Popular culture pictures the Christmas season as a Hallmark movie. We could call it “The Hallmark Effect.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there's anything wrong with a Hallmark movie. Just don’t confuse it with real life. In these kinds of movies, you have picturesque small towns, cozy coffee shops, attractive people, beautiful clothes, great coffee, tastefully decorated homes, tasteful coffee, and it always ending with the high of finding or restoring a loving relationship. There is also lots of coffee if you didn’t already get that.

For many, the holidays bring on a different kind of challenge. I for one love the holidays. Since I serve in a support role to churches, the end of the year is a time when I can slow down. This time of year, the churches, and pastors I serve are very busy with their Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. Karen (my wife) and I have saved up all year for gifts and we enjoy shopping together and being able to spend money without debt. We spend time with family, give gifts, and enjoy fun and good food.

Not everyone has this experience. For many, the holidays are times of sadness and regret. I know families who lost a loved one in death. It is a challenge for them to enjoy this time of year. I know others who, because of addiction, dread this time of year due to the social triggers it brings. Others have gone through separation in their families due to disruptive events. Parents and children of divorce find this time extremely challenging. It hurts no matter who is to blame or if no one is to blame.

With the above in mind, I offer just five suggestions for those who struggle with their mental health during the holidays.

1. Keep realistic expectations during the holidays.

I already talked about the Hallmark effect. These movies and the ones like them aren’t real life. The worst thing that happens in these movies is that someone got regular milk in their latte’ instead of soy. When arguments take place, they are resolved quickly and harmony is restored.

Stay grounded. Sure, we all have holiday expectations. We want it to be perfect. But it is not going to be perfect because nobody around us is perfect, including ourselves. During these times, some people are nice, but many people are stressed. Thanksgiving and Christmas are opportunities for us to put our best foot forward, but you also must keep in mind that human nature is not suspended during this time of year.

Be optimistic, but don’t let your optimism go so far that you become disappointed when all your hopes and dreams don’t materialize. Have expectations but keep them in check.

2. Talk about your losses.

If you have not thoroughly processed the losses you have experienced, confide in a person who will be able to empathize with you. I didn’t say sympathize but empathize. What you need is a person who can understand what you are experiencing not someone who will just feel sorry for you.

Finding a recovery group during this time of year may be the best gift you give to yourself. Some years ago, my wife and I experienced a trauma in our lives we couldn't process by ourselves. Someone we trusted strongly recommended we at least try a support group. I’m so glad we did. It was hard at first but sharing our feelings and fears with others who endured similar trauma activated real healing power. Often, we tell ourselves that “no one understands” or that “nobody will care”. Don’t you believe it. There are people like you, yes, just like you who want to hear your story. You need to hear their story as well.

3. Don’t go over your limits and avoid your triggers.

The celebrations this time of year seem to all have at least one thing in common: Too much of a good thing. There is too much food, too much eating, too much drinking, too much spending, too much travelling, and too much preparation. Sure, we want this time of year to be special. I remember when I was a pastor, Karen and I one year were invited to 17 Christmas parties. It was our first year in our church and we decided that if we were invited, we would go. Not a good plan. We love being with our church and eating all the food but by the time Christmas came around I was looking more like Santa Clause than I wanted. You don’t have to go to a party just because you were invited. Make sure you get some rest, even from the fun stuff.

Like it or not, January is coming. You cannot live like the holidays will never end. As believers we can live like Christmas will never end, but not the holiday.

Don’t put yourself in situations where you know you will be vulnerable. If being around some people brings you down, minimize the time you must spend with them. Perhaps you can even control the environment and the amount of time you spend with them. If you must go to an event or a place where you can be triggered, tell someone you trust to help you by holding you accountable for your actions. If you can bring a safe person with you to that gathering, do so.

4. Make new memories and traditions.

We can reach a stage in our lives where the old traditions end pulling us down instead of lifting us up. They’ve stopped reminding us of things like gratitude and joy. It may be time to start some new traditions. Change the way you give gifts. Serve in a charity of some kind that would benefit others. Insert a new game or challenge in your holiday festivities. Let your imagination go wild. The best way to move past an old tradition is to replace it with a new one. The bottom line on all this is for us to remember the real meaning of Christmas. God’s fulfilled his promise to send a Savior to rescue us from our sin and redeem us so that we may be restored in our relationship with God.

5. Focus on connecting with others.

We are created for community. Isolation is not good for the soul and being alone during the holiday season is even worse. Try to connect. Call someone and meet them for coffee. Bring a little gift of appreciation for their friendship.

