Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Libraries Given Books on Bivocational Ministry

A growing number of churches are being served by bivocational pastors. Unfortunately, there is a lack of training resources available to help bivocational pastors be more effective. The materials that do exist are often a decade or more old and do not reflect the latest trends affecting small churches. As most of my regular blog readers know, I wrote a book entitled, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, specifically to fill this gap.

In an effort to reach out to students in Bible colleges and seminaries, several donors have made it possible to purchase a copy of the book for every Christian college and seminary in the United States. It is my hope that students will read this book and consider serving small churches when they graduate. One of the donors for the project recently said, “Thank you for letting us invest in students and in small churches, which is where our heart has always been.” A number of librarians from around the country have written to express their sincere appreciation for a copy of the book. One librarian wrote, “We are committed to training students who will serve small churches. But with the economy the way it is, our budget has been tight and we have not been able to purchase as many new books as we would have liked. Your gift to the library helped us have the latest book in a much needed area of study.”

To help keep the cost of the project as low as possible, I purchased the books in bulk using my author’s discount and volunteers from Faith Community Church in Barre, VT, helped prepare and package the books for shipping.

Now that every Christian college and seminary in the United States has received a copy, we are targeting Christian colleges and seminaries in Canada. It costs $20 to provide a copy of the book to a library, which includes packaging and shipping. Anyone interested in donating to this project can send a tax deductible gift to:

Next Generation Evangelistic Network
30 Jones Brothers Way
Barre, VT 05641

Please write “Canada Project” on the memo line of your check.

Note: We also have ongoing projects to provide books for a church planting missionary in Scotland and for Korean church planters in urban areas. Contact me for more details on those projects.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Law of Sowing and Reaping - A Study from Malachi

A sermon based on Malachi 3:13-18 and preached at Faith Community Church, Barre, VT on December 26, 2010.

Verse 13 – “Your words against Me are harsh,” says the LORD. Yet you ask: “What have we spoken against You?”
• The people in Malachi’s day claimed to be followers of God yet they often disliked how God ran the universe. They frequently complained about how God worked.
• Most of us can relate to this better than we would like to admit because if we were honest we would have to admit that we do not always like how God runs things either.
• God heard their complaints and decided to have Malachi confront them about it.
• The people quickly backpedaled and tried to pretend that they had not complained about God’s activities.
• We often do this in our own lives. We complain about what God is doing but when someone points it out, we pretend that we feel a different way than we really do.

Verse 14 - You have said: It is useless to serve God. What have we gained by keeping His requirements and walking mournfully before the LORD of Hosts?
• One of the specific complaints the people had was that it seemed to be useless to serve the Lord.
• They wanted to know what they were going to get out of serving God.
• Many of us wonder the same thing.
• The very question reveals something wrong at the heart level.
• Why do we always think we have to GET something in order for our actions to be validated?
• Being a Christian is not about “getting,” it is about giving.
• Jesus set the example when He left the glory of Heaven, came to earth and offered His life for us on the cross of Calvary.
• One of the reasons we sometimes question if our faith is doing enough for us is that we think it is all about us. But life is NOT all about us. It is praising God while serving others.

Verse 15 - So now we consider the arrogant to be fortunate. Not only do those who commit wickedness prosper, they even test God and escape.
• The people in Malachi’s day said that those who did wrong seemed to prosper more than those who did right.
• It also seemed that bad people tested God all the time and got away with it.
• Sometimes we feel this way about our own culture.

Verse 16 - At that time those who feared the LORD spoke to one another.
• Though it seemed like evil was winning, there was still a group who feared the Lord.
• That handful of people got together and “spoke” to one another.
• Like Malachi’s time, it seems that evil is winning in our culture. This is why it is so important for God’s people to get together and encourage each other.
• Instead of running right to our cars after church, we should hang around and talk to each other.
• We should invite people from church over to dinner in our homes or meet for lunch somewhere in town.
• We should be looking for ways to spend time together and encourage each other.

Verse 16 - . . . The LORD took notice and listened. So a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who feared Yahweh and had high regard for His name.
• The Lord noticed who still believed in Him and who had banded together as a group to encourage and support each other.
• Not only did the Lord notice, but He created a book of remembrance to write their story.
• It was common in that time period for kings to keep various books of remembrance about special events or activities of special groups of people so that the people would not forget the experience.
• These books were kept in the King’s archives.
• God is the ultimate King of the universe.
• God has a number of books in His own heavenly library.
• Revelation 20:12 and Luke 10:20 says that God has a “book of life” in heaven in which the names of all believers are listed.
• Psalm 56:8 says that God has a “book of tears” which records the wanderings of David before he became the King of Israel.
• Psalm 139:16 says that God has a “book of births” which records what will happen in our lives before we are born.
• This verse in Malachi reveals that God also has a book of remembrance in heaven.
• This book contains the stories of how God’s people encouraged each other when everyone else had abandoned faith in God.

Verse 17 - "They will be Mine," says the LORD of Hosts, "a special possession on the day I am preparing. I will have compassion on them as a man has compassion on his son who serves him.
• The Lord says that believers who stood together and encouraged each other when everyone else fell away from faith would hold a special place in His heart.
• When we go through difficult time, if we hang in there and encourage each other, the God of the universe notices us.
• But God does not just notice, He has compassion like a father has compassion for his children.
• None of us are perfect, but if we stand together in tough times, we can expect special grace from God who sees our struggles and has compassion on us.
• When we go through hard times, we need all the help and compassion from God that we can get.
• Times of trouble are the times we need to press in closer to the Lord and to other Christians, not to fall away from the Lord.

Verse 18 - So you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.
• God says that though it appears that evil is winning, He is keeping track of everything in His book of remembrance.
• One day that book will be brought out and read. On that day those who have followed the Lord and encouraged each other will be honored.

Remember this important biblical truth: We reap what we sow.
• Galatians 6:7-8 - Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
• People may think they have God fooled, but God is keeping track.
• Payday comes some day!
Proverbs 22:8 - Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken.
• Hosea 8:7 - They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.
• Jeremiah 12:13 - They will sow wheat but reap thorns; they will wear themselves out but gain nothing. They will bear the shame of their harvest because of the LORD’s fierce anger.”
• Hosea 10:12 - Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.
• Psalm 126:5 - Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
• The law of reaping and sowing is something that we cannot avoid.
• Sometimes we go through hard times because we are reaping the junk that we sowed a long time ago.
• But if we start sowing good stuff now, then eventually we will reap the blessings that sprout from the good seeds we are now sowing.

Conclusion:
• Life is sometimes hard and even Christians can get discouraged.
• When Christians get discouraged, it is easy to think that our faith is not helping us much and we can become envious of those who do not follow God.
• But we must continue to cling to our faith and draw strength from fellow believers.
• When we do this, God notices and has special compassion on us in our difficulties.
• Eventually everything balances out and we reap what we sow.

• Closing Question: What are we sowing?


This post is part of a larger study of Malachi found in the book, "Malachi: Finding Hope in the Midst of Adversity."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve Eve . . .

What’s Merry Christmas Eve Eve? It’s the day before Christmas Eve, of course! As Christmas fast approaches, it is interesting what different people are thinking about in relation to Christmas.

My friend Donna is thinking about how Eve and Adam introduced sin into the world by falling for the serpent's tricks. Generations later, through another woman, the Virgin Mary, God's Son was born to redeem mankind from sin. Donna thinks that comparing and contrasting Eve's and Mary's experiences would make an interesting sermon.

A fellow pastor likes to ask people at Christmas time "How's Your Easter Spirit?" He is trying to get people to consider the fact that Jesus was born at Christmas so that He could die and rise from the dead at Easter.

A teenage boy I know just thinks about eating lots of great food. What else would teenage boys think about at Christmas?

My friend Donald has been thinking a lot about the Holy Spirit during the Christmas season. He has been through some tough times in his life and the holidays can be difficult for him. But as he relies on the Holy Spirit, he finds the strength to keep going.

One of the worship leaders at our church is struggling to maintain a true Christmas spirit while shopping for gifts. Somehow the spirit of giving and the “greed” that is so prevalent in our materialistic culture just do not go together in his mind. I share his struggle and hope that we never get comfortable with the commercialism that Christmas has become.

