Join me on a Bible Lands Cruise

Cheryl and I are leading a Bible lands cruise in the fall of 2017. This is a once in a lifetime kind of trip, and obviously not for everyone, but if you have interest, watch this video. We can send you a flier if you email me at ron.edmondson@gmail.com

The Lands of the Bible Cruise with Ron Edmondson (PF17 103017D) from Educational Opportunities Tours on Vimeo.

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?

How to Stop Being a People Pleasing Pastor or Leader

Answer to a reader's email...

After a post about people-pleasing, I received the following email:

Ron,

Have just finished your blog post “7 Casualties of a People Pleaser in Leadership“. I recognize I am a People Pleaser Pastor. How do I turn the tide on this? How do I stop? I am seeing tension mounting on the team. There is frustration on our staff and it is even spilling over to our spouses, and my vision has hit a brick wall. I really want to move away from this but I am finding it most difficult.

Signed,

One frustrated pastor

Here was my reply:

Frustrated Pastor,

I’m impressed with your boldness and honesty.

Here are a few thoughts to get you started:

Get firm again on the vision you are trying to accomplish

It appears you have one, but people pleasing must be more important to you than accomplishing this vision. Not trying to sound harsh, but that’s the reality. We tend to do what we value most. You must begin to value the vision more than making people happy. Make sure your vision is God-honoring and God-ordained – which I’m confident it is. When you are leading a church, obviously you want to do the will of God. He gives us latitude I believe, but we want to make sure whatever we do honors Him and gives Him glory. Be confident of this.

The vision is what should hold your feet to the fire. If it detracts or doesn’t line up with the vision God has given you, you shouldn’t be as enthusiastic about it – regardless of who brings it to you. This doesn’t mean you can’t say yes to other things, but you can clearly say, “I’m sorry, but right now I’m chasing this vision God has given me.” Imagine the pressure Moses was under as a leader to please the people, but he had to hold to the vision God had given him and not cave to the pressure to always please people.

Get buy in with a team towards reaching the vision

You need a team around you committed to the same defined vision you have. Be careful who you surround yourself with here. Make sure they are people who are not self-serving, can see a bigger picture, and will protect your back should the need arise. We all need people who can and will back us up when we are tempted to give in and be a people pleaser.

When you recruit them, make sure they understand the vision and are committed to seeing it to completion. Be honest with your propensity to cave to pressure from others. Share with them your desire to complete the vision and given them permission to speak into your life when they see you pleasing people more than accomplishing the vision.

Assign responsibility and timelines

Give people real responsibility towards accomplishing the vision and measurable timelines toward achievement. This is hard for some pastors, but you have to release responsibility for decisions made. This process is vital, because it keeps tasks moving forward and therefore makes it easier and more palatable when you have to say no to other things. It’s hard to argue with success.

I often find it’s sometimes easier for someone closer to a task to say no to something new. For example, if a group wants us to start a new mission somewhere outside our focus area, the people who currently lead our mission efforts are often better at protecting the vision we’ve already set in place than I am. If I let those who lead in a specific area of ministry help make the decisions in their area, we will protect the vision more often.

Allow these same people to hold you accountable to sticking to these determined goals and objectives. You will be less likely to cave to people pressure if you know things are on track to reach the vision. I give people on my team the right to tell me when I’m veering from the vision we have before us.

Discipline yourself

The reality is, if you recognize people pleasing is a weakness in your leadership, you’ll have to discipline yourself away from it. This will take time. It probably has been a weakness for a while now, so don’t expect it to disappear immediately. When you sense you are making a decision purely to please others, give yourself a gut check. Put it in your schema. Tie a string around your finger if needed, but by practice and consistency, recall the bigger picture.

When needed, call in the trusted advisors again. Renew the passion for the vision again. Slowly, over time, you’ll find yourself better able to say no when needed so you can better realize the vision God has placed on your heart.

Those are my initial suggestions. I’m praying for you frustrated pastor, but I’m believing you can do it. God has called you to it. He will equip you accordingly as you surrender to His will.

Ron

Ever been a people pleaser? What suggestions do you have?

Leadership Training Begins in the Home

Guest Post

He must manage his household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (1 Timothy 3:4-5).

