Friday, May 22, 2015

Enjoy Familiar Scripture Texts

For many years I served as a pastor in a local church. Though I tried to have variety in my sermon texts, I often found myself preaching from familiar passages either because they seemed to speak to critical needs in the lives of those I served or because it was a special day like Easter or Christmas. Though no one ever complained, it was sometimes challenging to bring fresh insight to passages everyone knew so well. From time to time I would wonder if the congregation got tired of hearing from those particular scriptures each year.

This morning in my devotions I read Philippians 3:1 where the Apostle Paul said, "Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you." Paul said it was not a problem for him to remind those he served of the same truths again and again. In fact, he said it was safer for the hearers if he did that.

It is safer for us to hear beloved passages again and again because at any given time our hearts may not be ready to receive all that is in a passage of scripture. But when we read, hear or discuss it at a later time, our hearts might be more ready to heed and obey its truth. Therefore, it is a blessing to hear those passages explained multiple times in our lives.

So this Sunday, if our pastor is preaching on a passage we already know, instead of tuning him out, listen with ears ready to gain nuggets of truth that we might have missed the last time through.

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Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has served as a pastor, church planter, author and denominational leader in New England since 1993. He is the proud father of three adult children, a cancer survivor and the author of 8 books. You can find all of his books at http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Terry-W.-Dorsett/e/B00405U4NY

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Comfort and the Challenge of Scripture

This morning I was sitting on the back porch of the house we are staying in this week for a family reunion. I was listening to birds sing and reading scripture. Sounds like the start of a great week!
As I was reading, here is a verse that brought joy to me as I read it:

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6

I am so glad the Lord is not finished with me yet. He is patient and kind. He is full of mercy. He keeps pruning areas of my life and making me more of what I should be for His glory. I am thankful He has not given up on me yet.

Scripture often encourages us, comforts us, and brings joy to our lives.

As I kept reading, I came to this verse, which really challenged me:

"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel." Philippians 1:27

I want to live a life worthy of being called "Christian." I want Jesus to return and catch me doing right instead of wrong. I want to be a team player, standing side by side with other believers standing firm in the gospel. I often fail at those things, but they are my goals.

We need scripture to being both joy and challenges to our faith. We need comfort and we need motivation to change. Scripture provides all of that when we let the Spirit use it to speak to our hearts.

These challenges from scripture motivate me to rest more in the gospel and trust His continued work of grace in my life to finish what He started and help me be worthy of the calling He has given me.

What do they say to you?

Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has served as a pastor, church planter, author and denominational leader in New England since 1993. He is the proud father of three adult children, a cancer survivor and the author of 8 books. You can find all of his books at http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Terry-W.-Dorsett/e/B00405U4NY

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ministry is Messy

When Jesus walked on earth He was often criticized by the religious elite for spending too much time with sinners. The way Jesus responded to these criticisms was to remind them that the healthy do not need a doctor, only the sick do. The clear implication of His metaphor was that He had come to seek and to save those who needed Him most, those who were still lost in their sin. Yet, in our modern North American culture, most churches actually spend the bulk of their energy trying to attract those who are already Christians. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the most obvious is that Christians are the easiest to reach. They speak our church language and agree with the primary principles of our theology. But is that what Jesus did?

If we followed the example of Jesus, we would be reaching those who are not yet Christian. This is much more complicated. It takes a lot of energy and effort. It often takes a much longer period of time than we anticipated. It is almost always “messy” in a variety of practical ways.

I recall a time with I was reminded of messy aspect of reaching non-Christians. We had a large crowd for a special worship service. About half the crowd were teenagers, most of whom were from non-Christian families. Though the bulk of the teens were very focused on the worship service, a small group of young men were sitting over to the side of the sanctuary and were talking during the entire service. Two of the ladies had already gone over and attempted to quiet them, but they boys did not comply. Though I was sitting on the platform, another man was preaching, so I was watching the entire affair. About half way through the sermon they got so loud that it was becoming difficult to pay attention to the young man who was preaching. I left the platform and made my way over to where they were sitting. It was my intention to send the “leader of the pack” to a different seat and then sit with the rest of the group for the remainder of the service. Needless to say, my plan did not work out so well. The leader of the pack decided to make a scene. He said a few obscene words and drew back his arm to assault me. One of the deacons, a former Marine, immediately intervened and escorted troubled young man out of the building. I wish I could say the situation ended there, but it did not. The young man became even more belligerent in the parking lot and the deacons regretfully had to call the police to resolve the situation, not exactly the way a pastor would want a church service to end.

