Five Personal Reflection Questions to Evaluate Your Year and Start the New Year Right

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I’m a reflective person. This time of year — when we start to see all the “best of” reflections online and in the news, I like to do my own personal reflection. How was the year? What can we learn from it? How can I do better next year?

Perhaps you need a little help getting started. Take a couple hours over the next week or so — get alone — and reflect.

Here are five questions to get you started:

What was great?

List some of the highlights of your year. What gave you the most pleasure in life? Make sure they merit repeating — sin can have an immediate pleasure — but plan ways to rekindle those emotions in the new year. Most likely they involve relationships. The new year is a great time to plan some intentional efforts to strengthen relationships — spend more time with family and friends. Maybe you enjoyed the times you spent writing. Take some intentional steps to discipline yourself to do that more. Remember how good it felt that day you served people less fortunate than yourself? Well, now you know something you need to do more of in the new year.

What wasn’t great?

Think of some things that are draining to you personally. Again, it may be some relationship in your life. It could be a job or a physical ailment. It could also be that whatever it is that isn’t great has been around for more than a single year. But, chances are you’ve never taken the hard steps to do something about it. Sometimes recognizing those things is the first step to doing something about them. (Your answer may be that a relationship has ended — and there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe this is your year to move forward again — even in spite of the pain.) Could this be the year?

What can be improved?

Sometimes it isn’t about quitting, but working to make something better that makes all the difference. Intentionality can sometimes take something you dread and make it something you enjoy. I’ve seen couples who appeared destined for divorce court turn into a thriving marriage when two willing spouses commit to working harder (and getting outside help if needed). I was out of shape in my mid-thirties. I’m healthier today in my 50’s than I was then. The change began in one year — one decision — one intentional effort. Conventional wisdom says a new habit begins in 21 days, but some now believe it may take as long as 66 days to really get a habit to stick. But, would it be worth it if you really began a daily Bible reading habit? Or the gym really was a part of your life more than just the first couple weeks in January? Maybe this is your year to get serious about improving some area of your life.

What do I need to stop?

Maybe you need to stop caring so much what other people think. Maybe you need to stop overeating. Maybe you need to stop worrying far more than you pray. Maybe you need to stop believing the lies the enemy tries to place in your mind. Maybe you need to stop living someone else’s life — and start living the life God has called you to. Maybe you need to stop delaying the risk — and go for it! Maybe you need to stop procrastinating. Do you get the idea? Sometimes one good stop can make all the difference. What do you need to stop doing this year, so you can reflect on this year as your best year ever? Start stopping today!

What do I need to start? 

Think of something you know you need to do, but so far you’ve only thought about it. Maybe you started before but never committed long enough to see it become reality. Often, in my experience, we quit just before the turn comes that would have seen us to victory. Is this the year you write the book? Is this the year you pursue the dream? Is this the year you mend the broken relationship? Is the year you finish the degree? Is this the year you get serious about your financial well-being — planning for the future? Is this the year you surrender your will to God’s will — and follow through on what you know He’s been asking you to do? Maybe getting active in church is your needed start this year. Start starting today!

Five questions. When I’m answering questions like this, I like to apply them to each area of my life — spiritual, physical, relational, personal, financial, etc. Reflect on your life with God, with others, and with yourself.

Try answering them — see how it helps you start your best year ever!

5 Step Process to Write a Simple, but Achievable Life Plan

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Here’s a simple, step-by-step process to writing a life plan. If you don’t know me, you wouldn’t know that I prefer simple. If it’s complicated or too involved, I’ll opt out quickly. That’s my goal here.

(I actually wrote these posts several years ago and I’ve not updated them — just this summary page. If you find any links that don’t work, let me know.)

I’m praying God allows many of us to realize dreams and goals we never thought possible.

Here are 5 posts to walk you step-by-step through writing a simple life plan:

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 5

Of course, all of this should be done by committing your plans to God first. For help and an example of that, you might read this post: 7 Ways to Make Your Prayers More Effective

Let me know how your plans develop.

