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Christmas Memories



My recollection is that it was the Christmas of 1982. Two significant things happened for me that Christmas that have had an impact on me for over 30 years. I was 15 years old and we were living in Washington, NC. I believe it was our first Christmas in Washington. My dad was a pastor and this was the first house we had ever lived in that was not directly located by the church. It was probably the first house that ever felt like our house. My brother and I had the upstairs to ourselves. It is possible that all of this could have been the following year in 1983, but the impact and the lessons are still the same.

I don’t recall every Christmas or the gifts that I have received over the years, but I remember a few prior to 1982. One year, my dad bought us a CB radio base station. My brother and I “found” it before Christmas and he made us pay for it. He bought us a 16 ft. jon boat one year. I remember that gift because of some memories we made with it. We got a go cart one year in the 70’s that my mom had slipped up and told us about before Christmas. I recently came across a ceramic figure that my aunts made for Christmas one year when I was a boy. I recall traveling to both grandparent’s house each year during the Christmas season. On both sides, we were the only grandchildren that came every year so they spoiled us. I’m sure that you have a list of Christmas memories as well.

The reason that 1982 sticks out to me is because of the two things that I still carry with me today. Maybe these two things will help you look at Christmas a little differently and allow you and your family to better celebrate Christmas.

Thoughtful giving
The first lesson I learned that Christmas was to be a little more thoughtful in my giving. Both of my parents grew up in poor homes and never had a lot of possessions. Though our parents were adults and had teenage children at this point, my brother and I inquired of them what was one thing they wanted for Christmas that they never received. Our mom wanted a baby doll and our dad wanted a gun and holster set. My brother and I didn’t have a lot of money because neither of us had jobs, but we took money we had received as Christmas gifts and bought mom a doll and dad a toy gun and holster set. It was not something they could find useful at the moment, but it was thoughtful. I knew it meant a lot to them then, but not until recently did I understand the fullness of its importance. While helping my parents move, we came across that gun and holster set. He never got rid of it. When we are thoughtful in our giving, it has an impact on the recipient. People’s hearts will hold on to the things with meaning long after they have forgotten the things without.

Every year we would travel at different times to our grandparent’s homes and we had spent several Christmas days away from home. That year though, dad said we were going to start a tradition of using Christmas Eve as our family Christmas time together. In the living room of that home in Washington began a tradition that I don’t think we have missed now for 33 years. I look forward to being with family, eating a meal together and creating a massive amount of Christmas-paper trash. We will take home gifts, but they will not be treasured as much as the time we will spend together. This tradition is established with my own children as well. To always be with our family on Christmas Eve is the only thing I’ve ever asked them to promise me.

This Christmas will be better if all of us could learn to practice these two things. Learn to be a thoughtful giver and create traditions for your family. Give from the heart to the heart and make memories. The memories made together will be greater than the gifts that lose luster over time. Enjoy the splendor and beauty of Christmas with the wonderful relationships you have been blessed with on this earth.

Jealous of Mastery


The reigning NBA World Champions are the Golden State Warriors. As of this writing, they have started this season defending their undefeated title of 23-0. (Once writing this they lost their first game of the year after starting 24-0) Last year everyone was excited for them because they were the new team on the block and there were other villains to pull against. They have two of the best three-point shooters in the history of basketball – – Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. They are nicknamed the “Splash Brothers” for their prolific shooting expertise. Over last season, people were amazed at their ability to consistently make 3-point shots from any place on the floor. They were a highlight reel every night. But enough is apparently enough.

No team in history has started 24-0. That is not supposed to happen. A 6’3” skinny, well-mannered young man who almost never approaches the lane, much less the rim is not supposed to be the most dominant basketball player in the world. No team should look like they are toying with every other team night in and night out. Basketball should be played the way it has always been played. Driving to the basket and dunking with occasional outside shooting from a kick out. Big men defending the basket and getting rebounds. Offenses designed to get the closest, easiest shot possible. Every team in the NBA is built that way. Until now….and now there is an exception.

