7 Secrets to Being a High Achiever

I get asked frequently how I am able to get so much done and still take care of myself and my family.

I pastor a large church. I maintain a separate non-profit ministry, where I speak at various conferences and events. I have an active online presence. I mentor about a dozen pastors – some in groups and some as individuals, plus I mentor 4 young leaders in our church. And, I try to stay active in the community – serving on a number of non-profit boards. But, mostly, I strive to be the person, husband and father my congregation could seek to follow.

Okay, typing out a list of my activities does remind me I’m busy. Productive would be subject to interpretation, but certainly I have adequate (and more than adequate) activity in my life.

Honestly, I never feel I’ve accomplished as much as I would like, but after receiving the question so many times, perhaps I should attempt to answer.

As I’ve reflected of what helps me accomplish much, I came up with some thoughts as to how I’m able to maintain productivity.

Here are 7 secrets to being a high achiever:

I’m extremely intentional

This is probably number one. I strive to live my life for a purpose, which carries over into everything I do. (Notice there are even 7 steps in this answer. This was intentional.) If you could name one word to describe who I am as a pastor, leader, husband, father, friend and child of God, it would be intentional. (By the way, I’m intentional about resting too.) I even put the last sentence about rest in here intentionally, because I knew someone would wonder.

I don’t sit still long without a purpose

Being still is a discipline for me. Some seasons I’m better at it than others. I realize some people have no trouble with this, but I do. As I said about being intentional, I have to make myself rest. My mind is constantly in motion. If I’m watching a television program, which isn’t often, I’m doing attempting to do something productive while I watch – otherwise I feel I’ve “wasted” time. I wish I could say I’m always doing the “best” things, but certainly more activity leads to the potential for more productivity. Doesn’t always work this way, which is why some of the other points I’m listing are far more valuable than this one. But, I try to be productive even with down time – and, although it’s taken years to understand this, resting is a productive time.

I strive to maintain my health

I’d love to say I always watch what I eat, and I do to a certain extent, but mostly I exercise to stay fit. I’ve learned the more out of shape I am the less effective I am in all I attempt to do. It impacts me physically, emotionally and spiritually when I skip my time exercising. I’m more productive when I’m most physically fit. I’ve recently learned too my body needs to be adequately hydrated to feel at my best.

I work from a plan

Whether it’s long-term or short-term planning, I try to have one. I begin most every Monday morning (or sometimes Sunday nights) planning the week ahead. I find I’m more successful in my week if I’ve put some plans on paper prior to beginning any activity. Daily I begin by reviewing my plans for the day. I begin each day with 5 minutes spent on making a checklist of what I have to get done. At the beginning of a year, I plan the year. I periodically look over larger time spans of my life and plan or review where I’m going. Now, the further I get from the date, the more difficult it is to solidify my plans – life disrupts – but without a plan I find I’m spinning my wheels more than making progress.

I take advantage of opportunities

Did you catch that? It is not complicated, but it is a powerful principle. Networking. Delegation. Time-management. Learning something new. Cultivating dead times. I am intentional (there’s that word again) at looking for opportunities as they present themselves. If I’m waiting at the doctor’s office, I’m probably writing a blog post or replying to emails. Small opportunities lead to huge opportunities. I seek those moments. (By the way, I always have something with me where I can make notes. When ideas come I want to be ready. Intentionally ready.)

I try to stay ahead

This is hard. I’m a procrastinator by nature – like most people are – but the more I can, I try to stay one step ahead of the snowballs in my schedule. They happen to all of us. If I’m prepared when those times arrive I can better keep them from being a disruption in my productivity.

I prioritize my life and schedule

I say no often. It may not seem like it to an outside observation, but I do. I say no a lot. I have come to the realization that I can’t do everything or be everywhere. I’ve tried to figure out what’s most important in my life, my work, and my walk with God and I put those things first. I even schedule some of them to make sure nothing gets in the way. I ask myself consistently questions such as, “Am I the right one to be doing this?”, “Is this the best use of my time?” Again, intentional.

It should finally be noted, I’m in a different season of life these days. I’m an empty-nester. When my boys were home life was different. I was intentional then too, but in different ways.

