7 Suggestions for the First 7 Years of Marriage

Portrait Of Loving African American Couple In Countryside

I’ve written previously about the first seven years of marriage. We don’t know why necessarily — I have some theories — but the years between 6 and 8 of marriage are often the most difficult. It seems so many marriages fail in the 7th year.

It makes sense then that protecting the marriage during those years is critical. And, it doesn’t take 7 years. I have lost count of the couples who are struggling — and ready to call it quits — just a few years into the marriage.

The way a marriage starts helps to protect the long-term health of the marriage. I believe the attention we place on new marriages in our churches is critically important.

Based on my experience, I have some specific advice for new marriages. Our first 7 years of marriage are long past, but if we had it to do over, there are some things I’d make sure we did as a couple to get a good, solid start.

Here are 7 things we would do in our first 7 years of marriage:

Recruit a mentoring couple. We would find a couple further along in years of experience and who seem to have a marriage like we wanted and ask to spend time with them. We tend to become like the people we hang around most. All couples could use mentors who can talk them through the rough patches that all marriages face.

Invest financially in the marriage. Keep dating. It could be a sack lunch at the park or a 5-Star steak dinner or a weekend in Paris depending on your income level, but we would just do fun stuff. Stay active. Boredom is one of the leading causes of marriage failure.

Protect your budget. The last one is important, but so is this one. You’ll need to balance the two. Debt causes huge problems in a marriage. And, it’s easier to avoid as you build than after you’ve accumulated it. You don’t have to have everything now. (Let me say that again.) You don’t have to have everything now. It’s not the key to a happy marriage. But, eliminating the major distractions is a key to a strong marriage. And, money problems are a leading cause of marriage trouble. We would get an agreed upon budget (and that’s key), and discipline ourself to live it.

Set a schedule. Life has a way of sucking time from us. It becomes very difficult for busy couples, especially once children come along, to find time to be together. And, yet it’s critical. Don’t neglect your time together. We would set a routine of intentional weekly time for just the two of us.

Limit outside interruptions. In-laws. Friends. Work. They can all get in the way. Sure, they love you. They want their time with you. But, let’s be honest — some of them also want to control your life. Don’t believe that other people will work to protect your marriage as much as you will. They won’t. The two of you are creating one unit. If we were starting over we would guard our marriage from any undue pressure.

Be active in church. Sounds selfish. I admit that. But, it’s also being strategic. You need community and especially a healthy community that can be there for you when things go wrong. And, things will go wrong. You’ll need a community of faith around you. And, you won’t know how much you need them until you need them. We would — and we did — commit to a strong church community.

Talk. Lots. Many times couples become so comfortable with one another that they fail to communicate at deeper levels. This becomes very common in the first years of a marriage. Routines and familiarity set in and the couple assumes they already know all there is to know about each other. I have talked to so many couples who just don’t communicate anymore. Or one spouse thinks they do and the other spouse thinks they don’t. They don’t share the details of each other’s day and life — their deeper, unspoken thoughts. The better you learn to communicate — the stronger the marriage will be. The best way to improve communication is with practice. We would practice this one a lot.

Of course, I’m pretty sure it’s not too late on any of these — even if you’re past the first seven years.

Those are just a few suggestions. Do you have more?

2 Critical and Dangerous Assumptions in a Marriage

Happy senior couple.

There are 2 critical assumptions in a marriage relationship.

I mean critical.

And, dangerous assumptions to make.

Making these two assumptions and not understanding the gravity of them can cause major problems in the relationship.

In my experience, the assumptions happen naturally — and often cause conflict — but when they are misunderstood, the conflict magnifies exponentially.

Two critical assumptions:

Assuming that what you value your spouse values.

The fact is you will likely have different values.

Let me give you a very practical example from my own marriage. I think our house is always relatively “clean”. Things are in place. I’m not tripping over stuff as I walk through the house. I’d be fine if people “dropped in” unannounced.

Cheryl isn’t okay with that. She sees things I don’t see. She values a “clean” house much more than I do. She sees the dust on the furniture. She knows if it’s been 3 days or 7 since the bathrooms were last “cleaned”. It bothers her if the shoes at the front door are not in their proper place. Her value system is different on those issues than mine.

And, there could be plenty of examples of things I would value that she may not. One for me, as an example, is getting out the door when it’s time to leave. “Come on, let’s go.” But, at that moment, her values of having everything in it’s place conflict with my value to get on the road in a timely manner.

