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What Does it Mean to Have a Family Christmas?

Christmas is only a few days away and one of the most important aspects of Christmas is family. For many families it is one of the few, if not the only, time that families get together during a year. Often, people may describe their favorite part of Christmas as having a “family Christmas”. But what does that mean? What is so exciting about a “family Christmas”?

I think there are some elements that make some gatherings at Christmas special. Sometimes it is because we are with people that are actually part of our family, while other times these elements are met when there is no family relationship. There are just a few things that make gatherings special to most people.

People You Love

One of the things that make any type of gathering special is being around people that we love. Many of our family relationships are people that we have loved since birth. When we love people we overlook many shortcomings and never have to say other things. There is a certain level of comfort being around those that we love. Loving others is not something that happens by accident. Love is a choice. It is something that we do, not just something that we feel. Being around people we love is being around the people to whom we intentionally choose to give our best.

People Who Love You

It is one thing to love people, but we also need people to love us. We need people that overlook our flaws and know how we feel even when nothing is said. We need those people that have chosen to be a part of our life as well. People who have seen us at our worst and still believe the best about us. Sometimes the stress of Christmas makes the people that love us even more important.

Making Memories

Some of our fondest memories are centered around Christmas, family and friends. Some of those memories were made intentionally because of a specific gift we received or an activity we did with others. It could be games we played, places we went or things we did with those we love and those that love us. Other memories are made spontaneously in conversations  and gatherings we participate in. Memories made with the loves of our lives are held dearly and deeply.

A “family Christmas” is not necessarily filled with relatives. Family consists of those that we love and those that love us. A real family Christmas is made up of memories with the most important people in our lives. I can tell you from experience that some of my most memorable Christmas memories include people I wasn’t related to as well as those I call relatives. Make sure that you are being intentional this Christmas season that you are spending it with those you love and those that love you. Don’t allow the season to pass without making memories with those people. If you spend these days making memories with the ones you love, it sure will will be a family Christmas.

Great Ideas For Your Spiritual Life in 2018

One of the most common resolutions people make as a new year arrives is for spiritual growth. Making steps forward in our spiritual growth is something that benefits us all. However, growth requires us to be intentional. Growing in any way requires execution of a plan carried out consistently over a period of time. It also requires identifying some specific ways to grow in the area we’ve identified.

Spiritual growth is no exception to this process. You must identify some ways that will assist you in your growth and then be intentional about doing them. There are an abundance ways and resources to assist you in this process. As you prepare for the new year, maybe you can implement some of these ideas to help you achieve the spiritual growth and enrichment that you desire.

Bible Reading Plan

Technology has made Bible reading as simple as it could possibly be. There are several apps such as YouVersion that have thousands of Bible reading plans available. Some of them take you through the entire Bible while others focus on one specific topic or need. You may have a specific area of your spiritual life that needs attention. You can find a reading plan suited for that specific need. You can get reminders every day built right into a device that you are already using. Plans can be as simple as a verse a day or multiple chapters everyday. Even if you are not a person given to technology, there are lots of reading plans that you can print out and use with a traditional printed Bible. Bible reading will advance your spiritual growth like few other things will.

Prayer LIst

I spent several days at a cave monastery in Moldova last Summer. In one of my conversations with the monk, I was inquiring about a list he was keeping. It was a prayer list that he kept and when people asked for prayer, he added them to it with a date and he would pray for them for 40 days. This prompted me to start a similar practice when I returned home. I actually made several prayer lists. I have a list of people and groups, such as the church or my business, that are important to me and I pray for them everyday. One of the other goals I have in my life right now is to be debt free, so I have a list of debt that I pray over every day. Then I have another list of people who have asked me to pray for them. I add people to that list with a date and I pray for them everyday for 30 days. All of these are part of my daily routine. These lists help me focus when it is time to pray.

Spiritual Community

Every pastor wants you to attend church every Sunday and I am no different. I believe there is value in spending time with other believers in corporate worship. We find encouragement and inspiration that we may not find anywhere else while at the same time become that same encouragement and inspiration for others. But church is not the only important spiritual environment. At our church we have Life Groups that meet together each week and offer a more intimate spiritual community. These communities allow us to grow and care for one another’s needs. Other churches may do Sunday School or offer other smaller environments, but these groups allow us to have more connected relationships that create accountability, care and discipleship. Gathering with other people on the same journey as you is vital to your spiritual growth.

