4 Ways to Keep Your Marriage from being Injured During the Holidays

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 developed – or were exaggerated – between Thanksgiving and New Years.

How can you protect your marriage this Christmas? Sounds like a good goal, right?

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

Plan a budget together.

Agree upon how much you are going to spend – and, stick to it. This may require compromise. There will often be one spender and one saver in a relationship. Or two spenders. A good principle is 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 it 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 that we started to scale back our schedule.) 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 other spouse’s families. (Wives speak to their families. Husbands speak to their families.) This doesn’t mean your decision will be popular or that it won’t be challenged, but your children will only be children for a few short years.

Build traditions which help build the family.

We often get distracted by things which 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 and in someone’s kitchen. Decide now nothing will distract you from the closeness you have as a couple and as a family. Make this a celebration season which grows your heart stronger as a couple and a home.

Just a few suggestions. Any you have?

3 Common Fears of Every Young Leader

I’m convinced. After years mentoring younger leaders, there is something all of us leaders with more experience need to know.

Every young leader shares some common fears.

Granted, I’ve mostly worked with young male leaders (and I am the parent of boys), but I suspect these fears aren’t gender exclusive.

And, they aren’t talked about much – or even admitted. The pressure to perform often keeps us from admitting fear, but these are real fears.

Here are 3 common fears of every young leader:

Am I good enough?

Do I have what it takes to do this job? Can I perform to expectations? Will people really even follow me?

I have a young pastor friend who actually looks younger than he is. Almost every week a person in his congregation will say something such as, “That was a pretty good message for a 20 year old.” He’s in his 30’s – and super sharp. It causes him to question, however, if these people are actually following his leadership – or even believe in him.

Am I performing to expectations?

Our biggest critic is usually ourselves. We second guess even our best work. Young leaders don’t have a track record to know when they are doing well and when they are not. They only know what they know. I feel many young leaders are always looking over their shoulder wondering if other people approve of them and their leadership.

What happens if I fail?

Seriously, what will I do if mess this up? Will I ever be given another opportunity? Or, is this a one shot deal?

Common and legitimate fears.

Do you want to make a difference in the life of a young leader? Help them answer these questions – in the affirmative. Help them know they’ve got this, you believe in them, and you are in their corner.

Above all, help them believe in themselves. Help them discover their inner strength – their God-given grace – their God-given talent. Give them words of affirmation. Help them know, by God’s grace and His strength working through them, they can weather any storm and overcome any obstacle which may get in the way of being all God has called them to be.

Seasoned leaders, this is a great pursuit for us. It’s a great way to allow your experience to work for Kingdom good. Find a young leaders who needs to hear from you. Something tells me we can help build future leaders – and, in the process, leave a legacy.

12 Leadership Principles of Jesus

These Inspire Me

There are many leaders I admire who have influenced my own leadership. I admire the teachings on leadership by guys like John Maxwell, Andy Stanley, and Patrick Lencioni. There are leaders from my personal life such as a former pastor, a former boss, a high school principal and leaders in my own community who have influenced me as I have watched their leadership. I also love to learn from a great athletic coach. I have been known to choose the teams I support by the coach that leads them. I love leadership. It is so needed these days – especially in our churches.

The principles, however, which I admire most are found in the leadership style of Jesus. Jesus’ leadership is still impacting culture today.

Here are 12 leadership principles of Jesus that inspire me:

Jesus was willing to invest in people others would have dismissed.

Consider the disciples. They were not the “religious” elite, yet Jesus used them to start His church.

Jesus released responsibility and ownership in a ministry.

Consider how Jesus sent the disciples out on their own. No micro-management it appears.

Jesus had a leadership succession plan. 

Jesus consistently reminded the disciples He wouldn’t always be with them. Of course, He was still the “leader”, but He left others to take the ministry forward.

Jesus practiced servant leadership better than anyone.

The King of kings was willing to wash the feet of His followers.

Jesus was laser focused on His vision.

Regardless of the persecutions or distractions, Jesus kept on the mission God had called Him to complete.

Jesus handled distractions with grace.

When the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years touched His garment, Jesus stopped to heal her, even though headed to a definite purpose.