This type conflict in values happens continually in every marriage.

And, equally critical — and dangerous:

Assuming that your spouse’s values don’t matter to you.

They do. They matter greatly. Even if they conflict with your values.

They matter to me because they matter to my spouse.

When I fail to validate a person’s values — any person’s, but especially my spouse — even if they aren’t my values, I speak volumes to them that I don’t care. That may not be true, but that’s the perception received.

Part of having a successful marriage is learning the values of the other person, validating them, and working to balance each other in them.

Cheryl can’t expect me to have the same values as her. Actually, over time, our values do tend to align more. We will always be different, because we are different — designed by God to be different.

Cheryl should expect me to value her values. And, likewise for her to value mine. It’s part of what makes a marriage work.

10 Ideas for Raising Children to Become Generous Adults

world in child's hands

I have had conflict most of my life between what I think I want and what I really need.

Most people share this conflict with me.

That conflict also appears in our children as well.

We don’t have to teach children to struggle with determining between wants and needs. It’s a natural response to life. And, if they need any help doing so — they can easily learn the struggle from us.

As parents we are the primary shapers of our children’s attitudes towards money, things, and desires. Our children will either be “givers” or “takers” in society and that will be greatly influenced by the life they live in our home.

How do we raise generous children?

How do we help our children (and ultimately ourselves) be people who genuinely enjoy living sacrificial lives — considering the interest of others — being givers rather than takers as the Bible commands us to do?

Here are 10 tips which we tried to practice in our own home. It has been amazing to watch our boys, now young adults on their own, having developed generous hearts towards others. They are far more generous than I was at their age.

And, let me be clear. The fact that they turned out that way is all grace. God has blessed us greatly. But, we have been intentional to live out Biblical principles — and we have learned that they work when applied “generously”.

Here are 10 ideas for raising children to be generous adults:

Have fun and be generous parents.

The story is told of Jesus and the disciples attending a wedding. The party had been going for a while when something tragic happened. They ran out of wine. That was a serious problem to the host of the party. It was a huge cultural embarrassment to run out of food or wine. Jesus took some big barrels of water and turned them into the best wine the people had that night. The people were overwhelmed.

The Bible says that was the very first miracle Jesus ever did. As culturally important as weddings were in those days, it still sounds like God met a want, rather than a need.

It is very clear that God is not trying to keep us from having what we want or from having fun in life. God is not opposed to blessing us with things we want, but may not even need. We should not be afraid to do the same with our children. If we can afford to, and if our children are living within the boundaries set for our home, we should not be afraid to give them gifts they simply want, but may not even need. (I thought I would start with an easy one first.)

Help children understand the difference between a need and a want.

It is understandable why it is difficult to raise children who understand the difference between a need and a want when we as parents struggle with the same issues. This will take a lifetime of teaching.

As much as God wants to bless us with wants, if we study the Bible, God seems far more interested in helping fulfill our needs than He does in giving us everything we want. In fact, God never promises to provide our want list, yet He does promise to meet all our needs. (Philippians 4:19) Granted there are some that take verses like this out of context and teach that God gives us everything we ask for, but that doesn’t line up with the rest of Scripture.

The problem from a Biblical perspective is that we have a messed up system of determining need verses want. That thing inside us that chooses good over evil, better or best, need verses wants; is broken.

When we apply Biblical understanding, most actual needs go beyond just enjoyment for today or even just for me. For something to fall into the category of need it should provide some lasting value to society or at least to my own character. Needs, beyond basics such as food and water, become things like righteousness — and love, and joy, and peace, and contentment.

We can even ask ourselves, does this “thing” benefit someone more than just me? Does it add value to someone’s life or to my own character? A true need, in this context, almost becomes something that money cannot buy.

We should consistently invest Biblical principles into our children — helping them understand the things that matter to God. Helping children develop a hunger for things they need — as much as, or even more — than things they want.

Provide needs. Bless with wants.

It is important that parents consider their system of meeting needs versus wants. Of course, that begins with a proper understanding ourselves of needs versus wants.

Consider this question: Which gets more attention in your home?

Does having the latest technology take a bigger role than teaching children to be good citizens and to generously love others?

Does being the best on the traveling soccer or dance team have a higher priority than finding ways to serve others?

Either answer is your choice — you’re the parent, but if a goal is raising future generous adults — you may have to consider some of the places you spend your energies and resources. When it comes to encouraging generosity, consideration should be given to use of time and money.