Which of these would help you the most? Any you would add to help others (and me)?

12 Challenges for the New Year To Make Your Life Better

The verdict appears mixed among the people I know of whether of not they make resolutions for a new year. And, I understand, many have tried before – it didn’t work – and so now they are like “why bother?”.

I believe there are probably some principles in place as to whether or not a resolution succeeds. For example, is it reasonable? Is it measurable? Is it sustainable? Do you have accountability in place? But, I wonder if the term itself is a problem for some people. RESOLUTION. I hereby resolve! Sounds kind of formal, almost intimidating, doesn’t it? I hate to say I’m resolving to do something where chances are good I won’t.

I do believe strongly, however, we should work towards continual improvement in our life, whether this begins at the first of the year or in the middle doesn’t matter as much. But, the new year does provide a nice, clear place to start.

So, I want to offer a spin on the old resolution tradition and offer a new word.

Challenge.

How does that word resonate? Do you ever challenge yourself to do better? It’s easier than saying I resolve to do this. You’re not saying you will – you may not even be able to – it will be a challenge, but you’re willing to give it a try.

Let me give you some examples, some which may be challenges for you want to consider. I can almost guarantee if you meet just a few of these challenges your world will be better. You won’t need to meet all of them, just the ones most “challenging” to you. But, you’ll have to trust me in this – meeting them or even improving upon them – will brighten your life.

Here are 12 challenges for the new year:

Quit trying to be someone else

God made you to be you and He didn’t make a mistake. The more you live the you He intended the more you’ll enjoy the benefits and blessing. There’s something you can offer this world no one else can. Comparison only leads to disappointment.

Quit trying to carry all your burdens

And, the challenge here for you may be to quit trying to carry everyone else’s burden. God designed you (and me) to be insufficient without Him and to have a relational need for others. Sometimes the best thing you can do is admit you can do it anymore – and ask for help. In your weakness He is strong, but you’ll have to admit your weakness before He usually allows His strength to kick into full gear.

Start embracing today

You can keep hoping your life improves – that this would happen or that would happen. The Apostle Paul said he had learned “the secret of being content”. I’ve personally defined contentment in my life as “being satisfied with where God has allowed me to be in life – right now.” When you begin to find contentment TODAY becomes a great day – in spite of the challenges it holds. Perhaps your greatest challenge in the new year will be embracing where God has you now and waiting more patiently for what He will bring in the fullness of time.

Let the past go

As much as we can learn from history, we shouldn’t be bound by it. One of my favorite verses is Ecclesiastes 11:3, “Wherever the tree falls, there it lies.”. So simple, yet so profound! It speaks volumes to me. If the tree fell there it lays. You can’t do anything about it now. It’s done. Finished. On the ground. All you can control now is your response to the tree which fell. If grief is holding you back by all means grieve. It’s healthy to mourn a loss. (Get help if needed.) But, at some point you will need to move forward. If it’s regret then reconcile the loss. If it’s guilt, or disappointment, or anger – whatever “it” is from your past deal with it now. Admit the tree fell. It hurt. It stinks. You probably wish it hadn’t happened, but, I challenge you to move forward in the new year.

Accept God’s grace

It’s always more than we deserve. You can’t earn it. It’s amazing grace. But, denying or refusing it ignores the beauty of it. Is the guilt of your past keeping you from enjoying all the blessings of being a child of God? Has there never been a time you received the gift of salvation? Have you been living more like a prodigal in exile than a child of the King? If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. If the Son has set you free you are free indeed! I challenge you to embrace grace in the new year.

Live free of grudges and bitterness

The lack of forgiveness is a hidden destroyer of joy, peace and happiness. Someone reading this is holding on to a grudge, some bitterness, maybe anger – and it’s keeping you from fully enjoying life. Every time you hear a person’s name or see them you are reminded of the injury they caused. And, it’s hurting you more than it is them. Chances are they’ve moved on and you’re still struggling. Isn’t it time to let it go? (Let it go could be a “Frozen” song you need to sing to yourself.)

Remember other people exist

Don’t be selfish or always command your way. People, even the best people, will never perform to all of your standards. Honestly, is it even fair to expect it of them? They may not even agree with you as to what is important. You cannot hold people to unrealistic expectations and not be disappointed often.