In your church, my church, and indeed most churches, there is a crying need for trained, humble, and passionate leaders. But where do we find these leaders? How does God develop them? How do we?

After planting and pastoring a church in New England for the past twenty-five years and watching other well-known leaders rise and fall, I am convinced that a biblical principle is overlooked by many: Leadership training begins in the home.

In 1 Timothy 3:4-5, Paul explicitly connects how a leader shepherds his own household with how he will shepherd God’s household. While some organizational principles can certainly help a church leader, the deepest lessons are learned between a husband and wife and between parents and their children.

Yet, too many church leaders do not see the connection between leadership at home and leadership in the church. At best, home is often seen as disconnected from the church, and at worst, it is perceived as a distraction from leading God’s people.

Paul makes clear that the family is meant by God to be the first context in which we learn leadership skills.

If you have a family, you can readily inculcate the following four lessons in your life to grow as a leader. If you are single, many of these principles will apply to your interaction with your roommates and others closest to you.

1. God has given me a family to teach me how to make disciples.

As I have stated in The Disciple-Making Parent, the Great Commission means I am called to make disciples across the oceans, across the street in my neighborhood, and across the dinner table in my home. Realizing that my family is God’s smallest discipleship unit, I learn lessons with my children that will transfer to others in the church. Parenting is discipleship in its purest form.

2. God has given me a family to learn personal holiness.

Child training is really a misnomer; it should be called parent training. My children and my spouse are given by God to shine a floodlight on my need to grow. No relationship causes me to die to self-interest more than my family. As Martin Luther said, “Marriage is a better school for character than any monastery; for it’s here that your corners are rubbed off.”

Whatever your spouse is mentioning to you as a problem at home, others in the church have noticed. They just haven’t said anything. Paul told Timothy to, “Watch your life and your doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16). Don’t rush past the former to focus on the latter.

Learning to die to myself, asking forgiveness, serving when I don’t feel like it, and working through conflict in my home are all training me to be a more godly leader in the church.

3. God has given me a family to teach me to lead with encouragement and authority.

Our families, as a reflection of the Trinity, are to be places of love, joy, encouragement, and honor. But our families, because of sin, also need to have times of correction and discipline. As a leader in the home, I give encouragement as well as correction. I set the atmosphere of the home.

The church is no different. Even as we cast a vision for loving one another to reflect Christ (John 13:34-35), we need to correct when this is not happening. Many church leaders err by focusing predominantly on either love or correction. There needs to be a balance, and God gives us families to learn both on a small scale.

4. God has given me a family to become a better communicator.

Most of us don’t realize it, but we are poor communicators. Just as “bad breath offends all but the host,” so terrible communicators offend without even realizing it. We undertalk or overtalk; we interrupt, nitpick, or are easily angered.

As a spiritual leader, your words are your main tools. God says the tongue has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). The more skillful and godly we grow in our communication, the more we can influence others to follow the Lord. Our family will give us instant feedback on our communication strengths and weakness. As I have written in The Disciple-Making Parent, home provides the perfect context for you to practice your conflict resolution skills and hone your listening skills.

Live out the Gospel at Home

God’s plan is that his household should be led by those who have lived out the gospel in their homes. They are learning leadership lessons in the daily home life. Being a parent should make you a better Christian leader; and being a Christian leader should make you a better parent.

In your desire to lead, family is by no means a distraction from God’s call on you to lead. Rather, God’s intent is that home would be your first and safest testing ground.

This is a guest post by Chap Bettis, the author of The Disciple-Making Parent: A Comprehensive Guidebook for Raising Your Children to Love and Follow Jesus Christ. He is also a frequent conference speaker and executive director of The Apollos Project, a ministry dedicated to helping families pass the gospel to their children. For 25 years previous, he was lead pastor of a New England church plant. He and his wife, Sharon, have four children and reside in Rhode Island. You can find him on Twitter or blogging at TheApollosProject.com.

How to Correctly Identify Constructive Criticism

Organizations, churches, and societies need this...

Constructive:

Serving a useful purpose; tending to build up.

Criticism:

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

Constructive Criticism

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

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

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

So, what does “constructive criticism” mean?

I’m thinking we often misuse the phrase.

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

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

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

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

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

There is a place for constructive criticism.