My friend Brian wants to know the best way to communicate to others. He wonders “Why keep trying to communicate with people who do not seem interested in listening?” As millions of families gather for various Christmas celebrations, knowing what to say when will become very important!

My friend Kathy is thinking about all her favorite Christmas songs. There are many songs that we only sing around Christmas time and they are powerful reminders of how God came to earth to save sinners. He came with angels, stars, shepherds, mooing cattle and eventually an entourage of wise men. Maybe we should start singing Christmas music all year long?

My friend Don wonders why God decided to come to earth in the form of His created likeness. After all, He’s God. He could have taken any form. But He chose to become a man. Perhaps so we could relate to Him better?

Finally, my friend Roy ponders not just the reason Christ came, but what He willingly endured as a member of humanity for us. That is perhaps the most mind-numbing concept to consider on this entire list. Christ came to save sinners. Though salvation may be free to those who receive it, it cost Christ a great deal. Physical pain from the crucifixion itself was more than most of us could bear. But Christ also endured emotional pain as He was betrayed by one of His own and then abandoned by those who only hours earlier had boasted that they would die for Him if needed. But the most terrible thing Christ had to endure for us was our sin. When He who knew no sin became sin for us, that was the most awful experience anyone could ever have. But Christ endured the shame of the cross so that we might taste the glory of heaven. Perhaps that might be the most important concept for all of us to consider that as we celebrate Christmas this year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

To Conquer the Darkness Out There, We First Have to Conquer the Darkness Inside

Last week my son and I went to see “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” It is a great movie and one the whole family will enjoy. The movie is based on a book by the same title, written by C. S. Lewis. Lewis was a Christian who thought deeply about real life issues. He wrote a series of books about the imaginary land of Narnia. The books were meant to be an allegory of the Christian life.

The movie was full of great scenes and powerful teaching moments. But one of the most powerful scenes was about the importance of overcoming temptation. Various characters in the movie faced one temptation after another. These temptations were designed to strike each character and his or her own point of weakness. Though some of the characters resist completely, most fall under temptation’s spell for at least a short time. Each time a character begins to weaken under the pressure of temptation, another character, or sometimes Aslan himself, steps in to help. Once the character being tempted sees what the temptation is dong to them, they break free from the temptation and choose a better course of action. Finally, during one crucial scene, Aslan says that to conquer the darkness out there, we first have to conquer the darkness inside. What a powerful statement, and one that we all need to take to heart.

The movie’s emphasis on temptation was not an accident. This was one of the main themes that Lewis put in the original book and the movie did not hold back in letting that theme come through. The film’s executive producer (Douglas Gresham) views himself as the guardian of the Christian legacy Lewis meant for his works to convey. According to Meridian Magazine Gresham said, “The central theme of the book and the movie is temptation, how you meet temptation and beat it. You have to fight it and defeat it.” As C. S. Lewis’s stepson, Gresham would be the one to know about Lewis’s legacy was all about. The movie is one of those rare combinations of entertainment and spiritual insight. It is worth seeing.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Shepherds' Joy

A sermon developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett that is based on Luke 2:8-18 and preached at Faith Community Church, Barre, Vermont, on December 19, 2010.


Verse 8 - In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock.
 To fully understand the JOY of this story, we need to understand who shepherds were. The following information about shepherds is adapted from: http://www.americanbible.org/brcpages/shepherds
 Shepherds led sheep to pasture and water.
 Shepherds guarded their flocks at night from wild animals and robbers.
 Shepherds kept count of the sheep.
 Shepherds carried weak lambs in their arms.
 Because shepherds spent most of their time outside in the elements, their life was often hard.
 Shepherds seldom owned the flocks they watched over and their pay was so small that it was unlikely they would ever own their flock.
 Shepherds seldom owned the fields in which their flocks grazed, and it was unlikely they would ever own their own land.
 Shepherds often became victims of robbers or wild animals, their life expectancy was short.
 Because shepherds spent so much time away from the village watching the sheep, they seldom were able to complete their education.
 Being a shepherd was mainly the occupation of younger sons and slaves.
 There was not a lot of “upward mobility” for shepherds.
 A shepherd’s life was quiet and simple but it was also full of hardship and poverty.
 It was a life with little joy or excitement. No real prospect for recognition. Little hope of long term survival. Little anticipation that anything great would ever happen.
 Yet it was to these men that the Joy of the World was first announced!
 God chose to reveal to these ordinary people the extraordinary news that the Joy of the World had arrived.
 God still speaks to ordinary people.
 Very few of the rich and famous follow Jesus. It is tempting to wait for some “super Christian” to come solve all the problems in our community.
 But very few “super Christians” really exist.
 Mostly it is just ordinary people like us who follow the Lord.
 God wants to use us ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
 Are we willing to be used by God to do something great for Him?

Verse 9 - Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
 Angels are special messengers from God who give us direction in life.
 Sometimes God uses actual angels to give us messages from Him.
 Sometimes God uses people or circumstances or special situations to give us an “angelic” message that provide directions for life.
 When God begins to give us directions for our lives, sometimes it scares us.

Verse 10 - But the angel said to them, "Don't be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people:
 The angel told the shepherds not to be afraid.
 We do not need to be afraid of what God is says to us, because God only wants our good.
 When we listen to God, we find JOY in life.
 Too often we lose our joy because we KNOW what God wants us to do, but we ignore it.

Verse 11 - today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.
 The angel proclaimed that the Savior was born.
 We call Christ the Savior because He literally SAVES us from the eternal consequences of our sin, which is an eternity in hell.
 Christ also helps us learn how to live better so that we might be SAVED from making the same mistakes over and over again. Therefore life is better with Christ than without Him.
 This message of Jesus as our Savior is the most important message we will ever hear.
 We will NEVER have JOY in our lives until we accept this message of Jesus as Savior.
 If we have not yet accepted Jesus as our Savior, we should do that right now and give ourselves to Jesus as a Christmas gift.

A Prayer of Acceptance:
 Dear Jesus, I realize I am a sinner and have messed up a lot of things in my life. I believe that You came to earth to rescue me from a life of sin and from the eternal consequences of my sin. Right now I turn from my sin and place my faith in You as the Lord and Savior of my life. Help me to follow You and live my life the way You want me to. Amen.

Verse 12 - This will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a manger.”
 The angel told the shepherds they would know that the Messiah had really been born when they found a baby wrapped up in cloth and lying in a manger.
 We have gotten so used to hearing this part of the Christmas story that it sounds “sweet” to find a baby in these circumstances.
 But to the shepherds, this sounded crazy.
 A manger was a feeding trough that food for animals was put in. Then animals came and slobbered all over it while they ate.
 In today’s world I can’t imagine a manger ever being cleaned up enough for a baby to lie in. In that era without any anti-bacterial cleaning supplies, it had to be NASTY!
 The shepherds, who fed animals for a living, knew this was crazy. No mother would put her new born baby in such a gross place.
 When we give our lives to Christ, He comes to us in the grossness of our sin and dwells with us.
 He knows all about the ugliness of our sin and loves us anyway. That should make us joyful!

Verse 13 - Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
 After the angel announced the unusual nature of Christ’s birth, he was joined by a host of angels praising God together.
 The proper response for us to have when we realize Christ’s love for us in the midst of the ugliness of our sin is to praise God.

Verse 14 - Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!
 The glory of the Christmas story was NOT in the shepherds, or Mary, or Joseph or even the angels who sang so wonderfully.
 The glory of the Christmas story was God!
 Whenever we get our eyes on ourselves, we lose our JOY.
 When we get our eyes on Jesus, JOY comes!

Verse 15 - When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let's go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
 After the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds immediately decided to go check out what the angel had said.
 The shepherds had a tremendous spiritual experience and realized this experience had the potential to change their lives.
 The shepherds realized they could have real JOY if they found Jesus.
 It is important to note that the shepherds recognized this JOY was something the Lord was showing them. It was not their personal will power.
 Real JOY has no other source but Jesus.
 We will be disappointed if we think we can conjure up JOY without a deep and meaningful faith in Jesus Christ.
 So the shepherds immediately left what they were doing, risking everything to find Jesus.
 When we sense something spiritual going on in our lives, we should reorder our priorities and press in close to the Savior so that we do not miss out on the JOY God wants us to have.
 Just imagine if the shepherds had said they were too busy, or too poor, or just disinterested in finding the baby the angel told them about.