And, here’s a note to those of us disappointed with the things of this world. As followers of Christ, we can’t expect that everyone sees the world as we do. Of course, there are biblical principles through which we view the world and live, but can we really expect people who aren’t believers to embrace them?

Admit mistakes readily

Sincere humility is an attractive quality and it helps to free you from future regrets or guilt. We all can have “perfectionist” tendencies, yet none of us is perfect. If you want to live with less self-induced stress this year, admit you don’t have all the answers and sometimes you have none.

Give generously

Giving opens the heart to joy and contentment. Something happens when we give to others which causes us, though we have less, to feel like we have more. And, there are many needs around us. I challenge you to give more in the new year and see how it makes your life better!

Protect your heart

“Above all else” the Bible says. Where your heart is there your treasure will be also. Most likely there are activities, or people, or places where your heart is most easily injured. You may not be able to avoid them, but you can be aware so you can “guard your heart”. And, when you are aware you may be injured you will build guardrails to lessen the damage.

Take a new risk

The adrenaline of attempting something you’ve never done before fuels you for future success. It could be something you’ve always wanted to try or something you know God wants you to do, but, for whatever reason, you’ve resisted. Especially if it’s God-honoring, not sinful, will make your life or other’s life better, then what are you waiting for? Don’t let fear or thoughts of your inadequacies be your chief motivators in the new year. I challenge you – GO FOR IT!

Think and act eternally

There is more to this life than the world we know today. Thankfully, I might add. Jesus said to “store up treasures in heaven”. Whenever possible, I challenge you to consider the eternal consequences of the decisions, investments, and actions of your life. Jesus said to live in this world, but not be of this world. How are you making a difference in the world to come by your world today? The more intentional you are the more treasures you build for a future reward.

Which of these challenges are you willing to accept?

(I posted this in a similar form a few years ago.)

3 Steps to Setting Achievable Goals

Many people tell me they don’t make resolutions, because they don’t work. They can’t seem to keep them. And, apparently it’s true. Every year I see the same reports telling us how many people don’t keep the resolutions they make. No encouragement there.

So, in the past I have shared some broad resolutions which are more life directions than actual resolutions. HERE is an example. HERE is another. And, ONE MORE.

I know this, however, seldom do we hit a target we haven’t yet identified or located. So, if you want to improve in certain areas of your life, you need some new direction to get you there. You’ll have to make some changes in what you are currently doing.

Call them goals if you want. That seems to be a more popular word these days, but decide a few areas in which you want to see improvement, then put some goals in place to help you get there. Making positive lifestyle changes isn’t easy, but it really does start with that simple of a process.

To help you get started, let me share some thoughts on setting goals you can actually reach.

3 guidelines I use for choosing achievable goals:

Quantifiable

Make sure you can make the goal measurable. Don’t say you want to lose weight. Decide how many pounds you want to lose. Don’t say you want to read more. Say you want to read one book a month – something like that. You want to read your Bible more? Then set a goal to read one chapter per day. Not “save more money”, but save $50 per pay period, etc. Put an actual number to the goal you can track to see your progress towards it.

Reasonable

Set a goal you can actually attain. Otherwise you’ll give up easily. If saving $50 per pay period is completely unreasonable, then decide the reasonable number. It probably should be some stretch to make it worth celebrating later (which is a key component in goal setting), but make sure you can do it. Losing 10 pounds per week is going to be tough – perhaps even unhealthy, but two pounds per week might be a goal anyone can do with a little discipline.

Motivated

Pick goals you are passionate enough about to put the energy and discipline in it to achieve success. Do you REALLY want to lose weight? Do you TRULY want to do better with your finances? Is reading your Bible ABSOLUTELY a goal worth pursuing? Your degree of motivation will likely determine how committed to achieving the goal you remain.

If you think through setting quantifiable, reasonable and motivated goals, and then you consistently practice them for a month, or two, or better yet three – you’ll be we’ll on your way to successfully completing them. And, the satisfaction from that will be worth celebrating. And, please celebrate. It’ll keep you wanting more progress towards your goals.