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

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

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

And, how can we give constructive criticism to others?

By definition, here are 7 indicators of constructive criticism:

It builds up the body or organization for everyone,

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

It is not self-serving.

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

It offers suggestions for improvement.

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

It creates useful dialogue.

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

It affirms others or the vision.

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

It can be realistically implemented or discussed.

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

It is not overly divisive.

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

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

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

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

What to do When You’re Waiting for a Lead Position

Recently I posted “The Tension Between Staying in a Learning Position and Jumping into the Lead Position“. The point was there is a fine line between when a person is ready to be in a senior leadership role and needs to remain in a learning position. The post was to help discern the proper time to make the transition.

I know some 20-something year old youth pastors who will some day be senior pastors, for example. When’s the right time to make the jump and when should they stay in their current position? I know some entry-level managers in large organizations who could move to a higher position in a smaller organization. When should they jump? That was the idea behind the post.

It stirred quite a discussion offline.

One repeated question:

How does one manage the tension well while in a learning position until the transition to a leading position takes place?

I would first say make sure there is a tension. These suggestions are intended for those who sense they are being called to a senior leadership position – someday – but haven’t made the jump for whatever reason. They are living in the “tension”. The advice is hopefully good at any stage of life, but this was my specific intent of the original post and this one.

But, also know that you’re asking the right question. You should never waste a wait. God is doing something where you are right now. He’s working behind the scenes in ways you cannot see. So, you do your part. It’s good if you’re in a waiting position to be asking these type questions.

Now here are 5 suggestions:

Recruit a mentor.

Everyone needs a mentor – at every stage of life – but especially if you want to move upward in positional authority. Find someone who is in a position of responsibility at the next level you hope to eventually be and ask them to meet with you on a semi-regular basis. Don’t expect it to be often. They’re likely busy people. I’ve had mentors I met with only every few months. Others were more frequent.

Consider also, the mentor doesn’t always have to be in the same field you are in, just with similar level of responsibility as the next level on your radar. The same would be ideal, but not always available.

When you arrive at the meeting, don’t waste their time. Do the hard work of preparing for the meeting. Have questions prepared in advance. And, make sure you take notes. It’s helpful for review later and demonstrates how serious you are taking the advice.

Set a tentative timeline in your mind for transition.

How long do you realistically think you should attempt to be at the next level of leadership? Ask yourself probing questions, such as, “If I knew I was going to be here 3 more years – without any changes in my level of responsibility – am I going to get frustrated?” A realistic timeline is probably not 2 months, but a year certainly could be. And, so could five years be. Much of that depends on your current heart for what you’re doing now, how much you’re thinking about where you need to be next, and how much tension there is between those two. No one can answer this but you. You’ll have to soul search.

Set a realistic timeline in your mind, but then don’t bind yourself to it either – that’s dangerous. Life happens and ultimately God is in control, but this gives you a sense of hope and perspective. If you think you’re three years out from a transition, then you know you have three years to grow where you’re at currently. It’s not the time to be looking actively. It’s the time to excel in what you’re doing. If you know in a year you’re going to be bored to death, then you know how fast you have to respond to seek another position.

Discerning this timeline is a good talk through with a mentor or other people who know you well and believe in you.

Prepare for what’s next.

You should always be doing this. Even if you never moved to a position with more authority you should prepare for what’s next. The needs within our jobs are always changing because the people and cultures we encounter are always changing.

Learn all you can. Take notes as you observe other leaders. Read books. Attend conferences. Build your network. Don’t waste the wait.

Stay very loyal and faithful to the job you have now.

Please don’t accept any of my other suggestions without doing this one. This one should perhaps been my first suggestion. It’s that important.

Do your best work every single day in the job you are currently doing. Respect the leadership where you are now. Learn what you can from them too – even what you would do differently some day. Finish well. This is what you’d hope for from people you will one day lead. And, it is the right thing to do.

Staying loyal is only fair to the opportunity you’ve been given, but it also protects your resume. Never ruin a relationship where you are – it will only come back to hurt you later. Plus, staying faithful as you wait says a lot about your character.

Keep your eyes and ears open.

In my experience, if you’re asking these type questions, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be looking to make the transition to a lead position. It could be years, so don’t live in the future when the present needs your attention, but opportunities are often closer than you think.