Verse 16 - They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the feeding trough.
 The shepherds hurried to find what the angel had told them about.
 It is interesting how we are in a such a hurry to finish school, find a job, make money, get married, buy a car, shop with credit cards, etc, etc, but when it comes to spiritual things, we suddenly slow down and put off making the commitments we know we should make.
 Though we should not “rush” into spiritual commitments that we have not yet thought through, we need to make time to think through what God is saying to us so we can have JOY.
 If God wants to start having a daily quiet time, or to start tithing, or to join the church or be baptized or start serving in some way, we will NOT find JOY until we HURRY to obey!!!
 We should make a list of things God is calling us to do in our lives.
 Then we should make a list of things we can let go of so we will have time/energy/money to do what God is calling us to do in our lives.
 What we must NOT cut out is our commitment to the Jesus Christ because He is our pathway to JOY.

Verse 17 - After seeing them, they reported the message they were told . . .
 Once the shepherds found the JOY they were looking for, they could not help but tell others what they had experienced.
 When we finally discover the JOY that comes from a wonderful relationship with the Lord, we will have to tell others.

Verse 18 - and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said . . .
 Even though the shepherds may not have been considered “great” or “influential” under normal circumstances, the story they told was so fantastic that everyone listened.
 We may think that our lives are too simple and do not count for much, but when we share with others what God is doing in our lives; they will listen and find the same JOY we have.

Conclusion - To find JOY in our lives we must:
 Realize that most often God uses ordinary people to His extraordinary work.
 When God tells us how to follow Him more completely, it might scare us at first.
 But to find JOY we must overcome our fear, trust the Lord and HURRY to obey Him.
 When God begins to do extraordinary things in our lives, we must share the JOY He gives us with others who need it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

'Twas the Month Before Christmas

I seldom post things on my blog that I find somewhere else because I prefer to develop original material. However, someone sent me this poem the other day and I read it at a church service last week. I had so many people ask for a copy, I decided to post it on my blog so all my friends could find it. I regret to say that I do not know who the original author is, but if someone else knows, please put the author’s name in a comment below so he or she may receive credit for this creative new twist on an old Christmas favorite.

Twas the month before Christmas
When all through our land,
Not a Christian was praying
Nor taking a stand.
See the PC Police had taken away
The reason for Christmas - no one could say.
The children were told by their schools not to sing
About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.
It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would say
December 25th is just a ' Holiday '.
Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit
Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-Pod
Something was changing, something quite odd!
Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa
In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
As Targets were hanging their trees upside down
At Lowe's the word Christmas - was nowhere to be found.
At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears
You won't hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears.
Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-si-ty
Are words that were used to intimidate me.
Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen
On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton!
At the top of the culture, there arose such a clatter
To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith
Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace
The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded
The reason for the season, stopped before it started.
So as we celebrate 'Winter Break' under our 'Dream Tree'
Sipping our Starbucks, listen to me.
Choose our words carefully, choose what we say
Shout MERRY CHRISTMAS,
not Happy Holiday!
Please, all Christians join together and
wish everyone we meet
MERRY CHRISTMAS
Christ is The Reason' for the Christ-mas Season!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I am a Mouse. You are a Dragon. Let's Go Meet Our Destiny.

Last night my son and I went to see “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” It is a great movie and one the whole family will enjoy. As you may know, it is based on a book by the same title which was written by C. S. Lewis. Lewis was a Christian who thought deeply about real life issues. He wrote a series of books about the imaginary land of Narnia as an allegory of the Christian life.

The movie was full of great scenes and powerful teaching moments. It was fun to watch the interaction of two characters in particular. One was a mouse warrior named Reepicheep. Though Reepicheep was small in size, he was fully of courage and bravery. He was often the first into battle. He did not let his small size keep him from trying new things.

Reepicheep interacted a lot with a character named Eustace. Eustace was a spoiled teenage boy and the cousin of the two main characters. Eustace thought quite highly of himself, but his vanity mostly just got him in trouble. He avoided doing anything hard and was often filled with fear. Throughout the movie Reepicheep kept trying to bring out the best in Eustace, but it was hard since there was not much good to find!

At one point in the movie Eustace gave in to covetousness and gathered up a cursed golden treasure. The curse turned him into a dragon. Suddenly he was huge and could breathe fire. Sadly, he was still afraid and avoided doing hard things. His sudden great size and special abilities did not take away the fear that was inside him. When the rest of the crew was facing a terrible danger, Eustace tried to run away. Little Reepicheep the mouse jumped on the giant nose of Eustace the huge dragon and said “I’m a mouse. You are a dragon. Let’s go meet our destiny.” What Reepicheep was saying in that short sentence is that we all have a purpose to fulfill in life. Whether we are big or small, whether we think highly of ourselves or espouse humbleness, God has a plan for each one of us to fulfill. It we allow fear to control us and we always run from the hard stuff, we will miss out on God’s plan for our lives. In the movie, Eustace found his courage and helped save the crew from certain destruction.

Though we may not live in Narnia, our world is filled with difficulties. It is easy to run from them. We all need a Reepicheep in our lives to encourage us, inspire us, and challenge us to become what God meant for us to be. Sometimes we falsely think if we change ourselves on the outside, it will make us a better person. But a new hair style, or a new set of clothes, or a tattoo or a new piercing will not change us on the inside. Only God can change us on the inside.

It’s time to stop just trying to change the outside and begin to let God change us on the inside. It’s time to overcome fear. It’s time to go meet our destiny!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Finding Christmas Peace

A sermon based on Matthew 1:18-21, 24-25 developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett and preached on December 5, 2010 at Washington Baptist Church, Washington, VT and on December 12, 2010 at Faith Community Church, Barre, VT.

Verse 18 - The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit.
• Mary and Joseph were engaged and she comes up pregnant before the wedding.
• That may be acceptable in our modern era, but in those days it was a terrible shame to be pregnant before marriage.
• Joseph knew the baby was NOT his, so imagine how he must have felt.
• This was a very tense situation that had the potential to destroy both Mary and Joseph’s lives.
• We often tell the Christmas story in a way that makes the whole experience seem calm and peaceful, but it was far from it.
• If we think about it, our own Christmas experiences are sometimes more stressful than we wish they were.
• At this time of the year, when we should be celebrating and enjoying the season, instead we are often burdened down with extra stress and anxiety.
• We are anxious about how we will pay for all the gifts our families want.
• We are anxious about how we will relate to the in-laws, ex-relatives and office parties with people we only talk to once or twice a year.
• Sometimes painful memories from our past dampen the Christmas peace we had hoped to feel.
• For many people, Christmas is one of the most difficult times of the year to get through.
• Though the world may struggle with finding the peace of Christmas, we Christians should be the ones setting the example.
• What can we do to make sure our own Christmas is filled with peace?

Verse 19 - So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.
• At first Joseph thought Mary had been with someone else and gotten pregnant.
• We could have easily understood if Joseph had been angry and exposed Mary to public ridicule, which was the common response to unmarried pregnant women in that time period.
• In those days, engaged couples were legally bound to be married therefore if one party decided not to go through with the marriage, they had to file for divorce.
• Joseph wants out and plans to file for divorce in order to end the engagement.
• Imagine being divorced before we were even married!
• Anyone who has been through a divorce knows that the word “peace” seldom comes up before, during or after a painful divorce! Divorce hurts. Divorce impacts Christmas peace more than we think.
• Joseph decided to keep the divorce private because he was a righteous man.
• This would have caused some people to suspect that Joseph really was the father and just did not want to admit it.
• Joseph was in essence willing to take some of the blame, which was clearly NOT his to take, simply because of his deep faith.
• Joseph was more interested in DOING right than in BEING right.
• Christians must focus on doing what is right even if we “lose” in the process.
• How much stress would we remove from our own lives if we took this approach to dealing with difficult situations in our lives?

Verse 20 - But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him in a dream . . . .
• Note that Joseph did consider all his options, but did not take action until AFTER he had heard from the Lord.
• Far too often we allow our emotions to control us and we take action before we have sought direction from the Lord.
• When we allow our emotions to guide us instead of the Holy Spirit, it will always create a bigger mess.
• Waiting on God ALWAYS leads to peace.

