Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A Parable About Faith

There was once a little boy name Josh. He was fascinated by science and wanted to know how everything in the universe worked. Even as a little boy Josh drove his parents and teachers crazy by asking complicated questions that had complicated answers. When Josh grew up, he got a job in a scientific laboratory working for the famous Dr. Reason. Dr. Reason was well known for doing excellent research and producing scholarly reports on that research. Josh enjoyed working for him and as the years passed he was able to be a part of exciting research that answered so many of his questions about how the universe worked. When Dr. Reason would finish a major project, he would always publish an article in a well respected scientific journal about his work. Josh loved reading those articles. They made sense to him. The research was meticulous and the conclusions were rational. Dr. Reason was so careful in his research that no one had ever proved any of the conclusions in his articles wrong.

Josh respected Dr. Reason for the research and conclusions that those articles represented, but the longer Josh worked for Dr. Reason, the more their relationship evolved. In time, they became great friends, perhaps even best friends. Dr. Reason would remember little details about Josh and use those details to make Josh’s life more joyful. For example, Dr. Reason remembered that Josh liked chocolate cake, and so he would bring chocolate cake in when it was Josh’s birthday. Though Josh did not have quite as good a memory as Dr. Reason, over time he realized that Dr. Reason like baked chicken. So Josh would often bring a whole baked chicken to the lab for lunch and share it with Dr. Reason. Dr. Reason was also willing to help Josh when Josh needed it. When Josh’s car broke down, Dr. Reason gave him a bonus so he could get the car fixed. When Josh’s grandmother passed away, Dr. Reason came to the funeral and sat next to Josh and they cried together and found comfort in each other’s friendship. Though the scientific articles that Dr. Reason wrote meant a lot to Josh, it was only a piece of their relationship. It was all the other things that really made them friends.

One day Dr. Reason published an article in a journal about a project that he had been working on in a different laboratory. Josh had known that Dr. Reason had a number of other labs where he was doing research. Josh was vaguely aware of what was going on in those labs but did not know all the details like he did in his own lab. When the new article came out, many people did not like Dr. Reason’s conclusions. People began to come to Josh and ask him how he could continue to work for Dr. Reason when his conclusions were so faulty. Josh did his best to defend Dr. Reason’s work, but since he did not know all the details of what was being done in those other labs, he was not able to give as good an answer as he might have liked. Josh did ask Dr. Reason about it, and though Dr. Reason explained it to him, the research and work was so complex that Josh really could not fully understand it. But Josh tried to explain it the best he could to those who asked him about it.

As the controversy intensified, many people said that Josh had “blind faith” in Dr. Reason because Josh kept defending something that he could not fully explain. Others said Josh had made a “leap of faith.” But Josh was not moved from his belief in Dr. Reason’s abilities or intelligence. Josh patiently explained to others that while he was indeed exercising faith in Dr. Reason in this work that he did not fully understand, it was not “blind” faith, nor was it a “leap” of faith. From Josh’s perspective, it was only a step of faith, not a leap of faith. From Josh’s perspective, it was not blind faith, but informed faith. Josh had this perspective because Josh knew Dr. Reason really well. Dr. Reason had proved himself to Josh, not just in the scholarly research and well written articles that had been published, but also in the friendship itself.

Josh was informed enough about Dr. Reason’s work and life and that he felt comfortable continuing working for Dr. Reason even though he did not fully understand this particular situation. Others kept using words like “blind” and “leap” and Josh kept explaining that it was an informed step of faith, not a blind leap, but many people just could not understand Josh’s perspective. At first Josh was frustrated with these people, even a little angry at some of them. He even said a few things he shouldn’t have in his frustration. But in time Josh realized that these people could not understand because they did not know Dr. Reason the way he did. Though Josh really did want to know all the details and all the answers about this project that Dr. Reason was doing, he knew Dr. Reason enough to realize that in time, all would be revealed. Josh was comfortable in his informed step of faith and remained Dr. Reason’s lab assistant. Many people did not understand Josh’s choice, but Josh knew it was the right one and so he was at peace with his choice even if others did not understand.

Moral of the parable:


Many people say that Christians blindly follow a God that is only revealed in the Bible. But for Christians who have built a relationship with God, He is not just revealed in the Bible, but also in their experiences with God. The Bible shows God’s work and parts of it are very easy to understand and explain to others. Other parts are more difficult to understand and explain to others. Those who are not Christians call it blind faith or a leap of faith. But for Christians who have a personal relationship with God, it is not a blind leap of faith at all. Yes, it is faith, but it is more of an informed step of faith than a blind leap. They understand parts of the Bible very well, and they know God well through their personal experiences with Him. Their friendship with God and the parts of the Bible they do understand give them the faith to believe the parts of the Bible that might not be as easy to explain. Faith is required, but from the Christian’s perspective, it is a faith that is well founded and makes perfect sense. Others may lack the ability to understand the informed step of faith that a reflective Christian might make, but to the Christian, it makes perfect sense.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:

Monday, July 18, 2016

Network Engagement

We were sitting at a table in a local coffee shop when the young pastor asked me point blank, "How can your organization help my church?" It was not an usual question. In fact, in my role as the Executive Director of one of 43 Southern Baptist regional conventions, I hear this question often.