In my most recent transition, Cheryl and I had known for 2 years God was doing something new in our life. We didn’t know what or where. We also entertained several opportunities. We listened and had conversations. We didn’t jump until it was clearer. But, when the opportunity was presented which lined with our hearts it was much easier to discern the move. (I should say it was nothing like we thought it would look, but we knew God was in it.) Had we not been watching and listening, we might have missed a God-sized open door.

The Tension Between Staying in a Learning Position and Jumping into the Lead Position

There is a fine line of when to jump into the leading position.

I work with lots of young leaders. And, they ask the question a lot of whether I think they are ready to be in a lead position. And, I want to be helpful.

Don’t misunderstand – most of these people are leaders now – they are usually leading some area of ministry, but they aren’t in the “leading position”. They aren’t yet the senior leader – but they believe they want to be someday.

I frequently get asked when is the right time to make the jump.

I wish I knew the magical answer. I don’t. I do believe you can jump too soon. I also believer you can wait too long.

You can jump before you’re ready. I’ve seen some leaders make the switch to senior leader only to find out they wish they had prepared a little longer. Some then go back under another senior leader. And, sadly, I’ve seen some completely crash and burn – and take years to recover. Some never go back to the lead position.

I’ve seen others wait long after they were ready. They missed opportunities in leadership and, in the process, they frustrated everyone, including themselves, because they didn’t make the move. Staying anywhere too long can cause frustration to a team – and the one who stays.

It’s a fine line – or a quadrant of the circle – as the case may be in our diagram.

So, my advice, for the leader wondering when to make the jump to senior leadership is pretty simple. When you’ve lived in the tension for too long – it’s time to jump.

What’s the tension? Well, I believe you’ll know it when you’re living it. It is probably why you would read a post like this, but let me give some symptoms.

Here are a 7 ways to tell the tension has gone long enough:

When the urge to try is greater than the fear of jumping.

When you’ve maxed out where you currently are in growth opportunities. And, it frustrates you nearly everyday.

When you find yourself questioning senior leadership – all senior leadership – good or bad leadership – because you think you could do it better.

When you think more about what could be if you were in the leading position than what could be if you stay in the learning position.

When you believe in your heart you’ve been called to lead at the senior level.

When those who know you best think you’re ready. Don’t be afraid to ask.

When senior leadership positions continue to make themselves available or come to your attention. (Is someone trying to tell you something?)

This post is intended to help process a question I’m frequently asked. Please understand, these are just my thoughts. Also, when you are in the season of sensing you are ready, never be arrogant, flippant or act like you know it all. You don’t. You will have to trust me with this one. I will write more about what to do in this season in my next post.

We should always learn all we can, but, the fact is, you may not know until you try. Most of what you learn will come when you are actually doing the job. When you are finally ready, and you make the jump to senior leadership, that’s when the learning really begins to take place. On-the-job training is the best kind.

But, preparing for the big jump is critically important also. Don’t rush the next step because of impatience. Just as you can’t go back to high school or that first attempt at college – it will never be quite the same after you make the jump.

This is why it’s a fine line – hence the tension.

5 Insights I Have Learned About Failure

I deal with people who feel like failures. Everyday.

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

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

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

Here’s what you need to understand though.

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

Because I got back up every time I failed.

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

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

Here are 5 things I’ve learned about failing:

Not everyone is talking about you.

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

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

Your attachment to the failure may never fully go away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forgiving yourself may be the most difficult thing.

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

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

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

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

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

What have you learned from failure?

The Biggest Mistake of My Life

I hope you learn from my error...

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

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

The best questions get the best answers.

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

I didn’t have to think long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God interrupted again.

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

And, God was silent.

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

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

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

Here’s hoping someone learns from my mistakes.

7 Steps To Having The Best Thanksgiving Ever

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

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

That’s enough, right?

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

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

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

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

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

Here are 7 steps to having the best Thanksgiving ever:

Read Psalm 136.

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

Make a thankful list.

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

Spend time with family and friends.

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

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

Smile often.

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

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

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

Give to others.

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

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

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

Exercise, take a nap and drink some water.

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

Think others first.

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

Any you would add to my list?