If you are really serious about this process and want more, read THIS POST on writing a Life Plan.

7 New Year Resolutions Which Could Change Our World

Whether or not you do New Year resolutions, we could all stand to improve some things in our life. And, if we do, I’m confident we could also improve the life of others.

In fact, with a whole lot of improving – it might become contagious – and we might just change the world.

Here are 7 new year resolutions which could change the world:

Let’s resolve to begin everyday with a prayer, a smile, and a humility check.

A 3 part checklist. What if we woke up every morning and began by talking to God – recognizing His power and asking Him to direct our steps, make sure our smile is our attitude, and humbly enter the world not expecting anything other than to be a blessing? It will require discipline – but how we begin a day almost always determines how we end one.

Let’s resolve to return evil with good.

It won’t be easy. In fact, it will be hard. A grudge or sarcastic remark seems so much more fulfilling – in the moment. But, over time, it causes more harm than good – mostly to us – often even more than “them”. Imagine your world when you influence others by how you don’t respond when they “push your buttons” the wrong way.

Let’s resolve to never let the sun go down on anger.

Anger emotions grow overnight. They blossom into more intense anger emotions. We may not be able to resolve all disagreements, but we can drop the right to get even and resolve to be at peace as much as it depends on us. We will awake with level ground to build better, healthier relationships with others. Oh, what a world it would be if we had less anger.

Let’s resolve not use social media as a forum to bash others.

Or even as a forum period. It divides people rather than bringing them together. Let’s resolve for a kinder, gentler Facebook – rant-free even – where we simply stalk – I mean check in on old friends. Let’s act like people – real people -may actually see what we write. And care. And, let’s post in a way which encourages and builds each other up – almost like that’s in the Bible somewhere. (It might even be somewhere around 1 Thessalonians 5:11 – check me on this one.)

Let’s resolve to develop our patience muscle.

Wow! I put this one in the middle so maybe you (or my wife) would skip over it quickly. Just kidding. This is one I need – we all need. I’m not sure we can completely master it this year, but, with intentionality – and Christ’s strength – we can keep getting better. What if we thought about the most common things which test our patience – such as the traffic on the drive home at night – and we asked God to help us deal with it before we experience it – each time? Just a thought.

Let’s resolve to remember it’s not about us.

This one alone would surely change the world. What if we placed into our schema – into our immediate thought process – a simple understanding – OTHER PEOPLE MATTER – just as much as we do? Does it make a difference when you think someone values you? Of course it does. What if we valued others and demonstrated to them by how we treat them, what we say to them, our facial expressions, or even our thoughts toward them? Think it might change a few of our relational encounters this year? I think it might. Certainly seems worth trying.

Let’s resolve to listen more than we speak.

Ouch – if needed! It’s hard to value others when we are doing all the talking. (It’s also hard to hear from God.) It requires an act of humility when we remain silent at times we want to speak. Many times disagreements, arguments, even serious issues like prejudism or racism, have more to do with misunderstanding or miscommunication than anything. When we listen we demonstrate value – but, it also guards the tongue, protects relationships, and we might actually learn something.

Of course, ultimately the change the world needs is the Gospel, but who knows? Maybe if we change the way we treat others – including other believers – others might actually want to hear our Gospel.

I realize I’m simple-mindet, but I do, henceforth, resolve.

Who’s with me?

Start a New Year With A Blank Page

and find out what pleases the Lord. Ephesians 5:10 NIV

One of my life goals has been to get to a blank piece of paper stage in my walk with God. Ultimately, I want to present God with a blank piece of paper so He can plan my life.

It started like this. Years ago I was explaining to a friend I was at one of those “trying to discover God’s will” points in my life. (I have been there many times before and will be again.) His advice wasn’t something he had thought about a ton before. He admitted it sort of came to him quickly. But, for me it was the word I needed to hear.

He said something like, “Maybe you need to start with a blank piece of paper and give God ample space to plan out the rest of your life. Make yourself completely available to Him.

I left our meeting, however, with a very probing question for myself. Did I really even have blank piece of paper? And, not in the literal sense. I’m sure I could find blank paper somewhere- even in such a digital age. But, in my heart. Had I really released my will to God’s will?