Now, current and former players, coaches and sportscasters are all criticizing the way the Warriors play. Their argument is that the game is not meant to be played that way. A team has taken the rules and mastered a portion of the game that no one else chose to master, and now the rules need to be changed or play should be condemned because no one else made the same effort. The 3-point shot has been a part of the NBA game for 25 years. Why is it suddenly not the way the game is supposed to be played? The biggest reason is the curve is too steep for every other team. Someone chose to master something that no one else had mastered and now the rules need to be changed.

Basketball is not the only place we see this. We find the same thought process in almost every other area of life. We are happy with the rules as long as everyone is attacking the problem the same exact way. Let someone find an unusual solution or master something that everyone else has chosen to ignore and things change. Once they begin to dominate, people will get upset. We resent anyone getting too far ahead of us or gaining in places where we did not think to go. When the gains show up in the form of money or influence, which is where most people want more, the green-eyed monster makes his appearance. The jealousy of mastery shows up in business, families, churches, politics and almost every area of life.

Our criticisms of these masters range from calling them lucky to criminal. We are often unwilling to accept the fact that someone chose to put in the time and energy to focus on something and master it. We create new rules and pass new laws all in an attempt, at least in our own minds, to level the playing field. This methodology works until someone masters something new and the process starts all over again. Instead of criticizing everyone that has the energy and commitment to excel, why not use that time and energy to become a master of something ourselves. Anyone can criticize and find fault. It takes a special person to focus those efforts on improving and gaining. We need a world that is less jealous of other’s success and more determined to make their own.

10 Commandments of Social Media

Hands Holding Speech Bubbles with Social Media Words

Over the last 10 years, social media has become a big part of our daily interactions with other people. From the early entrants of MySpace and Facebook to newer models like Instagram and SnapChat, people of all ages have adopted some form of social media platform. As with any new idea that comes along, there are problems and abuses that follow. There is a learning curve on how best to use them and discerning their most useful purpose. In the Bible, the 10 Commandments were not given to be a set of rules of oppression, but were given so that the Israelites that had been set free could continue to live a free life. The use of social media seems to require such a set of rules. Social media has so many benefits. Many of which can only be appreciated when these mediums of communications are used properly. So here are my 10 commandments of social media.

Conversation over accusation
Social media implies we are meant to be social. In most of our relationships we engage in conversation when we are face to face with people. But for some reason, social media tends to bring out accusation instead of conversation. Everything we say is to make a point about something that we hold true; everything from politics to religion. Things that may be a small part of our personal conversations become the overwhelming part of what we have to say on social media. Because of limits in words and the difficulty in communicating emotions, we tend to divide instead of grow our relationships while on social media. Many of the issues that we are trying to reduce to a meme or 140 characters are much more complicated than that. Even if you disagree with someone, try to engage in a conversation and not make it about accusation.

Would you say that in person?
If the person you are talking to were standing in front of you, would you say what you are saying on social media? Often the answer is no because if we had said it to them personally, there would be no need to say it on social media. Cyber-bullying is a real problem among youth. We have a misguided belief that it doesn’t matter if they are not standing in front of us. Recently, I was watching a movie and one of the children on the movie was being bullied online. His dad made a statement that when he was in school, he at least escaped bullying when he went home. Now, it goes with you everywhere. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, social media is not the place to say it.

No gossip
If you are not sure it is true, don’t share it. If you are sure it is true, and saying it will not help in anyway, still don’t say it. Gossip needs to be removed from our conversation on and offline.

Don’t embarrass yourself
Keep your clothes on. Watch your language. If you share it, it can be shared and with your name attached to it. More employers are using social media prior to hiring. Would a prospective employer hire you based on your profile?

Don’t let it just be about you
One of the purposes of social media is for people to stay in contact with you and to know more about you, but don’t let it be just about you. Share words of encouragement. Let it be a place where others benefit from your presence. Share your own personal insights or something that is challenging you to grow or change in hopes that someone else can learn along with you.