Verse 20 - . . . . Joseph, son of David, don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit.
• An angel shows up and tells Joseph that Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit.
• Let’s be honest, if our fiancĂ©’ came up pregnant and an angel said God did it, would we believe that?
• The Christmas angel gave Joseph a message that must have been hard to believe.
• The Christmas angel said that the Holy Spirit had somehow suspended the natural laws of the universe and caused Mary to become pregnant without a man involved.
• We must remember that God created the universe and can alter its laws at any time.
• Nothing is too hard for God to do.
• Christmas miracles are always impossible, and yet they happen all the time.
• When we look at situations in our lives and think that they are impossible to fix, we must remember the miracle power of God can change impossible situations.
• When the Lord begins to tell us how to handle stress in life, His answers do not always make sense to us at first.

Verse 21 - She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.
• The Christmas angel goes on to say that the child Mary carried will not be an ordinary child.
• He will be the long awaited Messiah who would save the people from their sins.
• Jesus would be the answer that generations of people had looked for.
• Jesus is still the answer to our problems.
• Our marriages would be better if we would treat our spouse as Jesus taught us.
• Our children would be happier if we were the kind of parents Jesus told us to be.
• Our finances would be more balanced if we would handle our money as Jesus said.
• Our workplaces would be more enjoyable if we had Jesus-like integrity.
• Our politicians would be more effective if they acted more like Jesus & less like Satan!
• Jesus has always been the answer, Jesus is the answer now and Jesus will always be the answer!

Verse 24 - When Joseph got up from sleeping, he did as the Lord's angel had commanded him. He married her.
• Joseph chose to obey the message from the Christmas angel and married Mary.
• Deciding to continue the relationship with Mary may have cost him some pride and maybe even some social standing in his community, but once Joseph knew it was God’s plan, he embraced it.
• Once Joseph got a clear word from God on how he was to proceed in this difficult situation, he immediately did what God told him to do.
• Imagine the great peace that Joseph must have felt knowing he was doing exactly what he was supposed to do.
• We often fail to find the peace we need in life because we keep trying to do things our way instead of doing it God’s way.
• Too many of us try to convince God that He really does not know what He is doing and that our plan will work better than His.
• Doing it our way instead of God’s, always leads to more pain and less peace.
• At some point we must stop thinking that we are smarter than God and start living our lives the way God wants us to.
• It may cost us something socially. It may strip away some of our prideful thinking. But it will give us the peace that we need in this anxiety ridden world.

Conclusion:
• Christmas should be a time of peace but too often it simply adds to our stress.
• Christians should set an example of peace in our stress filled world.
• One way to rediscover peace is to focus more on DOING right than BEING right.
• Another way to rediscover peace is to wait for the Lord to guide us in difficult situations.
• Once we know what God wants us to do in difficult situations, then we must obey immediately in order to find peace.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Best Christmas Ever

I grew up in a very poor family. We had a lot of love, but not much money. Because of that, our Christmas celebration revolved more around family gatherings and large meals than it did the giving and receiving of gifts. As children we tried our best to accept what we did receive with joy, but it was not always easy, especially when our friends got all the latest, coolest, new gadgets and toys.

I remember one Christmas when I was in elementary school in which my mother set out to make all our presents. She would lock herself in her room and sew away. We did not know what was going on back there, but we knew enough to suspect it had to do with Christmas. We would try to sneak a peek when we could, but my mother was a force to be reckoned with when she wanted to be.

When Christmas morning came the tree was overflowing with more presents than we had ever seen in our lives. My mother, who has a number of physical difficulties, including epilepsy, had somehow managed to create every conceivable type of toy, blanket, scarf, ball and game that could possibly be made for a child. My mother's health issues would never again allow her to put so much energy into making our Christmas special. But that one year, somehow she made it happen. What she gave us did not cost a lot of money, but it did take an incredible amount of time and energy on her part. It still goes down in our family history as our best Christmas ever.

I am reminded of Luke 2:17-19 “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” Mary, the mother of Jesus, pondered what she could do to make the best situation possible for her family. Moms have a way of making Christmas special. That's just what they do. Thank God for moms.

Creator God, thank you for our mothers who love us. Help us to be good parents to our own children. Help us show our children that there is more to Christmas than just presents and gifts. May we show them the depth of Your love. Amen.

Dr. Terry W. Dorsett wrote this for the 2010 Central Vermont Advent Celebration booklet published by the United Church of Randolph and edited by Martha Hafner.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How to be Genuinely Thankful

A lesson developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett based on Psalm 100.

Psalm 100
1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! 2Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! 3Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Verse 1 - Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
• David wrote this Psalm as a prayer of thanksgiving to God.
• David began by telling people they should make a joyful noise to the Lord.
• What does it mean to make a joyful noise?
• Who should this “noise” be made to?
• Who is to make this joyful noise?

Verse 2 - Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
• David tells his readers that they should serve the Lord with gladness.
• What are some ways that we can serve the Lord?
• What does it mean that we should serve Him with gladness?
• Is it possible to serve God without gladness?
• David tells his readers to come into God’s presence with singing.
• Why would we come to God through singing?
• Why is music so important to our lives?
• Why kind of songs make us feel closer to God?
• We should look for songs that we can sing TO God, not just ones that we can sing ABOUT God.

Verse 3 - Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
• God is the Lord of the universe. Lord means master, ruler, or controller.
• We live in a world that has worked very hard to tell us that God is either not real, or that He is weak and not really in charge of the universe.
• Why is it important to know that God is real and that He is Lord over all things?
• Because it gives us a great sense of peace to know that someone is in control.
• The Bible teaches both in this verse and in many other places that God made us.
• This is different than what most of us have been taught in school.
• We are the special creation of a mighty God not the accident of a muddy glob!!!!
• Why is it important to believe that God made us?
• Because is we are a special creation of God then we have a purpose for living and a reason to exist. If we are but an accident of nature, then we have no real purpose for existence.
• What does it mean that we are His people?
• It means that God chose us and we BELONG!!

Verse 4 - Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
• When we come before the Lord, we should come with thanksgiving and praise.
• What is the difference between thanksgiving and praise?
• Thanksgiving is being grateful for what God HAS DONE FOR US.
• Praise is being excited about WHO GOD IS.
• The verse uses the image of us entering God’s gates.
• How can we enter into the presence of God?
• We can enter God’s presence through prayer, music, Bible reading, communion, meditation, etc.
• What does it feel like when that happens?
• It is hard to describe the presence of God but when we feel it we know that we are no longer alone.
• What can keep us from feeling God’s presence?
• SIN keeps us from feeling God’s presence.

Verse 5 - For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
• David wants his readers to know that the Lord really is good.
• Sometimes we doubt God is good when bad things happen to us that we do not understand. But God is always working for our good, even when it does not seem like it.
• We know God is always working for our good because God’s love is steadfast.
• Steadfast means it holds true no matter what.
• Sometimes our love for God goes up and down depending our how we feel or what may be going on in our lives. But God’s love for us NEVER waivers.
• God’s love endures forever.

Conclusion:
• We should be thankful to God. To do that sincerely, we must:
• Serve the Lord with gladness
• Come into the Lord’s presence with singing.
• Remember that God is the Lord of all things.
• Give the Lord thanks and praise even when we do not understand what is happening to us.
• Never doubt God’s goodness, for His love for us endures even when our love for Him waivers.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Similarities of Raising Kids and Church Planting

I spent this past week visiting family in South Carolina for Thanksgiving. We saw lots of relatives, and all of them mean something special to me. But without question the two family members I wanted to see the most were my two oldest children who are both in college in South Carolina. We do not get to see each other as often as I would like, so spending several days together was a special treat. We played games together, remembered good times from the past, ate far more food than we should have and genuinely enjoyed our time together. It was the best part of my vacation.

As I reflect on what is happening in my children’s lives, I am very thankful to God for helping them mature into responsible adults who remain spiritually focused. I do not know what the future holds for my children, but I know that if they remain spiritually focused and continue to make responsible decisions, their future will be bright.