Our boys never did without basics needs. And, by needs here I’m even referring to housing, clothing, food, etc. They had plenty. But, there were probably things they wanted that they didn’t have. In how they spent their time, we let them choose what they enjoyed doing, but, we also limited the number of outside activities our boys could participate in at one time.

And, we looked for opportunities where we could give back to others. We prioritized our time. And, we prioritized our “stuff”. We didn’t try to keep up with everyone else in terms of the “toys” they had. Having to wait until a birthday or Christmas for something they really wanted wasn’t unusual to them.

Help children make wise choices with their own money.

One of the primary reasons children should have access to their own money is so they can learn the value of it. Our children were always more careful spending “their” money than they are spending ours.

Talk with them about how they should spend their allowance, birthday, or even money they have earned on their own. Help them learn what the terms budget — and savings — and investment. And, tithe is still not a bad word either. Ultimately, they should give some to God, save some, and spend some for things they need or want (based on the system you have for meeting these in your home.)

We also freely discussed our own finances in front of our boys. We allowed them to know things like when things were tight financially and when we were giving to others.

Consider the “big picture” of your child’s life.

As a parent, we are a primary molder of our children. The choices they make in life — what they desire most — will largely be impacted by us early in their life. Their desires in life will be greatly shaped by the life they live in our home. (That’s a scary thought — isn’t it?)

I heard a statistic once that children these days get 90% of everything they want in life. That doesn’t seem like the statistic for most of our adult want lists, does it? I can’t verify the statistic, but it sounds about right for most children I know — probably even for our own. The problem this creates is that somewhere children are going to face a stark reality in adulthood — when we seldom have all that we “want”.

We have all heard stories of children of privilege who got everything they wanted in life, but who cannot seem to stay out of trouble as adults. They have no real sense of direction; no set of values to guide them, because they got everything they wanted in life, but nothing that they really needed!

We kept these principles in mind as we parented. We were raising them to be adults. That one thought changed our paradigm many times.

Spend more time, energy and attention meeting needs than wants.

At Christmas time, birthdays, and other special occasions we ask children what they “want”. There is nothing wrong with that.

Most of the time we already know what they need. We don’t have to ask them if they need to be honest people. We don’t have to ask them if they need to have character, love others or be generous. We do not need to ask them if they need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We know they need those things.

We need to ask ourselves if we are spending as much time and energy helping them get what they need as we are trying to buy them what they want. Let’s be honest, providing for a want is more fun sometimes. But we must be willing to sacrifice even what makes us feel good as parents in order to do what is best for our children long-term. We need to give them what they need.

It’s much more fun to give them wants, but it is far more valuable to give them needs.

Model healthy personal choices between needs and wants.

I think we teach our children to value the need more than the want by first modeling it for them.

We cannot ask children to do something we are not willing to do ourselves. Children are smarter than that. Today’s generation is far more interested in truth and integrity than earlier generations. This generation despises hypocrisy.

If children see parents saying one thing and doing another, they will reject that as being truth. We need to model and teach our children the proper concepts concerning money. Ultimately teach them that we are to be responsible with what God has allowed us to have. (When we had to use our credit card for purchases, for example, we usually explained to them why and that we would be paying it off quickly.)

Children need to see their parents giving sacrificially of their time and resources. Volunteering at a soup kitchen may be a better activity for an upcoming special occasion than opening a bunch of gifts.

Keep children properly grounded in a material world.

Children need to know that the universe does not revolve around them. Our world as their parents may revolve around them, but the rest of the world thinks otherwise. Children need to have created times in their life where they have to wait for something they want. Teach and model for children a life that puts others needs and wants ahead of their own.

Don’t give children everything; even if you can afford it.

If children are encouraged by example to have a love of money — a love of stuff — chances are they will never have enough possessions in this world to be satisfied. (Read Ecclesiastes 5:10)

Plant within them a love of God, a love of people and a love of life and they will want to bless others — and the joy of their life will be much greater.

Regardless of how wealthy a family is children should not be so “privileged” that there are no longer any items on their “want” list. When this happens the child has a hard time developing a heart of giving, because they are often too consumed with acquiring more “stuff”.

We have to model simple living sometimes for our children. IT IS OKAY TO SAY NO TO YOUR CHILD! In fact, that may sometimes be the exact thing we need to say. Every trip to the mall should not produce a new toy! (Okay, I know number 9 hurts!)

Teach and model a love for God.

Above all else, perhaps the greatest thing a parent can do to help children be generous people is to help them desire the things of God more than the things of this world. God is a generous God. The more we know and love Him, the more generous we become.