Place yourself in situations that allow for invitations to social events. Hang out with different people than you usually do. Even if it’s just for a little while. The Bibles states it this way: “A man who has friends must himself be friendly….” (Proverbs 18:24, NKJV)

Volunteer to serve others. I mentioned this earlier, but it is still good for connecting with others. There is a natural and long-lasting connection that happens between people who are working toward something greater than themselves. When you volunteer to do good to someone else you are investing in their lives. But even more important you are living out the Christian life. You will be blessed by blessing others in ways not imagined. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35b, NKJV) So, serve in a toy drive, a food distribution, or a holiday meal for the needy. Look around you at the needs of others, perhaps you will be inspired to start something that will meet a need not yet addressed. Your life and your heart will grow in the process.

I pray the best for you this Christmas season. Thank you for allowing me to serve you. Merry Christmas and I truly desire for you to have a happy New Year.

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In Christian leadership there is never a place where one should say, “I’ve arrived.” Leadership is a continual challenge to grow. If you are a leader, you should find ways to keep growing. If you’re not growing, you won’t be leading for long.

The biblical character Joshua is a great example of an effective leader. Below I give you eight ways to grow as a leader with reflections on this biblical character.

1. Leaders accept that they must be regularly challenged.

At the beginning of a leader’s experience, most of the challenges come from outside of the leader. These new leaders are inexperienced and often uninformed. There is nothing wrong with being uninformed and unskilled. However, if a leader stays this way, that is a problem. We must all begin somewhere so, early in a leader’s life; the challenges are more external. But something happens along the way, as a leader grows, he or she will become knowledgeable and competent in their area of focus. This can be both good and bad. I know from experience. A leader, because of their competence and knowledge has the temptation to rely more on this than on seeking God for guidance. As a novice, they relied on the leading of the Spirit of God, Scripture, and the advice of wise counsel. As they grew, they began to trust more in their own counsel and a shift was made, however subtle, to human-centered wisdom instead of God-sought wisdom.

Joshua as a leader learned the price of this kind of thinking. Perhaps you remember the battle at Ai. It was perhaps the greatest failure of Joshua as a leader, and it came on the heels of his great first victory as a leader. You can find it here in Joshua 8:1-12. He did what seemed like the best course of action to fulfill the mandate from the Lord to conquer the Promised Land. However, he made a shift from seeking the Lord first and went with his own counsel. 36 of his men died that day. 36 families lost fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers. It didn’t have to happen, but it did. Like Joshua, leaders need to be stretched spiritually, mentally, and relationally. Above all, stay humble before the Lord (James 4:10).

2. Leaders model self-leadership

In the hierarchy of leadership, the first level is the level of self-leadership. If you want to know all five levels of leadership, check out Mac Lake’s book “The Multiplication Effect” pages 66-69, Kindle version). Self-leadership is just what it sounds like. The ability to lead yourself. This is the leader who can teach on loving your neighbor because he is loving his neighbor. At this level, he is not perfect, but he knows himself and is working on being a good leader by leading himself well first.

Joshua was this kind of leader. When he called the Israelites to fight, he also went in the battle. When it was time for Moses to seek God’s direction on a matter, Joshua was right there with him. Joshua would spend extended time in the tabernacle even after Moses had left. “As all the people saw the pillar of cloud remaining at the entrance to the tent, they would stand up, then bow in worship, each one at the door of his tent. The Lord would speak with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend, then Moses would return to the camp. His assistant, the young man Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the inside of the tent.” (Exodus 33:10–11, CSB) Joshua obeyed Moses and the Lord, so his people will be moved to obey him.

3. Leaders must be good communicators

A leader needs to get his message across to his people, but his people also need to give feedback to the leader. Both, the sender and the receiver, need to be sending and receiving to make sure they are understood.

A huge part in good communication is influence. When the 12 spies returned from their reconnaissance mission into the Promised Land, there was a disagreement as to whether Israel should enter. Joshua was one of the voices for going ahead, but other voices revolted against him. At that time, his influence was not great enough to overcome the negative communication coming from the other spies. They didn’t listen to Joshua. Now this failure is not on Joshua, but his influence at that time was not what it became later when he led Israel into the Promised Land.

Good communicators must anticipate the tendencies of their hearers. They must speak to them and show a better way. As Joshua led, his influence grew, but he also became better at speaking to the fears of his people. What are the debilitating fears of your people? How can you best speak to them, so that they will obey the Lord? This is something effective leaders don’t shy away from.

4. Leaders develop others

Moses learned the value of developing leaders early on in his ministry of leading Israel out of Egypt. As you may remember it was Moses’ father-in-law who strongly suggested to him that he appoint leaders to take on some of the work as judge he was doing. Moses also knew that he would not be around forever, and Israel would need another leader after him. Joshua was Moses’ succession plan. More importantly, it was the Lord’s succession plan. This is spelled out in Deuteronomy 31:14.

