Every Relationship Needs More Grace – A Sermon

happy couple 2

Every relationship could use more grace.

In this message, I share some practical ways to share grace in building oneness in the relationships of our life.

Here’s a summary:

1. Realize the grace you’ve received.
2. Practice daily forgiveness.
3. Filter everything through love.

Love Helps – Grace from ron edmondson on Vimeo.

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.

Discerning Your Seasons of Life

Four seasons collage

As I write this, we are approaching spring on the calendar, but today is a cold day that follows two warm, very nice days. A couple weeks ago we had 17 inches of snow on the ground. A couple days ago I was able to run outside in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. Warmer days are predicted later this week.

Like the saying goes in my part of the world, “If you don’t like the weather now — stick around — it will change.”

Seasons. They come and they go. Sometimes quickly.

Life is like that.

Life happens in seasons.

Ecclesiastes says there’s a time for everything. Everything has a season.

Good seasons. Bad seasons.

Productive seasons. Growth seasons. And, seasons of decline.

Seasons of mourning. Grief. Seasons of laughter. Jubilee.

Seasons where there are more obstacles than opportunities. Often followed by seasons where we can’t seem to find time for all the opportunities.

There are seasons of stretching, where God seems to shape something new in our hearts. And, we often don’t know what that new is until we enter another season.

Seasons of passionate, growing love. And, tough seasons, where love is tested.

Seasons you’re more the leader and seasons where you’re more being led.

Seasons of blessings. And, seasons of wondering where are all those blessings others seem to be experiencing.

There are seasons of discovery and seasons where we get to invest what we have discovered in others — while we keep discovering something new.

As parents we have lots of seasons. The seasons where we never seem to have a break and you can’t get everything done and the kids are driving you crazy some days and you just need one good night’s rest. And, then seasons where the house seems empty and you long for a cluttered floor of toys again.

Seasons. Life happens in seasons.

What’s your current season?

It’s important to understand that seasons occur and to know what season in which you are currently living.

When we don’t understand this concept of seasons — especially in the bad seasons — we can begin to believe that seasons never change. We may stop trusting. Stop dreaming. Stop taking risks.

But, life comes in seasons. Seasons do change. Sometimes quickly. And, sometimes seasons overlap each other.

When we find ourselves in a good season — especially an extended good season — we can start to take the season for granted. We may even forget that seasons change. Sometimes quickly. And, so we aren’t prepared.

Take a minute and reflect: What season of life you are currently experiencing?

Review your life by how the seasons have molded you. God never wastes a season. Ask God to place in your heart what He wants you to learn during this specific season of your life. Invite God to speak into your seasons.

Life happens in seasons.

7 Intangible, Seemingly Unproductive Actions Valuable in Leadership

Thinking man

Much of what a leader does can seem unproductive at times.

For someone wired for production — progress — checklist completion — even wasted.

I’ll admit, even though I know this in my leadership knowledge, I have to discipline myself to practice them sometimes.

Yet, every good leader I know specializes in intangible actions that don’t always produce visible, immediate results.

In fact, these actions are probably the most productive part of their work.

In order for the team to thrive, there are things which may seem unproductive that the leader must spend time doing.

Let me share some examples from my own leadership.

Here are 7 intangible things I try to do each day:

Praying. Did I need to share that one? And, yet I do. For my reminder and most leaders I know. Yes, even pastors. We can get so busy making decisions, putting out fires and handling routines that we fail to stop and pray. What could be happening in our leadership if we spent more time praying? (That’s a sobering question.)

Thinking. Leader, how much time do you spend just thinking? I’m not talking about daydreaming on mindless things, but this intangible action could also be titled dreaming. I’m talking about disciplined thinking about where we are, where we are going, what’s working, what’s not working. I need those times every single day. Often new ideas hit me in the shower or driving in my car, but many times new ideas are only shaped and realized when I set aside quantity time to brainstorm.

Reading. I don’t know why — even as I teach these principles — it has always made me feel uncomfortable when someone who works with me finds me reading a magazine or a book. I feel so unproductive. But I know the more responsibility a leader assumes the more important it is that he or she be exposed to new ideas and thoughts. Leaders are readers. I don’t always get something I can immediately put into practice, but my mind is stretched and my thoughts are energized. Valuable. Gold in many cases. (As a practice, I try to read one chapter a day from some book — other than the Bible.)

Investing. Helping others succeed is what leaders do best. Sometimes leadership is as simple as believing in others more than they believe in themselves. I have to remember also, that I’m into Kingdom-building, not only church building, so investing in other pastors — even those not on our team — is a part of what I have been called to do. And, it should be noted, investing is not just talking. Leaders, in my opinion, do too much of that at times. It’s also listening to others and learning from them or at least learning them.

