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The Anticipation of Christmas

Christmas is less than one week away and the anticipation is in the air. Some people can’t wait for it to get here while others can’t wait for it to be over. Some people may even experience both of these emotions. As a matter of fact, some of the very things that make us anticipate Christmas may also cause us to want it to be over. Much of our anticipation has to do with things that are going on in our life currently. Our situation has a great impact on the season.

Why do we view things so differently? Why can Christmas not get here fast enough for some and why can it not pass quickly enough for others? How can the same thing bring joy for one and dread for another? If we stop and examine it for a moment, we will see a few specific things that can bring both joy and dread. It might allow us to relate to people a little better during the season

When I was a kid I waited with great anticipation of the gifts I was going to receive. Some things I had asked for. Other things were a surprise. The anticipation of opening those gifts and enjoying what I had wished for was at times overwhelming. I found myself peaking in closets looking for hidden gifts or shaking presents under the tree all in the anticipation of finally being able to see it and use it.

As an adult, I have also seen times when gifts brought me dread. There have been times when financial pressure made it difficult to provide the way I wanted to and to get what other people wanted. There have been times when relationship strains made giving and receiving difficult. As I have gotten older, I have wondered about my parent’s experience and how they may have felt and the pressure they may have been under. It helped me appreciate what I had received and the stress it may have caused them at times.

Christmas is one of the few times our entire family gets together during the year. We often say that Christmas Eve is our favorite night of the year. We enjoy a meal and exchanging gifts and the conversations that so rarely get shared. We laugh at new stories and old memories. Seeing our family can be one of the most enjoyable parts of the season.

It can also be one of the most difficult parts of the season. Sometimes relationships are strained. Something has happened in a relationship and restoration and forgiveness have not been experienced so tensions can be high. Other times significant people are missing. Some may have jobs that keep them away, while death and divorce take away others. These missing people add weight to family gatherings. Occasionally it is talked about. Other times it is ignored and people have to deal with it in their own way. Either way, family gatherings can cause us to want the Christmas season to be over.

I love to travel. I love to see the world and have no problem taking off to just about anywhere. I would consider it our hobby. Things that other people spend their money on such as hunting or racing or sports, we spend on travel. I look for ways to travel as often as I can. Most of our family lives close by so the most we have to travel is a couple of hours, but many years we take a family vacation around Christmas, and at the very least Barbara and I go somewhere and enjoy a few days away.

On the opposite side of that, some people hate to travel. Just driving to the grocery store makes them anxious. They prefer to stay home and only leave when necessary. Even those who are not averse to traveling often find it frustrating because of the cost or discomfort of it. I have to go here or I have to be there can put pressure on people that makes them dread the holidays.

There are other reasons why people get excited about or dread the Christmas season. No matter which side you find yourself on this year, maybe this will be a starter in helping you appreciate the joys and struggles of other people around you.

How To Choose Who To Listen To

Everyone is influenced by other people. We may not realize it and often we are not intentional about it, but it does not remove the fact that we are influenced by others. Some of that influence helps us succeed while some if it causes us to falter. The fact is that we need people to speak into our lives. Proverbs 15:22 (NLT) tells us “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.” ‭‭We need advice and guidance. The key is to be intentional about it. Who are those people and what are they saying to us?

We cannot be willing just to accept any advice. We need the right advice. We also need it at the right time. There are qualities that you want in advisors. You want that person to have integrity. You want them to tell you the truth and you want to know they have your best interest at heart. You also want that person to be spiritually grounded. Their advice has to benefit your walk with Christ. You also want them to be wise. You want them to have a solid life foundation that allows them to speak from a broader perspective. That being said, one person cannot speak into every area of your life. They may meet the criteria listed above, but they will not have enough of the following traits to give you the specific advice you need. So if every advisor needs to have integrity, be spiritual and have wisdom, how do you choose people for a specific area of advice. I think you want to add three qualities to narrow down an area where you are looking for advice.