It occurs to me that church planting is much like raising kids. We pour ourselves into a new church plant instilling values and responsibility in the core group. Then we turn them loose to make their way in the Kingdom of God. When those church plants take responsibility for themselves and remain spiritually focused, they do well. When they fail to assume responsibility for themselves, or they lose their spiritual focus, they are doomed to failure. Mission strategists like myself do our best to give them all they need to get started right. But in the end, we entrust them to the hands of God and pray for them to soar to new heights. I rejoice when I see that happen and thank God that He allows me to be a part of such an exciting ministry.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Could Pastoral Ministry Be Out-Sourced?

I tend to read a news magazine through the filter of how it might apply to the Kingdom of God. The November 2010 issue of the U.S. News and World Report contained an editorial by Mortimer B. Zuckerman that made me think. Zuckerman is editor in chief and his editorial was entitled “An American Crisis of Confidence.” His two main points were: Americans are feeling depressed because other nations are catching up to us in science and technology and many low to medium skilled jobs have been shipped overseas and are not coming back. Zuckerman concluded that “We have to recognize that employment growth for middle-skilled workers has steadily declined because of automation, even as the productivity of higher-skilled workers has boomed.” Zuckerman went on to suggest that these “workers be trained for jobs in more active areas” instead of trying to place them in positions similar to what they previously held. Sounds like sage advice to me.

It occurs to me that his conclusions might have several applications to the field of church ministry. In the past, ministers with less refined pastoral skills could always find churches willing to call them in the hopes that they would grow in their skills. Many of those pastors did grow in their skills, but some did not. Those that did not grow in their skills tended to bounce around from one small church to another. Since many small churches could not afford pastors with more refined skills, there were always employment opportunities for less skilled ministers.

But modern technology has allowed church members to observe highly skilled pastors on the radio, television, the internet and through satellite campuses. Technology has increased the ability of highly skilled pastors to write, blog, publish, record and re-broadcast their messages and ideas in order to reach a broader audience. This has raised the expectations that church members have toward their potential pastors’ ministry skills.

Pastors with less refined skills are starting to feel the pressure. Unemployment among pastors, once a rare occurrence, is becoming a significant issue. While some churches are probably being too picky and should do more praying and less preacher idolizing, other churches have valid concerns about the quality of some pastors’ skills. I have watched with great sadness as men with lesser skills refused all the help that was offered to them. They thought they knew it all already. They tend to drive churches into a swamp of confusion and frustration, and then resign in a moment of anger, leaving a mess for someone else to clean up. Such pastors are finding their pool of potential churches shrinking.

What should pastors with less refined skills do? Instead of becoming angry at pastors with higher skill levels, pastors with less refined skills should do the same thing as any other worker who finds his job qualifications lacking, seek additional training so his skills are more usable. That may mean going back to school, though that is not feasible for all pastors. It might mean attending some conferences or seminars. It might mean reading a half dozen books or watching some training videos. It might mean finding mentors to guide them to the next level. But most of all, it means humbling ourselves before God and admitting that we do not yet know it all. As we pray, we begin to sense the still small voice of God speak to us. As we learn to listen to that voice, the Spirit helps us see our own weaknesses and begin to address them. God can use humble men with lesser skills if they are willing to be Spirit filled. As we address our weaknesses and allow the Holy Spirit to empower us, we grow in our own maturity, wisdom and ministry skills. This makes us not only more marketable to potential churches, but more usable in the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Helping Bivocational Pastors Avoid Burn Out

A training seminar developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett

Introduction:
Bivocational pastors are ministers who work a second job in addition to the church. This is normally due to the church being too small or too poor to be able to provide an adequate salary to the pastor. Sometimes pastors choose to be bivocational as a way to stay connected to the community. When pastors are bivocational, they have the added stress of a second job which puts pressure on the pastors’ families and personal lives. While all pastors are prone to burn out, bivocational pastors typically face that threat with fewer resources from their local church and denomination and sometimes with less formal education about how to avoid burn out.

One way to help pastors avoid burn out is to help them overcome the “second class syndrome.”
• Many bivocational pastors feel that they are “second class” pastors.
• Though there are many reasons for this, common ones include: they lack education, they serve a small church, or they cannot take part in denominational meetings because their second job conflicts with those meetings.
• They should not feel like second class pastors because bivocational ministry is actually NORMAL for the church – Acts 18:1-4, 1 Thess. 2:9, 2 Thess. 3:7-9.
• They should not feel like second class pastors because bivocational ministry is becoming MORE COMMON in America.
• Many younger pastors, especially church planters, are embracing bivocational ministry for missional reasons instead of economic ones.

While there is no way to guarantee that bivocational pastors will not burn out, two key factors that will help avoid that fate is delegation and taking care of one’s personal well being.

Delegation is a challenge for many bivocational pastors.
• Pastors should learn to delegate because shared leadership is NORMAL in the church – Acts 13:1-3, 2 Timothy 2:1-2.
• God NEVER intended for pastors to do the entire ministry on their own!
• It is very unhealthy for both pastors and churches when pastors do it all.
• Pastors need to realize that there are multiple callings to ministry in a healthy church. 1 Timothy 5:17. There are people who are called to do ministry who may not be called to be pastors. Pastors should help those people discover what those callings are and then train them to fulfill those callings.
• Some pastors do not delegate because they think the lay people are not willing to do ministry or that the lay people are not trained adequately to do ministry.
• Pastors need to understand that lay people will help if asked.
• Pastors need to realize that the local church is the primary training place for ministry; therefore, lay people can be trained for ministry on site and in context. – 2 Timothy 2:1-2

What are some duties that bivocational pastors can delegate to others?
• There are many small tasks that may be delegated to others, such as issues regarding the church building, office work, printing bulletins, etc.
• While delegating small tasks will help relieve some of the pressure from bivocational pastors, if they really want to avoid burn out, they must also be willing to delegate some high level ministry duties to others.
• Since preaching and pastoral care are two of the most time consuming aspects of ministry, we must help bivocational pastors learn to share these two aspects of ministry with others through creating a team approach to ministry.

Why will some bivocational pastors resist sharing preaching and pastoral care duties with lay people?
• They think they can do all the preaching and visitation on their own.
• They think no one else can do it as well as they can.
• They have forgotten the doctrine of the priesthood of believers
• We need to help bivocational pastors understand how great the danger of burn out is if they do not share preaching and pastoral care with others.
• We need to help bivocational pastors realize that lay people can and will help with these ministries if trained adequately.
• We need to help bivocational pastors realize that formal education is helpful in these two ministries, but not necessary.

How should pastors go about building a ministry leadership team?
• While announcements from the pulpit or in the church bulletin may stir up some interest, what pastors must do to really get this going is personally recruit 2-3 men whom they think can do this if they were trained properly. Personal recruitment is the key.
• Once the small group has been selected, pastors will need to meet with them for a minimum of six weeks to train them in how to do basic pastoral care and preach a basic sermon. (Eight to twelve weeks is better, but many men may initially be unwilling to make that type of commitment.)
• Classroom training alone will not be sufficient. After 2-3 weeks of learning in a classroom environment, pastors must take the students on some pastoral care visits.
• At first the students will simply observe how the pastors lead the visits, but then pastors must assign the students some portion of the visit to lead and eventually must let the students lead the entire visit with pastors being only silent observers.
• Likewise, the students will need to preach some sample sermons to the other students.
• Students will then need to preach a sermon to the home church.
• Students will then need to preach a sermon at a nearby church.
• After each preaching experience, students will need feedback on how to improve their sermon. There is a very helpful sermon assessment tool in the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church.
• When the six to eight weeks of training is completed, the church should recognize the students in some way. They can be given a certificate of completion or recognized in whatever way the church deems appropriate.
• The pastor should then look for ways to use these graduates in a REGULAR way for preaching and pastoral care. Examples might include having one of the graduates preach every fifth Sunday and make all the visits on the pastor's day off or during the pastor's vacation.

What resources are available for this training?
• Seminary Extension courses offered through the SBC.
• The skills and experience of retired pastors.
Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, a training course just for bivocational pastors, published in August 2010 by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway.
• Regardless of whatever training system is used, the key is to make sure the students learn practical skills that they can actually use, otherwise they will grow discouraged and not continue the training.