Networking. Some of the greatest doors of opportunity as a church have opened because of networking. Honestly, that is one thing that has made Twitter valuable in leadership. Quick connections with peers. The greater a leader’s success is often directly related to the strength and size of their network.

Walking. Several times daily, if I’m in the office, I walk through our building. I see people. They have a chance to ask me questions, interact with me, and even share a concern. It’s amazing how this action — which many times may not produce anything tangible immediately — seems to endure people to my leadership. Leaders need to be present. Visible. Even accessible to the point they can be.

Planning. I saved this one for last and I almost said meeting, but that’s a very tangible action. But, let’s be honest, meetings can also seem unproductive. I read the books and blogs about eliminating meetings — and I’m all about it when possible — but the fact is a team has to meet occasionally. The problem in my opinion isn’t the meeting as much as the meetings where nothing is accomplished. Even planning may seem unproductive — even wasted — for those who are most wired for production. Many would rather do than plan to do. But, preparation, while it may seem unnecessary in the process, makes success more attainable. Some of the best leaders I know personally are military leaders. Ask them how much preparation and planning they want their teams to have before encountering the enemy.

Depending on your wiring, some of these may seem unproductive at the time. That’s especially true for me when I get back to my desk and face dozens of unanswered emails, but successful leadership demands that we spend time investing in the intangible.

In which of these areas do you most need to improve as a leader?

7 Things the Church Can’t Do for the Pastor

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Pastor, there are some things your church can’t do for you.

They simply can’t.

Please understand. I love the church. Greatly. I’m a local church guy. But, they simply can’t do these things for you.

And, if you think they can, or you leave it up to them to do these things, you’ll someday find out the hard way — they can’t.

I’ve watched it many times as pastors didn’t do these. They followed the demands of the church and somehow expected the church to be providing these needs. It caused a void.

Some pastors have even crashed and burned waiting for someone else to do for them what only they could do.

Granted, you may have the greatest church of your ministry career, but regardless of how wonderful the church is they can’t do all the things for you that your soul, personal life and ministry demands.

You’ll have to do them yourself — by God’s grace — if they’re going to be done.

Here are 7 things your church can’t adequately do for the pastor:

Hold you accountable. The church can’t guard your heart and character. It doesn’t matter how many rules or committees they have, if you want to ruin your life, you’ll find a way around the structure.

Love your family and protect your time with them. They may love your family. They may respect your time with them, but if you really want to protect your family — you’ll have to take the lead role here.

Understand the demands on your time. They can’t. And, you’ll only be disappointed if you expect them to. All jokes aside, they know you work more than Sunday, but they don’t know all the pressure placed upon your role. They can’t understand anymore than you can understand what it’s like to sit at their desk, or operate that machine they operate, or drive that police car or teach that classroom. We only know what we know and we can’t fully understand what another person’s experience is until we experience it.

Ensure you discipline your Sabbath time. You can teach it — they can know it — but if they need you they aren’t going to necessarily understand that you’re on a Sabbath. If you’re going to rest — if you’re going to have a Biblcially commanded Sabbath — you’ll have to discipline yourselves to take it.

Read your mind. People are usually waiting to be led. They are looking for a vision to follow. They can’t follow an unspoken vision.

Build your sense of self-worth. If you’re waiting to hear how wonderful the message was, what a good job you’re doing, or how much the church loves you in order to feel you’re doing a good job — you’re going to be very disappointed most of the time. You’ll have to find your sense of self-worth in your relationship with God and living out His purpose for your life — the same place you’re hopefully encouraging the church to find their sense of self-worth.

Completely discern your call from God. Some may be used of God to speak into your life, but your personal calling is between you and God. They won’t always understand when you’re “called away” or when you feel “led” to lead in a certain direction. And, you can’t expect them to.

Don’t expect others to do for you what only you — by God’s grace — can do.

10 Reasons to Consider Church Revitalization — Even Over Church Planting

Bellfry of old Russian church against blue sky

I meet with young church planters frequently. I hope that continues. We had great experiences in two successful church plants and it’s certainly in my heart. Currently we are working to plant churches in Chicago. I love the energy of planting. We need lots of new churches.

In this season of my life, God has called me into revitalization. We are positioning an older, established church, that was once in decline, to grow again. And, it’s been amazing — and challenging — and rewarding — and hard.

God began to encourage my heart towards revitalization when I considered my home church — the one where I served in lay leadership until I was called into ministry late in my 30’s. That church introduced me to Christ, help me grow, and I wouldn’t be in ministry today without them.