Reaching out to non-Christians is messy. I understand why most churches do not bother to do it. But if churches are not willing to get their hands dirty and reach out to people with problems, then who will help non-Christians find Jesus?



Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has served as a pastor, church planter, author and denominational leader in New England since 1993. He is the proud father of three adult children, a cancer survivor and the author of 8 books. You can find all of his books at http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Terry-W.-Dorsett/e/B00405U4NY

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Interview with Russell C. Lambert, author of Why Is My Church Dying?

Pastor Lambert and I met some years ago in an online group for pastors of small churches. We have dialogued often about the issues facing small churches across the nation. Since our initial meeting online, we have also been able to be together at some conferences for small churches and enjoy fellowship over a meal. I greatly admire his commitment to the small church. He is one of those pastors that could easily serve in a bigger church but has the passionate calling to do something for the Lord in places that others have neglected.

After years of service to small churches, Pastor Lambert reveals to us in his latest book, Why Is My Church Dying?, many truths he learned about small churches through his study of the Word and his practical experience. The book is easy to read, with short, but potent chapters. I particularly like the discussion questions at the end of each chapter that help the individual reader reflect deeper on what was read, but also make the book usable as a training tool for a leadership team in a small church.

Though the chapters may be short and easy to read, the truths presented will not always be easy to respond to. For example, in chapter 11 Pastor Lambert hits the reader with a convicting question, “Is your church dying with money in the bank?” We all know the answer to that, but we like to apply the answer to everyone else’s church, not our own. Pastor Lambert forces us to ask that question about our own church. Not all readers will like the answer, but it is something we need to wrestle with. Readers can expect hard hitting questions like that all through the book.

I was recently blessed to interview Pastor Lambert about his book and you can find that interview below:

TERRY: Russell, you have been a pastor for a long time. Your background clearly would allow you to lead a much larger church, but you have chosen to serve smaller congregations. Why have you made that choice?

RUSSELL: I made the choice to serve in smaller, rural churches back in 1992. I had run from the call to ministry for 13 years and when I surrendered and asked for forgiveness, I told the Lord if He could still use me that I would serve Him in out of the way places and congregations that no one else wanted to minister to. To honor that commitment the Lord has had to grow my faith by leaps and bounds.

TERRY: In addition to serving the local church, you have also impacted the larger church through your writings. Can you share with us 2-3 key things you hope people will gain from the materials you write?

RUSSELL: I hope that what I write will encourage church leaders to take on the challenges that are set before them instead of just ignoring them and hoping they will go away. I want people to think about what they are reading and hearing from God's Word; not so much in a theological sense, but in a heart-felt life changing application and then take action based on that.

TERRY: Your most recent book is entitled, “Why is My Church Dying?” That is a question many people are asking in our nation today. Can you give us a synopsis of the book and tell us why you choose to write this particular book?

RUSSELL: Most churches are troubled churches. If you do not believe that, just ask their pastors. Far too often, when pastors are offered solutions, they are one-size-fits-all answers which never truly address root problems. I knew the Bible would have the answers to the root problems of troubled churches if we would only ask the right questions. That is what I have tried to do in this book.

TERRY: Who do you hope will benefit the most from this book and why?

RUSSELL: I think that this book will be a benefit to anyone who is asking the question, "What is wrong with my church?" It will give them a place to start, and hopefully they will do it in concert with others in the congregation who are of like mind and opinion. Of course the danger in that is they might find out that they are part of the problem. This book is not for the faint of heart and is a serious self-evaluation that has enough in it too make us all uncomfortable. Sort of like being told the reason you have cancer is because you have been smoking all these years. But if we will read it with an open mind, it might just help us keep our church from dying.

TERRY: What is the main thing you would like people to walk away with after reading any of your writings, but especially this book?


RUSSELL: Solomon told us generations ago that "There is nothing new under the sun." I want my readers to realize that the struggles they and their congregation are facing are not unique in the history of the church. We must trust in God, have hope, and be willing to change; but not in the ways we might be thinking, but in conforming ourselves and our congregations to the Word of God, to be the church He wants us to be, even if that means serving in a small out of the way place that needs a vibrant and alive church.




Russell C. Lambert is the President of Life Passage Ministries and the pastor of Yachats Baptist Church, Yachats, Oregon. He has authored and/or contributed to four books. Before being called into ministry he served in law enforcement.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Sometimes We are Victims. Sometimes we are Reapers.