A Guaranteed Way to Have the Best New Year Ever

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Do you want to guarantee your success in the new year?

If you could figure out a way, that’d be worth it, right?

Here’s a Biblical example of how to have the best year ever.

The Lord said to Abram:

Go out from your land,

your relatives,

and your father’s house

to the land that I will show you.

I will make you into a great nation,

I will bless you,

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,

I will curse those who treat you with contempt,

and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

Genesis 12:1-3 (Emphasis mine)

The secret, for lack of a better word, for any success Abraham would ever had would be found in moving from his will to God’s will — allowing God to shake his direction and the outcome of his life.

When the “you” comes after the “I” rather than before, we’ll always guarantee our success.

Here’s a guaranteed strategy for the new year to be a success:

  • Drop your agenda — and join His agenda.
  • Get off your path — and get on His path.
  • Release your ambitions — and embrace His ambitions.
  • Set aside your will — and live His will.

Are you ready for a great new year? Let God lead the way.

My Bloopers Post

I must admit, I saw my friend Michael Hyatt share his bloopers video on his blog first. And, if Michael’s doing it, it’s probably cool — is my opinion.

I’ve shared this on my Facebook, but not here. And, why should you be deprived just because you don’t follow me on Facebook. :)

Ron blooper from ron edmondson on Vimeo.

Our masterful tech team put this together — and I gave them plenty of material. This was actually done sometime last year, but I didn’t widely share it then. It’s time for another I suppose.

In my line of work, at times you just need a good laugh. Have one at my expense.

And, let me take this opportunity to thank you for reading this blog. God bless you and Merry Christmas!

7 Ways to Get Your Man to Shop with You

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I shop with my wife.

There. I said it. I’m sorry guys. Do I lose my man card?

I get criticized often by other men that say I put pressure on them to live up to that standard with their own wives. And, I’m sorry if that’s the case. I realize many men read this blog.

I explain that a shopping mall is not necessarily my preferred place to be on a Saturday, but I love my wife and I love spending time with her. She sometimes likes to shop, so many Saturdays I find myself somewhere shopping with her.

I also know my blog readership is about 40% women, so today I want to address you in this issue. My goal, as always, is to improve and strengthen marriages. Spending time together always helps this occur. At least that’s the theory. :)

Here are 7 tips to get your man to shop with you:

Give him a mission. Men love a purpose. We are hunters by nature. Tell us exactly what you are looking for, that you haven’t been able to find it anywhere and that you need his help finding it. Then get out of his way and let him hunt!

Understand his limit. This is not the day to hit every store. Especially if you’re husband is new to shopping, don’t make him become a marathoner in the first race. Ease him into the idea. And, when he’s hungry, feed him well. Even let him pick the place.

Let him carry packages to the car. He’s going to be looking for something to do. He may want to make several trips to the car. He’ll show you how strong he is. Let him serve you.

Include a stop for him. If he wants to look at tools for a while, don’t complain if he already looked at dresses. And, if he wants to sit in the middle of the mall and people watch — don’t complain.

Don’t push stores he doesn’t like. Save those for the girls trips. (Personally, I don’t care for the candle shops or soaps and lotion stores. To me if you have smell one, you have smelled them all.)

Give him credit for going and don’t expect it to be his favorite way to spend a day. Recognize he is doing it out of love for you, not for the activity of it. Don’t tell all his friends he “loves to shop with you”. And, don’t expect him to want to go every time you do.

Give him time to enjoy the things he enjoys doing at other times. And, if he wants you to, do them with him without complaining.

Girls: Does your husband shop with you? What are your tips for us?

Guys: Do you shop with your wives? What keeps you going?

How to Identify Constructive Criticism

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Constructive:

“Serving a useful purpose; tending to build up.”

Criticism:

“The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.”

Constructive Criticism

You’ve heard the term. As a leader, I hear it all the time.

If you’re a leader then you’ve certainly had people offer criticism. Some even say they are just giving “constructive criticism”. Or, they believe so at the time.