To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the question. I absolutely believe that networks like our regional convention exist for the churches, not the other way around. If those networks are not serving churches, they really don't deserve to exist. From that perspective, this is a valid question. But I am concerned that the question also reveals an underlying problem. Are churches now so self-focused that they will no longer support missionary efforts unless there is something in it for them? Have churches lost their passion and vision for working together with other like-minded churches to accomplish great things for God? These concerns haunt my thinking when I hear a pastor ask what the network can do for their individual church.

Being part of a larger network should be about more than what a church gets out of it. It should also be about what affiliated churches can contribute to it. Churches must have a more Kingdom focus if we are to ever reach New England, America and the world with the Gospel. Just as asking what advantage being connected to our network is to an individual church, it is also valid for our network to ask local churches "What can your church do to move the mission of our network forward?" If a particular church just wants to take from the larger group without any real meaningful contribution to it, what motivation does the network have for establishing or maintaining the relationship? Real partnership is a mutual effort where two groups who view themselves as equals work together toward mutually beneficial goals. Just as my organization must seek to care for the churches, churches must seek the good of the network in order to expand the Kingdom in ways their church cannot do in their own. Churches can support the ministry of the larger network through focused prayer, providing ministry leadership and expertise to the larger group, hosting meetings for the larger network or other churches within the network that lack facilities, giving generous financial support so all the needs in the network family can be met, or some combination of all of these things.

Imagine if an individual church member would only join a local church, or remain connected to it, if the church agreed to meet all of their personal needs? Imagine if an individual church member always made demands of the local church but contributed either nothing or very little in the way of time, volunteerism or financial donations to the church? At some point the local church would be unable to meet such an individual’s growing demands. If enough church members made such demands, while refusing to do their part, the church would struggle, perhaps even cease to exist.

The same thing is true for networks of churches like the regional convention I lead. When individual churches require ever growing services from the network but offer less and less engagement, it becomes a downward spiral that does not end well. For a local church to be healthy, it must not only ask what is in it for them. Churches must also ask what they can bring to the table to advance the cause of Christ through the network they are part of.

It can be hard to find the right balance. It is something leaders like me struggle with on a regular basis. But if we are to find the proper balance we must start asking the question from both sides of the coffee table. Otherwise, either side becomes narcissistic and forgets the sense of real community our mutual faith in Christ should produce.

--------------------------------------------------------



Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Loving Money

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. 1 Timothy 6:10

Life is expensive. The growing economic inequality in our culture exasperates that every day. Many people are feeling significant economic pressure, including Christians. Christians have to pay the rent, the electric bill and buy groceries just like everyone else. But how Christians respond to economic pressure should be different than non-believers.

The focus of the Christian life should on serving the Lord, not in accumulating material possessions. That does not mean that believers must live in poverty, but that the pursuit of material possessions should not drive our lives. Our worth has already been declared by the Father when He gave His Son to die for us. No amount of earthly wealth can increase that declared worth, nor can any level of poverty lessen it.

Christians should remember this as they choose their careers and as they look for employment. Will our chosen career put more money in our bank account but leave us little time for serving the Lord? Christians should think carefully before they get into debt. Especially if that debt then requires them to work extra hours in order to service the debt and they no longer have time to serve the Lord.

When Christians don't get the balance of eternal perspective and earthly possessions right, they tend to drift from their faith. They fail to care about their families like they should. They fail to care about the poor like they should. They find themselves working when they should be worshipping with other believers. They find themselves cheating in their taxes or stealing from their employer. All of these things will lead to significant problems at some point. These things make our faith less powerful. They make us self-centered. They cause us to have relationship problems. They can cause us to have legal issues if our love of money outweighs our love of truth and integrity.

Making the love of money the focus of our lives will make us wander from the faith and fill our lives with many pains. We must guard our hearts and keep ourselves focused on Jesus. Only by keeping this focus will we find real contentment in our lives, contentment in our faith, and contentment with our possessions.

Lord, help us keep our focus on You and not on our possessions. Amen. 

---------------------------------------
Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

How to Enjoy Your Retirement

Titus 2:2-4 - Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good and so train the young women . . .