Eliminate drama
Some things are personal. Keep it that way. It needs to stay between you and your spouse or children. It needs to stay in your workplace. It will never be solved on social media, so just keep it to yourself.

Think about it before you post it
One of the ways to eliminate drama is to think before you post. If you are angry or hurt, take a few minutes, or maybe even a few days, before you post something. If you have a question, ask someone completely uninvolved with the situation whether it is appropriate or not. As a follow up to that, if you have to ask, it probably isn’t.

Not the place to win an argument
Social media is a place to engage people in conversation. It is acceptable to disagree with others. It is not the place you will win a debate. Often, you will end up looking like a menace or a bully instead of making your point. Conversate. Debate. But stop trying to be the winner. It is not the place to win.

It’s a tool, it’s not your life
I view social media as a platform. It is an extension of who I am any other time. It is a tool I use to continue to influence people, stay in touch with people and allow other people to stay in touch with me. It is a tool, but it is a small part of my life. Almost all of my posts are scheduled early in the morning to post throughout the day using Hootsuite. I have to work not to get sucked into unproductive time watching videos and reading memes. Use social media. Don’t let it use you.

Don’t allow it to be your only means of communication
In relationships, nothing beats being face to face. Relationships flourish in person. Social media should promote those times, not eliminate those times. Don’t allow social media to be the only way you communicate with people. Let it be a tool to assist those relationships but try not to allow it to be a replacement. 

Maybe you have some other suggestions or “commandments” for social media. I would love to hear them. Share them in the comment section. Let’s make social media great.

Is It Offensive If No One Is Offended?


I am a believer that each of us struggles with some sort of prejudice. We may not acknowledge it or recognize it, but we are all tainted with different biases. When we speak of prejudice we often think of race first. But there are many other biases that affect us as well. They can be related to economics, political persuasions, sexual preferences and gender biases just to name a few. Each of these affect our thought processes toward other people and events. Those biases also shape our vocabulary and our relationship choices. We tend to associate with people that support our beliefs and share our same biases, even if those are subconscious choices.

Within those circles of similar people, certain language or vocabulary patterns seem to evolve. Often those comments are meant as humor and to entertain or make others laugh, but they are also comments that we would not say if someone of that persuasion were present. We may joke about a certain political party being communists or Nazis, using stereotypes to describe extremists. We may use slang referring to another race or group members of a gender together to describe a tendency among them such as, “All men are pigs”. The truth is no man is a pig. Some men may act inappropriately, but not all men. But the grouping of them together gets a laugh out of everyone.

When everyone in our circle believes or thinks as we do, there is rarely any pushback from those who are present. There is a lot of knee slapping and laughter that can often surround these types of conversations. Rarely is there any acknowledgement that someone could be offended by it because those people are rarely present. If we were to bore down into each person’s heart, we would probably find out that they desire to be much more inclusive than exclusive and really value other people in spite of differences. They often do not mean harm or have ill feelings toward those they speak of, but their language of bias or prejudice has become a normal part of their life.

So the question that I have posed to myself recently is this: if no one is present that is offended, is what we are saying offensive? If we make a racial joke but no one is present to be harmed, is the joke harmful? If we offer a slur toward a politician or political party and everyone present is of the same persuasion, what or who does it hurt? Everyone gets a good laugh. No harm, no foul, right? I am not sure. There actually may be several problems with it.

First, every time we emphasize a difference between us and other people, it tends to widen the gap instead of finding some path to relationship or reconciliation. It is difficult to have influence with people if we cannot find common ground for relationship. Even though we genuinely may not harbor ill will toward those against whom our comments are aimed, every emphasis on those things only works to reinforce our prejudices or biases that we should be attempting to out grow.

Second, each time those views are expressed and we get affirmation through laughter or words of reinforcement, it makes us less sensitive to the issues and problems that sincerely do bother others. It makes us insensitive to racial issues, socio economic problems, political divides and gender inequalities that actually do exist. It makes us less likely to change or attempt to understand someone else’s point of view.