The “Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church” course teaches students:

• The different types of sermons
• The difference between preaching and teaching
• How to select a sermon text
• How to prepare a sermon, including how to use a concordance, a commentary and a Bible dictionary
• How to present a sermon
• How to conclude a sermon well
• How to use a sermon series
• The difference between pastoral care and pastoral counseling
• How to make a hospital visit
• How to make an absentee visit
• How to make a crisis visit
• How to avoid a visitation disaster
• Note: This particular program does not cover how to make an evangelistic visit simply because numerous other resources already exist which cover that topic quite well.

 Conclusion:
• We must help bivocational pastors avoid burn out so they can continue their important ministries to small churches.
• Bivocational pastors can avoid burn out best by creating leadership teams to assist them in the ministry.
• While any assistance from the leadership team is helpful, to gain maximum advantage, pastors need people to help them with some of the pastoral care and preaching duties.
• There are many resources out there which pastors can use to train leadership teams, but it is important to use one that is practical. One of the most practical is the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Blessing of Tithing - A Study from Malachi

A sermon prepared by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett. It is based on Malachi 3:7-12, Haggai 1:5-6 and selected New Testament verses.

Malachi3:7 - Since the days of your fathers, you have turned from My statutes; you have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of Hosts.
• The Jews had been chosen by God as His special people.
• God desired to be their loving Father and to have a fatherly relationship with them.
• But for most of their history, the Jews struggled with letting God be their father.
• The Jews often worshipped other idols.
• The Jews often failed to obey the commands that the Lord gave them, which were for their own protection and blessing.
• The Jews often went through the motions of religious rituals without meaning any of it.
• Sadly, many Jews are still living without God today.
• Though most of us may not be ethnically Jewish, when we became Christians we were grafted into the promises of God and became His children.
• God desires to be our Father and to have a wonderful fatherly relationship with us just as He does with the Jews.
• How often do we run from God and fail to allow Him to be the Father we need?
• Like the wayward Jews, we also need to return to God!
• When will we realize that our way is not working? When will we finally quit trying to force things to work that God has already said will not be helpful to us?

Malachi 3: 8 - "Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me!” You ask: "How do we rob You?” “By not making the payments of 10 percent and the contributions.
• When the Jews asked why God did not think they were really following Him, God brought up the subject of tithing. It was but one of many examples God could have used.
• Tithing means giving 10% of our income back to the Lord.
• Tithing is an area that many Christians struggle in.
• The Bible mentions tithing at least 37 times, so it is not an obscure concept in the Bible.
• The Jews understood what a tithe was; they just seldom gave the tithe as consistently as they should have.
• God said that when the Jews withhold their tithe from the Lord, they were robbing Him.
• Since we are now spiritually Jews, how are we doing in our own tithing? How can we think we have a good relationship with our Heavenly Father if we are robbing Him on regular basis?
• Many Christians try to argue that tithing was ONLY an Old Testament principle and that it does not apply to New Testament believers.
• Does the New Testament teach tithing?

Matthew 23:23 - Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. 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.
• Jesus was the one who spoke this verse.
• Jesus was referring to the practice of the Pharisees to grow small window boxes of exotic herbs. The Pharisees were faithful to tithe on these small handfuls of herbs.
• But the Pharisees failed to show justice, mercy, faithfulness and love to others.
• Jesus said they needed to both tithe and show justice, mercy, faithfulness and love to others.
• In this verse, Jesus Himself endorses the tithe. But Jesus also makes it clear that the attitude of the giver’s heart is as important as the tithe itself.

What Attitudes Should We Have When We Give?
• We should give cheerfully – 2 Corinthians 9:7
• We should give with compassion for the less fortunate – 1 John 3:17-18
• We should give faithfully – 1 Corinthians 4:2, 16:2
• We should give generously – 2 Corinthians 9:6, Luke 6:38
• We should give sacrificially – Mark 13:43-44
• What if we choose not to tithe or we tithe with the wrong attitude?

Malachi 3:9 - You are suffering under a curse, yet you . . . are still robbing Me.
• When we fail to tithe we step out from under the blessing of God.
• Because we live in a sin cursed world, if we are not under God’s blessing then we are vulnerable to all the ravishes of this cursed world.
• How often have we worked as hard as we could to overcome a financial problem and still feel like we are cursed?

Haggai 1:5-6 - Now, the LORD of Hosts says this: "Think carefully about your ways: You have planted much but harvested little. You eat but never have enough to be satisfied. You drink but never have enough to be happy. You put on clothes but never have enough to get warm. The wage earner puts his wages into a bag with a hole in it.”
• Haggai was another one of the Old Testament prophets. He served during a time when the Jews were working as hard as they could to rebuild their land after a generation long exile.
• But no matter how hard they worked, they did not seem to be able to achieve what they were trying to do.
• Haggai pointed out that it was because they had their priorities wrong.
• They were trying to take care of themselves first and then give God the leftovers.
• Haggai pointed out to the Jews that they would never find what they were looking for until God became the priority in their lives once again.
• We experience this same frustration sometimes in our own lives. It seems sometimes that no matter how hard we work, we still do not make progress. In moments like that, we often feel cursed.
• Haggai points out that that this feeling of being cursed applies to other areas of life too.
• Some people never seem to find a sense of satisfaction in their job, family, marriage, accomplishments, or in anything else.
• People feel this way when they have not made God the priority in their lives.
• When God is not a priority in life, then life will not satisfy us no matter how hard we work to make it better. We will feel like we are cursed in every area of life.
• How can we break free of the curse of self-focus and regain a God-focus in our lives?

Malachi 3: 10 - Bring the full 10 percent into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this way,” says the LORD of Hosts. "See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure.
• We are more driven by money than we often realize.
• Therefore, when we get to the place where we can give generously to the Lord with the right attitude, it is an indicator that something has changed inside of us.
• When people first learn about tithing, their response is often that they simply cannot afford it.
• God says to test Him in tithing and see what He does through it.
• What does it mean to test God?
• Many people tithe a few times and when a gold brick does not drop into the backyard, they think God failed the test.
• But we must tithe with the right attitude and we must do it faithfully in order to be blessed. Testing takes time and requires faith and a willingness to sacrifice.
• God blesses us in many ways when we tithe.

Malachi 3:11 - I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not ruin the produce of your ground, and your vine in your field will not be barren," says the LORD of Hosts.
• When God says that He will bless us for tithing, it does not always mean we will have extra money.
• Sometimes it means that God will keep things that what we already have from breaking.
• Sometimes it means God will help us find ways to be more productive with the money we already have.
• Good stewardship is more than just tithing; it is also handling the other 90% well.

Conclusion:
• We tend to wander from God, so we must constantly return to Him.
• Because we love money so much, part of returning to God includes giving God our wallet – through tithing.
• When we begin to tithe, with the right attitude, it demonstrates that something has changed inside of us. God has become our priority.
• God will bless us for faithful tithing – or we can choose to live outside His blessing and experience the full force of this sin cursed world.

This post is part of a larger study of Malachi found in the book, "Malachi: Finding Hope in the Midst of Adversity." 

Friday, November 19, 2010

You Can’t Put New Wine in Old Wine Skins

When I was a child I remember learning Matthew 9 in Sunday School. I can still remember how confused I was when the teacher tried to explain verse 17. That verse read, “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. But they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” As a child, it did not make sense to me that they could not recycle those skins and use them again. It was years later that I realized that those skins had not just been used once. They were OLD wine skins and had been used over and over and over again until they were worn out. The application Jesus was trying to make in Matthew 9, which I missed as a child, is that sometimes certain traditions, activities or rituals have been used so many times that they are worn out. They have outlived their purpose and it is time to experience something new with the Lord.

This verse came to mind recently when I was talking with some church leaders about how they might reach out to the next generation. They had been doing things a certain way in their church for so long, it was hard for them to think about church being done any other way. They were trying to use methods from 30 years ago to reach young people today. Of course, it was not working. It was not that their message was wrong, for Jesus is always the right answer in every generation and every culture. But the young people could not hear the message of Jesus because the methods through which the leaders were communicating no longer work.