One New Thing

Try something new. New helps us expand our horizons. It challenges us to stretch and gives us room to grow. It may be doing one of the things I have already shared. It might be reading a book on a spiritual topic that is outside your comfort zone such as spiritual gifts, healing or fasting. It might be attending a conference or a convention of some type. I grew up around a gathering we called “Camp Meeting” which was a regional or statewide style revival. I still try to attend one every year. It might be sharing your faith publicly, either speaking or writing a blog or sharing something God has done for you on social media. It may be as simple as inviting your neighbor to join you at church. Get out of your box and stretch yourself. Try something new this year. It may accelerate your spiritual growth like never before.

Make It A Part Of Your To-Do List

I use a task list everyday. Recently, the one of choice is Wunderlist. There are tasks that I complete every single day. I check them off, but the following morning they appear again. Bible reading and prayer are a part of that list. It is something that is important to me and I want to make sure they are a part of every day. Many of you are already using some type of checklist to make sure you get things done. Don’t leave off the most important things. Make them a part of the things you do everyday and then they will become habit.

I want to grow with you this year. Maybe you have some other suggestions of ways we can grow together. If you do, make sure you share them in the comments below and let’s make sure we make the spiritual progress we desire in 2018.

10 Fun Questions That Will Make Your Christmas Gathering Better

I wonder if the original definition of Christmas didn’t mean “gathering” because it seems like we do a lot of gathering at Christmastime. We have office parties and family meals, church functions and social club obligations. Many of our nights are filled with people as we close in on Christmas. Unfortunately, those gatherings tend to simply become an item we check off of our list instead of being a time of intention to engage those around us.

Sometimes it is because we are so busy during this season that we just hurry in and hurry out. We give little thought to how it could be better or how we could engage with one another. These environments can be extremely awkward for many different reasons. If they are our co-workers, suddenly we are interacting with them in a social setting and their spouse is often someone we don’t know well. We are used to worshipping with people that we go to church with, but often have no other interaction with them. Even gathering with our extended family can seem tenuous when it is the only time we see each other all year.

I find questions are great engagement starters and can lead to great conversation. Politics is usually a hot button that we should avoid, but many other things are great for conversation. This is true in almost any setting, from a date night to a social event. Here are ten questions when used in a one-on-one conversation, or in a group, can help engage people in what can sometimes be an awkward environment.

  1. What has been your favorite gift ever received at Christmas?
  2. Where is one place you would love to visit at Christmas?
  3. What is your favorite childhood Christmas memory?
  4. If you could do anything with your life would it be different than what you are doing now and what would it be?
  5. What is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you?
  6. What is one of your pet peeves?
  7. Where is your favorite vacation destination?
  8. What is your favorite quote or saying?
  9. Do you prefer music, podcasts or audiobooks when traveling? What do you listen to?
  10. What person has had the most influence on your life in the last 5 years?

 

You may already have a list of questions that you work from in settings like these. As you have read, you may have thought of some to add to the list. Please share them in the comments below. Either way, use these opportunities to engage with other people and not just as a task to be done. Christmas gatherings will be much more enjoyable when you do.

Questions to ask as the year ends

I love the end of the year. Not only is it one of the most festive times of the year, it is also a time when I reflect over the previous months and prepare for the coming year. It is very difficult to make adjustments in direction if you don’t know where you have been. Being realistic about what has taken place will help you in your evaluation.

One of the hurdles to doing this is knowing where to begin. Sometimes looking back over 12 months can be overwhelming and so we just don’t. Asking some specific questions can help eliminate some the clutter in your mind and help you focus on the things that are most important. These questions will bring clarity to the year ahead and help you identify places where changes are needed.

Where did I spend the most time?