America is slowly graying as 10,000 Baby Boomers retire every day. Retirement is supposed to be a fun- filled time spent with family, a time to create joyful memories with grandchildren, travel to places we have always wanted to visit and engage in learning and service opportunities that we did not have time for when we were working. Regretfully, many Baby Boomers are finding retirement to be less fun, joyful and adventurous than they had hoped.

Time magazine reports in a May 23, 2016 article that a growing number of Baby Boomers have isolated themselves as they age.  This is a negative trend. It is harmful for retirees, but it is also harmful for our culture. Our culture needs the wisdom of the older generation. Laura L. Carstensen, the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, writes: “A large body of research shows that emotional experience improves with age. People are slower to show anger and more prone to see silver linings. They solve emotional charged conflicts more effectively and are more likely to forgive and forget.” In other words, they have a lot of wisdom and maturity that their family, friends, community of worship and local organizations need. When they isolate themselves during their twilight years instead of investing themselves in others, everyone suffers.

Another reason retirees need to resist this trend toward isolation is because it is not healthy for them. The Stanford Center on Longevity’s Sightlines Project tracked six age cohorts to see how well they are doing in areas critical to long term well-being. “There is ample evidence that social engagement has positive effects on health and longevity. Social isolation is as strong a risk factor for early mortality as cigarette smoking.” Just think about that. Isolating one self from the community brings early death just like smoking!

If the evidence is overwhelming that the community needs its seniors to be involved and that seniors need that involvement, why are today’s retirees  less engaged? Carstensen points out that “Boomers are less likely to participate in community or religious organizations than were their counterparts 20 years ago.” Their parents were the Builder Generation who built strong churches and healthy community organizations. And when they retired, they had built in connections to make those retirement years joyful and adventurous. But the Boomers rejected those institutions and preferred a more individualistic approach to life. Now, as the Boomers enter retirement, few of them have meaningful connections to churches or other community groups, and that is causing them to feel isolated and alone. The individualism they were so proud of when they are younger is now literally killing them.

The good news is that retirees can do something about this. There are churches everywhere! Find one and get involved in it. Don’t just show up occasionally for a pot luck dinner, or only for Sunday morning worship. Get as deeply involved as you can. Deep friendships can be formed with great people who can change retirement from a time of loneliness to a time of great adventure. There are many small non-profits in every community that could use a volunteer. Find one that needs your skills and start volunteering each week. It is amazing how it changes one’s perspective on life. And those kids who never call? The phone works both ways. Don’t sit and wait for it to ring. Pick it up and call a family member or friend. We are as connected as we want to be and in retirement, connections are vital for our own health and for the health of those around us. Shake off that isolation and invest yourself in others!

Lord, help us to invest ourselves in others during our senior years instead of isolating ourselves. Amen.

-------------

Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Volunteering Our Time and Money Wisely

Galatians 6:10 - So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Many of us enjoy volunteering our time to worthwhile projects in our church or community. We often combine our volunteer efforts with financial donations. It does not take long before word gets around that we are generous with our time and money. Suddenly everyone is asking us to volunteer one day a week or make generous donations to their cause. It can be overwhelming. Since few of us can say yes to every need, how can we narrow the list to make our time and money count?

Lauren Bush makes these three suggestions in the April 25, 2016 edition of Time magazine:

1.       Get specific – pick one charitable organization where you can use your unique skills to make a difference. This allows you to meet specific needs with your specific skills instead of just being a general volunteer.
2.       Become a regular – try to volunteer more than just occasionally so that you become a real part of the organization. If we care about the organization’s purpose, then we can leverage our time to make a significant difference.
3.       Think about your time creatively – you may not be able to volunteer a whole day but can do an hour or two one evening on the way home from work, consider volunteering WITH your children so it becomes a family activity instead of taking away from it.

I think Lauren has some great advice on this topic. One of these things I have noticed is that sometimes people spread themselves too thin by volunteering for too many organizations or by trying to support too many causes financially. While we should practice a lifestyle of generosity, one $100 gift to an organization that we really care about makes more impact than ten $10 gifts to several charities that we know little about. Volunteering at the same place one time a week for an entire year can produce more long term results than volunteering randomly for different causes.

Though it might make us feel good to be involved in a lot of different things, feeling good should not really be our goal. (Read more about that here.) Our goal should be to make a difference. Focusing our time and money on fewer organizations so that we can do more for those causes will make a real difference.

Lord, give us wisdom to know how to use our time and money for Your glory. Amen.

-----------------------------------------

Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author
in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:

http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Terry-W.-Dorsett/e/B00405U4NY                               

Monday, June 27, 2016

Conservatives are More Open-Minded

Job 21:34 – How then will you comfort me with empty nothings? There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood.