They need to know what they are talking about. If the advice you need is about money, you want them to have expertise in finances. Expertise comes in many ways from formal education to life experience, but before you seek advice from someone, make sure you know they have a working knowledge about the topic.

Knowledge is important. Experience in a reinforcer. Some things work well on paper. They are theories. Sometimes those things have to be adjusted with experience. The marriage counselor that has never been married may have plenty of expertise, but their limited experience will narrow their ability to assist.

This portion is important. Someone may know a lot about marriage and may have a lot of experience, but none of it seemed to work. Seven divorces bring expertise and experience but very little success. It does not mean the person has never failed. The most successful people have failed many times. The difference is they have used it to grow and become successful instead of repeating the same mistakes.

When you find people who are spiritual and have wisdom and integrity then you combine that with expertise, experience, and success, the result is having a great advisor. Whatever area of your life where you need guidance will benefit when all of these are present.

3 Reasons We Miss What Is Important At Christmas

Christmas is one of the most beautiful seasons of the year. All of the decorations and festivities bring smiles to the faces of all ages. As a Christian, it marks the celebration of the birth of Christ. As Christians, Christ has to be a central part of the Christmas season. If we compare our levels of importance to the ripples created by a stone thrown in the water, Christ should be at the center and the first circle should be our family. The problem is that these two central pieces of Christ and family often take a back seat to so many other things that press in on us during this time of year.

Sometimes we recognize the things that disrupt the season, yet do very little to change. Other times we don’t even recognize how we allow the “outer rings” to supersede what is most important during this season. That is true of just about any season. I have noticed a few things that seem to be consistent for everyone. Here are three of those that commonly disrupt our Christmas season and cause us to push the important to the back of the line.

During the Christmas season, we hear words used like “hustle and bustle”. There may not be a busier season. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is more traveling, more shopping, and more parties than during any other season. As I write this, I am on day two of five straight nights with a seasonal obligation. The busyness of the season and the attempt to get everything in causes us to lose sight of what is most important. Slowing down during Christmas will not happen by accident. You must guard your time because there is always someone standing close by wanting you to do one more thing.

Cultural Trends
What is everyone else doing? Whether we like it or not, culture puts pressure on us to conform. It pressures how we decorate, how we celebrate, and what we focus on. There is pressure to be more inclusive and talk about Jesus a little less. Some of our employers want us to say “holidays” instead of “Christmas”. We are pressed to be politically correct so we leave out the things that make Christmas what it is. We feel like our children will miss out if there is not a visit to see Santa or the elf does not come to visit. How damaged will our kids be if they do not have every experience that everyone else has? Cultural pressure has never been higher than it is today because we have access to everyone and what they are doing. Do not allow cultural trends to push out the vital elements of Christmas.

Black Friday used to be a one-day event but now it starts on Wednesday and it’s not clear when it actually ends. We now have “Cyber Monday” and “Giving Tuesday” which is turning into just as big of a commercial event as the other two. One of the most amazing things is that when we ask family and friends what they want for Christmas, no one knows what to say because we already have so much. But it does not slow us down from buying more. We spend money on gifts and parties and clothing for the parties. Our decorations get more elaborate every year. We go from one Christmas tree to three or four in every home. Businesses are constantly creating new things for us to spend our money on during this season. Then the credit card statements arrive in January and we have no idea what to do. The best advice would be not to fall prey to the trap of consumerism. Giving does not have to break us.

Don’t look back every January wishing you had made changes. It is still early in the season. Start making changes today. Keep Jesus Christ at the center of the season and allow your family to be the first circle. Cutting some of the other things loose will be painful at first, but rewarding in the end because there will be less regret and better memories. Don’t miss what is most important this Christmas.

Laziness Creates Unnecessary Drama

Have you ever met someone who seemed to have unnecessary drama in their life? There is always something wrong. They feel like everyone has opportunities except them. It is not that some people have trouble while other people experience no trouble. The truth is we all have trouble. As long as we live we will experience a certain amount of difficulty and pain, but some people experience it unnecessarily. 

