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 comes 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. Could a revival of soul be what’s missing for you to have a merrier Christmas?

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?

7 of the Most Frustrating Things Pastors Experience

This post, and the opposite one before it, (7 of the Most Exciting Things Pastors Experience) actually began when I received this question on my blog.

Ron – What do you think are some of the most frustrating things pastors experience?

Great question. I decided to first address some of the exciting things, but, like most jobs, there are frustrating things about the job. Leadership deals with people – different people, with different expectations, demands and opinions. And, anytime there are differences in people there will be frustrations. This is true even among people who love each other greatly. 

The actual question was about what is “most frustrating”. I had to think about the question. There are lots of little things which can frustrate me. I don’t understand why some people leave a room and don’t turn out the lights, or how someone would ever put a toilet paper roll on which unfolds from the bottom. (Slight attempt at humor there.) But, those are small examples – not “most frustrating”. So, I had to think a bit. 

I should first mention I’m sharing frustrations, but I am not frustrated. I love the local church and I love my church. (I shouldn’t have to mention it, but I will.) I believe the church is the hope for the world. I am a proponent of the local, Bible-believing church. We are filled with imperfect people, but our mission is God-inspired, God-given and supposed to be God-glorifying.

With this disclosure, here is my reply of some of my most frustrating things I see as a pastor. Please understand, I’m simply being honest.

7 of the most frustrating things pastors experience:

People who abuse their power or position.

I have witnessed this first hand in some churches where I have pastored, but even more so in churches where friends have been pastor. I know a couple of churches – as this is being written – where a few people in the church are literally controlling the church and causing potentially irreversible damage. 

It always bothers me for people to abuse power, but even more so when it happens in the church. This includes, of course, when the pastor abuses power. Abuse of power is wrong regardless of who is doing so. Ultimately, we are to follow Christ, but sometimes we can let positions and power get in the way of humility and obedience.

People who live opposite lives in and out of the church.

It is frustrating to me when people who have one church face and one community face. It gives the church a bad name. Many of my unchurched friends won’t come to church because they know someone who comes to church already. And, they aren’t impressed. They know the person in the office on Monday morning is not the person who claims to be so wonderful on Sunday morning. 

I should say, I’m not referring to new Christians, and certainly not those who are attending, but not yet believers. I’m talking about those who claim a history with truth, but don’t exhibit truth in the way they live their life. They would shout amen to “love one another” while sitting in the pew, but their actions outside the walls of the church say otherwise. 

Rumors which spread with no basis of truth.

How many times have I been caught in the middle of this one? I once had to dispel a rumor I was going to tear down the church’s steeple. I must admit, I’m not a fan of tradition for tradition, but I sorta like our steeple. Granted, our building looks very “churchy” – and, this can be an initial barrier to people coming. And, this is possibly where rumors start, because I’ve said similar before, but, this means we must meet and embrace people outside the church, inviting them to join us. It never meant demolition. But, rumors like spread rapidly in the right environment. 

And, this is a minor example. When the rumors involve other people they can be very damaging to character and reputation. Gossip destroys a person’s witness. 

Selfishness.

People who want what they want, even at the expense and inconvenience of others. These are people who will allow their personal preference to interfere with carrying out the ultimate mission of the church. They guard “their seats”. They protect “their programs”. They never complain about change – until it makes them uncomfortable. This one probably frustrates me because it has never seemed very biblical to me. I certainly can’t find it in Scriptures. 

Tradition for the sake of tradition.

Again, I’m not against tradition per se. I like meeting at a set time every week, for example. I love giving and receiving gifts at Christmas – let’s not stop this one. I get frustrated, however, with tradition which is adhered to only because of tradition especially if it gets in the way of making disciples. If it’s biblical I’ll be the biggest proponent for it, but if it’s simply because we’ve always done it this way I get frustrated with those who insist it never be changed, even if it is no longer effective in fulfilling the mission of the church. 

Wasting time.

I’m on a mission. A number of years ago God called me out of the business world and into full-time vocational ministry. In the business world we knew we had no time to waste. Our livelihoods depended on effecient use of time and resources.

Now in ministry, I have a keen sense time is short and it moves faster than I can fathom. I don’t want to waste precious Kingdom-time debating issues which simply don’t matter or doing activity which has little Kingdom impact.

Half-heartedness.

Perhaps, just perhaps, I got this one from Jesus. He called it being lukewarm. I sense it when the Spirit of God is obviously active in the room, but people who have claimed to be Christians for years look at me as if it’s a typical Sunday. I see it when people are more concerned if the rules were followed than they are excited about lives which are changing. I notice it when people choose to get involved only when it’s convenient for their schedule. I sense it when someone has been in the church for many years, but hasn’t grown deeper and more passionately in love with Christ than when they began attending. Some days I wish we were a ballgame – with bleachers – and a favorite team. Then maybe they’d get excited.

So, there’s my honest list. While I am confessing frustrations, can I tell you the person who is staring at the phone when the light turn greens or pulls out in front of me then drives ten miles under the speed limit frustrates me also – greatly. I feel better getting this off my chest. I guess I should remind readers I’m human. Just as things frustrate you, they frustrate me. 

But, let me share again, I love the local church. And, I learned years ago – actually I was convicted years ago – I must also love the people of the local church. Even if someone or something someone does frustrates me – I must love them too. And, I strive to do so. 

And, a word to my fellow pastors, I know when I am allowing frustrations to control me more than what the Spirit of God wants to do in and through me I need to take a break, rest, and renew my soul. 

10 Prayers Every Wife Should Pray for Her Husband

Dear Lord,

Please help him to learn and manage healthy balance – between work, family, and play.

Allow him to know his full potential and how much his family believes in him.

Give him confidence in his God-given abilities.

Soften his heart to appreciate and enjoy the things which please you most.

Remove guilt from his life and let him rest in the sufficiency of your grace extended to him.

Give him meaningful friendships with other men who will challenge, encourage, and hold him accountable.

Grant him wisdom to know Your will so he may lead his family and life well.

Supply him with God-given courage to face the challenges which come our way with strength and boldness.

Help him to slow down, enjoy life, and appreciate the little things, which are often proven someday to be the big things.

Grow his love for You and his family daily. Keep him as the apple of your eye.

In Jesus name,

Amen

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?

5 Easy Steps to Begin a Daily Quiet Time

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

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

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

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

Find the right place

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

Schedule time

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

Choose your goal

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

Plan activities

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

Discipline

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

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

Help my readers out.

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

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

And other scary times of life.

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.)