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.

• 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:
 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
not Happy Holiday!
Please, all Christians join together and
wish everyone we meet
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.

• 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.

• 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.