I recently read this verse in Proverbs that says, “A lazy person’s way is blocked with briers, but the path of the upright is an open highway.” ‭‭(Proverbs‬ ‭15:19‬ ‭NLT) I know some folks who would interpret this to say that God blesses those who live right. I do not disagree with that, but I am not sure that is the intent of this verse. What I see is the distinction between laziness and godly living.

Laziness is frowned upon throughout the Bible. I am not talking about rest, I am talking about laziness. There are many ways to define laziness, but in general, it is the unwillingness to do what needs to be done; not willing to use energy to work, idleness. The godly are diligent. They do what needs to be done even when it is not convenient. 

The reason the path of the upright is clear is that they are diligent to get up every day and clear briers. They do the things that need to be done. Then, when they need to move, their path is clear and they do not experience the resistance that other people do. On the other hand, the lazy do nothing until there is a requirement to move and then they entrapped with briers and complain because they can never get ahead.

Many of the troubles that we have in this life are of our own creation. They are things that we could have taken care of but instead we were lazy and now they are causing us problems. One of the traits of the upright is diligence. Live a diligent life. It will keep you from a lot of drama. 

Church When I Travel

On a recent trip, I was able to visit a church I had never been to before. It is rare that I do not attend a local church when I’m away from my own church on a Sunday. I made a post about my visit to this church and shortly afterward received two texts. The first was from a pastor friend and the other was from someone who attends the church I pastor. Both had a very similar question. “Why do you go to church when you are away?” There were a couple of things that immediately came to mind, but I gave it a little more thought before I responded. It is not the first time I have been asked that question, so I thought I would share with you a few of the reasons why I attend church when I travel.

It Renews Me
Sundays typically require me to be on my A-game from the moment I enter the building until the time I leave; conversations, needs, service order, sermons, meeting new people, etc. I am constantly pouring out. When I attend a different church while traveling there are no expectations of me. I don’t know when a volunteer didn’t show up. I have no idea the technical glitches they have had to work through that morning. No one comes to me with a complaint. I walk in and get to enjoy everything. I get to sing without worrying about how the sermon transition is going to work. I get to meet new people without needing to work to remember names. I find it very renewing when I visit. I experience spiritual encouragement that is hard to find when your vocation requires you to be aware of so many other things.

I Want To Learn
I read about church a lot. I listen to podcasts. I am constantly seeking how people and churches are doing things better. One of the best learning tools is to see those things in action. Every church does things differently and usually for a reason. Occasionally I will see an idea that I think will work well where I serve. I will bring it back to staff and church leaders to discuss. Sometimes it is exactly what we have been missing. Being a lifetime learner requires you to be in environments where you can learn.

I Should Set The Example
I have always been frustrated when people only attend church when they have something to do. If the only time I attend church is when I am preaching or have a job to do, what does that say to everyone else? I want people to gather to worship regularly, whether they have an assignment or obligation or not. Gathering with other believers is important in our faith walk and being an example for others is important.

My Family Matters
It is not uncommon for Barbara and me to be traveling with family members. The last trip we took was to see our son. It is important to us for our family to be in church. Attending church with our family is just a way for us to reinforce that. It shows them how important we believe it is. There are few things in this world that have had as positive an impact on our lives than the local church. We want our family to have the same experience that we have had.

Attending church is not the answer to every problem. However, the local fellowship of believers is the framework that Christ intended us to use to impact the world. Every chance I get I want to be in one. If you do not attend a local church, I encourage you to join me in bringing hope to the world.

3 Times More Is Not Better

“More” is a word often associated with success. More money. More influence. More assets. More power. More friends. The struggle with using “more” as the measure is that it is rarely satisfying and never seems to be enough. We get more and still want more. Our driving desire becomes having more of what we already have. There are phrases and quotes built around “too much of a good thing”. It is the understanding that more is not always better. Sometimes it can even be bad.