When it came to Joshua developing other leaders, we just don’t see it. He had leaders, but they seem to be of his generation. But, in his defense, transitioning from conquering the Promised Land to settling it requires a different set of leadership skills. In the book of Judges, we find there is no one leader. The fragmentation into tribes happens and darker days for Israel lie ahead. Perhaps this division into the primacy of tribal leadership was necessary, but there was not intentional process for developing them. Throughout the book we hear of good leaders and poor leaders. We hear of foolish leaders and wise ones as well. Effective leaders develop others prepare the next generation for the challenges ahead.

5. Leaders manage conflict

I don’t like conflict. I will try to avoid conflict if reasonably possible. However, in my time as a pastor and denominational leader, I understand that often a leader must be proactive in addressing conflict. If the leader doesn’t, then it will grow. Conflict is inevitable and continual.

Joshua dealt with conflict in an even-handed way. Certainly, there was conflict in battle. Joshua saw it most of his life. In his task of distributing the land, Joshua had been given directives from Moses. He was able to fall back on this if there was a disagreement over land allotments. When disagreements came that were not in the directives from Moses, Joshua had to handle them with wisdom. He did this with the request of Zelophehad’s daughters (Joshua 17:3-5) and when the people of Joseph asked for more land (Joshua 17:14-18).

6. Leaders learn from others

You’ve probably read this: Leaders are readers. It is true. But leaders are not only readers. Leaders learn from other leaders in a variety of ways. One of the important things to remember in learning from other leaders is that you don’t have to agree with them to learn from them. I listened to the “Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcasts. I remember in the podcast Mark Driscoll stating that if another pastor didn’t have more people coming to his church than he did, that pastor couldn’t teach him anything. I have news for Driscoll, with that attitude, nobody could teach him anything. There is always something we can learn from another person. It may not always be a leadership skill, it may be more personal, like kindness and humility or recognizing each person as a special creation of God, not someone you can just get to follow you. Therefore leaders being in an accountable community is important. Joshua became the man he had a teachable spirit about him. He was able to learn from others.

7. Leaders utilize a leadership coach

A leadership coach is someone who knows and understands basic leadership principles, is on your side, asks the right questions, helps you to think through issues and challenges, lets you make all your own decisions, and helps you identify the steps you believe you need to take for a better tomorrow. A leadership coach will also help you to review how it is going and ask if there are any adjustments that need to be made. A leadership coach is confidential. How does all that sound?

Scripture says that Joshua went out and found a leadership coach. No, it doesn’t say that. I believe he had some coaches in Moses and Caleb, they just weren’t called that. Moses had a great leadership coach in his father-in-law, Jethro. A leadership coach is someone who comes from the outside and brings a different perspective. That fit Jethro to a "T". Maybe your next step is to find a leadership coach and meet for a few sessions, just to see if its a fit.

8. Leaders leave an intentional legacy

Moses was intentional in naming Joshua as his legacy replacement. The inspiration came from the Lord. We’ve already named that in point four. Now Joshua knew his time was ending. He challenged the people of Israel to stay faithful to the Lord and to continue the legacy of faith. In Joshua 24:14-18 he renewed the covenant that the people had made with the Lord at the beginning of their entry into the Promised Land.

The Scripture states that the Israel worshipped the Lord throughout Joshua’s time and even during the lifetimes of the elders who outlived Joshua. But it when it fell to the generation who had not lived through all the things that the Lord had done for Israel, a falling away took place. Legacies are not guaranteed forever. They are not even guaranteed at all. But if a legacy is going to last at all, it must be intentional.

These eight are not exhaustive, if you as a leader in your home, business or church will seek the attitude posture that these bring, I believe you will be not only growing as a leader, but will be effective as well.

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Most of us today are interested in the direction of our lives. We make plans and hope those plans work out. We generally want to do what God would have us do, but we also have our own desires and dreams to accomplish. Can there be an intersection between our desires and what we think will bring about the best for us and what will also be at the heart of what God desires as well? God as a will for our lives. I truly believe that. The NLT states it this way, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT, underline is mine) God has good things we are to do, and they were planned before we were born, maybe even before the world was made. So, God has plans for us, but so do we.

When thinking about your path in life; where to live, what to do and of course, how to live your life as God intended, we will have times of doubt and even confusion. The doubt comes in the form of trying to discover what we’re good at doing, what we enjoy and whether it is good for us and our families financially, physically, socially, and spiritually. The confusion comes when there are so many options.

In preparation for our associational annual meeting. I discovered a practical principle from Scripture which the Apostle Paul used for determining where he was going next, what he was to do and how long he would do it. I figure that if this principle was good enough for him in his important assignment as the apostle to the Gentiles, then it would be good for us as well. The principle I’m referring to is what I call “The Guiding Principle of the Open Door.”