After some lengthy discussion, they finally decided to add some “new” stuff on top of their “old” stuff. They decided to keep doing what they had always done and then add a few new twists to it as well. Though it sounded good as they sat around the table talking about, as I listened I knew it would not work. It would simply make their church service long and disjointed. It would stretch their small budget and volunteer pool to the breaking point. They were trying to put new wine in old wine skins.

If we really want to reach the next generation, we must look at our church’s programs, traditions and rituals and ask which ones are matters of theological conviction and which ones were just accommodations to the culture when those programs, traditions and rituals were started. Ones for which we have a theological conviction must be guarded at all cost. Ones which were simply cultural adaptations from a bygone era should be released so that there is space for a new wine skin which the Holy Spirit might fill.

Dr. Terry W. Dorsett starts new churches in Vermont and also helps churches discover ways to reach the next generation. His book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, can be ordered at CrossBooks.com or Amazon.com.

Monday, November 15, 2010

De-accumulate - A Guest Post by Dave Jacobs

I’m not sure, but I think I heard it from Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline. It’s a perfect word to describe a need for Christians of all occupations, but especially those who pastor smaller churches. The word I’m referring to is, de-accumulate. If I remember correctly, Foster used it in relation to living a more simple life. His premise is that we are manipulated by the media into believing that we need more things. As we give in to this lie we begin to accumulate. The more we accumulate the more what we accumulate controls us. Therefore, we have a need to de-accumulate in order to experience more freedom and simplicity.

If we are going to be the deeply spiritual people we want to be, and the type of pastors our people so desperately need us to be, we will have to de-accumulate unnecessary ministry responsibilities that take our time away from the nurture of our souls, the care of our families, and the preserving of our sanity. In order to de-accumulate we will need to delegate, settle, or abandon.

Delegate. If there is someone in the church that can do things we are doing at least 70% as well as we do them, hand it off to them. We should examine all the ministry duties we have accumulated on our calendars and see what we can share with others.

Settle. I once heard a conference speaker say, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” If in order to de-accumulate you need to settle for something of a lesser quality than you would like, then settle. Receiving a “B” on a test isn’t as good as an “A,” but a “B” is still pretty good. The rule of thumb is: do a few things well. If you can’t do great, then settle for well.

Abandon. Towards the end of my last pastorate I announced to my church that we were going to abandon any ministry or program in the church that could not be carried out by people who had a genuine passion for it. I was no longer going to stand before the church and say, “We’re going to do this…” and then recruit people to do “this” and then motivate people to keep doing “this”. Our church would only provide ministries led by and staffed by people with passion. People with passion seldom need motivation. I was prepared to nix such sacred cows as nursery, Sunday school, refreshments, multi-media, even the worship team if people did not step up to the plate. Know what? No ministry of any significance had to be closed down…even though I was willing to. In order to de-accumulate you may need to be willing to abandon certain responsibilities/ministries that fall on your shoulders.

If you want to live a happier, healthier, more spiritual life, you will need to de-accumulate. It will be scary at first, but you’ll get used to it. Your spouse will thank you for it, your kids will thank you for it, and your church will thank you for it…eventually…after they’re done thinking you’re a lazy, irresponsible nut-case. Blame me.

This guest post was written by Dave Jacobs. Dave operates http://www.smallchurchpastor.com/ where he coaches, consults and resources pastors of small churches.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Blessing of Forgiveness

When I entered the crowded room yesterday, I saw her across room. My heart was strangely warmed to know she was here with me. It brought back a flood of memories from nearly twelve years ago. Some of those memories were sweet, some painful, but all were laced with the fragrance of forgiveness. Her name is Mary* and she nearly killed my family eleven years ago in a car accident. Mary had struggled with alcoholism most of her adult life and on that fateful morning so long ago had been heavily drinking. She drove her car head on into mine. The accident was so severe that the police who responded were amazed that anyone survived. My wife’s arm was broken and required major surgery. My leg was so shattered that at first they thought it would have to be amputated, but after surgery and many months of physical therapy, I learned to walk again. My youngest son was the most severely hurt. His back was broken and he suffered massive internal injuries. The small hospital in our area was unable to treat him for his injuries and rushed him to another hospital that had a pediatric intensive care unit. I remember the doctor telling us to say good bye to him before they put him in the ambulance because the doctor did not think we would ever see him again. For three days his life hung in the balance. But the Lord of Glory choose to use His power to spare my son’s life and though he spent months in a body cast, he made a full recovery. He is now a junior in high school and involved in both basketball and football and one would never know how serious he had been injured as a preschooler.

Years later the word “hate” sounds so harsh, but to be honest, that is exactly what I felt for Mary after the accident. I had moved to a small village in Vermont to serve as a missionary with the North American Mission Board. My specific ministry was to be the pastor of a small congregation of less than 20 that was struggling to survive. I was supposed to tell people like Mary about Jesus so they could be freed from their sins and be transformed into holy living Christians. That was such a glorious dream, until Mary nearly shattered it.

I had nightmares for months about the accident. I would wake up in a cold sweat and the hatred I felt for Mary would wash over me in waves. One part of my mind knew that I needed to forgive Mary, but another part easily justified the fact that Mary did not deserve forgiveness. One night, as I wrestled with those feelings, I tried once again to explain to God what Mary had done to my son. God listened patiently. He’s good at that. Then He responded with a still small voice and explained to me what I had done to His Son. God the Father showed me the depth of my own sin that had made it necessary for Jesus Christ, His Son, to die upon the cross. God reminded me that He had graciously spared my own son in the accident that Mary caused, but that Jesus, the Son of God, had to die because of my own sin. That night I asked God to help me learn to forgive and it was the first step in a long journey of healing in my own life. It took time, but I did learn to forgive Mary.

I invited her to church and she agreed to come. I sat behind her during her trial and subsequent sentencing. I went to visit her in jail as she served time for the accident. These were not easy steps for me, but they were important in the overall process of forgiveness. When Mary was released from jail, she began coming to church regularly. One Sunday Mary asked if I might come to her home and explain more about how she might trust Jesus. A deacon and I went and sat in her kitchen, surrounded by bottles of alcohol, I shared that Jesus loved her and had a plan for her life. It would not be an easy plan, for it would require significant change, but it would be a plan that would be for her good and if she would choose to follow it, I promised her she would not regret it. That day Mary gave her life to Christ and the woman who nearly killed my family became my sister in the Lord.

A few months later, after I had recovered physically, I was able to baptize Mary. In the years since she has become a glowing Christian. She has served on the church board. She has been involved in a variety of ministry opportunities at the church. Though I have since moved on to a new ministry in a town not far away, Mary continues to serve the Lord in that little village church.

This weekend I am attending the annual meeting of my denomination’s regional organization. The meeting is filled with reports from the various national entities operated by our denomination as well as reports of the missionaries and staff members serving the churches in New England that are connected to our particular branch of the body of Christ. Each church sends representatives to hear the reports and vote on various issues to give direction to the denomination for the next year. As I walked into the room yesterday, one of the first people I saw was Mary. There she sat across the room, the woman who nearly killed my family 11 years ago, now sitting in the same room helping me make decisions for how our denomination will reach other Mary’s with the life changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. To me, that is what living like a missionary is all about. I can honestly say that Mary is a blessing to my life. Seeing her across the room at that meeting reminded me of the blessing of forgiveness that I have received from Christ. I can do nothing less that offer that same blessing to others as I seek to live like a missionary and share the forgiveness of God with anyone who will listen.

*I have changed Mary’s name to protect her privacy.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Communicating With the Next Generation

I often talk to pastors who are concerned because of the lack of young people they have in their churches. Some of these pastors have invested significant amounts of energy and financial resources into reaching young people. They have been able to get them to come to various activities and events, but seldom can get them to come to worship services. Though there are a variety of reasons for why that may be the case, I think the main reason is that most Sunday morning services simply do not communicate to the next generation in ways they can understand. Worship services are often designed in ways that communicate well to middle-aged and senior adults, but just do not capture the attention of younger adults.
If churches want to see more young adults in their worship services, they must begin to communicate in a way that the next generation can understand. Music is one aspect of that communication process. Younger adults tend to prefer instruments with more bass and percussion in the mix. They also tend to prefer the music to be more up-tempo. Because they are looking for ways to build a relationship with God instead of just learning knowledge about God, they prefer songs that can be sung to God, not just about God. Though changing the music that a church uses can be a difficult process, if we want to reach the next generation, this issue must be addressed.