Over the next few weeks, through prayer and discipline, I attempted to get there – at least in that season.

Over the years since then, I have periodically continued the self-examination. To do this I have to be honest with myself and the plans I have for my life. I certainly want to follow His lead, but I think many times my page is loaded with my own agenda. If I want my page to be completely blank, then I need to offer it back to God with nothing on the paper.

But, it leads me to ask you the question:

Have you given God a blank page to plan your life?

Be prepared when you do. God seems to love a challenge. He is great at taking nothing and making something when we let Him draw the picture – write the story of our life. But, I’m not sure as followers of Christ – and, really as humans, whether we know it or not, if we can fully realize our ultimate design until we let the Creator have His way.

Let me offer a few more thoughts on the subject:

The Biggest Mistake of my Life

Making Resolutions You’ll Actually Keep

Personal Reflection Questions to Start New Year Right

7 Things Which Have Brought Me Success

The beat thing you can do for yourself when planning for life is to give God plenty of margin to shape your plan. Actually, when we give Him our whole life we are in a better when we come with our own agendas.

10 Life Lessons from “It’s a Wonderful Life”

“It’s a Wonderful Life” has to be one of my all-time favorite movies. I have probably seen it thirty times or more.

I read recently, the movie was not a success the first few years after it’s release. No one could sit through the hard part to get to the happy ending. Aren’t we like this with life sometimes?

One of our local, historic theaters has shared the film for Christmas on the big screen. There is something even more wonderful about “It’s a Wonderful Life” in this setting.

Having watched the movie so many times, I once took time to reflect on how many life lessons this movie provides.

Here are 10 life lessons from “It’s a Wonderful Life”:

It’s not just about us. Other lives matter. We are better, richer, because of other people.

When we hurt, we hurt others. When we are in pain, we tend to feel we are suffering alone, but this is never the case. When someone we love hurts – we hurt.

We can’t hide our pain from people we love. They know. They may not know how to help or even how to express their concern – at least not in a way we will receive it – but they know – and care.

We need community. We really do need people in our life. We never realize this more than when we are in need. (I can’t imagine my life personally without the church.)

There is power in cooperation. We can do great things when we work together. I love this quote by Aimee Semple McPherson, “With God, I can do great things! But with God and you, and the people who you can interest, by the grace of God, we’re gonna change the world!” So true.

We seldom know the impact we have on others. Or, the good we are doing. I think God may protect us from foolish pride this way – thinking it is all about us. But, when we care – when we love others – when we strive to make a difference – we make a bigger splash on humanity than we could ever measure.

Character speaks louder than cash. Every. Single. Time. I’d rather have my integrity than a stuffed wallet any day. And, I’d rather have friends I can trust – and strive to be like – than friends who can buy my lunch.

“All you can take with you is that which you have given away”. (Peter Bailey) There are so many Biblical principles in this movie – this is one of them. Storing up treasures where moth and rust cannot destroy – it really does make for a wonderful life.

No man is a failure who has friends.” (Clarence) You can’t watch the movie and not wonder if you’d have friends come through for you as George Bailey did. I’m reminded the best way to have a friend is to be one. It worked for George – and it still works today.

Our life matters. Your life matters. (“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – Clarence.) God makes no mistake with His creation. He has a purpose for every soul, in which He breathes life.

What did I miss?

7 Christmas Gift Suggestions for Your Wife

I’m going on a wild hunch there are some men who haven’t even thought about what they’ll get their wife for Christmas yet. I understand. It probably still seems early to Christmas Eve shoppers. (I used to be one of those who loved to shop Christmas Eve – now it’s one of my busiest work days.)

Maybe you’ve thought about what you’d get your wife, but the problem is you still have no clue what to get her. It’s the same problem every year. Gift card may be what you’re thinking. Cash perhaps. Let your daughter pick something up if she’s old enough.

No sweat. I understand. I’m here to help this year.

Here are 7 suggestions to get your wife for Christmas:

Make a coupon book

A date night a week – or a month – or make up 12 random dates. A movie. (One she picks.) A walk in the park on a sunny, Spring day. Dance lessons. A cooking class. Print a coupon for each. Then give her access to your calendar and let her claim them as needed.