The other day I was catching up on reading Facebook status updates. It was clear that many people on my friends list were going through hard times in life. Some of them were victims of other people's meanness. Some of them were victims of usual negative situations that they had no control over. Both of those scenarios were sad and brought great hurt to my heart as I read about all the pain my friends were going through. But if I were to be completely honest, I would have to admit that some of my friends were simply reaping what they had sown. The pain that some of them were feeling was the result of the poor choices they had made. I had to wonder what they really expected to happen as they continued down a path that could only lead to more pain.

I was reminded of what God said to Cain in Genesis 4:7, “If you do right, won't you be accepted? But if you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.” This verse reminds us that as human beings we have a sinful nature that is always lurking just under the surface. If we do not stay focused on living right, then our actions will not be acceptable to God, to our friends, to our culture or even to ourselves.

I had to wonder why my friends who didn't do their homework or study for a test and then failed were mad at the teacher. They were the ones who made the choice not to study and now had to live with the results.

I had to wonder why my friends who cheated on their boyfriends or girlfriends (especially those that cheated more than once) got mad when their significant other broke up with them. We must learn from our mistakes and move on.

I had to wonder why my friends who were still living at home with their parents but ignored clear rules set by their parents got upset when their parents enforced the consequences for disobeying the rules. Why were they angry with their parents when they had made the choice knowing what would happen. Parents were not the "bad" guys. Parents gave warnings so we wouldn't have to experience pain from the consequences. That's what parents do!

I had to wonder why people who had legal issues which required them to have certain restrictions placed on them by the court would violate those restrictions knowing full well that the law would be brought to bear on them in full force. It just did not make sense to violate those court orders, yet some of my friends did.

I had to wonder why people who did not pay their bills were surprised when whatever they did not pay for was finally taken away or they were evicted. That is what happens when we don’t pay our bills.

It is baffling to me that people do not understand that if we want life to get better, then we must act better. Bad actions will never produce good results. We can blame others for our problems, or we can get our act together and start doing right. This is a hard lesson to learn, but one of the most important to grasp for a better life.

As I was thinking about the difficulties so many of us bring upon themselves, I was reminded of what Jesus said to Simon Peter in Luke 22: 31-32, “Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” When we do make mistakes in our lives, God has a plan for our lives that leads to forgiveness and restoration. Thank God there is a way out; we can find forgiveness through Jesus. Then we can begin to live right so we can avoid future pain. Living right is not always easy, but it can be done. God can help us as we keep our eyes on Him.





Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has served as a pastor, church planter, author and denominational leader in New England since 1993. He is the proud father of three adult children, a cancer survivor and the author of 8 books. You can find all of his books at http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Terry-W.-Dorsett/e/B00405U4NY

Monday, May 4, 2015

Christian Stewardship

Introduction:
When we think of the word stewardship, what comes to mind?
How does adding the word Christian to the word stewardship impact our thoughts on the meaning of the word?

Christian Stewardship is the biblical handling
of our time, our talents and our treasure.

As Christians, our stewardship should be based on the teaching of the Bible, not our culture’s ever changing opinions or whatever the most popular management style is at the moment. How we manage our time, talents and treasure says a lot about what we think is important as followers of Christ.

When thinking of Christian stewardship of our time, we should make sure our regular schedule includes time to study the scriptures (2 Timothy 2:15), pray (2 Thessalonians 5:17) and worship with other believers (Hebrews 10:25).

When thinking of Christian stewardship of our talents, we should use our abilities to do our best (Colossians 3:23), to bring honor to Christ (1 Corinthians 10:21), and to serve others (1 Peter 1:4)

When we fail to be good stewards of our time, talents and treasures, our individual faith suffers and so does the church as a whole.

Most of us tend to agree that we should use our time and talents well, but the area of Christian Stewardship we least like to talk about is how we handle our treasure, meaning our possessions and our money. Most of us do not like it when the church starts talking about money. We have visions of fancy buildings or television preachers who spend millions on elaborate life styles. But the vast majority of pastors live modestly and the typical church building is often quite simple. Though talking about money in church sometimes makes us feel uncomfortable, there are THREE important biblical principles we should know for how Christians should handle our treasure.

First Principle of Christian Financial Stewardship

Our giving should flow out of our love, devotion and gratitude to God, not our of guilt, shame or duty.

Genesis 28:20-22
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth."

Jacob made a promise to follow God with his every area of his life, including his money because of his great appreciation for how God was watching over him. He knew God had done a lot for him and his promise to give back to God flowed out of that relationship. Jacob’s vow to give was not motivated by guilt or shame but by thankfulness to God. The same should be true of in our own attitude toward giving.