As I was writing this, I overheard Steve Harvey in the background on television say, “more of us need to be concerned about the rest of us”. Just because someone is not present to be offended does not mean what we say or how we act is not offensive. We must learn what offensiveness is without someone telling us. We must be concerned about others even when they are not present. Our beliefs and behaviors are constantly being reinforced. Eventually those thoughts and behaviors will show up in places they are perceived to be offensive. It is much less painful to learn that without harming someone else or needing to be corrected by someone we have offended. Practice makes perfect. Private practice will reduce public pain. Our private conversations must reflect who we desire to be and what we desire for others to see.

30 Years Changes Your Perspective

Class of 1985

Today I am preparing to attend my reunion for the Washington High School class of 1985. Thirty years would have appeared to be an eternity in June of 1985 as we walked across the stage at Kugler Field. It is odd that as time passes we gather to celebrate something we were so anxious to pass so quickly. Sitting in those metal folding chairs that June evening were hopes, dreams and plans of more than 200 students. In the 30 years since, some of those hopes, dreams and plans were lived out while others changed over time. As most graduating seniors are, I was so consumed with my own ideas of life that I did not appreciate the value of the hopes and dreams of those sitting around me.

As these 30 years have passed, thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of people’s lives have been touched and changed for the better because of those boys and girls that surrounded me in 1985. Some became teachers and have dedicated their lives to offering students the best education they could give them. Some devoted their lives to serving and protecting our country. Businesses have been started. Loving family units have been created. The world has been entertained through the performing arts. Faith has been shared. Communities have been improved. Lives have been changed.

The advent of social media has given us all an opportunity to stay a little more connected than our previous reunions allowed. That should lend itself to making the evening that much more enjoyable. Tonight we will celebrate the fact that we survived 30 years of adult life. There will be stories told. Lots of memories will be shared. Laughter will fill the room. Some may have changed little. Others will have changed a lot. We will be reminded about the brevity of life as we remember those who we have lost in the last 10 years. For me personally, I want to celebrate the fact that the world is a better place because of the people in that room.

Today brings two things to mind. The first is hope. Barbara and I have four children and three grandchildren. They too can make a difference in this world. There is no dream out of reach or goal that is too lofty. Hope that this year’s graduating class can make the world a better place as classes before them have. Hope that the world is not doomed but greatness arises from all walks of life.

The second is determination. Based on statistics, I have more years behind me than I have ahead of me. That being the case, I want there to be more life ahead of me than I have behind me. I want to finish well. I want my finishing years to make more of difference than ever. That is my wish for all of my classmates. That our next 30 years be life-giving and we make more of a difference than ever; that what has been will diminish in light of what will be.

Class of 1985, tonight I celebrate with you. Tonight I celebrate you. I am thankful that each of you had a part in my life. The world is a better place because you are in it!

Give Thanks….Always?


As a pastor, one of the common questions that I get is “How do I know God’s will?”. There are many ways I think we can know, discern and understand what His will for our life is, but the first place where we have to begin is in the Bible. We can start by understanding the things that are clearly identified as God’s will for all of us. The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church at Thessalonica and in his closing remarks he said, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT). There are several things we can learn from this verse that are relevant to all of us, especially on during Thanksgiving.

Be Thankful
This is not a suggestion, but more of an emphatic command. In the words Paul writes prior to and immediately following this verse, he is addressing how to live our lives. He tells us to encourage others and not harm them. He says we should be joyful and prayerful, not critical and impatient. As a part of that full life that he is describing, a large part of that is to be thankful. Webster’s dictionary defines thankful as “conscious of benefit received”. The origin of the word suggests that we would express gratitude for blessings or benefits. Henry Van Dyke said, “Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.” Being thankful is something that must be intentional.

In All Circumstances
There is a clear distinction that must be made between being thankful “for” circumstances and being thankful “in” circumstances. There are some situations where we find ourselves, sometimes not of our doing, that we would prefer to not be a part. However, in every circumstance we can find something for which to be thankful. Learning to be thankful in your circumstances requires you to stop seeing things only from your perspective. You may need to look at the bigger picture or see the greater benefit for others involved and how it changes their lives. Numerous times throughout the Bible we are reminded that things work for good and what was meant for evil God used for good. Our thankfulness takes a turn when we begin to see things from God’s point of view instead of our own.