This is a key indicator of what is important to you, or at least what consumes that majority of your efforts. This may be a career or the responsibility of parenting, but there are usually only a few top competitors for your time. There are probably a few things overlooked when thinking about how you spend your time as well. Things like social media and television often take up way more time than you realize. Participation in hobbies or service organizations can also rank high on the list. Identifying where you are spending your time will often provide insight as to what things need changing and how to better prioritize your time. You might be surprised by what is actually getting your attention.

Where did I spend the most money?

This is a simple thing to check. You may already be using some type of personal financial tool like Mint or Quicken, that will quickly tell you how you spend your money. If not, a few minutes scanning through bank or credit card statements will let you know where your resources are going. If there are a lot of ATM withdrawals, it might be a sign that money is being wasted. If where you are spending money is not something you look at regularly, you may notice that there are significant resources being used in places you don’t consider important. Small changes to your financial practices can yield large long-term results and significant short-term improvements for the coming year.

Where did I have the most impact?

This question is a little more subjective than the others. The frustrating thing with impact is that typically the influence you have had will only show up later. This may be an impact on your children or immediate family. It could be your career or an organization where you serve. It might be in your community or for a team you coach. All of us are having some type of impact. Sometimes it is positive and sometimes it is negative. None of us, however, are neutral. We are moving the needle one way or the other. When you realize where you are making the most impact, it might help you identify where you should be spending more of your time and resources.

How is my health?

Neglecting to spend time and resources to take care of your health can be deadly. Some of the more important health factors to consider when you reflect include your weight, blood pressure and stress levels. Exercise duration and intensity as well as taking time to rest play an important role too. You may be struggling with your health because some of the other areas such as time and money are not being allocated properly. Poor health can limit the time you can commit to your priorities and can also cause you to spend money unnecessarily. Knowing where you are with your health will help you set goals to improve it.

How is my family life?

Nothing creates more stress than trouble in your immediate family. I see this most often in marriages, but there can also be stress in taking care of aging parents or just being parents. Is trust strong in these relationships? Is there open and honest communication? Are you spending quality time together? Your family life has influence on all of these other topics of reflections – your time, money, impact and health.  A strong family life is a key indicator that you are probably doing well in these other areas.

How is my spiritual life?

If you are not a person of faith, this may not interest you. If you are a person who claims faith, spiritual life should be important to you. It should be an area that gets time, money and influence. You should be growing spiritually by spending time with others of like faith, studying your Bible and praying. When your time is taken by too many other things, your spiritual life can suffer. Deficiencies in this area can often have an affect on all your other relationships. Taking a spiritual inventory should be part of every year-end review and included in plans for the coming year.

Maybe you have other questions you think are important. Whatever questions you use, the process of reflecting and reviewing will give you great insight on how you can make the coming year better.

It’s OK to Change Your Mind

There is a flaw in culture that ridicules people who change their mind. We have names for them.  If they are a politician, we call them a flip-flopper. We say those people have no standards or no backbone. We accuse them of being weak or soft. We label them as terrible leaders or bandwagon fans. But what is the problem with someone changing their mind?

One of the struggles most people have is that they hate change. We like things to be consistent, even if it is not the best option. When it comes to changing our mind, we are usually more concerned about what other people will think than we are about whether we are right or wrong. Because culture puts so much pressure on us to be right and often disdains people who change their mind, we sometimes relegate ourselves to a position with which we are uncomfortable simply to avoid the uncomfortableness of the pressure and disdain.

I want to challenge you to get past what others think and be willing to change your mind. As a matter of fact, there are some times when you really need to change your mind. There are times it is necessary for us to be willing to change our thought process or position. Here are three times when we should be

Sometimes You Are Wrong

Believe it or not, there are times when you are wrong. We all want to believe we are always right, but that is not always the case. There are times we are wrong and we have to be willing to admit we are wrong and move on. Admitting you are wrong and then changing your position are two of the hardest things people attempt to do. It takes a toll on your pride. There is nothing worse than to see someone who is clearly wrong dig into their position even deeper, defending something that is indefensible. People already know you are wrong even if you won’t admit it. Admitting it and changing your mind relieves a lot of tension in your life.