Parenting is hard. And, we all make mistakes. Here’s a prayer your way. Be intentional. We need great parents. We need generous people.

7 Life Giving Statements Everyone Needs to Hear

Two People Having A Conversation

Words are powerful.

As leaders, the words we use make a difference. A huge difference.

I recently posted statements Jesus made that are life-giving.

As we seek to be like Him, we have an opportunity within our influence to be people-builders. Speak life-giving words.

For good and bad, my life has been greatly shaped by words shared with me.

I once had a pastor say, “Ron, you’re a giant killer!” He encouraged me to kill giants for the Kingdom of God. It changed the trajectory of my life.

Words are huge. Especially from someone we trust.

I’ll be honest. I’m not the best at it, but I try to pass on encouragement to younger leaders. And, others as I see opportunity.

Everyone needs encouragement.

It takes an intentional effort. I try to make it a personal discipline.

Here are 7 life-giving statements everyone needs to hear:

I’m praying for you!

You can do it!

I love you!

It’s going to be okay!

I believe in you!

I’m proud of you!

I’ve got your back!

So there you go. Words. Powerful words of encouragement.

Who could you add some life to today?

Five Personal Reflection Questions to Evaluate Your Year and Start the New Year Right

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I’m a reflective person. This time of year — when we start to see all the “best of” reflections online and in the news, I like to do my own personal reflection. How was the year? What can we learn from it? How can I do better next year?

Perhaps you need a little help getting started. Take a couple hours over the next week or so — get alone — and reflect.

Here are five questions to get you started:

What was great?

List some of the highlights of your year. What gave you the most pleasure in life? Make sure they merit repeating — sin can have an immediate pleasure — but plan ways to rekindle those emotions in the new year. Most likely they involve relationships. The new year is a great time to plan some intentional efforts to strengthen relationships — spend more time with family and friends. Maybe you enjoyed the times you spent writing. Take some intentional steps to discipline yourself to do that more. Remember how good it felt that day you served people less fortunate than yourself? Well, now you know something you need to do more of in the new year.

What wasn’t great?

Think of some things that are draining to you personally. Again, it may be some relationship in your life. It could be a job or a physical ailment. It could also be that whatever it is that isn’t great has been around for more than a single year. But, chances are you’ve never taken the hard steps to do something about it. Sometimes recognizing those things is the first step to doing something about them. (Your answer may be that a relationship has ended — and there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe this is your year to move forward again — even in spite of the pain.) Could this be the year?

What can be improved?

Sometimes it isn’t about quitting, but working to make something better that makes all the difference. Intentionality can sometimes take something you dread and make it something you enjoy. I’ve seen couples who appeared destined for divorce court turn into a thriving marriage when two willing spouses commit to working harder (and getting outside help if needed). I was out of shape in my mid-thirties. I’m healthier today in my 50’s than I was then. The change began in one year — one decision — one intentional effort. Conventional wisdom says a new habit begins in 21 days, but some now believe it may take as long as 66 days to really get a habit to stick. But, would it be worth it if you really began a daily Bible reading habit? Or the gym really was a part of your life more than just the first couple weeks in January? Maybe this is your year to get serious about improving some area of your life.

What do I need to stop?

Maybe you need to stop caring so much what other people think. Maybe you need to stop overeating. Maybe you need to stop worrying far more than you pray. Maybe you need to stop believing the lies the enemy tries to place in your mind. Maybe you need to stop living someone else’s life — and start living the life God has called you to. Maybe you need to stop delaying the risk — and go for it! Maybe you need to stop procrastinating. Do you get the idea? Sometimes one good stop can make all the difference. What do you need to stop doing this year, so you can reflect on this year as your best year ever? Start stopping today!

What do I need to start? 

Think of something you know you need to do, but so far you’ve only thought about it. Maybe you started before but never committed long enough to see it become reality. Often, in my experience, we quit just before the turn comes that would have seen us to victory. Is this the year you write the book? Is this the year you pursue the dream? Is this the year you mend the broken relationship? Is the year you finish the degree? Is this the year you get serious about your financial well-being — planning for the future? Is this the year you surrender your will to God’s will — and follow through on what you know He’s been asking you to do? Maybe getting active in church is your needed start this year. Start starting today!

Five questions. When I’m answering questions like this, I like to apply them to each area of my life — spiritual, physical, relational, personal, financial, etc. Reflect on your life with God, with others, and with yourself.