God’s Will
I am no different than you when it comes to wanting to know exactly what God desires of me in every situation. Sometimes that is difficult, especially in a decision making process. Paul takes all of the guesswork out of this one. He says this is God’s will. His desire for your life is for you to be thankful in every circumstance. Being thankful is the reflection of Himself that He wants people to see in our lives. Intentional focus on gratitude.

Thankfulness is achieved much easier when we understand that ultimately God is in control. Our circumstances may not change, but our attitude about them will change our understanding of each situation and help us to reflect Christ better. God’s will is for us to be thankful. Today is a good day to practice. Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours!

My Personal Refugee Battle



I usually find there are two valid sides to most issues (with limited exceptions). When I see people, especially followers of Christ, being so abrasive and arrogant about their point of view, it disturbs me. It bothers me when I fall into that trap. The last two weeks I have preached from John 1:14-17 where it describes Jesus being full of grace and truth. Full of both. Two things which at times the church seems to be only on one side or the other. When the two are combined, it brings a certain messiness to the situation. Most things we consider black and white suddenly become some other shade.

The people of Syria are facing a real dilemma. A civil war is ravaging their country and terrorists are using large portions of their country as a base. Millions of Syrians are fleeing their homeland looking for a place of safety for their families. At the same time, there are terrorists blending in with innocent refugees looking for cover to carry out their evil plans. This creates a real problem for the rest of the world. It is not as clear as anyone would like to make it. Grace and truth, compassion and expectation, create a tension that we struggle to manage. In this refugee discussion, most of the comments I read are all or nothing. I have not arrived there yet. I am wrestling with this. Somehow I hope this expression of writing will assist in clearing my own understanding.

My compassion pushes me to make room for everyone. Grace, or unfailing love, is inclusive not exclusive. I am reminded to love the poor and care for them. The New Testament teaches that true religion involves the care of orphans and widows. I have been challenged recently as I have grown to make an attempt to understand people and their situations better. I did not get to choose where I was born. I was favored to be born in the United States. Frankly, that was a measure of grace in itself. My heart breaks for these people who are only looking for a safe place to raise their family. I passed through the airport in Moscow recently and there was a family from Syria living in the airport that had a problem with their visa and could not clear customs. They had spent 50 days of living in a terminal the day I came through. My heart broke for them, but I was limited in what I could do. We are a nation of immigrants. My grace wants to help those that are in need. 

The tension I have is that I also have some expectation. With my compassion comes certain caution. There are those that do not want to assist anyone because of someone. I refuse to take that position. I am a preacher, but I am not Jim Jones. I am an American, but I am not Timothy McVeigh or Jeffrey Dahmer. I am a North Carolinian, but I am not Velma Barfield. I cannot join the camp that puts all Syrians in the same basket. However, I can’t eliminate certain caution or expectation for those coming to our country. I do have an expectation that we are making reasonable attempts to keep our country and it’s people safe. I am not looking for perfection, but I do believe their should be reasonable vetting.

Grace and truth get messy. My experience tells me that it is impossible to offer grace without experiencing pain. To remove the chance of being hurt would mean to eliminate grace. I know some of you will read this and you have already settled this issue; many of you are all or nothing. I just hope to encourage some people who are not finding it as cut and dry as many want it to be. I don’t think this is a tension that can be eliminated, but it is one I have to manage.

I generally am not a person that lives in fear. I would rather suffer for making a difference than to accomplish little while remaining safe. Just to put things in perspective, I am traveling to Turkey in December to train leaders and pastors, some of which are probably fleeing Syria. There are millions of Syrian refugees flooding Turkey. I am taking my son, son-in-law and Family Pastor with me. We are going to make a difference. I am not afraid of going to them. I am working through my tension of them coming to me.