Jesus was into self-development.

Jesus constantly slipped away to spend time with God.

Jesus was into leadership development and replacement.

He very purposefully prepared the disciples to take over the ministry. He pushed people beyond what they felt they were capable of doing.

Jesus held followers to high expectations.

Jesus was not afraid to make huge requests of people. “Follow Me” meant the disciples had to drop their agenda to do so. He told the disciples they must be willing to lose everything to follow Him.

Jesus cared more about people than about rules and regulations.

He was willing to jeopardize Himself personally by breaking the “rules” to help someone in need.

Jesus celebrated success in ministry.

He rewarded people generously who were faithful to Him and His cause.

Jesus finished well.

Any questions whether His ministry was effective? Still working today.

Any other reasons you admire the leadership of Jesus?

Peace Often Comes Through Obedience

Are you struggling with a “word from God”?

Do you feel there is something you need to do, but you aren’t quite certain about it yet?

Do you wish you had greater “peace” before you struck out to follow a dream – a dream you feel is God-given?

Are you sensing a desire to plant a church, revitalize a church, launch a new ministry effort, or surrender to vocational ministry?

If any of those or a similar scenario is your current story I may have a word of encouragement for you – or perhaps a word of challenge.

In my experience, peace often doesn’t come until obedience begins.

Seldom do I have complete peace prior to beginning to obey what I sense God is calling me to do.

Many times the direction God appears to be leading me doesn’t make sense. I’m restless. I don’t sleep well. I may even question myself and what I’m sensing.

I’ve previously written steps I take to discern God’s will (You can read that HERE and HERE), but after I’ve done those processes, and I’m still sensing God’s leading, the next place for me hasn’t always been an overwhelming sense of peace. The next place for me is one of obedience.

I’ve learned I may have to get my feet wet (Read Joshua 3) before the waters begin to part and peace begins to fill my heart.

When we agreed with God (and the search committee) He was calling us to leave an enormously successful church plant to go to an established 100 plus year old church almost a third of the size – where budgets were stretched and I was expected to preach three times as much and visit far more hospital beds – and to wear a tie on Sunday – it was difficult to get peace about any of those things.

It wasn’t until we agreed, and I showed up to tell the leadership of our church plant we were leaving where God gave me an overwhelming sense of peace. I had to obey first though.

To finish the story, we are a different church in many ways today. I preach once a week and very rarely have on a tie. And, the church has grown beyond our imaginations and the budget is healthy. But, we couldn’t see all this going into the process.

Are you in one of those times of discernment? Do you sense God’s leading? Do you believe God is calling you to a new level of faith and dependence on Him?

The next step may be to get your feet wet.

Improve this post. Share your stories of where peace came in obedience.

Pick Up Your Mat and Walk!

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” John 5:8

In order to appreciate the value of Jesus’ command, you need to consider the culture of the day. Today, although some may feel we don’t do enough, there are limited opportunities for the physically handicapped to work and lead productive lives. In Christ’s time on earth, the handicapped were outcast. They lived off handouts they could obtain from begging.

In the above instance, the man had been crippled for a long time. Probably the only possessions he had were the clothes on his back and the mat on which he lay. The mat was almost a symbol of the only hope in his life. His existence was one to be pitied. There was no known cure for what ailed him (except Jesus), and even if there had been, he certainly couldn’t have afforded it.

Jesus had sympathy for the man, and with the spoken word, the man was healed. Jesus told him to “Get up!” Take his mat and walk. Obviously, this was a gift greater than anything money could have bought.

Whenever I read this verse, this question comes to mind:

What mat am I holding on to today?

This man was holding on to his mat. It had surely become a treasured possession to him. He slept on it, rested on it, and watched the world pass by on it. He couldn’t have imagined facing the day without it. Jesus tells him to pick it up and walk. When Jesus was finished with the man, he didn’t need the mat anymore. It would take faith to trust Jesus and attempt to walk, but the victory was worth it all. Instead of a mat of hope, this man had the hope of Christ!

What would Jesus have you and I pick up today? What are you holding on to tightly as your only hope?

