Friday, April 30, 2010

Speaking Each Other’s Language

My wife and I were sitting in the Washington D.C. airport yesterday waiting to board a plane to New Mexico. While we were waiting we witnessed the most interesting exchange of conversation between a German man and a Hispanic woman. Though both spoke English, it was clear that English was not their heart language. Both had strong accents and struggled with certain English words. But as they conversed with each other, they were able to communicate effectively. Communicating with each other took a lot of work. Communicating with each other took a lot of patience. Communicating with each other required them to sometimes repeat a word or phrase or find an alternate word or phrase in order to make their point in the conversation. But in the end, they were successful at exchanging the information they needed and both continued on with the business they were engaged in.

As I watched the exchange, I could not help but think of how similar that conversation was to the ones I often have with young adults. Young adults often use words and phrases that my generation does not understand. Sometimes young adults use the same words that older adults use, but with completely different meanings. Not only do young adults use different words than older people, but they process information and think differently as well. At times it can be frustrating communicating with them.

While it may be tempting to just ignore young adults and stick with talking to people of my own generation that is not really an option. Young adults need to engage in discussions with older adults about life so they can glean wisdom from them. Most importantly, those of us who are more mature must be willing to share our faith in Christ with the next generation. Statistics tell us that only 4% of young adults have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This has both practical and eternal aspects. Practically it means they are missing out on peace, hope, joy and purpose that religious faith provides. Spiritually it means that they will spend eternity separated from God if they do not discover how to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Adults who have already discovered that relationship have an obligation to communicate it to the next generation.

Like the two people I saw talking in the airport, effectively communicating the wisdom of life and the secret to eternal life with the next generation will take work. It will take patience. It will take repeating ourselves or finding new ways to express the truth that burns within our hearts. But the next generation needs to hear about Jesus, so we must make the effort to communicate effectively with them no matter how hard it may be.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Importance of Discipleship and Proper Baptism

A sermon based on Acts 18:24-26, 19:1-5, and Matthew 18:19-20 and preached by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett at Faith Community Church, Barre, Vermont on April 25, 2010.

