!

Learn the words of successful leadership early.

The words of a leader carry great weight. Don’t make it “my” team or your leadership won’t be very successful and no one will buy-in to the team except you. A leader’s words should always be inclusive rather than exclusive. Become a fan of words like “we”, “us” and “ours”. The more you include people, the more they’ll feel included (see how simple this is) and they’ll be more likely to suffer with you for the win. Great teams are shaped by leaders who value the input of everyone on the team.

Sometimes, if we believe in something strong enough, we have to be willing to stand alone.

This a hard reality in a world which tries to force sameness and is critical of anyone who doesn’t follow whatever is “in” at the time. But if you do anything of value – or believe anything strongly enough – sometimes you have to stand single until others catch on or until you find supporters. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to advisers. You should. You should have mentors and be open to constructive criticism. I never make major decisions without the input from others. But, don’t give up what you know to be right – especially those things you sense God is calling you to do – because it isn’t popular. Always be willing to admit when you are wrong. Be very humble – never arrogant or self-serving – but stand with courage when you know in your gut you’re right.

Great things start with humble beginnings.

“Do not despise these small beginnings…” (Zechariah 4:10) Don’t be afraid of starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. This is still a viable option – and the reward feels greater when you build something the hard way. The greatest reward often comes when there has been plenty of sweat, tears, and times of waiting. And, never underestimate the power of a moment. One moment can easily change a life.

You have to discipline yourself to decompress.

It’s not usually built-in to the system. During the busy seasons of life – when there’s plenty of work to do and time is of the essence – which is most of our life if we set out to be leaders, you’ll have to discipline yourself. To rest. To re-calibrate. To refocus. To rediscover the passion which once fueled you. Perhaps to re-connect, if needed, to a deep intimacy with God. You have to discipline for these things. You’ll seldom have a leader above you or a system in place which forces this upon you. And, it’s life-essential. Don’t neglect your soul. Never neglect your soul.

These are obviously random, but in my life they’ve become realities. For some of these, if you don’t understand them, you may think something is abnormal about you. Although, I guess another reality I have learned, is there something abnormal about all of us. Enjoy the abnormal part of you also. God makes no mistakes.

5 Easy Steps to Begin a Daily Quiet Time

The way you begin your day often determines the quality of the day. For this reason, throughout my adult Christian life, I’ve tried to spend some time focused on the God I love and trust. It truly does make a difference.

I often encounter people, however, who want to begin a daily quiet time, but they aren’t sure how. They’ve perhaps tried before, but it didn’t last.

It really isn’t as complicated as we often make it out to be. The main thing is simply to do something, but in case you are one of those still wanting to but not sure how, let me offer a few suggestions.

Here are 5 easy steps to begin a daily quiet time:

Find the right place

Pick a place where you’ll be everyday for your quiet time. Obviously, if you travel frequently this is more difficult, but the more routine you can make this the better. It should be as free of distractions as possible. This place will soon become very comfortable to you. I realize too, you may feel your life is too busy. I get it – I’ve lived in those seasons – and, still do many times. Don’t stress over perfection here, just strive for routine.

Schedule time

Pick a reasonable amount of time and put it on your schedule. If you use an electronic calendar like I do, you can set it to repeat the appointment everyday. Start with 15 minutes, maybe even 10. Five minutes in your “place” is better than nothing. The key at this point is consistency, so make sure you don’t burden yourself with something you will not do. By the way, it most likely will seem like a sacrifice at first, but keep the objective in mind. You need this. As you accomplish discipline, in a little time it will be easier to increase the time you spend.

Choose your goal

Ask first what you hope to achieve and base your format around it. For example, if developing intimacy with God in prayer is your goal, then you will probably choose to spend more time in prayer. You may also want to write down your prayers. If Bible knowledge is your goal, then you may want to choose to do a Bible study. And, if memorizing Scripture is one of your goals, you’re likely to be writing numerous index cards of various verses. You can change the goal over time and do combinations of each of these. It’s not what you do – but that you do it – which matters most.

Plan activities

Now that you have a goal, decide what you will specifically do in your time. Will you do a Bible study or simply read Scripture and pray? If your time is 15 minutes, for example, you could spend 6 minutes reading the Bible, 3 minutes talking to God, 2 minutes in silence, asking God to speak to you, and 4 minutes writing your thoughts at the time. If you choose the structure of a Bible study, you may need to allow more time, but again, the key is you decide before you start what you are going to do during this time. The idea is not to be mechanical or punch a clock here, but rather to provide structure, which will lead to productivity in your building your God relationship. Again, don’t worry as much about what activities you are doing at this point, just do something.