Break a bad habit

She cares about you and who you are and what you do impact her. Perhaps you need to lose weight, so she worries about you. You need to quit smoking. Or, maybe it is the way you talk to her. Perhaps you are super critical of her or you talk down to her sometimes. You know its a bad habit, but you’ve just never improved. It may be as simple as never picking up your clothes from the bathroom floor. Whatever it is she may have subtly – or not so subtly – tried to suggest a change in you. You agree with the change, but haven’t made it. Just make it. Merry Christmas to you and her. (Habits stick when repeated 4-6 weeks I’m told.)

Give her the gift of you

To make any relationship strong takes time and commitment, but we all get distracted by life. Make a commitment to speak less and listen more in the new year. Perhaps you symbolize this with a token of some sorts. Wrap up the remote and give it to her. Would that do the trick? Maybe it’s a golf club – one of yours – symbolizing you’ll give her more of your free time. Maybe it’s access to the calendar on your phone. You know the distractions in your marriage. Give her the gift of time with you in the new year.

Open a savings account

Put $100 or $50 – whatever you can afford, into a savings account. Label it “future investment in us!” Is there a family trip she’s dreamed about? Perhaps there is somewhere you always promised to take her. Take the first step this Christmas to make it happen someday. A great way to build relationships is to have something to dream about together.

One night in a nice Bed and Breakfast

Many men shy away from these, and many women do also, but for Cheryl and me, some of our most romantic moments were one night trips to a bed and breakfast. Make sure you get a private bath. A comfortable bed and a room with a view is great. If you plan ahead you will spend less than a really great hotel and the experience of reconnecting can be amazing for both of you.

Plan a gift together.

This isn’t for everyone. You know your wife. Some women have to have something to unwrap on Christmas. For Cheryl, she’s just as satisfied if we are planning our Christmas giving together. We jointly agree to take a trip together as our Christmas gift to each other. We agree on something we want to buy for the house. This works for us. It might for you.

A trip away – in May

This is one of my best gift ideas. And, it doesn’t have to be May – just sometime later in the year. This isn’t as needed for us now, because we are empty-nesters and can travel when we want, but this was the rockstar gift when our boys were home. This is brilliant on several points. It builds positive emotions leading up to the trip. When she was having an exceptionally stressful day she could remember – at least we were getting away tougher soon. In addition, we could plan the trip at Christmas, but pay for most or all of it later – which helped stretch our Christmas budget. (To do this I would often ordered brochures from a place I know we have thought about going and wrapped them in a pretty package. Sometimes I made reservations, sometimes I just picked the place. Either way, it is your responsibility to handle the necessary arrangements to make it happen.)

Do you get the idea that these are more about time than even money? I’m convinced it’s what most women want from their husbands. I realize some will say their wife once did, but doesn’t now. If that’s true, it’s probably an indication of a bigger problem. It may even be because she wanted you then and you weren’t there. Maybe the answer is to give her more time now.

Now I should also encourage you to be responsible. Don’t spend money you don’t have. Many of these are very low cost ideas. Some you can budget for and pay later. Chances are good you are going to get her something and I’m guessing some of these might be better than a dress shop gift certificate or another pair of those ugly pajama bottoms.

Your marriage and your wife is worth the extra effort. This year, think through your gift. Be purposeful. The woman you love is worth the effort.

What gift ideas can you add to the list?

7 Suggestions to Have the Best Christmas Ever

It’s Christmas time again. Seems to come every year about this time. The most wonderful time of the year.

There’ll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories
Of Christmases long, long ago
It’s the most wonderful time of the year

(That could almost be a song. Wait a minute – I think it is.)

But, if you’re like many of us, Christmas will be over before you took time to enjoy it. You might even get past Christmas, realize how fast it passed, and so you set some new year’s resolutions to slow down and – maybe – enjoy Christmas more next year.

What if you could do that this year? Why not? Sounds like a good goal to me. Enjoy the celebration of Christmas. The birth of our Savior. Relish the time with family. Savor every moment.

Here are 7 suggestions to make this the best Christmas ever:

Set a limit on expenditures.