Verse 24 - A Jew named Apollos, a native Alexandrian, an eloquent man who was powerful in the Scriptures, arrived in Ephesus.
  • This passage introduces us to a Jewish preacher named Apollos. The Bible tells us very little about Apollos.
  • We know that Apollos was a gifted speaker and knew the Old Testament scriptures well. The New Testament was not yet complete, so he would not have been familiar with it.
  • Though Apollos was Jewish, he was from the city of Alexandria, Egypt.
  • Alexandria was one of the most famous cities of the ancient world. It was known for its library, which held scrolls and manuscripts from all over the world.
  • Any scholar from Alexandria would be well read. Apparently Apollos was such a scholar.
Verse 25 - This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught the things about Jesus accurately, although he knew only John's baptism.
  • Apollos had somehow learned about Jesus. Scholars assume that Apollos had heard about Jesus through disciples of John the Baptist who had traveled to Egypt.
  • Remember that John the Baptist was the one who prepared people for the coming of Jesus. Though John the Baptist is written about in the New Testament, he was actually the last "Old Testament" prophet.
  • Apollos had not yet heard the whole story of Jesus, just the message of John the Baptist which was that Jesus would come and be the Messiah that the Jews had been waiting for.
  • Based on the limited knowledge, Apollos had placed his faith in Jesus. We need more of that kind of faith!
  • We live a world filled with skepticism.
  • Though a certain amount of skepticism is good because it keeps us from getting sucked into false religions, sometimes we use our skepticism to keep from making firm commitments to Jesus.
  • We will never get EVERY question answered, nor will we ever get ALL our issues resolved. At some point we just have to step out in faith and believe. We need the same kind of faith the Apollos displayed. 
Verse 26 - He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. After Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him home and explained the way of God to him more accurately.
  • Being a Jewish preacher, Apollos went to the local synagogue (the Jewish version of church) and preached.
  • Priscilla and Aquila were there that day and heard his sermon.
  • Priscilla and Aquila were Jewish Christians that Paul lived with for two years while he doing mission work in Ephesus.
  • After hearing his sermon, Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos into their home and explained the Gospel of Jesus to him more accurately.
  • Apollos only knew what John the Baptist had taught, which was that Jesus would come to save the world from sin.
  • Apollos did not realize that Jesus had already died, been buried, rose from the dead and ascended to sit at the right hand of God.
  • Apollos was a believer in Jesus, he just didn't realize that Jesus had already accomplished His mission.
  • Priscilla and Aquila helped Apollos come to a more complete understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus.
  • It was not that Apollos's beliefs were "wrong," they were just incomplete. He only knew part of the story.
  • There are many people in our community that went to church as children and learned about Jesus in Sunday School.
  • Often what they believe is correct, it is just incomplete. They need someone to help them move to the next level.
  • We need some Aquila and Pricilla's to take these people under their wings and disciple them deeper in the faith.
Chapter 19, Verse 1 - While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions and came to Ephesus.
  • While Apollos was getting his crash course on Jesus from Pricilla and Aquila over in Corinth, Paul is on a missionary journey that took him to Ephesus.
  • Remember, God is at work in many places doing many things. While we serve Him here, He is also at work around the world.
Verse 2 - He found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" "No," they told him, "we haven't even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."
  • Paul found some other people who were similar to Apollos. They were disciples but their knowledge and experience in the faith was rather shallow.
  • They did not even know some as basic as the existence of the Holy Spirit.
  • They were not shallow because their faith was weak; they were shallow because no one had ever taught them what they needed to know to have a deeper commitment to Christ.
  • Some people have been Christians for a very long time, but still know very little about their faith. We must be discipled in order to grow.
Verse 3 - "Then with what baptism were you baptized?" he asked them. "With John's baptism," they replied.
  • Paul is somewhat surprised about their lack of spiritual understanding, so he questioned them about their faith.
  • Of all the things that he could have asked them about, he asked them about baptism.
  • The reason he asked about baptism is because baptism is the FIRST step a new Christian is supposed to take after they trust Christ as Savior.
  • If a person has not yet taken the FIRST step of baptism, then how will they be able to take the second, or third, or fourth step of faith?
  • The act of baptism itself is very important. But even more important than the act of baptism is the heart of obedience that is willing to be baptized in submission to the Lord's commands.
  • A person whose heart is unwilling to undergo this simple spiritual step will also be unwilling to do other things the Lord asked of him or her.
  • The group told Paul that they had only been baptized with John the Baptist's baptism.
  • Many people do not realize that baptism was a common experience in the Jewish religion.
  • The word baptism comes from the Greek word "baptizo" which means to immerse or dip under water.
  • Throughout Jewish history rabbis taught their followers to be baptized for various reasons.
  • This means that there were different types of baptism back then, just as there are today.
Verse 4 - Paul said, "John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in the One who would come after him, that is, in Jesus."
  • Paul explained to this group that John the Baptist taught that outward baptism was a sign of inward repentance.
  • John the Baptist also taught that his baptism was simply a way of preparing themselves for the One who would come after him, which was Jesus Christ.
  • John's baptism was not the "whole story."
  • The "whole story" is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus!
  • John's baptism was a wonderful experience.
  • Jesus Himself received baptism from John, so we know it must have been a great thing to do.
  • But John's baptism was not the same thing as New Testament Christian baptism.
Matthew 18:19-20
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.