But, that church has seen better days. (Thankfully, they are in revitalization now and a friend of mine pastors there.) What will become of the established church? That was a burning question on my heart and God lined my heart up with a church in need of revitalization.

Now, after the experience of the last few years, when I meet with church planters, I often encourage them to consider church revitalization. I realize church revitalization doesn’t have all the attraction of church planting. I left behind my skinny jeans to enter church revitalization. And all God’s people said amen. But, here’s the thing: the attraction in church revitalization is in the mission. And, that’s hopefully the same reason anyone enters church planting.

Here are 10 reasons to consider church revitalization — even over church planting:

You love the thought of restoring history. Our church is over 100 years old. Wouldn’t it be a shame to see that history come to an end — if we can reverse the decline?

You are ready to go to work now. There are far more opportunities in church revitalization. I read that near 90% of established churches are in decline or plateaued. There’s work to be done immediately.

You like having an established base of financial support. The good thing about many established churches is that they have loyal supporters. Sometimes those are the ones holding out until the doors are closed — they never want to change — but many times those people are just waiting for leadership to take them somewhere better than where they are today.

You love inter-generational ministry. In an established church, if you start to reach younger people, you’ll see a blending of generations. That’s a beautiful experience. It’s been one of our favorites in ministry. And, personally, I think it’s healthy and a very Biblical model of church.

You like a challenge. I didn’t put this as my number one, but don’t be misled. You will face opposition if you try to change things from where people are comfortable. You don’t face that same challenge in a church plant. But, you didn’t get into ministry expecting it to be easy did you? You agreed to walk by faith, right? And, you’ll have that opportunity in church revitalization. Everyday.

You won’t run from every conflict. You mustn’t. You must stay the good course. The mission is too vital.

You enjoy healthy structure. Granted, it might not be healthy, but you’ll find structure. And, as long as you’re not doing away with structure completely — which isn’t healthy anyway — you can usually tweak structure to be healthy again.

You are Kingdom-minded. You see the bigger picture. There are more Kingdom dollars being under-utilized in stagnant churches than may ever be invested in church planting. What are we going to do about it? If you’d like to know the answer — maybe you’re a candidate for revitalization.

You can endure a long-term approach. It likely won’t happen immediately. In church planting, we could change in a weekend. That’s not necessarily true in the established church. There are many things that can happen immediately. Certainly we saw some immediate, very positive changes and the church began to grow quickly. But, the best changes have taken time — but they have paid off dramatically because of our more methodical approach.

You truly love the local church. I didn’t love everything about the church that I came to pastor — or the established church I attended all my life until surrendering to ministry. But, I truly love the local church. Enough that I’d be willing to invest energies in trying to save one.

Let me be honest. Some churches can’t be — and may not need to be — saved. There, I said that. They’ve been toxic since they began — running off pastors so a few families can remain in control. They aren’t interested in reaching a lost world. They are looking for a comfortable place to hang out with people just like them.

But, there are so many churches who are ready to grow again with the right pastoral leadership. And, I encourage some of our young, eager, pastors — even some who may be considering church planting — to consider allowing God to use you in revitalizing an established church.

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!

My Top 7 Goals to Accomplish on Easter Sunday

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Easter. It’s a time of year when churches have an opportunity second only to Christmas in attracting visitors. Hopefully all of God’s churches will be packed Easter Sunday. That’s my prayer.

We’ve had months of praying, planning and preparing. We’ve done all we can do, but God is ultimately in charge of all that happens in our church — and yours.

I’m often asked, however, what I hope to accomplish on Easter Sunday — such an important day in the life of any church. It could seem overwhelming if we try to accomplish too much in one day, so what do I, as a pastor, have at the top of my list of goals for Easter Sunday.

I shared a guest post with Lifeway’s pastor blog about 7 ways a church can prepare for Easter. In this post, I want to share what I actually hope we accomplish on Easter Sunday. Only 7 things. If we accomplish nothing else, and there are probably many other things we will accomplish Easter Sunday, I hope Immanuel Baptist does these 7 well.

Gospel is shared – Duh! But, after we’ve made all the preparations, it would be like inviting people to a turkey dinner with no turkey if we don’t share the Gospel. Once we’ve worked hard to gather people into a room, we must not neglect to share the simple truth that Jesus lived, died, and rose again and by Him and through Him alone we can be saved. We must give people an opportunity to hear the Gospel — if for the first time or one of many other times. The Gospel is Good News for all people. All times. After all, that’s what we are celebrating Easter Sunday.

People feel welcome – I hope everyone who enters the doors of our church feels welcome. Regardless of what they are wearing, what side of town they came from, what they do for a living, their education status, whichever “side of the tracks” from which they arrived — let them feel the genuine love and kindness of God’s people. There will be those who don’t feel “worthy” to be in a church Easter Sunday (because they don’t yet understand than none of us are apart from grace). What better day to “love one another” than Easter Sunday!