Most of my pastor friends have heard, “Pastor, let me give you a little constructive criticism” — (Sometimes just as they are about to deliver the weekly message. :) )

So, what does “constructive criticism” mean?

I’m thinking we often misuse that phrase.

And, it’s not just with leaders. It’s in every phase of life. I think it’s a societal issue. It’s even on social media. We think we are offering “constructive criticism” when we update our Facebook status or Tweet about our service with an airline or a restaurant or a school system — for example. Or anywhere else we feel a need to criticize for some reason. We may not label it that way, but I’m convinced it’s what we think we are doing — offering constructive criticism.

In reality, I’ve learned that phrase — constructive criticism — is sometimes just a nice way to say, “I have a personal complaint about a personal issue, but it will make me sound less self-serving and more justified if I label it (maybe just in my mind) as constructive criticism.”

I have been thinking about that term lately. Even as I might use it personally.

First, let me be clear, I’m not down on constructive criticism. I think it’s good. And, needed.

Using that definition (serving a useful purpose; tending to build up) constructive criticism serves a place within any organization — even the church. It can, by definition, help us all.

There is a place for constructive criticism.

But, how can we make sure the criticism we offer is actually constructive?

And, what is it actually? I think that’s the bigger issue.

How do we know when it is “constructive criticism”?

And, how can we give constructive criticism to others?

By definition, here are 7 indicators of constructive criticism:

It builds up the body or organization for everyone. It’s helpful for the good of the entire vision. Everyone can benefit from constructive criticism.

It is not self-serving. It doesn’t seek a merely personal gain. Scripture makes humility an ideal, encourages unity among believers and commands us to consider others better than ourselves — even to pray for our enemies.

It offers suggestions for improvement. I’m not saying it does every time. Sometimes we just know something is wrong, but this would be an indicator the criticism is constructive (by definition).

It creates useful dialogue. Again, this may not happen every time, but if conversation can lead to the benefit of everyone, then it could be an indicator of being constructive — it helps build — construct.

It affirms others or the vision. Constructive criticism would never tear down the overarching goals and objectives of the body or organization. That would be counter to the definition. Criticism might, but not constructive criticism.

It can be realistically implemented or discussed. I’m just working with the term and definition here, so if the criticism is an impossibility — would never work — then it seems to me it isn’t “serving a useful purpose”. (Extreme example: I once had someone criticize my allowance of phones in the worship center. They thought I should be like a school teacher and take them up at the door. Okay…)

It is not overly divisive. Constructive criticism serves to build up — not tear down, so to meet the definition it must not divide people as much as it at least makes an attempt to bring people together around common values and vision. Of course, that’s not always possible. It’s near impossible to get everyone to agree on anything, but constructive criticism doesn’t seem to be the type criticism that would splinter the groups opinions or divide people extensively.

That’s my rambling thoughts on the issue. I’m all for offering better criticism. Constructive criticism.

There may be a need for non-constructive or destructive criticism sometime. Jesus cleared the temple that way. We may need to clear some things. If so, let’s deconstruct.

But, all I’m saying is — if I can attempt to constructively criticize the way some of us criticize — constructive criticism should live up its name.

7 Suggestions to Have the Best Christmas Ever

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It’s Christmas time again. Seems to come every year about this time. The most wonderful time of the year.

There’ll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories
Of Christmases long, long ago
It’s the most wonderful time of the year

(That could almost be a song. Wait a minute — I think it is.)

But, if you’re like many of us, Christmas will be over before you took time to enjoy it. You might even get past Christmas, realize how fast it passed, and so you set some new year’s resolutions to slow down and — maybe — enjoy Christmas more next year.

What if you could do that this year? Why not? Sounds like a good goal to me. Enjoy the celebration of Christmas. The birth of our Savior. Relish the time with family. Savor every moment.