  • Jesus talked about New Testament Christian baptism in His last words to His disciples.
  • Jesus told them to and make other disciples who would follow Jesus.
  • They were to baptize those disciples in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
  • They were then to be taught how to live the way Jesus said to live.
  • FIRST, a person makes a conscious decision to become a disciple of Jesus.
  • SECOND, that person is baptized.
  • THIRD, that person is then taught how to live like Jesus wanted them to.
  • There are many other types of baptism:
  • For example: infant baptism is a commitment of parents to raise their child in a Christian home. That is a lovely ceremony to watch, but is different than the baptism that Jesus taught.
    Another example: Some churches believe that baptism is the removal of "original sin." Theologians have argued about this one for centuries, regardless what we may or may not believe about this, it is clearly different than the baptism Jesus taught.
    Another example: Mormons are "baptized for the dead," which is confusing to most Protestant Christians and based on a small phrase in the New Testament. Whatever that phrase may mean, it is clearly different than what Jesus taught about baptism.
  • The New Testament Christian baptism that Jesus gave His disciples in Matthew 18:19-20 was the immersion of believers under water AFTER their salvation experience in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as an outward sign of their inward faith and in recognition of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. While there may be many other types of baptism, none can replace the one Jesus gave us.
  • What should we do if we experienced a baptism different than this type?
Verse 5 - On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
  • The disciples of John the Baptist whom Paul encountered in Ephesus chose to be re-baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
  • This did not mean that their first baptism was wrong, it was simply different.
  • Their first baptism, though valid, had a different symbolism and a different meaning.
  • They wanted to be re-baptized as New Testament Christian believers in the name of Christ.
  • They correctly understood that it was going to be very difficult to grow deeper in their faith until they got this FIRST step done.
  • If we keep reading we see that after their re-baptism, God did great things in their lives.
  • If we are struggling to move forward in our Christian walk, could it be that we have not yet been baptized the way Christ wants us to?
  • We cannot move on to deeper things until we get the basic issues worked on first.
  • Some people are genuine Christians but their faith still lacks the depth that it needs.
  • More mature believers should be investing themselves in these "younger" Christians.
  • If we expect to build a healthy faith that will take us closer to God, we must start with the first step, which is baptism.
  • In the New Testament, baptism was ONLY for believers and was ALWAYS by immersion under water as a symbol of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • If we have never been baptized, we should do it. If we were baptized previously but our baptism had a different meaning or different symbolism, then we should be re-baptized in obedience to our Lord's command.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sharing Our Faith With Friends

There is a common misconception that non-churched people are not interested in discussing spiritual issues. But research shows that a majority of non-churched people would actually be interested in having a spiritual conversation with a friend about Christ. They are not interested in having the same discussion with a stranger, nor does an unsolicited mass mailing about spiritual issues interest them. But an open and honest discussion with someone they know would interest them. The problem is, too few Christians are willing to have those conversations. If Christians want their faith to spread, we are going to have to overcome our fear about sharing our faith.

Here are some thoughts that might make witnessing easier for Christians:
  1. Think of witnessing as a process instead of as a single event. Instead of trying to memorize some pre-written witnessing plan and using it like a religious salesman, just share small portions of the Gospel at any one time. This process oriented approach may take several conversations before the entire Gospel is presented, but that is okay. Christians must learn to be patient and let God guide this process. Our job is to share what we believe; it is God's job to call a person to repentance and faith in His Son Jesus Christ.
  2. Ask open ended questions instead of just giving answers. Open ended questions invite discussion. They cannot be answered with a "yes" or a "no." When we only ask "yes" or "no" questions, we tend to lapse into presentation mode. When we fall into presentation mode, we tend to answer questions that our friends are not asking.
  3. Admit that we don't know all the answers. The friends that we witness to may ask complex questions. These questions may be based on negative experiences from their past or some evil they have seen in the world. We may not know the answers. There may not be any answers. We may have to admit that we are still looking for answers ourselves, but that we trust Christ to reveal those answers in time.
  4. Share how we came to understand the truth of Christ in our own lives. Share how Christ has changed our lives. Share a specific story of how our faith in Christ helped us overcome a significant challenge or difficulty. Use one powerful Bible verse that helped us in our time of need so that our friends can see how the Bible impacts our daily life.
By following these simple ideas, we can overcome our fear of witnessing. By practicing these witnessing concepts, we can share our faith with our friends with confidence. Our friends are interested in discussing spiritual issues with us. And many of them will turn to Christ once they have time to consider what faith in Christ can mean to their lives.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Is Real Christianity Actually Declining in America?

Every few months someone publishes another poll that seems to indicate that Christianity in America is on the decline. While it is difficult to argue with the overwhelming statistics that fewer people in America consider themselves Christian than ever before, does that actually mean that real Christianity is on the decline?