A second aspect of the worship service that needs to be addressed is the visual aspect. The next generation is a very visual generation. Their entire lives they have watched TV, played video games, surfed the Internet and have become used to lots of graphics. This means that churches must learn to utilize power point for sermon notes, video announcements, and other types of visuals if they hope to communicate to the next generation. Just as a learning new music can be a challenge, so is using technology. But the reality is that the use of video technology is essential if churches want to reach young people.

We do not have to like these new innovations ourselves, but we do have to accept that this is just the way the next generation communicates. If we fail to communicate to them using these mediums, we will be met first with blank stares from the next generation and then with empty seats. The souls of our children and grandchildren are at stake. It is time to let go of our own agendas and redesign our worship services so they communicate the timeless truth of the Gospel in ways the next generation can understand.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Biblical Basis for Orphan Ministry

A sermon developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett and preached at Faith Community Church, Barre, VT, on November 7, 2010.

James 1:26-27 - If anyone thinks he is religious, without controlling his tongue but deceiving his heart, his religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

• If our tongues talk about religion but our lives do not back it up, our religion is useless.
• Pure religion helps those who can offer nothing in return, such as orphans or widows.
• Pure religion is also keeping ourselves from being stained by the dirt of the world while we try to help those around us.
• Whatever we do, it must be with integrity.

Some examples of orphan ministry in the Bible:

• Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses to spare him from genocide. Exodus 2:1-10
• Mordecai took in his cousin Esther after her parents died and raised her as his own daughter. Esther 2:15
• Joseph accepted Jesus as a son knowing that he was not Jesus’ biological father. Luke 1-2

We cannot help physical orphans if we are still Spiritual Orphans ourselves.

• With 63 million orphans in the world today, we must accept the reality that we will not be able to make a significant difference in the lives of orphans in our own strength.
• If we are spiritual orphans, we will not have the energy needed to help all the physical orphans in the world.
• We must have God’s help in this matter.
• We cannot have God’s help if we have not yet made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
• Too many of us are spiritual orphans drifting through life bouncing from one idea or concept or philosophy to another.
• We do not need a bunch of people jumping on the orphan ministry bandwagon because it is this week’s cause, only to abandon orphans when the next cause comes along.
• We need people to make a deep and personal commitment to Jesus Christ FIRST.
• Once we have found our spiritual home in Christ, we will be centered in our faith and know how to help others more effectively.

John 1:12-13 - But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be called children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.

• This verse tells us that we must receive Jesus. Once we do, we become God’s children and are no longer spiritual orphans.
• Receiving Jesus means we realize we cannot get to heaven on our own.
• Receiving Jesus means we accept the fact that Jesus died in our place on the cross.
• Receiving Jesus means that we make a sincere choice to turn away from living for ourselves and to start living for God.
• When we receive Jesus, we find a spiritual home in Christ and are assured of a heavenly home when we die.
• We often do not feel worthy of having such a wonderful spiritual home.
• Notice that God is the one who reaches out to us first; it is God’s will that we receive Him.
• God initiates a relationship with us.
• We must choose to respond in faith to God’s invitation.
• If we refuse God’s invitation, we will continue to drift through life as a spiritual orphan.
• But if we make a firm commitment to Christ, we not only find a spiritual home for ourselves, but we can also use God’s power to help others.

Once We Have Our Own Spirit Strong, How Can We Help Orphans?

1. James 5:16 - The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful.
• God can use us to pray for orphans.
• Our prayers must be intense.
• We must be living right so that our prayers are not hindered by sin.

2. Luke 3:10-11 “What then should we do?” the crowds were asking Jesus. He replied to them, “The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.”
• God can use us to meet the physical needs of local children in foster care.
• If we have more than we need, we can give it to a child in need.
• If we do not know any children in need, we can give it to an organization that does.

3. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 - If there is a poor person among you . . . you must not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Instead, you are to open your hand to him and freely loan him enough for whatever need he has.
• God can use us to meet the financial needs of the poor.
• Notice it mentions lending to the poor instead of just giving them money.
• The point of lending instead of giving is to keep the poor from becoming dependent on handouts. It also protects their self esteem.
• Though our “loans” may often become “gifts,” it still helps people see their need to accept responsibility for themselves instead of always being dependent on others.
• If we are short on cash to help, we can hold a bake sale, have a car wash, plan a yard sale, or do a silent auction. We can do more as a group than we can do by ourselves. But by all means, let’s do something!!!!

Conclusion:
• Pure religion is caring for those who can offer nothing in return, such as orphans.
• We will not be able to help orphans without God’s power so we must first make sure our own faith is solid.
• We can pray powerfully for orphans.
• We can give our excess belongings to children in need.
• We can raise money to help older orphans become self-reliant.

Friday, November 5, 2010

How to Have Confidence that God will Hear Our Prayers and Respond

A sermon about prayer developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett.

Introduction:

We often pray about various things in our lives. We know that we need to have faith when we pray, but sometimes we wonder if God is really listening. Is there a way to know for sure that God will hear our prayers and respond?

1. If we want God to hear our prayers and respond, we MUST be in a relationship with Him.

• John 15:7 – “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.”
• Jesus was talking to His disciples and told them they if they wanted their prayers answered, they had to “remain” in Him.
• What does it mean to “remain” in Christ?
• Remaining in Christ means that we are connected to Him all the time through a meaningful personal relationship with Christ that is demonstrated in our daily lives.
• Sometimes we only pray, come to church, read the Bible or do other spiritual things when we have a problem and want God to bail us out.
• Because God is a loving Father, He often chooses to come to our aid in times like that.
• But God never promised to answer the prayers of those who do not have a real relationship with Him.
• God only promised to answer the prayers of those who remain in Christ.
Personal Example: I do not believe in Buddha, or in any of the Hindu gods. I do not think they are real. I do not think they can help me in my life. But suppose in a time of crisis I said a quick prayer to them “just in case.” Should I really expect them to respond? Of course not. I do not even believe they are real. I have no relationship or connection to them at all. It would be crazy for me to expect a response from them. Yet, somehow people who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus expect the Christian God to respond each time they get into a crisis in their life. Why are they surprised when He does not respond? They have no relationship with Him.
• If we want God to hear our prayers and respond, we must remain in Christ.
• The first step to remaining in Christ is to trust Christ as our Savior and become a real Christian.
• The second step to remaining in Christ is to be spiritual ALL the time, not just when we NEED something from God.
• God does not expect perfection, but He does expect significant effort.
• If we want our prayers to be answered, we must be a real Christian and be doing our best to live like one.

2. If we want God to hear our prayers and respond, we MUST pray in agreement with His will.

• 1 John 5:14-15 - Now this is the confidence we have before Him: whenever we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked Him for.
• We can be CONFIDENT that if we pray for something that is according to God’s will, it will happen.
• What does it mean to pray according to God’s will?
• Praying in agreement with God’s will means that whatever God wants should be more important than whatever we want.
• It is not always easy to know what God wants. Four tests we can use to know if something is God’s will are:
• God will never do something that contradicts His Word (the Bible).
• God will not do things that cause confusion or division in the church.
• God confirms His will through other Christians.
• God will put certain ideas or desires in our hearts that will just not go away. If those ideas that linger in our hearts pass the other three tests, then we can know that idea is from God and can pray for it with confidence knowing it is within God’s will.

3. If we want God to hear our prayers and respond, we MUST live the right way.

• 1 Peter 310-12 For the one who wants to love life and to see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit, and he must turn away from evil and do good. He must seek peace and pursue it, because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their request. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
• Whose prayer requests does God listen to?
• According to this verse, when we get our prayers answered, we will love life and see good days. But for that to happen:
• We must keep our tongue from evil.
• We must keep our lips from speaking lies.
• We must turn away from evil.
• We must do good deeds.
• We must seek peace with others.
• Basically, we must LIVE the right way.

Conclusion:

• If we want God to hear our prayers:
• We must remain in a relationship with Him. First by choosing to be a Christian and second by trying to be spiritual all the time, not just when we need something.
• We must pray in agreement with God’s will and not our own will.
• We must live the right way.