Try answering them — see how it helps you start your best year ever!

5 Steps to Be a Better Listener — And Improve Every Relationship in Your Life

Romantic Chinese Couple Enjoying a Coffee together.

Do you want to improve the relationships of your life?

Tremendously improve them. Every. Single. One.

Whether in business, ministry, marriage or friendships – improve in this one area — and every relationship of your life will improve. Guaranteed.

How, you ask?

I’ll tell you how.

Become a better listener.

That’s it. And, it sounds simple, but if you’re honest. You know it is not.

Listening is a dying art. There are truly few good listeners in the world it seems these days. We hear lots, but we listen so poorly. And, in fairness to all of us, there is far too much noise to really listen.

The word listen is defined so much stronger than just to hear. There’s an attentiveness. An intentional effort. A designed purpose for hearing.

And, one secret to improving every relationship is to improve your own listening skills.

I’ll admit. I’m not one of those naturally skilled at listening. Ask my wife. (She’s an expert listener.)

I know how. I was supposedly trained in one of my master’s degrees. In being trained to be a counselor, we were taught how to listen. It’s important for the profession. Knowing how and actually doing it are not always equal functions. Again, ask my wife. (And, by the way, I was never a very good counselor — and that was probably one of the primary reasons. I was too eager to fix problems at times.)

But, enough about my poor listening skills, the question before we proceed is do you want to be a better listener?

Or — maybe a better question — do you want to improve all the relationships in your life?

I can tell you how. Or, at least some ways. If you’ll read with an intent to listen.

Here are 5 steps to being a better listener:

Genuinely want to hear. That’s where it all starts. The most important one. Usually this one alone makes all the difference.

Think of it this way — if someone was talking about a potential job you really wanted you’d listen — for every detail you could glean. If you were a single guy pursuing the girl of your dreams and overheard someone talking about her — you’d listen. Really listen. You’d want to hear every detail. You’d soak up every morsel you could possibly attain.

The process of getting better at listening begins when you value the relationship enough to truly want to listen. When you truly care enough about the subject or the person communicating that you’ll discipline yourself to listen.

Don’t try to respond until they are finished. This is so huge. It’s one I’m most guilty of doing wrong. Once again, just ask my wife.

But it is so damaging to good listening when we interrupt. (Now there are actually counseling techniques that help direct a person’s thoughts when they are rambling, but that’s not what I’m referring to here.) This means you don’t finish their sentences — even in your mind. You don’t assume you know what they are saying before they say it. The problem with doing so is we are often wrong. We have to stop completing and listen. It devalues the person and their message when we don’t give them time to deliver it — in their way of communicating. And, yes, it takes longer for some than others.

Slow down. Some people think they listen faster than they actually do. Yea, I’m one of those too.

For good listening, it’s important to remove any distractions. Put the phone down. Turn off the television. Close the laptop. This is not the time to show you’re good at multitasking. I find I have to step away from my desk and take notes as I attempt to listen.

Make sure the time and place is adequate also. You may need to schedule an appointment to make sure you are completely available to engage. You may not always be “available” to listen when someone is ready to share. Properly listening takes time. Be honest. I’ve also had to be honest with people when the timing just wouldn’t accommodate the time they deserve to adequately listen to their story — such as a few minutes before I preach on Sunday mornings. And, we reschedule.

Focus on the voice. I’m using the word “voice” as a descriptor of the one who is hoping you will listen. Give them your undivided attention.

Look into the person’s eyes. Watch for their body language. We are all unique in how we communicate. Strive to understand their unique style. Engage with them with appropriate responses. A nod of the head when appropriate communicates you are listening. I often tell people in advance, for example, that taking notes helps me listen better. Then I can refer back to something later in the conversation if I didn’t completely understand.

Ask questions. Here’s the foolproof way to make sure you actually heard what was intended — that you were actually listening. (This is where they trained us to be good counselors — and it works.)

Especially if you have any doubts of what the person means — ask. Get clarity. Asking questions is one of the best ways to communicate that you care and that you are truly listening. And, it helps eliminate misunderstandings.

Try questions such as, “So is what I hear you saying…?” “Is this what you mean…?” Additionally, look for more than is being said. Many times questions help pull out what the other person thought was clear, but wasn’t.

Here’s to better listening. I don’t know about you, but I could stand to improve in this area.

What tips do you have?

7 Ways to Get Your Man to Shop with You

Holiday-Shopping_533

I shop with my wife.

