Easter Reminder: Don’t Look for the Living Among the Dead

empty garden tomb

And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you.

Luke 24:5-6

Easter reminds me that I often make the mistake of those who were seeking the crucified — now risen — Christ.

I look for the living among the dead.

I look at my past mistakes and think I can’t recover.

I look at my failures and think I’m defeated.

I look at those who cast doubt upon me and think they speak truth.

I look at my inadequacies and think I’m limited.

I look at my problems and forget that His mercies are new every morning.

I look at my struggles and think I’m limited to my own abilities.

I look at the circumstances of the world and feel all hope is gone.

I look for the living among the dead.

Let Easter remind us that we serve a RISEN Savior!

He’s on His throne. He has a plan. He has not forgotten us!

The tomb is empty!

Still.

Let’s live that way!

Lessons Learned from Walking on Hot Coals

Walk On Fire

People say Christians are crazy, but I would like to submit another group of people for consideration: fire walkers.

I’d recently gone on a 37,000-mile prayer pilgrimage around the world, a modern re-working of the ancient tradition. I experienced a world of prayer traditions across the Judeo-Christian faith family, including some of the “strange cousins” and “weird uncles.”

Thus, firewalking.

Some people say firewalking is dangerous, and those people are correct.

It had been a long day – I’d been dancing and yelling and sweating for over 12 hours, without a meal stop or bathroom break at any point in the process. This was how things rolled at The Guru’s convention – part sales pitch, part rave, part rock concert, part tent revival. I was there as an observer, and to some extent, as a participant.

While I didn’t “worship” with my hands raised (to the Titanic and Chariot’s of Fire theme songs), I had committed to taking part in the evening’s crescendo: a brisk walk across a 12-foot bed of 2000-degree roasting hot coals.

The Guru had taught us a very simple neurolinguistic programming technique. We were instructed to “make a move,” some sort of repetitive physical action that would pump our bodies full of testosterone. (I went with a manly combination—a Hulk-style chest flex paired with a front double bicep curl.) We were told to reach the front of the line, get in the zone, “make our move,” and then calmly walk across the coals while focusing on the phrase “cool moss.”

I got to the front of the line and stared down at the glowing embers, two thousand degrees of heat ready to bake my bones. I started to get into the zone. “It’s your turn!” a volunteer yelled. “Head up and go!” He shoved me onto the coals.

I wasn’t in the zone.

I hadn’t made my move.

I hadn’t even prayed.

My first step—my right foot caught a hot coal right between my big toe and the ball of my foot. It was hot. The ball of my left foot landed on an equally fiery chunk of flaming wood. There was no “cool moss” for me.

I stormed across the pit like a drummer in a marching band, moving so quickly that two volunteers had to grab me at the end and spray cold water on my feet. And then it was over. I hadn’t died or burned my feet off.

I exhaled with relief. And I realized that no prayer is necessary to walk across hot coals. There is nothing spiritual about it at all, in fact.

A lot of people, myself included, are guilty of treating God like that self-help guru. Prayer is our mantra, a way to bolster our confidence and psych ourselves up for whatever challenges lie ahead.

To some extent it works. But prayer isn’t a mind game; it’s not a pseudoscientific technique for achieving success in life. It’s a deeply intimate form of communication with the Lover of our souls.

Prayer isn’t about self-improvement.

We don’t “gain confidence”; we enter God’s. We don’t “become a better person”; God conforms us to the image of His Son. We don’t “attain perfection”; we’re covered by the spotless Lamb.

Prayer can get us through the fiery seasons of life, but it’s not the prayer that gets us through — it’s the God who’s willing to carry us across that bed of burning hot coals.

This is a guest post by Jared Brock. Jared is the co-founder of Hope for the Sold, an abolitionist charity that fights human trafficking one word at a time. His is the author of A Year of Living Prayerfully, and he is happily married to his best friend, Michelle. Jared’s writing has appeared in Huffington Post, Converge, Esquire, and Relevant Magazine, and he writes regularly at JaredBrock.com.

An Exponential Interview about Church Revitalization

Expo 2015 Precon Booklet Ron Edmondson5

Tom Cheyney and I will be hosting a pre-conference Revitalization lab at Exponential East this year entitled: Finding New Life for an Old Church. Tom and I were talking recently and we both agreed — we are surprised more pastors are not considering revitalization. In addition to church planting, revitalization has tons of Kingdom-potential. And, there are lots of opportunities out there — lots of declining churches need help.

Up for a challenge — consider revitalization! 

Of course, Church revitalization involves change. And no matter how necessary the change, some people will fight until the end preferring to let the slowly die, but the church can change — and thrive again.

Exponential recently interviewed me to find out more about this bonus session:

What do you hope to accomplish through this pre-conference?

I hope people will leave with some of their questions answered about church revitalization and what it takes to be successful. We are really thinking in terms of best — and frankly worst — practices. We have some experience personally and working with other churches that we think can help. I’d love to think some church planter mindsets would reconsider revitalizing an established church.

What are some of the reasons you decided to do a pre-conference on church revitalization?

Obviously it is and should be a calling. You’ll need it, but we also need a renewed interest in revitalizing existing churches. In my estimation, we have more Kingdom dollars invested in non-productive, non-growing churches than in church plants. Obviously we need lots of church plants, but we also need to revive some of the older churches. Someone said it takes 30 years for a declining church to die. Not trying to be cruel, but that’s too long. If it’s not going to revive, maybe an immediate closure and redistribution of resources is warranted. Wow! Did I just say that?

What are some tensions you have faced in this area?

