Friday, December 23, 2016

Honoring Your Deceased Loved Ones During the Holidays

In coping with personal grief and loss during the holidays, there are several practical ways to honor your deceased loved one(s). This short video explores some strategies for keeping the memory of your loved one alive in your mind and heart.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Grief and Expectations

One of the most difficult issues related to grief during the holidays has to do with expectations. These expectations may either be externally imposed or self-produced. Please extend some grace to yourself. Allow yourself to grieve in your own unique way. There's no "one-size-fits-all" pattern that you must follow.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Grieving with Hope During the Holidays

This can be a challenging time of the year for those of you who have recently suffered a significant loss in your life—maybe the death of a spouse or a child or parent. Or perhaps the passing away of a close friend. And my heart goes out to you in this time of grief.

It can be especially challenging to know how to respond to this season of the year that supposed to be a time of peace and joy.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (ESV), the apostle Paul gives some sage advice to this group of struggling Christians who had recently suffered many losses. And it says this: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”

It's my intention over the next few days to bring hope and a balanced view on how to cope with grief and loss during this season of the year. And to do it in a way that's faithful and that shows your commitment to God—that you believe death is not a dead end.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

There's Grace in Thanksgiving

Thankfulness is a core virtue in Christianity and an important attitude of heart. Of all people, as believers, we have so much to be grateful for.

Colossians 3:15-17 (ESV) states, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Paul reminds the Colossian believers three times in three verses to be thankful. Why? Perhaps they, like we, also struggled with forgetfulness. Maybe they took their blessings for granted. You see, we can only experience true gratitude when we’re re-sensitized to our undeserved blessings from God.

But there’s more. 

In the English language we can easily miss some of the subtle nuances present in the Koiné Greek in which the New Testament was originally penned. In the original language, the word for “grace” (charis) is literally located in the middle of the word for “thanksgiving” (eucharistos). Now that's food for thought! We can catch a glimpse of this reality in our word “grateful” that sounds a lot like “graceful.”

Grace is central to gratitude or thankfulness. It’s embedded in the very notion of thanksgiving. Therefore, God’s graciousness ought to be reflected in our gratefulness.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Lessons from Being Sick

A couple of weeks ago I was rather ill. To be completely honest with you, I was a pitiful mess.

What is commonly referred to as the “West Tennessee Crud”—in my nick of the woods—had its vile way with me, sending me to bed for nearly five days. Even the stout antibiotics I was on seemed useless. About all I could do was to eat chicken noodle soup and binge on Netflix. I’m only now starting to feel more like my old self again. Halfway human that is.

I absolutely hate being sick. However, at about this time of the autumn each year, my immune system craters and I’m knocked off my feet for a while. My allergic reaction to the profusion of ragweed pollen floating around likely contributes the most to my susceptibility to illness. It starts with me sneezing and having itchy eyes. Then it progresses to a sore throat, next to respiratory problems and a hacking cough, and ultimately to overall body aches. Perhaps you can relate to my pain.

Despite the hassle and discomfort of getting sick, I believe there are some valuable lessons we can all learn from illness.

First, sickness reminds us of our mortality. This body of flesh was never intended to last forever. It is temporal. James 4:14 (ESV) asks, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” For all the health crazes people go on, new fangled diets, exercise regimens, elective surgeries, etc., our bodies eventually wear out and we die. There’s no stopping it. Life—at best—is extremely brief.

Psalm 39:4 (ESV) pleads, “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” Psalm 102:11 observes, “My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.” In the scheme of eternity, our life is but a breath. Physical sickness is symptomatic of our finitude.

Keeping the brevity of life in mind helps me to put things in their proper perspective. Those pressing matters that seem so critically important in the moment often aren’t all that significant in reality. Deadlines at work, professional presentations, and major events will come and go, and—believe it or not—the world will keep on spinning.

Second, sickness reminds us that we’re not indispensable. Human pride can sometimes give me the egotistical idea that I am way more important than I really am. I’ve noticed that my family, friends, colleagues, students, and congregation manage to get by just fine when I’m out of commission for a while.