Second Principle of Christian Financial Stewardship

Trust the Lord enough to give Him the whole tithe and receive God’s blessing as a result.

Malachi 3:10
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

God promised that if we gave Him the whole tithe, He would bless us abundantly. This makes no sense to the world, but many Christians can give testimony to the truth of it. We can never out give God.

But what is the whole tithe? The whole tithe is a tenth of what God gives us.

Leviticus 27:30
A tithe (tenth) of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.

Back in the day when most people were farmers, God asked them to give one tenth of all they grew back to the Lord. This was how the priests who provided spiritual leadership and comfort to the people lived.

Deuteronomy 14:24-25
But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe…then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose.

God also told them they could give money instead of “stuff” if it was too much stuff to carry. This is how most of us today will give our gifts to God since we most of us are not farmers. We will give money and that is how the pastors and the church will be provided for. It is still okay to give stuff instead of money, so long as it is not junk we are just trying to get rid of. Whatever we give must flow out of a heart of love toward God.

Some people believe that tithing is just an Old Testament thing and that we no longer have to practice it. But Jesus Himself says that tithing is still valid.

Matthew 23:23
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Luke 11:42
Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

What Jesus was referring to in these verses was the practice of the Pharisees to grow small window boxes of exotic herbs. The Pharisees were faithful to tithe on these little boxes of herbs but they failed to show justice, mercy, faithfulness and love. On two different occasions Jesus said they needed both in order to be good Christian stewards! They needed to tithe and have a right attitude. Since Jesus Himself endorsed tithing, we know it is still valid in our spiritual walk. But Jesus also taught that the attitude of our hearts were just as important as our gifts to Him. If we give with a wrong attitude, we should next expect a blessing from God.

What attitudes did He want us to have when we give?

Cheerfulness

2 Corinthians 9:7
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Compassion

1 John 3:17-18
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Faithfulness

1 Corinthians 4:2, 16:2
Now it is required in stewards that man be found faithful . . . Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store as God has prospered him.

Generosity

2 Corinthians 9:6
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

Luke 6:38
Give, and it will be given to you.
A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Sacrificially

Mark 13:43-44
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

Conclusion:
God expects us to be good stewards of our time, talents and treasure. That means following the teachings of the Bible instead of our culture. It also includes handling money in ways that non-Christians might not understand. That includes giving out of love, devotion and gratitude to the Lord. Trusting the Lord enough to give Him the whole tithe, and receive God’s blessing as a result. Making sure when we give our hearts display attitudes of cheerfulness, compassion, faithfulness, generosity, and sacrifice.

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Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has served as a pastor, church planter, author and denominational leader in New England since 1993. He is the proud father of three adult children, a cancer survivor and the author of 8 books. You can find all of his books at http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Terry-W.-Dorsett/e/B00405U4NY

Friday, May 1, 2015

Admitting We Have "I" Trouble

Have you ever noticed how the middle letter of the word "pride" is an “I”? It is that focus on "I" that often gets us in trouble.

A conversation with a friend comes to mind. He had recently made the commitment to become a Christian. He shared with me that one of his greatest struggles with his new found faith was the level of pride that existed in the hearts of many long term Christians he encountered. As he got more involved in his church, he had more opportunities to interact with people who have been Christians for a very long time. Though some of those long term Christians set great examples for him for how faith and godliness work out in real life, a great many others just seem to ooze with pride. It was very disheartening for him.


Whether recent converts or long term believers, we must always remember that our struggle with pride lies just below the surface. It is ready to rear its head at any moment. When we fail to remember this, and our "I" problem begins to manifest itself, we can be frustrating for everyone around us. It can quench the Spirit of God that is working in us. It can turn people away from the faith. How many young people grew up attending church but turned away from their faith because of the pride they saw in those they once looked up to.

I know that pride is an issue I have to deal with constantly in my own life. I have come to believe that the longer we are Christians, the more prone to pride we become. This was the problem the Pharisees had in the New Testament, and not much has changed about the human condition since then.

If we want to invest ourselves in helping others find a meaningful faith in Christ, we must learn to let go of our "I" problems and live humbly before God and man.

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Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has served as a pastor, church planter, author and denominational leader in New England since 1993. He is the proud father of three adult children, a cancer survivor and the author of 8 books. You can find all of his books at http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Terry-W.-Dorsett/e/B00405U4NY