It was an eight word Facebook post carefully written to express a positive opinion without maligning those who held to a different opinion.  I had barely hit the post button before my newsfeed begun to fill up with the rants from one of my more progressive friends. She wanted to point out how narrow minded and bigoted I was for posting such a mean spirited statement. After letting her rant for a while, I asked her to go back and read my post and then read her own posts and tell me again who was narrow minded and bigoted. Seconds later, she defriended me.

There is a narrative told in our national news media that liberals are open minded, tolerant, well-educated and well-informed on the issues, whereas conservatives are just a bunch of narrow minded country hillbillies who barely made it out of high school. Though this narrative seems to be accepted by many people as fact, new research reveals that this stereotype is far from accurate. Time magazine reported in a spring 2016 article about Facebook and Politics that 51% of liberals got news on Facebook compared to just 34% of conservatives and 28% of moderates. Though Facebook is a great place for interacting with friends, it is not a reputable news source. If it is a person’s primary source for news, then they are not a well-informed person. This is even more important now that we know that Facebook manipulates their trending topics to drive a narrative of their choosing.

Clearly liberals are not better informed on the issues than conservatives and moderates. What about being more open-minded and tolerant? That same Time article reported that 44% of consistent liberals have hidden, blocked, defriended or unfollowed someone over a political post they disagreed with. Whereas only 31% of consistent conservatives have done that. Though both sides could learn to be more opened minded toward the other, clearly liberals are less open minded and would rather lose a friendship than hear a viewpoint that they disagree with. Another straw man collapses as we realize that it is the conservatives who are more willing to engage in discussion and dialogue with those who have differing opinions.

Those of us who are conservatives may often feel like we are on the defensive, but there is no need to take that attitude. Regardless of the media spin, the facts are on our side. Let’s keep getting our news from a wide variety of sources. Let’s keep listening and engaging with those who disagree with us. Let’s watch as truth triumphs over falsehood.

Lord, help us share Your Truth with all of those we come in contact with. Amen.

-----------------------------------

Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Dreams and Spirituality

Daniel 1:17 – As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

When I was a teenager I remember eating spicy food while watching a scary movie. The combination of the two gave me nightmares. I woke up the next morning exhausted from all the crazy dreams I had. After having this happen to me a couple of times, I learned not to combine those two things together before going to sleep.

Dreams are caused by a wide variety of things. Many theorize that dreams are our sub-conscious mind’s way of sorting out what is going on in our lives. But could dreams be more than that? We read stories in the Bible where dreams had specific meanings. Many of us have had unique dreams that made us wonder if God was trying to send us a message.

Kelley Bulkeley is a dream researcher and theologian who wrote Big Dreams: The Science of Dreaming and the Origins of Religion. Bulkeley reports in an April 4, 2016 article in Time magazine that modern neuroscience “says that dreams can prime us to be spiritual, in one form or another.” She goes on to explain that the Sleep and Dream Database includes extensive research that shows “that half of American adults say they’ve had at least one visitation dream” where someone came to them in a dream to give them a message. Some people focused on the people in their dreams, but most focused on the message itself. Could this message have meaning beyond just spicy food and scary movies?

This is a question many evangelical Christians are also asking.  Could God use dreams to communicate messages to His people? Some strands of evangelicalism widely accept dreams as messages from God. Other strands of evangelicalism are more skeptical. Most evangelicals who accept the possibility of God sending messages in dreams make it clear that God would never contradict Himself. That means that if a dream was in opposition to the Bible, then it could not be from God. Dreams that contradict the scripture are more likely the result of spicy food and scary movies. But what about the ones that seem to confirm what God has already declared in scripture? There is no real way to prove either side of that debate because dreams are too subjective for that. Therefore, scholars will keep debating that issue until the end of time. 

So what good is Bulkeley’s research if we can’t really prove that any particular dream is from God? Her research provides an interesting conversation starter with our non-believing friends about how dreams and faith might be connected. Bulkeley concludes that though “Science may not be able to prove the existence of God . . . it can prove that, for many people, dreams offer a way to expand their sense of reality and attain a higher level of being.” As our culture becomes post-Christian and fewer people know the Bible, discussing dreams might open the door for a larger conversation about spirituality. These discussions could be the means by which the Lord causes people to think about spirituality. It is good for evangelical Christians, even ones skeptical about spiritual messages through dreams, to know something about this topic so that we can use this issue as one of our tools for starting Gospel conversations with others.

Lord, help us take every opportunity You give us to talk to our friends about issues of faith. Amen.

-----------------------------------------------------

Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:
http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Terry-W.-Dorsett/e/B00405U4NY