7 Steps To Having The Best Thanksgiving Ever

thanksgiving-clock

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?

5 Easy Steps to Begin a Daily Quiet Time

Peceful image of open book resting on a arm rest of a couch. Warm fireplace on background.

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?

7 Thoughts for Parenting a Young Family During the Presidential Election Season

And other scary times of life.

teen siblings brother and sister watching tv close up indoors portrait with remote control

Can we just admit this has not been our favorite presedential election season? I’ll admit. I’m one who tends to see the more positive in every scenario and it’s honestly difficult to do this time.

A man with a young children asked me recently how should he and his wife parent their family during this season. Great question. Regardless of whether or not your choice for president is clear, tensions have never seemed higher. This is true even among believers. Children surely have sensed the tension in us. 

I don’t have all the answers – and, my children are grown – but, I have a few. 

Please understand. This is not a political post. This is a dealing with life around you as a parent post. And, I would suggest these for other times when their world is scarier than normal. 

Here are 7 suggestions for parenting children during this presedential election:

Help them see hope.

There is always hope, right? If you’re following after a Savior named Jesus who has overcome the world – there is always hope! Children will seldom be more hopeful about their future than you are hopeful about yours.

Don’t shelter them.

Everything should be age appropriate, but pretty much every newsstand and every television has something about this election. They hear it at school and in the restaurants and stores. They see you react to Facebook posts. There really isn’t much of a way to escape it completely if they are old enough to carry on a conversation.

Don’t overexpose them.

I certainly don’t think I would sit an elementary child in front of the television every night – and, really, this is regardless of what’s on television. Again, the child’s age is important as well as their interest level. When I was in elementary school I actually cared about current events. I wanted to watch the news. I do think as parents we should monitor not only how much they watch, but also how it seems to be affecting them.

Allow them to ask questions.

It’s probably best to see if they have questions and let them guide the discussion with how much or how little they want to know. No question should be off limits and I don’t think there should be many “we’re not going to talk about it anymore” rules. If children are curious enough they will find information somewhere and where better than from you?

Read Scripture together and pray for and with them.

The ultimate answer for our day is the truth which never changes. I find great comfort in the Psalms. Children love to read. Find a good Bible for children and read truth together. And, I have often heard and said, “Prayer doesn’t always change the circumstances, but prayer always changes me.” The same is true for children. There is a comfort in prayer – when you “take all your burdens to the Lord and leave them there.” Children learn faith from you. Share your faith with them. (The Scripture and prayer time will help you also.)

Teach them Biblical principles of how to respond to the world.

Regardless of the times, we are to love our neighbors, care for others, and strive to live in unity. We even have to respect authority – unless it differs from the commands of God. Those are timeless Biblical truths. You can certainly teach them principles of government you adhere to also, but mostly we should be shaping the character of our children – of course, ultimately into the character of Christ. And, wow, wouldn’t it be great if the character of Christ impacted our politics today?

Have some fun with them.

You need it and so do they. The fact is when we’ve been living under the cloud of our times like this election has done for many of us our own energy level might be drained. You may be missing some enthusiasm you usually have. But, children need to laugh and play. They need to have fun within the safety of their parent’s strength. Maybe turn off the television, play a game, or do watch something which causes everyone to have a big belly laugh. Coudln’t we all use one of those about now?

Those are just a few thoughts to get you thinking. I have written similar thoughts before on helping children respond to fear from tragedy. You can read another post HERE. What would you add to my list?

(And, I’m really not looking for political commentary here – just trying to help some young families parent.)

7 Reactions to Grief Which May Surprise You

grieving

Over the years I’ve walked with dozens of people through the stages of grief. Grieving is mostly associated with loss – it could be the loss of a job, a relationship, or even a life. Whenever we lose something we value we grieve. It’s natural, healthy, and expected.

I have learned no two people grieve exactly the same way. For me, for example, I’m often a delayed griever. I may not even cry at the immediate loss of a loved one, but in the days to come – as I process the loss – tears may flow at seemingly random times.

There are no rules of how to grieve. The only encouragement I give is to grieve with an end in mind. Grief should ultimately lead us to a deeper trust in God as we seek Him for comfort in our grief. But, the way you grieve will be different than the way I grieve.

I’ve also discovered there are reactions to grief which often surprise people about themselves. I’ve spoken with parents who see their children experience significant grief for the first time – and they are surprised by their actions. We really don’t know how we will respond in grief until we are placed in the position of deep sorrow. This is especially true the younger people are and the less experience they have with grief.

And, there are certain reactions to grief which we simply don’t expect. Everyone expects sadness, for example. But, some of the other emotions may catch us by surprise. That’s what this post is about.

Here are 7 parts of grief we don’t always expect:

Regret. You wish you to spent more time with the people you lost. Or done things differently when the business fails. You think of things you should’ve said you didn’t say.

At some point you must reconcile the regrets with truth. Time has past. There is nothing you can do to go back in time. “Back to the Future” was a movie, not reality, which is why Cher sang “If I Could Turn Back Time”. One of my lifetime and favorite verses is Ecclesiastes 11:3, “Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie.” The past is the past. How are you going to be in the future? There’s a valid question to work towards in grief.

Anger. At God. At other people – even unrational anger. Even at the person you lost.