Discipline

This is the absolute most important part. Commit to doing something consistently for at least 30 days. Every day – without exception – do it – whether you “feel” like it or not. If you miss the exact time, make it up later in the day. Again, it will require sacrifice. Habits and lifestyles form this way and you’ll need this discipline, because as soon as you attempt this dozens of obstacles will stand in your way.

Now I realize “easy” is not the best choice of words for this post, but I did want you to read it. Developing this time into your daily schedule will not be easy. Nothing of value is ever easy. The main objective for any of us, including pastors, is disciplining ourselves to do something everyday. Over time, it becomes a habit that is easily repeated. Even better, it will soon become the best and most productive part of your day.

Help my readers out.

What tips do you have? When do you do your daily quiet time? What format are you using?

9 Suggestions for Winning Back The Heart Of Your Wife

In working with marriages in distress I’ve discovered most men have injured the women in their life emotionally, at least at some level. To understand how this can happen one needs to first understand one of the ways men and women are usually different. Most men are predominantly thinking beings – they receive and process experiences in life in a predominately rational and logical way. If someone says something which offends a man he will accept or dismiss it based on whether it is true.

Most women are different. Women are usually more in tune with their emotions. They are often more relationally aware. When life happens to them their dominant reaction is often to respond emotionally first. When someone hurts a woman’s feelings, for example, even though the information they receive may be false, it takes them longer to work through the feelings associated with the emotional injury. 

(Of course both of these two paragraphs are general statements, but they ring true for most men and women.) I would contend though – every woman’s heart is injured to a certain extent. (And, fairly, probably every man’s.) Sometimes this injury occurs gradually over time. Sometimes it comes suddenly through serious breaches in the marriage trust.

The heart, speaking in terms of the seat of our emotions, was created much like other parts of the body. When a finger is broken the body is designed to instantly start to heal and protect itself from further injury. When a person takes a swing at you your natural reaction is to put your hands up in defense.

The same is true of the heart. When a person’s heart is injured, it goes into a self-protective mode to keep it from further injury. Over time, after years of injury, the heart becomes almost calloused, refusing to allow anyone to injure the heart again. A woman who has had years of emotional injury doesn’t have much heart left to give to anyone, but especially to the one who has done the injury. She has closed off her heart to keep from being hurt anymore.

Most men enjoy trying to “fix” problems, but men cannot fix their wife’s emotions. Emotions are not repaired as easily as one could fix a leaking faucet or program a computer. So what is a man to do if he feels his wife’s heart is injured? How do you heal a broken heart? 

Of course, Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. He can come in, erase all the pain, and make the heart brand new. Most of the time, however, at least in my experience, He lets us wrestle with life’s heartache while we learn to better love one another.

The following steps are designed for a man to help heal his wife’s heart. This post developed when a pastor came to me with a horrible story of his wife’s sexual abuse as a child. Even today she struggles to trust any man, including her husband. I gave him this advice.

Here are 9 suggestions for winning back the heart of your wife:

Seek God

Whatever draws you closer to God is a good thing — and will make you a better man, regardless of what happens with your marriage. When you are attempting to rekindle your wife’s love, use this time to develop and strengthen your relationship with God. It starts, as all relationships with God begin, through a recognition of who Christ is and your belief in Him. Start there and grow.

Practice patience.

The first thing men need to do is to recognize restoring a broken heart will not happen overnight. Emotions heal very slowly. Steps should begin to restore an injured heart or to rebuild the marriage, but men should not expect too much too soon.

Love your wife

This is by far their greatest need. Most wives have their love need unmet. The standard for our love is perfection, since a man is to love his wife as Christ loves the church. As imperfect men we will actually never love our wife enough. The wife knows, however, when the husband’s attention is somewhere else. Many men sacrifice their marriage for their careers or other interests. A wife’s love need is new every day. A wife needs to know that she is second only to God in her husband’s affections. 

I have found for my love for my Cheryl to grow I need Christ’s help. I pray for this often.

Romance her

Every woman has a certain need for romance. Many wives had a fairy tale idea of marriage when they were growing up. They realize early in marriage this isn’t reality, but their need for occasional romance remains. Most men rarely know how to do this. A man should be genuine, but should recognize and value the uniqueness of his wife and find ways to give her romance. 