Sometimes Things Change

Sometimes you were right but circumstances changed and now you are on the wrong side of the discussion. Things are constantly changing all around us. Many of us lived through what has been called the Great Recession. Some of the positions and decisions made prior to 2007 would not be the right or wise choices post 2007. Things changed. Things will continue to change in the world and in our lives. When circumstances change, we often need to re-evaluate our previous choices and decisions; we may need a new approach.

Sometimes It Doesn’t Matter

Some things just don’t matter enough to hold out for your own will or get your way. Some things are so trivial that we would be better off to just go with the flow instead of digging in on our own viewpoint. You may have wanted to eat at a particular restaurant or go to a particular movie, but sometimes for the cohesiveness of a relationship or group, you are better served to just change your mind and go along with everyone else. Some things just don’t matter and it’s OK to change your mind for the benefit of others. Everything is not life or death. If you have control issues, you probably have never changed your mind anyway.

What do you need to change your mind about right now? Maybe you should take a few minutes to examine some places where changing your mind would make your life easier and even better. It’s OK to change your mind. Sometimes you need to.

Preparing your family for Christmas

Thanksgiving is behind us now and the Christmas season is upon us. If your house is like mine, the Christmas decorations have already been up for a few days. Things seem to speed up this time of year. We find ourselves looking behind us at a holiday that has passed instead of looking forward to the excitement of a holiday to come.

We spend a lot of time reacting to everything going on around us at Christmas instead of taking time to prepare for a better, more memorable holiday. There are a lot of things that influence what the season will look like. Some of those things we have no control over such as extended family schedules and plans. However, many of those things you do have some control over. With some conversations on the front side, the more memorable and enjoyable your Christmas season will be.

Quality Time

This sounds so cliche. Everyone wants quality time. But when there is a family gathering, making the most of the time together is even more important. As families grow and children and grandchildren move away, there is so much we want to condense in a small amount of time. Letting everyone know that you want to make sure the time together is well spent is important. You can even make some plans to improve the time spent together. You may decide to have an electronic-free time or possibly create some type of game for everyone to play. Being intentional with the time you have together will improve the experience and create stronger memories than racing through the day.

Reasonable Expectations

Christmas often turns into a time of disappointment because we allow our expectations to get out of line. Sometimes we expect family to spend more time with us than they do with extended family or in-laws. These expectations are even more compounded for blended families. Having reasonable expectations makes Christmas a much more pleasant experience. One of the other places where expectations should be metered is with gifts. There can be tensions both with spending too much or not wanting to be generous. Many families overextend themselves at Christmas and even get into debt to buy gifts. This is unnecessary and can cause the season to be way more stressful than it should. Bigger gifts rarely make Christmas memorable. Stress may create unpleasant memories. Why not make sure everyone has reasonable expectations for time and money.

True Reason

Christmas is about Christ and love. One of the most important things we can do is spend some time reflecting on the true reason for the season. This may include telling one another something they did that made them feel loved, reading the Christmas story or just taking turns telling what Christmas means to each person. It is so easy to rush through this season and not take the time as a family to emphasize why we celebrate.

Christmas can be a fun time of year. It can be even better if we take the time to be intentional about just a few things. Have some conversations before Christmas, and when it gets here, it will be even better.

Thanksgiving challenges

Thanksgiving is approaching and many people will be participating in traditions that their family has observed for years. Thanksgiving was initiated to remind us to reflect and offer thanks for the many good things we have been given in our life.

Though every family has different traditions, here are some challenges that also come along with the holiday. Some of them we have control over while others we just have to manage. Some people look forward to that day or weekend while others face it with dread. Some people manage the challenges of the day while it is overwhelming for others. Here are a few of the challenges most of us deal with every time this season rolls around.

Food

Turkey coma. That is all that needs to be said. Many of our traditions include some of our favorite foods that we may not get to eat on a regular basis. We eat…and eat…and eat some more. Eating is necessary. Managing what we eat and how much we eat is where the challenge lies. That one day can throw us off our routine so much that we spend several weeks trying to get back on track. Food is a central part of Thanksgiving, but make sure it doesn’t take over. We can all learn how to enjoy it without overindulging.