Something happens when Christmas becomes more about the value of the gifts than the value of the season. More, more, more only produces energy in a direction that can never really be sustained. (Read Ecclesiastes 5:10) Start with a budget. Be realistic. Stop comparing. One problem for many of us is that we are trying to compete with everyone else. Obviously, if you have more money you can spend more money (and less — less). But, make it your goal to invest more in people this year than in things you can buy. And, don’t feel obligated or pressured to buy gifts you can’t afford for people. It will only be a temporary satisfaction and produce a lot of guilt in the new year when you see those credit card bills start arriving in the mail. (And, usually the guilt starts as soon as the cashier hands you the receipt or you push the purchase button online.)

Set boundaries in relationships.

This is especially true for younger couples and families, but really for most of us. You can feel pressured by extended family and friends to be a dozen different places. Remember, you aren’t responsible for pleasing everyone — in fact — you can’t. It’s impossible. (Some have a harder time with that than others.) Don’t let everyone else determine your Christmas schedule. You may have to have some difficult, but direct conversations with relatives or friends. Again, be realistic. You can’t be everywhere. There are some places you can’t (or shouldn’t) avoid, but, as much as possible, control your schedule rather than having it controlled by others.

Plan and prioritize your time.

This is similar, but also includes how we spend our own time at Christmas. There are usually more demands for our time than time for our demands. Just as you did in creating a money budget, create a time budget. Set aside some time for you to celebrate Christmas as an immediate family — or in a way where you best celebrate. Then build around that time. It’s okay to say no. (Do you need to read that sentence again?) If you don’t, you’ll run out of time before you feel you ever really celebrated. It’s hard, but again, you’re trying to actually celebrate Christmas — the birth of baby Jesus. That’s hard to do when you have lost all control of your time.

Lower your expectations.

That you have on others and on yourself. Sometimes we set very unrealistic expectations on what others will buy or how they will respond to what we buy. We look for the “perfect” gift — to give or receive — and our enjoyment of Christmas is based on that search — rather than the real joy of the season. We also set unrealistic expectations on relationships. We watch too many Hallmark Christmas movies where everything works out in the end to the perfect holiday celebration and when it doesn’t happen at our house quite like that we get disappointed. Remember, we aren’t characters in a movie. We are characters in real life. Real life is almost never perfect. Learn to enjoy your celebration with all the quirkiness that makes your family unique from every other family. (Because every family is quirky in some way — in real life.)

Practice healthy disciplines.

Sometimes in the name of “celebrating” we over do it only to have guilt about it later. Don’t overeat or over-indulge. You will occasionally – it’s part of the season — but, be reasonable. Keep exercising. Sample rather than eat full portions. You’ll feel better and have less regrets after the holidays have ended.

Serve others.

Find and establish a Christmas tradition of service. Whether it’s serving at a food kitchen, ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, or just picking up trash along the side of the road, you’ll better appreciate Christmas when you serve. The real meaning of Christmas is based around serving others. The baby born at Christmas came to be a servant. The best way to celebrate His birth is to give back expecting nothing in return. You’ll be the bigger recipient when you do.

Remember the reason for the season.

Yea, I saved the best and most important for last. On purpose. It’s also the one we push to last if we aren’t careful and the ultimate purpose of this post, so I wanted it to be the last impression on your mind. Jesus — the reason for the season. It’s simple — even cliche, but, it’s true and it’s powerful — if you do it genuinely. In the midst of the madness, rediscover the miracle of Christmas. A Savior — who is Christ the Lord — has been born to you. Establish a tradition that helps you best identify with the true meaning of Christmas. You could take time to explore a character of the Christmas story you’ve not considered previously. Research elements of the setting and culture. Read the major passages in Matthew and Luke repeatedly through the season. Listen to only Christmas music. Attend special Christmas services. Whatever works for you. Be intentional to practice celebrating the real joy of Christmas.

Not all of these will apply to everyone, but my guess is if there are a couple here you need to work on – to better celebrate Christmas – you already knew it. As we begin the rush of the Christmas season, pause right now, take a few deep breaths, and let’s make this the best Christmas ever.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

7 Suggestions for Planting a Church or Revitalizing in a New Community

I am consistently asked for suggestions I have for moving to another city to plant a church or revitalize a church.