I’ve known people who hold on to anger for years. It makes them miserable and everyone around them miserable. They held to a part of grief – a very natural part – but, never reconciled their pain to God. In time, the goal should be to leave all hurt at the foot of the Cross, allowing God to soften even the most angry heart.

Confusion. You can be the most together person ever and you may still struggle to understand life when wrestling through grief.

During the immediate days of grief a person should be slow to make decisions which have long-term consequences. Allow people you trust – maybe even a counselor – to help you make sense of life for a while. In time, and with God’s help, life will become clearer again.

Frustration. It seems as those some people simply don’t understand. They don’t say the right thing. They don’t come through as they’re supposed to. You can become frustrated at close family members, extended relatives, friends, even the church.

The truth, as I’ve discovered, is sometimes people don’t know how to respond. Plus, in time of grief we might have unrealistic expectations of others. We can forget others have their own issues they are working through in life. Life keeps moving, although for you it might seem the earth has stopped turning.

Comparison. When you are suffering it may seem no one has ever suffered as much as you are. And, they don’t understand the level of your pain. This is natural also in the early days of grief, but if left there we can almost respond to others unfairly, ignoring pain in their own life. It isn’t usually true we suffer alone – everyone has pain in their life, but grief is full of lots of unexpected emotions.

Actually, there can be a healthy side of comparison if we use it with the right intent. One thing I like to do as a pastor is connect those in grief with someone who has experienced a similar loss, but is further along in the process. Grief support groups can be helpful for this. In time it may be comforting to know there are those who do understand. I think this is part of what Galatians 6:2 means when it commands, “Share each other’s burdens”.

Doubt. The most faithful person can develop deep questions of personal faith. They may wonder where God is – why He allowed what He did. God is always trustworthy and always good, but our emotions can can cause us to believe otherwise in times of grief.

This one may require the assistance of others, but certainly involves saturating our hearts and minds with truth. I find the Psalms especially helpful in these moments. I love the truth of Psalm 56:8, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” God truly does care.

Disillusion. I’ve witnessed people in grief transfer some of their emotions into other aspects of their life. They may develop distrust of people they previously trusted. The point here is we transfer emotions – and because emotions can be unpredictable – we don’t always transfer them well.

Here is another one where it is helpful to have someone who can walk through these days of grief with us. A trusted friend is so important – someone who knows us well enough to encourage us – even challenge us when we prolonged too long in irrational thought.  Grief may lead us to be more wise in our discernment, but it shouldn’t lead us to a place of paralyzation to enjoying life in the future. Ultimately, even the deepest pain should guide us to a place of hope and joy. James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”

I think it’s helpful to know these may be reactions to grief. If you are experiencing some of these, you might consider whether they are an expression of grief.

Any you would add from your experience?

5 Helpful Questions When Attempting  to Discern God’s Will

When options are plentiful

Holding Compass

I am often asked how to know if the plans we make are God’s will for our life. I’m not referring to which cereal to have for breakfast. For the most part I think God would simply say choose your favorite (and, like a good parent, try to steer you to a healthier option). I’m talking about those life-altering decisions, such as career choice, relationships, or decisions requiring huge steps of faith.

Most of us want to do God’s will, and yet, as I view Scripture, God seems to give us a tremendous amount of freedom to choose the paths in our life. If you’re like me, you’re fully capable of making a mistake. I’ve made many doing things my own way.

It seems easier for me when I have some sort of structure through which to process a decision. Years ago I began to ask myself questions when facing major options in my life.

Here are 5 helpful questions I often ask myself to help discern God’s will:

Does what I’m doing (or planning to do) conflict with Scripture?

Always start here, because God’s Word will never contradict what He’s asking you to do. God is always true to Himself and His Word is always true and relevant. We may differ in interpretation of a passage, but if it’s clearly spelled out in Scripture, then we clearly know His will.

Does what I am doing conflict with the counsel of others?

God uses others to confirm His will. I am thankful for the people in my life, including my wife and sons, who have helped shaped the path of my life. Often they see things I can’t see or believe in me when I can’t believe in myself. God sends the body of Christ to encourage, challenge and strengthen the body. (Don’t be confused, however, with times God calls us to go against the grain of life and walk by faith when everyone is saying we are crazy. See Noah for an example of one of those times.)

Does what I am doing conflict with the spirit within me?

God sent the Holy Spirit as a helper. He guides us with an inner peace or a holy unrest. If Christ is in you, He will not leave you to make a decision completely alone. Often God provides a peace or a lack thereof when He is trying to confirm His will.

Does what I am doing conflict with my life experience?

God uses our experiences in life to teach and mold us to His will. Often it isn’t as unusual of a path when we look back over our life experiences. Again, don’t be confused, because He usually stretches us out of our comfort zone also, but consider the life of Joseph. God continually used his past experiences to shape his future.

Does what I am doing conflict with my passion for life?

God tends to work with the things which fuel our fire. He loves when we are energized for the tasks He calls us to. When I look at Bible characters like Abraham, David, Peter or Paul it appears their calling matched their wiring. Paul was zealous for whatever he did. God used his passion for good. What’s your greatest passion? God may work within it to confirm His will.

Try those questions together and see how they line up to help discern God’s will as it relates with your the options before you.

I should encourage you in closing with this – I fully believe God works all things for good even when we miss His will in individual decisions. You can make a bad decision, but God retains the right to finish your story His way. Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

You may want to read 7 Ways to Distinguish God’s Voice from the Circumstances of Life