Though I am not a professional pollster, I interact with a lot of people who do not go to church on a regular basis and I have my own theory about this matter. I think most would agree that a large number of people who may have called themselves Christians in the past did so only out of tradition or habit. Their family had some type of Christian heritage, so they assumed that made them Christian as well. But few of those people ever made a personal commitment to following Christ in their daily lives. This does not mean they were atheists, it just means that their Christianity was more of a vague concept or in some cases more akin to membership in a social club, than a deep personal faith in Jesus Christ. Though it is not my place to judge others, it seems that if a person has never made a personal commitment to the Christ of Christianity, then they are probably not real Christians. After all, how can people be committed to something to which they have made no actual commitment?

If my theory is true, then perhaps many of the recent polls about the decline of Christianity in America is more a reflection of people being honest about their faith than it is about real Christianity being in decline. If this is the case, then instead of being dismayed, we can actually be happy about these polls.

We can be happy about the honesty these polls reflect because it helps us overcome one of the greatest "arguments" against Christianity. One of the greatest "arguments" against Christianity is that there are too many hypocrites in the church. A hypocrite is a person who says one thing, but does another. If we have had all these people calling themselves Christians who really were not Christians, then indeed, Christianity had a large percentage of hypocrites in our midst. These large numbers of hypocrites give non-Christians plenty of excuses for not believing. But if people are now being honest and admitting that they were not Christians to begin with, then what should be left in the church are the real Christians. And if those real Christians are living out their faith like they should be, then Christianity should have far fewer hypocrites than in the past.

Though the "membership numbers" of the Christian religion may be smaller than in the past, if those who still call themselves Christians have a vibrant spirituality, then the church is actually stronger than it has been in a long time. As non-Christians see the vibrant faith lived out in the lives of the fewer, but more sincere, Christians who remain, those non-Christians may well be drawn to Christianity. The result of this could be a real resurgence in the church. Not resurgence based on family heritage, or cultural issues, but one based on actual spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ.

That sounds pretty good to me!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Young and Old: Necessary Partners for Successful Living

My recent post about self-esteem produced a lot of good discussion among my blog readers and Facebook friends. Though opinions were varied, it seemed that parents and senior adults agreed that our culture has gotten a bit carried away with the whole "feel good about yourself at all costs" philosophy that many families, church youth groups and public school classrooms promote. On the other side, young people seemed to think that feeling good about themselves gives them "power" and/or "control" over their lives.

Young people tend to think quite highly of how smart they are. They read a book about a particular subject, or watch a television program or goggle some topic on the internet and think they are an expert in that field of knowledge. Many young people have also invested a significant amount of time, money and effort in a college education. Everyone knows there is no one in the world smarter than a recent college graduate!

What young people fail to realize is that reading a book, researching something on the internet or any other type of academic learning by itself is not a guarantee for successful living. What we read in a book, or see on television or discover on the internet is not always right. Learning wisdom from the Word of God and having real life experiences are also necessary ingredients to discovering the way the world actually works. Youth tend to value what they think they "know" and disregard the experience that their elders have acquired over a lifetime.

But adults are not always right in this area either. Sometimes adults think that their experience trumps a younger person's knowledge. And while there is no substitute for experience, sometimes experiences are limited. For example, if an adult has spent his or her entire life in a rural area, they may not have as much advice to offer a young person who lives in an urban setting, or vice versa. Even if an adult has a similar background as a young person they are trying to help, they must remember that times change and their own experience in an industry or field may no longer be current. Regretfully, experience alone does not adequately qualify a person to be successful at life.

What is needed for a person to be truly successful is a combination of both intelligent learning and real life experience. Mixing learning and experience can produce a powerful combination for success. Another ingredient for success is humility. As both young and old remember what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:3, "Don't think more highly of yourself than you ought," they can help each other become more than what they could be on their own.

Perhaps this is also why Paul wrote in Titus 2:3-5 that the older Christians should mentor the younger Christians in how they should live. Likewise Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:12 that young people should live in a way that would set an example for the older Christians. Though we don't see as much mentoring and example setting as we should, the more we can put it into practice, the better it will be for everyone.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Next Generation: Snared in the Self-Esteem Trap

Can building a young person's self-esteem actually be bad for them? This thought provoking question is one that I have been struggling with a lot lately. It seems that many young adults feel really good about themselves on the outside and really terrible about themselves on the inside. When I try to probe a bit into why they feel this way, they indicate that everyone around them tells them things like "you can do anything you set your mind to" but when they tried living that way, they failed. Other people tell them, "just be yourself and you'll be okay," but they dislike themselves a lot and don't feel okay at all. Though I am all for a healthy self-esteem, I am beginning to conclude that our young people need more reality and less self-esteem building.