Here are 7 suggestions to make this the best Christmas ever:

Set a limit on expenditures. Something happens when Christmas becomes more about the value of the gifts than the value of the season. More, more, more only produces energy in a direction that can never really be sustained. (Read Ecclesiastes 5:10) Start with a budget. Be realistic. Stop comparing. One problem for many of us is that we are trying to compete with everyone else. Obviously, if you have more money you can spend more money (and less — less). But, make it your goal to invest more in people this year than in things you can buy. And, don’t feel obligated or pressured to buy gifts you can’t afford for people. It will only be a temporary satisfaction and produce a lot of guilt in the new year when you see those credit card bills start arriving in the mail. (And, usually the guilt starts as soon as the cashier hands you the receipt or you push the purchase button online.)

Set boundaries in relationships. This is especially true for younger couples and families, but really for most of us. You can feel pressured by extended family and friends to be a dozen different places. Remember, you aren’t responsible for pleasing everyone — in fact — you can’t. It’s impossible. (Some have a harder time with that than others.) Don’t let everyone else determine your Christmas schedule. You may have to have some difficult, but direct conversations with relatives or friends. Again, be realistic. You can’t be everywhere. There are some places you can’t (or shouldn’t) avoid, but, as much as possible, control your schedule rather than having it controlled by others.

Plan and prioritize your time. This is similar, but also includes how we spend our own time at Christmas. There are usually more demands for our time than time for our demands. Just as you did in creating a money budget, create a time budget. Set aside some time for you to celebrate Christmas as an immediate family — or in a way where you best celebrate. Then build around that time. It’s okay to say no. (Do you need to read that sentence again?) If you don’t, you’ll run out of time before you feel you ever really celebrated. It’s hard, but again, you’re trying to actually celebrate Christmas — the birth of baby Jesus. That’s hard to do when you have lost all control of your time.

Lower your expectations. That you have on others and on yourself. Sometimes we set very unrealistic expectations on what others will buy or how they will respond to what we buy. We look for the “perfect” gift — to give or receive — and our enjoyment of Christmas is based on that search — rather than the real joy of the season. We also set unrealistic expectations on relationships. We watch too many Hallmark Christmas movies where everything works out in the end to the perfect holiday celebration and when it doesn’t happen at our house quite like that we get disappointed. Remember, we aren’t characters in a movie. We are characters in real life. Real life is almost never perfect. Learn to enjoy your celebration with all the quirkiness that makes your family unique from every other family. (Because every family is quirky in some way — in real life.)

Practice health disciplines. Sometimes in the name of “celebrating” we over do it only to have guilt about it later. Don’t overeat or over-indulge. You will occasionally – it’s part of the season — but, be reasonable. Keep exercising. Sample rather than eat full portions. You’ll feel better and have less regrets after the holidays have ended.

Serve others. Find and establish a Christmas tradition of service. Whether it’s serving at a food kitchen, ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, or just picking up trash along the side of the road, you’ll better appreciate Christmas when you serve. The real meaning of Christmas is based around serving others. The baby born at Christmas came to be a servant. The best way to celebrate His birth is to give back expecting nothing in return. You’ll be the bigger recipient when you do.

Remember the reason for the season. Yea, I saved the best and most important for last. On purpose. It’s also the one we push to last if we aren’t careful and the ultimate purpose of this post, so I wanted it to be the last impression on your mind. Jesus — the reason for the season. It’s simple — even cliche, but, it’s true and it’s powerful — if you do it genuinely. In the midst of the madness, rediscover the miracle of Christmas. A Savior — who is Christ the Lord — has been born to you. Establish a tradition that helps you best identify with the true meaning of Christmas. You could take time to explore a character of the Christmas story you’ve not considered previously. Research elements of the setting and culture. Read the major passages in Matthew and Luke repeatedly through the season. Listen to only Christmas music. Attend special Christmas services. Whatever works for you. Be intentional to practice celebrating the real joy of Christmas.