If you did a Bible search on “open door” as a metaphor, you would find it used nine times. Once more, the same concept is used as an “open window” in Malachi 3:10 which refers to a blessing from God so huge that you cannot receive it. Access to this blessing would come if the people were faithful to give tithes and offerings. Of the nine biblical references to “open door”, eight of them are in the New Testament. On top of that, Jesus and Paul are the only ones to use it. The most uses of the metaphor “open door” in a single book is by Jesus and he uses it three times in the book of Revelation. I’ve developed a whole sermon in this with five things we can learn from “open doors” and takeaways for us today. Relax, I’m not unloading all that today. I’m just going to give you the basic principle as Paul used it.

We find Paul using this “open door” metaphor in his letter to the Corinthian church while he was still evangelizing and building up the church in Ephesus. This is the portion of the letter that is important for us here:

I will come to you after I pass through Macedonia—for I will be traveling through Macedonia—and perhaps I will remain with you or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way wherever I go. I don’t want to see you now just in passing, since I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord allows. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, because a wide door for effective ministry has opened for me—yet many oppose me.

(1 Corinthians 16:5-9, CSB)

As I mentioned before, Paul was writing to the church in Corinth from Ephesus. He’d been in Ephesus for over two years. He saw his time there ending and was making plans for what was coming next.

Paul’s ministry in Ephesus was marvelous! You can read about it in the Book of Acts, chapter 19. Right from the beginning it was evident that God was at work. There were multiple salvations, miraculous healings, deliverances from evil spirits and a massive turning from witchcraft and black magic. But there was also great opposition. There is always opposition. But Paul could sense that his time there was going to end. So, he begins to formulate plans.

Notice the terminology he uses for his plans. “I intend to pass through Macedonia”, “perhaps I will stay with you”, “Wherever I may go”, “I hope to spend some time”, “If the Lord permits”. He made five tentative statements about what he wanted or intended, yet in verse 8 and 9 he made a definite statement of what he will do. And why is that? Because there was, as the NLT states it “a Wide-open door for a great work here”.

This “Open Door” was the thing that settled in Paul’s mind God’s will for his immediate future. This is what he did, knowing that these other things may or may not happen in the future. Right now, he knew that he would not get to those other “possible” things until he walked through the right door in front of him. Paul had situational and personal awareness.

An open door for Paul was divine providential direction from God. For Paul an open door is God saying to him, “This is where I want you to go, and this is what I want you to do to use your gifting and experience that will fulfill your calling to Christ and your vocation as an apostle to the Gentiles.”

What qualified as an “open door” for Paul was an opportunity given by God that matched his calling, vocation, gifting, experiences, and circumstances. Not every “open door” may be the “open door” for you. It wasn’t for Paul. There are qualifiers.

For Paul and for us calling is first. We are called by Jesus, to Jesus and for Jesus. We are as followers of Christ, to live, serve and share the gospel. That is our calling.

Our vocation is how we fulfill our calling. Paul’s vocation, when he was known as Saul, was a pharisee. When Jesus called him, his vocation was to serve as an Apostle to the Gentiles. He evaluates “open doors” by his ability to function in his calling and vocation. Your vocation may be as a business owner, a teacher or something else. But, back to Paul, on top of these things, he added his understanding of himself, how he is wired, what he was good at and his current circumstances. Paul’s circumstances could change therefore he wrote the Corinthians using contingent terminology.

God gives us “open doors”, but we also have the responsibility to look for them. God perfectly designed your circumstances to fit with how you are made and what you can do to walk through open doors he creates for you.

We have “open door” opportunities today that Jesus has given us. There is great opportunity for churches to partner with schools, particularly elementary schools. How wonderful it would be if every church in FBA adopts a school and asks them, “What they can do to serve you?” One suggestion is to approach them with READ Georgia.

A second opportunity is with public safety, and particularly with fire, EMS, police and 911 Call center. Your association is partnering with one of our own, Frank Mercer at 4Heroes. You and with the blessing of your leadership, your church may become involved in ministering to our first responders.

A third is with the mental health crisis, or rather disaster in our state and associational area. Church members can be equipped in resilience and wellness. We shouldn’t pretend to be okay when we’re not okay. Sometimes it’s okay not to be okay. We need to be able to talk about it and be able to just listen. You don’t have to solve another person’s problems, just listen, and pray.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers the best and long-term answers for wellness and resilience. Your association is offering several equipping and engaging opportunities for ministers and church leaders to be informed and equipped on the issues of wellness this year and next. You can check out the events page and the resources page for more information.

Alexander Graham Bell said, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

You just can’t lose when you choose to look for an open door, and then walk through it.

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