It is not just having too many bad things that are dangerous. Cake is good, but too much of it is bad. That case can be made for almost everything. Too much of most things can be detrimental at some point. When things are bad it is easy to see the dangers of more. But when the thing that you want more of is not harmful or possibly even good, we struggle to see where it might bring harm. I personally value hard work. But too much hard work can have many implications, some good and some bad. So what are some places where more is not always better? Here are three times when more can have devastating effects.

When It Harms What Is Most Important
Have you ever given much thought as to what are the most important things in your life? Too often we have taken little time to prioritize what’s important only to arrive at the end of life and realize we had our priorities wrong. As I have heard said many times, there is nothing more disappointing than to climb the ladder of success only to realize you had it leaning against the wrong building. At the end of life, there are three things that usually appear at the top of people’s most important lists – health, family, and faith. One of the wisest moves we can make is to determine as early as possible the most important things in our lives and then guard them. As I mentioned earlier, I value hard work. The danger of too much hard work is that it can harm the very things we say are most important. Too much work can take a toll on our health and the time away can affect our family. I have seen too many people achieve success in their career only to leave their health and family in shambles with no way to recover either one. If more will harm what is most important in your life, learn to settle for less.

When It Distracts From What Is Most Important
There has never been a time in history when we have had more distractions surrounding us. Most of us carry a distraction factory around in our pocket; also known as your smartphone. Everything is designed to grab our attention and keep it as long as possible. Metrics are available for every app and website which reports to developers and businesses when you visited and how long you stayed. New distractions are being developed every day. More is coming, not less. Many people feel like they have to at least try to keep up so they take on more and more distractions in their life while the things that are most important suffer. We come home to our family because they are important only to be distracted by something less important or of no importance at all. We believe we have a calling or a mission but we cannot move in the right direction long enough because we are distracted. More relationships frequently distract us from important relationships. More opportunities can distract us from seeing the right opportunity. More is not always better. Sometimes more is just a distraction keeping us from what is most important.

When It Keeps Us From What Is Most Important
Each year our church hosts a leadership simulcast for leaders in our region. This is an important event for me. This year, on the same day as the simulcast, one of our local elementary schools held their annual event inviting men in the community to have breakfast with a boy in the school. I have a grandson at this school and wanted to be with him as well. I wanted to do both. Both were good; the struggle was timing. The breakfast started at 8 AM and would probably last a little past 9 AM. The simulcast started at 9 AM but there was a 15-minute drive between the two. I was determined I could do both by leaving early from the breakfast to get to the simulcast (which I was hosting) close to 9 AM. I stayed at breakfast as long as I could and left to go to the leadership event. I left my grandson alone in the cafeteria while the program continued. Because of the last-minute timing, I had to get someone to open the event for me. I missed the ending of one event and the beginning of the other because I was determined to get more in than my schedule would allow. After it was over and I had time to reflect, I wish I had prioritized a little better and scheduled someone to open the simulcast for me; simply planning to arrive late. That is what happened anyway. Then I could have stayed at the school the entire time. It was one of those times when more kept me from doing either event well. More kept me from what was most important.

Culture tells us to chase more. The problem is that when more becomes our goal, the only thing that comes next is more. It becomes a perpetual state of chasing and not appreciating or enjoying our current status. When we understand that more is often crowding out important it will help us prioritize our life. More is fine provided it does not hinder the priorities you have set for you and your family.

5 Things I Am Enjoying Currently

There are times that I want to share things that I am currently enjoying. I realize that not
everyone will like the same things I do, but it might trigger you to appreciate some things in your
own life or to try something new though one of these things would be off-limits for you :). Here
they are.