Not all of these will apply to everyone, but my guess is if there are a couple here you need to work on — to better celebrate Christmas — you already knew it. As we begin the rush of the Christmas season, pause right now, take a few deep breaths, and let’s make this the best Christmas ever.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

3 Steps to Being a More Thankful Person

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Ever wonder the secret to being thankful?

I believe the secret to being thankful is in learning to be more content.

We give thanks out of a heart overflowing with gratefulness. A full heart naturally produces gratitude.

How do we do that?

The Apostle Paul told us he had learned the secret.

I think Paul gave us some clues earlier in his letter to the Philippians.

Here’s Paul’s remedy:

(He says he’s going to tell us one thing — then he gives us three — typical Paul.)

Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. (‭Philippians‬ ‭3‬:‭13-14‬)

Here is Paul’s remedy:

Forgetting what is behind. Has it been a tough year? Have you made some mistakes? That day is gone. Did you know that? It’s over. Done. Gone. The question now is what are you going to do about it? Are you going to live in the past? Hold on to guilt? Refuse the grace of God in your life? If you’re lonely, you sulk or get up and get out among people — find some friends and let them invest in you? You can let the past control you or move forward. Not both. Which will you choose?

Remembering what is ahead. The best days are ahead if you’re a child of God. He’s writing a story with a happy ending, where all things work for an ultimate good. Right now we have more questions than answers. Some day He will provide for His children a Sabbath rest. And have you ever seen a sunset that took your breath away or marveled at the beauty of a mountain reaching into a clouded sky? Well, just wait. “No eye has seen” what God has prepared.

Pursue worthy goals. Pursue Christ. Honor Him with your life. Have the mind of Christ. Invest in others. Love one another. Pray for your enemies. Do good — expecting nothing in return.

And, later in Philippians Paul shares that the “peace of God” will guard your hearts. You will be filled with contentment.

And, you’ll find yourself being a more thankful person.

5 Insights I Have Learned About Failure

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I deal with people who feel like failures. Everyday.

It could be because of relationships gone bad.
Business setbacks.
A personal life — that was private — but is not anymore.
Bad decisions intentionally done or bad circumstances — out of their control.

All of that and more — failure.

One reason people seem to identify with my teaching is that I’m not perfect. I’ve made lots of mistakes. I didn’t enter the ministry until I was 38 years old and that was plenty of time to learn valuable life experiences by failure. (And, I haven’t quit making mistakes in ministry.)

Here’s what you need to understand though.

I’ve had failures — but I’m not a failure.

Because I got back up every time I failed.

Along the way — through failure — I’ve gained some insight into failure.

There are some misunderstandings about failing that you don’t necessarily knowing during the failing process.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned about failing:

Not everyone is talking about you. This is a critical understanding, because it sometimes feels that way. As a result, sometimes you avoid people — even though you may need people in your life now more than ever. Sometimes you refuse to get back in the game — even to attend church — because you assume you’re the news on people’s mind. Yes, some people may be talking about you — for a while — but not for long. I’m not saying you aren’t important, but there will be a bigger story out there soon. Trust me. And, yours won’t be the flavor of the month for long. And, for those who do like to talk about others — I’ve learned they are often trying to shift attention from their own failures. (You can also remind them it is a sin to gossip.)

Your attachment to the failure may never fully go away. That’s hard, but it’s true. Rahab was always known as a “harlot” in the Bible. She kept her title. When triggered in someone’s mind, they may remember your failure for years. History books record great failures of people with great success. And, I’m not sure it should be our goal to completely lose that failure reminder. It’s a way we can demonstrate grace. We can be an example to others who have failed — and are seeking hope. God uses our failures as a source of strength for others. But, whether or not people can label you a failure will depend on how you respond to failure — how you proceed after the failure.

God loves you more than you can imagine, even when you fail. In fact, in my experience with failure, whether it was by intentional sin or through no fault of your own, it breaks your heart at some point. My Bible says God is close to the brokenhearted. And, your failure is what makes you a great candidate for grace — something God loves to extend to those who will receive it.