This Sunday I will finish the sermon series where we are covering the first 18 verses of John. John says that God is revealed to us through Jesus Christ. One of the supporting passages that we will take a look at is found in 2 Corinthians 5:16-19. It has many applications, but here are two: 1) we have to stop evaluating others from a human point of view, and 2) he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. My goal is to learn to live both of these out. This seems like a good place to start. 

Looking Back and Looking Forward

I recently read a quote by Ray Edwards about his reflections on a year as it winds down. He said he makes two lists: 1) What am I thankful for this past year?, and 2) What do I want to be thankful for next year at this time? Those two questions pressed me to think about certain things in my life. It seemed easy enough to make a list of things for which I am thankful. However, there had to be some intention if I was going to create a list of things I wanted to be thankful for next year at this time. There is an often quoted passage from the Bible in a book the Apostle Paul wrote called Philippians that says No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.” There is some danger because looking back can often lead to going back. A desire for the “good old days”. When our focus is constantly on the past, we often miss what bright future that lies ahead. I have heard it said that the greatest hindrance to our success tomorrow, is our success today. We cannot relive yesterday, whether it was good or bad. We can only use it for perspective. Paul is not discounting what has happened previously in his life because on several occasions he recites some of that. He does, however,  have a clear understanding of where he is headed and what his final destination should look like. I want to give offer some assistance in your two lists and see if we can gain value from where we have been and begin to be intentional about where we are going.

What am I thankful for?

One of the best attitudes we can cultivate is the attitude of gratitude; learning to be gracious in all of our circumstances. Paul wrote to his protege Timothy “to be thankful in all circumstances”. We do not necessarily have to be thankful for every circumstance, but we can find things to be thankful for in every circumstance. He is reminding us that our attitude about every situation and circumstance is critical. Cultivating the right outlook is imperative. Our quality of life improves as our gratitude improves. 

When you begin making a list of things you are thankful for over the last year, try not to be in a hurry. What you will often find is that one thing you are thankful for will lead to another. Often, I am surprised at the list and how it will change my ideas, thoughts and emotions as I read over the good things. Reflection also gives me a perspective I may not have had in the middle of certain situations. It is during that reflection that I have time to see something good come from what appeared to be a difficult situation. It is difficult to prepare for good things ahead until we have the right attitude about the things that have already passed.

What do I want to be thankful for?

This is not a daydreaming exercise, but an opportunity to set the bar for the coming year and be intentional about what is going to take place. When I think about twelve months from now, what do I want to be thankful for? This allows us to think about the things that will need to take place over the following year that will allow other things to happen for which we want to be thankful. For example, if you want to be thankful for a better marriage, what steps do you need to take for your marriage to improve? If you want to be debt free, what actions must happen for that to be on your “thankful” list in twelve months? You may want to be thankful for being a better leader or parent, have more income, attending church regularly, starting a new business or losing 10 pounds. Whatever you want to be thankful for, prepare and plan so those things take place. 

In the verse we quoted from Philippians, Paul uses the expression “I focus on this one thing”. He does not overload himself with trying to accomplish everything. He is committed however to one thing. Every problem you have or every goal you desire cannot be accomplished in one year. But at least one of them can. Take the time to think about what you want to be thankful for and then be intentional on making that happen.

As we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, it is a good time for some reflection and planning. Looking back to improve our attitude and looking forward to change our direction. Be thankful for what has happened. Plan for the things for which you want to be thankful. Intentional gratitude will change your life.

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About Me

I currently serve as Lead Pastor at Open Door Church and I am a certified trainer & coach with the John Maxwell Team. I am also an Associate Trainer with EQUIP training leaders around the world. I currently own two businesses related to the foodservice equipment industry. I am a certified speaker, teacher and coach with the John Maxwell Team. I can offer you workshops, seminars, keynote speaking, and coaching, aiding your personal and professional growth through study and practical application of John’s proven leadership methods. Working together, I will move you and/or your team or organization in the desired direction to reach your goals.