Dr. Jean Twenge, a professor at the University of Chicago, has written a book on this subject that every parent, every school teacher and every adult who works with youth should read. It is entitled, "Generation Me: Why Today's Young American's are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled and More Miserable Than Ever Before." Dr. Twenge points out that the whole concept of self-esteem "wasn't widely used until the late 1960s, and didn't become talk-show and dinner-table conversation until the 1980s. By the 1990s, it was everywhere." The concept of self-esteem somehow transformed from a vague academic idea to a foundational cornerstone of modern culture in a single generation. Parents are reading books about how to help their children have a strong self-esteem. Schools across the country have created programs designed specifically to increase children's self–esteem. Even churches have pitched in to make everyone feel good about themselves. Dr. Twenge concludes that most of those programs "actually build self-importance and narcissism," neither of which are desirable traits.

The reason these programs seldom produce a healthy self-esteem is because they seek to help young people feel good about themselves for no particular reason. As a matter of fact, many of those programs teach kids that feeling good about yourself is more important than good performance in academics, sports or behavior. As Dr. Twenge puts it, "to translate the educational mumbo-jumbo, it means feeling good about yourself no matter how you act or whether you learn anything or not." What is the result of this self-esteem mumbo-jumbo?

Dr. Twenge says "we don't expect children to learn anything. As long as they feel good, that seems to be all that's required." Twenge goes on to report that "educational psychologist Harold Stevenson found that American children ranked very highly when asked how good they were at math. Of course, their actual math performance is merely mediocre, with other countries' youth routinely outranking American children." In other words, the kids were not nearly as good at math as they thought they were. Likewise, many young people are not as good at sports or art or music as they think they are, hoping wildly for college scholarships they have no hope of qualifying for.

This does not mean that we should not encourage healthy self-esteem in our kids; it simply means that self-esteem must be built on something real. Dr. Twenge reports that "Self-esteem based on nothing does not serve children well in the long run; it's better, for children to develop real skills and feel good about accomplishing something." She goes on to say "Self-esteem is an outcome, not a cause. Children develop true self-esteem from behaving well and accomplishing things."

As a matter of fact, building self-esteem on false premises is very unhealthy. It produces kids who can't take constructive criticism that is needed for them to improve in their areas of weakness. Dr. Twenge points out that "research shows that when people with high self-esteem are criticized, they become unfriendly, rude, and uncooperative, even toward people who had nothing to do with the criticism." This is exactly what is happening to our young people. We may think we are helping them, but in reality, we are only holding them back from seeing their real weaknesses and improving on them so they can become better people.

Though we want to be gentle with our kids so that we don't crush their spirits, we do need to start being realistic with them. Let's praise them for a job well done. Let's help them understand their weaknesses so they can work on them. Let's give them a healthy self-esteem built on reality instead of a false self-esteem that will come crashing down around them when they realize they are not going to be able to accomplish every dream or goal they set for themselves. This will be hard for some of us, but our kids need us to do this for them out of love.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Maybe Grandma Wasn’t So Dumb After All

Every generation thinks the one coming after it has lost all their morals and become just plain crude when it comes to moral behavior. But few would argue that today's generation of young adults seem to be more skilled at moral crudeness than any of previous generation. Dr. Jean Twenge, a professor at the University of Chicago, has discovered a number of interesting tidbits in her research on the sexuality of today's young adults that demonstrate this crudeness really is becoming a problem.

For example, in previous generations fewer people lived together outside of marriage than the current generation. Dr. Twenge discovered that "the rate of living together outside of marriage increased 500% from 1970 to 1990, and another 72% between 1990 and 2000. Couples who wait to live together until after the wedding are now the minority, and this trend is likely to continue." Most couples who co-habitat before marriage say they are doing this to make sure it works out before making a commitment to each other. Yet, statistic after statistic shows that those who live together before marriage have a higher chance of divorce than those who don't. Divorce is painful, just ask anyone who has experienced it. The deterioration of the sanctity of marriage is causing significant pain in the lives of many young adults. Maybe grandma's idea about not living together before marriage wasn't so dumb after all.