It involves change. That’s never easy. But, you can’t produce growth from decline without change. All my tension has been from change. Yet, the real root of tension is in an emotional response to change. Change always produces an emotional response — positive or negative. So, I’ve dealt with a good deal of emotion over the past couple years. But, that also doesn’t mean everything has to change. Some traditions may actually be good and should be celebrated. And, we will talk about that at the conference.

What are some of the differences in leading this generation and culture from the past?

Time commitment and loyalty are different for the newer generation. There is less of it. That can be difficult, because it sometimes means we see them less often and they are can be quick to disengage if something else comes along. On a positive note, they are very driven to make a difference. They prefer a “hands on” experience. With motivation and opportunity this generation can make huge Kingdom differences. By the way, this should be a very attractive element for younger generations of pastors entering church revitalization. Many times in an established church the resources and people are there — that if energized again for the vision — a church can hit the ground running much faster than in a church plant.

What can someone expect to takeaway from attending your pre-conference?

I think there will be some frankness and some challenge. We are going to give lots of practical information, but even more, we are here to invest in church leaders. As Exponential does so well, we will be learning together and build community quickly with other church leaders. This should be very helpful and applicable.

We are excited for this Revitalization Lab. Make sure you are there by registering for the main conference + pre-conference with code: revitalization15. You will receive $30 off of your conference registration and a FREE pre-conference as well as access to Bonus Sessions. Register here!

7 Ways to Better Enjoy Reading the Bible

Christian woman reading a Bible

I’ll never forget the day a young college-aged girl told me recently that she didn’t enjoy reading her Bible and asked if there was an alternative book.

At first, I didn’t know what to say. Then I realize she was very serious.

“Well…no!”, I thought, but didn’t say.

The Bible is THE BOOK!

There is no substitute. There are plenty of great Christian books, but none compare to this one.

That wasn’t a new concern. I’ve heard similar concerns many times. The Bible intimidates many people; even those who are avid readers of other books.

I did suggest this girl could listen to the Bible on a CD or mp3. YouVersion will even read the Bible to you. But then I told her I’d give her some more suggestions.

That’s what prompted this post. The reality is I think we need to figure out how to enjoy reading God’s Word. Part of maturing as a believer is to fall in love with the Bible.

Here are 7 suggestions which may help:

Pray – The Bible is not like any other book. You need God’s Spirit to help you understand and process it. You should always pray before and as you read it. Ask God to help you understand what you’re reading — even to help you enjoy it. Good news here! This appears, in my experience, to be one of God’s favorite prayers to answer.

Version – Pick a version easy for you to understand. I would suggest you read a more literal translation primarily, but the paraphrase versions are good for casual reading. I suggest HCSB, NIV or NLT for a more literal but very readable version, ESV or NKJV if you want a most literal translation, or for a paraphrase version, that’s extremely readable, try The Message Version. I read some of each of these for my studies and casual reading. (I wrote a post on how to select a version HERE.)

Sharing – It brings Scripture to life when we can share it with others. Find a small group. That’s what church is great for at providing. Or find a group of guys or girls at a coffee shop or a couple of people from work. Studying the Scripture with a community helps energize you as you learn. When you talk about what you’re reading, it helps you value it more. (Read Philemon 6 for an example of this.)

Journaling – Writing about your time in God’s Word will help you process your thoughts and keep a record of them. It’s exciting to go back over time and remember what you read before. It fuels your enthusiasm to study even more.

Timing – I love the idea of reading the Bible through in a year. I’ve done this many times. I think it’s more important, however, that you benefit from what you’re reading. I sometimes meditate on a few verses or a story for a day — or a week. I also recommend people start with an easier book to understand and move to more difficult passages from there. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John are good places to start. And, find the right setting. A comfortable chair, an open field — morning, noon or night — what works best for you. And, for as long as you can. Don’t put a time limit on it that adds more burden to the experience.

Clarify – It’a best to have a study Bible for this part, but there are plenty of free online tools also. Look up words you don’t understand. Learn to use Bible dictionaries and commentaries. Use the Table of Contents. No shame. Look up passages, which aren’t clear, cross-referencing verses with other similar verses using footnotes. For some people, having a Bible study to work through along with reading the Bible is helpful. And, when you aren’t certain, ask someone you trust who understands the Bible.

Relationship – The best way to fall in love with God’s Word is to get to better know it’s Author. It’s cliche now, but read it as a love letter written to you. If someone writes you a love letter, you’ll read it continually until you figure out what it means, and maybe even memorize parts of it along the way. If you can’t figure out something, you’ll consult the author.
The greater your love grows with God the easier Bible reading becomes — and the more enjoyable. You may even someday say it’s “fun”!

What would you add to my list?

2 Simple Prayers That Greatly Changed My Life

prayer

Over 25 years ago I took a month to read through the book of Jeremiah. Two verses stood out to me then that have continued to produce spiritual growth in my life.

The two verses are:

Jeremiah 24:7

I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.

I realized that God had promised the people they could have a heart to know Him. Therefore, the God who never changes has also promised me I can have a heart to know Him, not just know about Him, but really get to know Him personally. I began praying that God would give me that kind of heart.

A few days later, I read this verse:

Jeremiah 32:39

I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them.

God also promised His people that not only could they know Him intimately, but also He would help them carry out that heart in the things they did. They wouldn’t simply believe a truth; they would actually begin to live truth. Again, I realized God would do the same for me. I began praying that God would give me “singleness of heart and action.”

Praying the truths of these two verses became a pattern for my life over the next year. Looking back, I can see how God did just as He promised. I continue to make mistakes and I consistently need to go back to these principles, but God truly has given me a heart that desires to know him and more and more I am beginning to see myself live out the truth I believe.

What verses have worked that way in your heart? Do you need to pray God would work these verses for truth in your life?

A Guaranteed Way to Have the Best New Year Ever

Thumb Up young couple

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.