There. I said it. I’m sorry guys. Do I lose my man card?

I get criticized often by other men that say I put pressure on them to live up to that standard with their own wives. And, I’m sorry if that’s the case. I realize many men read this blog.

I explain that a shopping mall is not necessarily my preferred place to be on a Saturday, but I love my wife and I love spending time with her. She sometimes likes to shop, so many Saturdays I find myself somewhere shopping with her.

I also know my blog readership is about 40% women, so today I want to address you in this issue. My goal, as always, is to improve and strengthen marriages. Spending time together always helps this occur. At least that’s the theory. :)

Here are 7 tips to get your man to shop with you:

Give him a mission. Men love a purpose. We are hunters by nature. Tell us exactly what you are looking for, that you haven’t been able to find it anywhere and that you need his help finding it. Then get out of his way and let him hunt!

Understand his limit. This is not the day to hit every store. Especially if you’re husband is new to shopping, don’t make him become a marathoner in the first race. Ease him into the idea. And, when he’s hungry, feed him well. Even let him pick the place.

Let him carry packages to the car. He’s going to be looking for something to do. He may want to make several trips to the car. He’ll show you how strong he is. Let him serve you.

Include a stop for him. If he wants to look at tools for a while, don’t complain if he already looked at dresses. And, if he wants to sit in the middle of the mall and people watch — don’t complain.

Don’t push stores he doesn’t like. Save those for the girls trips. (Personally, I don’t care for the candle shops or soaps and lotion stores. To me if you have smell one, you have smelled them all.)

Give him credit for going and don’t expect it to be his favorite way to spend a day. Recognize he is doing it out of love for you, not for the activity of it. Don’t tell all his friends he “loves to shop with you”. And, don’t expect him to want to go every time you do.

Give him time to enjoy the things he enjoys doing at other times. And, if he wants you to, do them with him without complaining.

Girls: Does your husband shop with you? What are your tips for us?

Guys: Do you shop with your wives? What keeps you going?

4 Ways to Keep Your Marriage from being Injured During the Christmas Holiday

Portrait Of Loving African American Couple In Countryside

The Christmas season can be hard on relationships. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with a couple after the holidays because of problems that developed — or were exaggerated — between Thanksgiving and New Years.

How can you protect your marriage this Christmas? That’s a good goal, right?

Here are 4 suggestions to keep your marriage from being injured during the Christmas season?

Plan a budget together. Stick to it. There will often be one spender and one saver in a relationship. Or two spenders. The principle is this: Don’t spend in December what you’re going to regret in January. Be wise on the front end.

Protect your family first. Even if that means saying no to some extended family events or time with friends, put your immediate family needs ahead of other obligations. Have time together as a family. (For years we did this wrong — and we regretted it later. It wasn’t until our boys were in high school and they could voice that they wanted more time with just us.) As a couple, agree on where you’ll spend your time before you spend your time anywhere this holiday season. You may have to support each other with the spouse’s families. (Wives speak to their families. Husbands speak to their families.)

Build traditions that build family. We often get distracted by things that matter less. Find a way to celebrate the reason for the season together. It could be reading the Christmas story or serving at a homeless shelter or annually letting Linus from Charlie Brown’s Christmas remind you of the true meaning of Christmas as you watch it together. The baby, who is a Savior, has been born — He is Christ the Lord. Lead your family to celebrate Christmas — the real Christmas — and you’ll enjoy it even more.

When tension is outside don’t let it reign inside. The Christmas season can be so busy. It’s hard to be everywhere we are expected to be. It seems emotions run abnormally high this time of year. People who don’t see each other often are in close quarters with one another. It can lead to tense relations. There’s often tension in the stores and on the streets. Decide now that nothing will distract you from the closeness you have as a couple. Make this a celebration season that grows your heart stronger as a couple.

Just a few suggestions. Any you have?

How to Identify Constructive Criticism

Man drawing a house blueprint in nature

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 that 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 that 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, needed.

Using that 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 that’s 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. It 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 be an indicator the criticism is constructive (by definition).

It creates useful dialogue. 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. Constructive criticism would never tear down the overarching goals and objectives of the body or organization. That would be counter to 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, that’s 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 that would splinter the groups opinions or divide people extensively.

That’s my rambling thoughts on the issue. I’m all for offering better criticism. Constructive criticism.

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

But, all I’m saying is — if I can attempt to constructively criticize the way some of us criticize — constructive criticism should live up its name.

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.

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.