I gave my wife a “romantic” trip to New York City for Christmas one year. We were going to dance, walk through Central Park, and just enjoy each other. It didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned it, but I earned huge points in the romance category with my wife.

Value words

When a man comes home and says “This house is a mess”, being a mostly factual being, that’s probably all he meant. He looked around, made a physical observation, and stated a factual conclusion. The wife, however, probably did not receive the information that way. The wife most likely heard lots of negative information, such as, “You have done nothing all day”, or maybe even, “I don’t like you.” This sounds impossible to most guy’s rational minds, but with emotions receiving information anything could be heard, whether it was the intended response or not. Men need to learn how to be gentle with their wives and the words they use.  

One question I ask men, “Would you let another man talk to your wife the way you talk to her?”

Communicate on her terms

Many women communicate best heart to heart – not head to head.  A man should allow his wife to see his heart. He should be willing to be vulnerable with her. Men may need to ask their wives to help them learn how to say things to her. Men cannot talk to their wives as they would their guy friends. Women require understanding, compassion, openness and honesty in communication.

Give constant assurance

Trust is an important need for a woman in relationships. The wife needs to know that her husband is going to be faithful. Men should not take offense, for example, when their wife asks details about their schedule or the activities of their day. The wife desires to be a partner in her husband’s life and these details help her provide trust and security in the relationship. A man should also tell his wife frequently he loves her and is committed to her. She needs this consistent assurance.

Learn to Live by Truth

Ultimately life cannot be lived strictly by emotions. We need truth. Emotions are often unreliable. A woman who feels unloved may be very much loved by her family, but she fails to feel that truth because of years of emotional abuse. Men should gently, but consistently speak truth in love, reminding his wife of her worth, her beauty, and her place in his life. Over time – truth, when given with love, can help heal damaged emotions.

Keep doing it!

The heart is damaged over years and years of injury. Sadly many women have deep and tragic heart wounds, but much of this injury will have been unintentionally delivered and small in terms of the magnitude of the incident. Years of emotional injury builds up in the heart until the heart becomes closed.  The erasing of the pain will happen just as it was developed – a little bit at a time. The husband cannot try this for a week and then stop. Protecting a woman’s heart must become a lifestyle.

Recently I was talking with a man whose wife is experience deep depression. As I talked with this man it became apparent that, though probably unknowingly, he had been damaging his wife’s heart for years. He cannot seem to understand why his wife is so emotional; “Everything seems to upset her”, he said. The man told me he had tried to help her through her problems and everything they had going against them he could “fix” if she would let him. I am not sure I could have ever convinced this man his attempts at “repair” were probably one of the chief causes of his wife’s broken heart.

Most men tell me they don’t know how to be who their wife needs them to be or wants them to be. I believe if we want to win back the heart of our wife we may need to learn how. It’s never too late to begin!

A Life Principle My Daddy Taught Me

You May Need This One Today

My father was probably the most bottom line guy I know. One of his most quotable lines was “The main thing is don’t get excited.” If anyone was ever tempted to stress about an issue he would interject this often repeated line.

And, there have been many times I have needed to remember those words.

There’s another phrase he used often, however, which may be even more poignant for our day. Perhaps you need this one – for whatever you are facing – or fear you may face.

It is what it is.

And, you know, it really is what it is.

In other words, you can’t change it now. That’s a fact, Jack.

There is a Bible verse which always comes to mind. This may be one of my favorites.

If clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie. (Ecclesiastes 11:3)

It is what it is.

When the clouds are full – it rains.

When the tree falls – there it is.

Admitting “it is what it is” allows you to quit complaining and actually begin to figure out how you will live with the reality you are facing.

You didn’t get the job promotion. It is what it is.
The business failed. It is what it is. 

Where do you need to admit it is what it is?

Perhaps your marriage is in trouble. Maybe you have a spending problem. You’ve let your weight get out of control. Perhaps you’ve been a lousy friend. It could be you are in over your head and don’t know what to do about it.

Insert yours here __________________. But, whatever it is…

It is what it is.

The first step in moving forward is often to admit the reality you’ve been denying or trying to ignore. Now that you’ve admitted what it is you can ask more important questions, such as – What are you going to do about it?

Because where you’re going is far more important than where you’ve been or even where you are currently.