Chris Stapleton
I like big voices that can hit their notes. I had heard one of Chris Stapleton’s songs a few years back, and it caught my attention. Recently I went to one of his concerts. He sang a song, said thank you, then it went dark while he changed guitars, then he sang another song. Rinse and repeat. This concert was one of the best singing performances I have ever heard.

The Enneagram has been around for centuries and has been very popular in the last few years. I recently read a book by Ian Morgan Cron called “The Road Back To You.” It has been beneficial for personal insight but also in how I should relate to other personality types. I have a lot to learn, but the book is helpful.

I chose to preach from the writings of John this year, including the Gospel of John, the three letters of John and Revelation, where I currently am. It has never been my favorite book of the Bible, and I have never preached a series from the book, but I am now in week 7 of the series and thoroughly enjoying preaching from it. It is all there for a purpose.

Limited News
I recently took all of the 24 hours news channel apps off of my phone. I no longer have cable TV, and I now stream everything. I consume very little news. My world does not look like the one they try to portray on those news channels. If something big happens, I know about it. Otherwise, I miss most of their attempts to force me into their ideology.

My Wife
We are in a good season right now. While it is not without conflict from time to time, it is good. There is nothing perfect, but there are some places I know that have grown. I enjoy just being together, and I miss her when we are not. This is the one thing that you can’t try.

I would love to hear some things you are enjoying in this season of your life. When we learn to appreciate things more, we will complain less. Let me hear from you.

3 Types of Suffering

When we read the Bible we find people who are suffering. For example, Jesus acknowledges the suffering of the people at Smyrna. For most people in the United States, we use the word suffering to mean unpleasantness and pain, or possibly harm or the threat of harm. Suffering is very subjective. What we call suffering may very well be relief or even pleasure for people in other parts of the world. Things others have learned to live with could be unbearable for us.

The question I want to address today is, “what is the source of suffering?” We are quick to look externally at someone or something being the cause of any difficulty we have. Though not all suffering is equal, the way the word is used for the majority of people reading this article, the causes are very similar. It is my observation that our pain and suffering usually fall into one of three categories.

Self Inflicted
This may be the most common cause of all of our pain and struggle. As I have heard said before, if I kicked the person in the rear that caused me the most problems, I would not be able to sit down for a week. Much of the trouble we find in our lives is a direct result of the choices we make. When we choose to get into debt we cannot handle, we can experience some pain. When we make poor health choices and reap the results of those choices, we can suffer from them. We find the same in relationship choices. Many of the life choices we make have the ability to cause us pain. Much of what we call suffering is self-inflicted. Self-discipline can go a long way to eliminating much of this type of suffering.

Inflicted By Others
Even in what we consider to be a First World country there are still opportunities for others to inflict pain on us. This may come in the form of a crime where we have been harmed by someone else. Other times it may not involve something illegal. It could be an employer that is creating havoc in our life. It may be a relationship we are in where the other party is abusive. There might be laws that make our life more difficult than necessary. Human trafficking is a real problem in America which creates pain for others. Again, what we consider oppression from others may not compare to what people in other parts of the world may experience, but we do have pain inflicted by others in our own lives. Knowing the difference between self-inflicted pain and pain brought by others will give us a better solution. Sometimes simply removing ourselves from the situation will change the pain we are experiencing.

No Control
There are some things that are completely out of our control. There is nothing we could have done to prevent them and we may be limited in what we can do to correct them. Many illnesses would fall into this category. Natural disasters would be something else that we have no control over. The death of a person that is extremely important to our development, such as losing a parent at a young age. These things come into our lives and many times bring great pain and suffering, even devastation. We cannot change these things and we usually cannot avoid them. They are out of our control. The only choice we have is how we’ll respond to the situation. This is critical. Most of us have seen people working through the same issues but their response to those situations is completely different. The attitude does not always change the outcome, but it will always change the outlook.

Pain, difficulty, harm, threats, and suffering will come to all of us. One of the best ways to determine how to respond is to know the source of the trouble. Once we know that, making necessary corrections will be easier and more effective.

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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.