  • Money
  • Health
  • Relationships
  • Hobbies
    • I think Jesus was telling the man to pick up his mat because he wouldn’t need it anymore. He wouldn’t need a place to beg, to worry, to suffer. He needed no more dependence on a mat. He had found the Healer!

      And, I think even today – whatever you are holding on to tighter than your faith, I believe Jesus would say, “Pick up your mat and walk!”

      If we aren’t careful our mats can become our hope rather than our hope being in Christ.

      Our goal should be to trust Him with we trust in most. We are to allow Him to carry our burdens, strengthen our walk and brighten our future.

      Jesus wants to help you – and, the best way He can do this is lead you to trust Him more. Listen for His command to pick up your mat and walk!

Happy Easter! He Is Risen! Take Off The Grave Clothes!

When He had said this Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:43-44

The event in these verses triggered the Pharisees to crucify Jesus. Lazarus had been dead four days. Jewish tradition prompted the family to bury soon after death, but the Jews also believed the spirit hovered over the dead body for up to three days. This time too had passed. Lazarus was a fully dead man! It was a real miracle to bring him back to life, and this was too much for the Pharisees. 

What the Pharisees underestimated was this power would continue to be exhibited in the life of Christians for thousands of years to come. If you are a child of God, you have been brought from death unto life.

Jesus had raised Lazarus from the grave. We should love the story because it shows the power of the Savior. We can know if He can raise the dead to life, we can trust Him to help us make our house payment or whatever struggles our life may hold. We need to remember this in the day in which we live. Since Jesus has power over death is there anything in your life He can’t handle?

Jesus came to give us life! Jesus told Lazarus to take off His grave clothes, to quit “living” like he was dead. Shouldn’t we do the same thing?

Have you received Christ as your Savior? Is your name recorded in Heaven as a child of God?

Well, stop “living” among the dead. Look alive! Don’t let this world define your peace, contentment, or joy.

Jesus saved you by grace, through faith, not unto death, but unto life! Shouldn’t this make a noticeable difference in your life today?

Take off your grave clothes and LIVE!

Happy Easter!

10 Personal Resolutions Guaranteed to Improve Your Ministry Leadership

The best leadership, in my opinion, comes out of the resolve a leader has made in his or her heart.

The resolve of a leader is a pre-determined approach to way a leader will lead. These are personal convictions, values, personally held beliefs, which shape decisions a leader makes and the way responds to others.

Your personal resolve – about anything – always determines the way you respond and your actions towards it. (I recently preached on how this principle impacts our spiritual life. You can listen to this message HERE.)

Most often these resolutions are made even prior to being in a leadership position.

The resolve of a leader is powerful. In fact, if  leader wants to improve his or her leadership, he or she must often improve first their personal resolve.

So, do you want to improve your leadership?

Here are 10 personal resolutions guaranteed to improve your ministry leadership:

I resolve to never compromise my character in my search for progress.

I resolve to consistently be walking by faith – willing to risk for the sake of God’s call on my life.

I resolve to pray earnestly before I make major decisions and solicit others to join me in discerning God’s direction for our team and my leadership.

I resolve to extend grace freely, empower others, and realize mistakes made and learned from are a part of healthy discipleship.

I resolve to protect my family time – never compromising it in the name of ministry.

I resolve to make my personal health a priority and discipline myself to stay as healthy as possible.

I resolve to allow trials and turmoil to draw me closer to Christ and shape my character for good.

I resolve to love the seemingly unloveable – even those with whom I do not agree – responding to darkness around me with the love and light of Christ.

I resolve to pray for my enemies, extend grace liberally, offer forgiveness readily and never hold a grudge.

I resolve to surround myself with wise and moral influencers, allowing at least a few people access to know and speak into the deepest and most private parts of my life.

Which of these resolves do you need to make at this point in your ministry leadership?

Be honest.

What Is There to do the Day After Christmas?

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

It’s the day after Christmas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps after Christmas is more important even than during.

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

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

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

5 Suggestions for Finding More Joy at Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Here are five suggestions to greater joy at Christmas:

Lower expectations of others

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

Increase your investment in others 

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

Examine your life and address sin

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

Change your perspective

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

Set your eyes on the prize

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

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