Forgiving yourself may be the most difficult thing. It’s true. The hardest person to forgive for failing is almost always ourselves. We usually hold our failures against ourselves much longer than the world does. And, the enemy loves to use that principle against us too. Why not? It works, right? But, forgiveness is a choice. Receiving God’s grace is a choice. Moving forward is a choice. Choosing your next steps wisely — that’s a choice too.

The best days of your life may be after the failure — not before. Wow! If only I could have understood that during some of my darker moments due to failure. If you refuse to let failure control you and you allow God, by His grace, to shape the rest of your story you may just experience some of your best moments of life in the days ahead. That’s my story. And, for that I’m thankful.

Obviously, no one should ever desire failure so they can learn from it. But, failure is a part of living in a fallen world. The key is to not allow failure to be our dominant identification. That’s determined by what we do after the failure.

What have you learned from failure?

6 Resume Mistakes Pastors Make and Tips for Correcting Them

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I don’t do a lot of guest posts on this blog, but my friend Dr. Jennifer Degler. Jennifer keeps putting together great ones that I want to share. Here’s another. Jennifer served on the search team that brought me to Immanuel. She shares from her experience.

6 Resume Mistakes Pastors Make and Tips for Correcting Them

Having reviewed over 700 resumes while serving on a pastor search committee, I saw the good, the bad, and the oh-my-goodness-what-were-they-thinking. Here are six common resume mistakes pastors make and tips for correcting them:

1) Taking credit for what God did: Most commonly seen in statements like “I increased attendance from 300 to 600” or “I increased giving 20%.” Unless you personally drove 300 additional people to church each Sunday and wrote a really big check, you didn’t increase attendance or giving. You preached, supervised staff, planned worship services, etc., and then God did a work in people’s hearts that led to them attending and giving at your church. It would be more correct (and humble) to say “attendance increased from 300 to 600” or “giving increased 20%.” (Side note: don’t go too far in the other direction and trip over yourself in an effort to give God the glory, as in “attendance doubled, praise the Lord from whom all blessings flow!” This just makes you look overly excitable.)

2) Inflating attendance numbers: Do not report your Easter Sunday attendance as if it’s your average attendance. If you say “Sunday morning worship attendance increased from 60 to 200” the pastor search committee (PSC) will interpret this to mean 200 people attended your church service each week. If your church reports numbers to your denomination, the PSC will request those reports, and what your resume says should match up with what the church secretary reported. It may be more accurate to say “Sunday morning worship attendance increased from 60 to an average of 150 with a high of 200.”

3) Forgetting your resume’s audience: In many cases, PSC’s are composed of professional people over 40, with an average age close to 50. Design your resume so it will appeal to people in this age bracket. Your font should be no smaller than 12 point. If you are a younger person, do not assume all committee members will have your level of technological comfort. Don’t waste your time on a clever, high tech resume that can only be viewed as a Powerpoint or Prezi type presentation.

4) Referring to preaching as teaching: See #3 above. Perhaps because of the relatively new title “Teaching Pastor,” people below 40 may refer to preaching as teaching. People aged 50 and above typically view preaching and teaching as two different activities. If you gave sermons, call it preaching. Otherwise, the PSC may think you were teaching a class each Sunday.

5) Wordiness/Being repetitive: As in “planned, organized, and led three mission trips.” Yes, our God is a trinity, but that doesn’t mean you need three descriptors or verbs in each sentence. Wordiness exhausts your reader. Brevity is next to godliness when it comes to resumes. Which of these do you find clearer and more powerful? “My objective is to pastor a life-giving, Jesus-centered, disciple-making, sending, welcoming to all, outwardly reaching church” or “My objective is to pastor a welcoming, Jesus-centered church that makes and sends passionate disciples.”

6) Not checking references’ contact information: Before you send out your resume, provide your references with the contact information you plan to provide for them. This way they can check for accuracy and their preferred methods of contact. Do not assume everyone is okay with you giving out their cell phone number. Medical and mental health professionals may be particularly protective of their personal numbers, so always confirm their preferred numbers for contact.