Family

For most people, getting together with family is something that they look forward to. For others there are challenges with family that create anxiety when time together approaches. Even in the best families, having everyone together for an extended period of time can create tensions that have to be managed. Family should be something we enjoy but it is critical to understand that everyone has different personalities in the room and there are probably new people in the room, such as spouses and children, who also have influence on relationships. If we are aware of the challenges of these dynamics, it will help us better navigate any difficulties that may arise.

Time

Time flies. We have all said it and experienced it. We never seem to have the time we want when it comes to the holidays. The bigger the family gets the more those time challenges impose themselves. When we marry there is a new family that needs our time. When we have children, they often have schedules that need to be worked around. Often we spend what time we have rushing from home to home or town to town to try to accommodate as many people as we can. The danger is that no one gets quality; only a quick hello in passing. Being aware of the time challenges that holidays can bring can help us plan better so that our time is used well.

We probably can’t erase the challenges of a holiday, but being aware of them will help us navigate the holidays better and make them more memorable and less stressful. Enjoy your Thanksgiving by being aware and intentional.

What it means to steward

What does it mean to be a steward?  Often we think of stewards or stewardship as it relates to money, but the word steward applies to many different things. As a matter of fact, it may apply to almost anything. Steward, in its most basic form, means to manage or tend to something. For example, on a cruise ship, the people who care for your cabin are called cabin stewards. Your room has been placed in their care and it is their responsibility to look after it.

 

We appreciate when others steward things for us, but we probably don’t think as much about what we should be stewarding ourselves. Each of us is a steward of the things we have been fortunate enough to have in our lives. It is not just money or possessions. We have been given so much more. I think all of us could spend a little time evaluating our stewardship. I think there are four good questions that will help us evaluate where we are and how we could improve.

What have I had?

No matter who you are, all of us have had things. One of the first questions we should ask ourselves is what have we been given or what have we had. What did my family environment look like growing up or in years past? What did you gain from that family unit? What education was I given and what have I learned? What jobs have I held and how did they benefit or hurt me? What have my past relationships looked like? What of those have been beneficial and which ones were harmful? What talents and gifts were given to me? What things have people invested into my life? What opportunities have I had in my past? All of us have had many things in our live over the years. We rarely take time to inventory them, but knowing what we have had may give us some insight into why we are where we are and teach us some things going forward.

What have I done with what I have had?

Once you have that list, think about what you did with what you had. Did those relationships flourish? Did you excel in school or just get by? Did you work diligently at the jobs you were given or did you just show up? What do I have to show for what I have been given? Are there some things I could have done differently? Have I learned any lessons with the things I have been given? What we have done with what we have been given is an indicator of what we might do in the future. If we are not aware of poor choices behind us, it will be difficult for us to make good choices ahead of us. This exercise can be painful, but it will also be beneficial.

What do I have?

It is not enough to evaluate what is behind you. We appreciate when others steward things for us, but we probably don’t think as much about what we should be stewarding ourselves. The next stewardship question you want to ask is “what do I have?”. This will include assets or money, but it is certainly not limited to that. Maybe you have an opportunity in front of you. What does your family unit look like today? For example, my family unit looks completely different than it did 20 years ago. I have a blended family (lessons should have been learned) with three grandchildren. These are all things I need to steward. I have a career and influence that I need to steward. I have relationships that need my attention. As I take an inventory of what I have, I can clearly understand there is great responsibility. This is a great place to spend a little time be thankful as well.

This is where stewardship gets put into action. Maybe you have previously struggled in an area. What are you going to do moving forward? If your stewardship needs to improve, there are some other questions you can ask yourself. Who can assist me? There are people who have expertise in an area you are struggling with and they can help guide you in stewarding what you have going forward. This can be anyone from a financial advisor to a marriage counselor. What do I need to know? All of us need to be learning and growing, but you may need to know something specific. There may be a book or an online class that would solve the very thing you need to know right now to help you manage what you have been given. Being a good steward means knowing what we are going to do with what we have.

Some of us are better stewards in one area of life than another. We can all improve somewhere and asking these questions of ourselves will greatly improve our stewardship. Don’t get discouraged. Be determined to improve and change. Everything around us will improve as we improve our ability to steward.

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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.