Proverbs 11:2 (ESV) asserts,When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 29:23 (ESV) says, “One's pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” Galatians 6:3 (ESV) warns, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

Third, sickness reminds us of our utter dependency upon God. Everything I possess—including my health—is a gift from God. Being ill helps me to be more thankful for times of more robust health. I’m led toward gratitude for being blessed to experience relatively good health during the year. This vitality is all too easily taken for granted—perhaps even expected as if I am somehow entitled to it.

Occasionally, it needs to be brought home to me that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).

Fourth, sickness reminds us that it’s okay to love ourselves enough to take care of our own physical and emotional health. Sometimes, we get the mistaken idea that we’re unimportant and, therefore, not worth taking care of, so we lose ourselves in taking care of everyone else’s needs—all except our own.

Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39, ESV). While Christ’s focus here is certainly on serving others, an easy point to miss is that it is also permissible to love your self. Paul implies this significant concept when he asserts, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Eph. 5:29, ESV).

No, I doubt anybody really enjoys being sick, but we can learn and grow because of it. That being said, I hope you stay healthy and well.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

What's Up with Great Dads?

Fatherhood is challenging. It’s far more difficult than I ever expected before becoming a dad almost two decades ago. But “daddy-hood” is a tremendous blessing in my life.

As my children are beginning to get a bit older and my role is gradually shifting in their lives, I’ve been doing a good amount of thinking about what it takes to be a great dad. I’ll be the first to confess I still have a long way to go.

So what does it take to become a great dad? Here are seven things to consider regarding what excellent fathers consistently do:

They show up. 
Great dads are involved in their kids’ daily lives and various extracurricular activities. Whether it be sports events, band concerts, dance or music recitals, debate competitions, church youth activities, boy or girl scouts, 4-H, the dads who are making the biggest difference in their children’s lives make the effort to be present. Granted, I understand that it’s not always possible, but it needs to be a priority.

They listen up. 
Effective fathers are in the habit of actively and reflectively listening to what their kids are saying. These parents show genuine interest through their nonverbal and facial expressions. Dads who pay close attention to both the content of and feelings behind their children’s statements are on the right track. Great dads are tuned in to their children’s hearts—their hopes, dreams, aspirations, fears, and concerns. They grasp the deeper—sometimes hidden—meaning of what their children are trying to communicate and what is really at stake for them.

They speak up. 
Rather than assuming a passive stance—like a bump on a log, effective dads willingly share their knowledge, perspectives, and cautionary warnings with their kids. In other words, they impart godly wisdom and common sense when needed and offer insight to help guide their children’s footsteps down the safest, healthiest path. By earning their kids’ respect, great dads use their position of authority and influence to benefit their children’s present and bless their future.

They man up. 
Providing appropriate rules, proper boundaries, and age-appropriate discipline is essential when it comes to raising young people. The ultimate goal is to teach children the importance of self-discipline and self-regulation so that they turn into obedient, respectful, and responsible adults. Mature dads don’t shirk their parental role or relinquish their family leadership responsibilities to others, including their wives or other relatives. Instead, they fulfill their obligation with grace.

They pay up. 
Great dads do their part to provide financially and materially for their children. Trustworthy men work hard to earn a decent living so as to adequately supply the physical needs of their family. They aren’t selfish or irresponsible with the money they make at their jobs. If good fathers happen to be separated or divorced for whatever reason from their children’s mother, they aren’t dead-beat dads who fail to consistently pay their fair share of the child-support. The Bible says that, “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8, ESV).

They pray up. 
The greatest dads are those who are consistently mindful of their children in their daily personal and family prayers. They are very intentional in remembering to ask God to protect and provide for their kids’ well-being. They petition God to some day supply godly spouses who will help their children walk faithfully and make it to heaven. They also ask God to help their children overcome temptations and weather trials as they grow and mature in their faith.

They lift up. 
Great dads are constant encouragers of their children. Always looking for positive comments and compliments to share, they cheer their sons and daughters on to greater levels of personal growth, achievement, and success in their lives as they develop to their full potential. First-rate fathers seek strengths within their kids and highlight those positives so as to build up their children’s self-esteem. They affirm their kids to help them feel good about themselves and their futures.

In summary, great dads . . . show up, listen up, speak up, man up, pay up, pray up, and lift up their children.