Next is highlighted – I want people to leave knowing where the church is going next. For example, we will be studying some of the Psalms in our next series. People need to know that — in hopes that they’ll want to return.

The church is presented well – This is the Sunday, even more than others perhaps, where I hope our people are willing to sacrifice for visitors. I told our deacons Sunday night I hope they are the ones willing to move to the center of an aisle first, to make room on the ends of a row for visitors. I hope Immanuel people help visitors in the parking lot, even if they’ve never before worked in the parking lot. I hope people who seem to be looking for the bathrooms don’t have to look long before someone helps them. I hope the building is cleaner than ever. (That’s why we have a cleanup day scheduled Saturday.) Just as when visitors come to your home for the first time, this is the time to be ready to receive guests warmly. I also want to answer as many questions as people may have about the church, so we are printing a special bulletin designed to give insight to visitors about who we are, what programs we offer, and easy places where they could quickly become a part of Immanuel.

Our people are encouraged – I hope people who call Immanuel their home church — even if they’ve been there over 70 years (and some have been) or just arrived in the last few weeks (and there are lots of those), will leave encouraged by what they experience Easter Sunday. I hope there will be a God-honoring pride that we did all God would expect us to do to present an atmosphere conducive for people to ultimately hear the Gospel. I hope they’ll be challenged for the days ahead and willing to sacrifice and serve even more, directly as a result of what God allows to happen Easter Sunday.

Children are safe and have fun – If parents entrust their children to our care they should be assured their children are safe and well-protected. In addition, I hope children leave telling their parents how much they enjoyed being at Immanuel this Sunday. Children have a raw honesty about them. They don’t always know the words to say, but parents know whether or not this is a place their kids will be welcomed. Children are often a huge door to the families eventual active involvement in a church. And, this shouldn’t mean children don’t learn. Obviously, they need the Gospel as much as adults, but I believe truth can be shared in an inviting setting.

People leave with hope – Second only from hearing the Gospel, I hope people leave our Easter services with a sense of hope. Actually, that’s my goal every Sunday. The world can be a scary place. There will be lots of brokenness among us Easter Sunday. As followers of Christ, we believe we hold the answer to hope for the world. It’s in the Resurrected Savior — whom we are celebrating — the King of kings and Lord of lords. I hope people don’t leave more confused or feeling guilty about their life, but rather they live knowing their is A Way, there is an answer — there is HOPE — in Jesus Christ!

Easter Sunday is coming. I’m praying for my pastor friends, for the church of Christ, and for those who will enter our gathering places this Sunday, joining the Church in Easter worship.

Here’s What A List Won’t Solve

Clipboard with Checklist

I’ve been called the list guy.

I’m sure there are at least 7 reasons why. :)

Most of the time that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes I’m sure it is. One guy wrote recently — “What’s with all the lists? Don’t you know how to write without them?”

Whatever! But, I’m okay with that. Seriously. There are other blogs out there that don’t use lists. Some that do. And, I’ve been told I’ve encouraged some that do to use the lists they do. (So, what’s that about? Crazy.)

I don’t use lists in every post. I didn’t this one, but lists sometimes help me make a complex issue simpler.

I start my day with lists. I process using lists. I often think in lists. I counsel people with lists — steps to think through — options — thoughts — in lists. It works for me.

And, thankfully, it seems to have worked for this blog. I have a lot of blog posts beginning with “7” in the title and my blog traffic isn’t too shabby. I could give you a list of reasons I’m thankful for that.

But, I need to be honest. Lists aren’t everything.

Lists — in and of themselves — aren’t the solution.

There. You heard it from “the list guy”.

And, I can promise you this: Here’s one thing a list won’t solve.

It won’t solve your problem if all you do is read a list.

Period.

Reading a list won’t fix a broken marriage. It won’t improve your leadership. It can’t cause you to lose weight. You won’t be a better parent simply by reading another list.

I could give you a whole list of reasons why. Probably 7, 10 or 12 reasons why.

If you ignore doing the right things — list or no list — it’s not going to work.

You can make all the lists you want. Read every list out there. There are a few on this blog. I think some of them are pretty good. But one thing I know for sure:

You can’t succeed at what you don’t begin.

Ideas don’t lead to success. Making lists doesn’t lead to success. Reading lists won’t produce success. They may help. But, actions lead to success. Taking positive steps forward — that leads to success.

Do nothing and you get no results. If you don’t work the list — the list is of no value.

The very best list can’t solve the problem of inactivity.

Do you need a list to understand this post? Be honest.