I planted once in my hometown, so I am very familiar with that community, but I also planted a church in a city in which I didn’t know anyone well, so I have some experience in that area too. In my present church, I moved to a city where I knew only one other couple.

Recently someone who was about to move to a new city to minister asked a very good specific question.

What advice would you give me that people don’t always give?

Good question. It made me think. I don’t know that any of these are original, but I don’t hear them talked about as much as other suggestions.

And, I think the things I would do would be the same in any ministry position.

Here are 7 suggestions for moving to another community to minister:

Have a prayer team – There should be a group of people praying for this community, the church, and the leaders on a daily basis. I have a personal prayer team and organize teams to pray for special events. Bathe every move in prayer.

Learn the culture – Every city and every group of people have their own unique identity. What matter’s most? What do they celebrate? Where do people live and play? What do they do for fun? What’s their unique language? What are the traditions unique to this area? What history do they value most? You’ll have to ask lots of questions and observe.

Learn the market – Is the community in a growth mode or a declining mode? What’s the quality of the school system? If you’re planting, are schools an option for a building? What are the major problems, concerns and needs of the community? Who are the leading employers? What are the demographics? How would a church address some of the issues? These matter for numerous reasons, but mainly it will impact the people you are trying to reach.

To learn these things I try to meet with the highest level leader I can in each area of interest – Schools, city government, police, business community, etc.

Learn the competition – Before you get too excited – it’s not other churches. It’s anything that has the people’s attention you are trying to reach besides a church. Sunday sports events. Major festivals. Community traditions.

Support the Community – Immediately find ways to get personally involved in the community with volunteer investment. That could be through the Chamber of Commerce, schools, festivals, etc. Give back. Believe it or not, that gets attention. Currently, we volunteer several places around town, including at our local visitor’s center. And, if you really want to show you love the community support the sports teams they support.

Develop patience – It is harder than you think it will be. It just is. Church planting, church revitalization – really any ministry – takes a tremendous toll on you physically, mentally and even spiritually. It doesn’t happen overnight. Prepare for the journey. Commit to the change you bring to the ministry – even knowing how difficult it might be at times.

Protect your family – Just as church plants are stressful on the planter, they are equally challenging for the planter’s family. That may even be more true in revitalization. And, it’s true in all ministry. These issues are multiplied because of relocation, since much of their support system is being replaced. Protect your family by discipling your time and not losing them as your primary focus. As much as possible, involve them in the work so they understand it’s value and get to share in the rewards. Protect your personal down time and your soul. Don’t burn out by trying to do too much too soon.

Ministry is tough, but like all actions of faith and obedience, God uses the sacrifices to reach hurting people and change their life for His glory. Thanks for Kingdom-building.

3 Ways for Christians to Respond to Tragedies

I wrote this in response to the shootings in Oregon a couple years ago – almost two years exactly. Some thought it was helpful, so I share it here in light of the shootings in Las Vegas, which has been called “the worst mass shooting in U.S. recorded history.”

3 ways for Christians to respond to tragedies.

These are three, which come to my mind this morning. Certainly we can assist where we have resources and there is need, but we can always do these three.

Pray sincerely.

Pray for the victims and their families. Pray for the people who live in the area. Tragedies like this always shake a community even more than the broader world. Pray for the response of government and law officials. Pray for our world.

These are desperate times. Pray for the Gospel to have opportunities to shine through darkness. “And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)

Remember our position.

This world is not our home. It’s what we preach every week in our churches. We who believe are here on temporary assignment. We are pilgrims on a journey – passing through as we head towards our eternal home.

Our God is on His throne. He is not surprised. He is not unprepared. “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:1-4)

Overcome evil with good.

What if with every tragedy and every negative news report believers decided to do something good for others? Not requested. Unexpected. Just random acts of goodness in the name of Jesus Christ.

What if we displayed peace and joy in the midst of sorrow? What if others who have no faith saw us who believe responding in faith? “Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:21)

It is natural for children to respond with fear when they see these type tragedies. I wrote an article in hopes it is helpful dealing with children during tragedies.