One might argue that if couples want to live together outside of marriage and it doesn't work out, it may cause them pain, but it's their lives, so who cares. But does this lack of morality bring pain into the lives of others? Dr. Twenge discovered that "in 2003, 34.6% of babies were born to unmarried women, the highest rate ever recorded. That's more than 1 out of 3." Numerous studies have shown that children who come from two parent families are the happiest and the healthiest. While we should applaud all the single moms out there who are raising successful kids on their own, those very moms would be the first to affirm that it is as extremely hard job and that it would be much easier if the dad would be responsible and do his part. The bottom line is that our moral choices are affecting our kids in negative ways. Again, maybe grandma's idea about purity wasn't so dumb after all.

Someone reading this right now is patting themselves on the back because they engaged in less than stellar moral behavior but it didn't result in a painful break up or in pregnancy, so they think they managed to escape the negative consequences of their immoral actions. But many negative consequences of immoral behavior do not show up until later. As painful as it is to think about, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases may lie dormant in our bodies for months or even years before raising their ugly heads. Dr. Twenge correctly points out that today's young people "have never known a world without AIDS." When diseases like AIDS are a normal reality of life, a quick bout of fun with a friend has the potential to become something much more sinister down the road. A Christian friend told me last week that he had had 40 different sexual partners by the time he was 26 years old. Though he is now a committed Christian and no longer engages in such activities, the statistical reality of his past may one day come back to haunt him. Again, maybe grandma's quaint ideas about self control weren't so dumb after all.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

If God is So Powerful, Why Does Bad Stuff Keep Happening to Me?

If God loves me so much and He is so powerful, then why does bad stuff keep happening to me? This is a question that I have been asked countless times by people struggling to discover faith or hold on to what fragile faith they have. To be completely honest, though I am a Christian minister, I have asked myself this question on more than one occasion, so I can relate when others ask this question too.

Because today's young adults are a generation in pain, they are asking these types of questions more than ever. There are no easy answers to such hard questions. But in my own times of reflection and prayer, I have come to at least one answer. God allows pain in the world because God has given man free will. Though God is all powerful and could micro-manage our lives in a way that would make us free from all pain, this would render us mere robots or puppets. God loves us too much to give us such empty and meaningless lives. So He has chosen to give us free will as an expression of His love for us.

That free will that God has lovingly given to us often causes us pain. Sometimes our free will causes us pain because we make bad choices and the natural consequences of those bad choices are painful. Sometimes we make the right choices but other people around us make bad choices. The choices that others make can often have painful results in our own lives. Sometimes the pain we feel is from bad choices that were made by people we don't even know but which set into effect a chain of events that somehow caught us in a trap of pain. An example of that kind of pain would be war. Most people hurt in a war don't even know why it started nor have a stake in how it is being fought, but when a bomb drops on their house, they die anyway.

If free will is so painful, why did God give it to us? In the beginning, when God created mankind, the world was perfect (Genesis 1-2). But then mankind chose to use free will in an effort to become as smart as God (Genesis 3). That did not work out so well and now our free will has been deeply tainted by mankind's fall into sin. Though it is easy to blame our ancestors for getting us into this mess, we have a fair amount of guilt ourselves. After all, have not each one of us taken advantage of our free will to do something we knew was wrong? This tendency to abuse our free will is what gets us into trouble. Much of the time when we think we are exercising our "free will" we are actually acting as slaves to our sin (Romans 6). This slavery to sin causes much of the pain we experience in our lives. Free will has a price, for with control comes responsibility.

Something happens to our free will when we trust Christ as our Savior. When we make a sincere commitment to repent of our sin and place our faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers us to make better choices and use our free will as God intended it (Romans 6:22). Making better choices eliminates much of the pain in our lives. Sadly, even when we trust Christ and are freed from the grip of our own sin, we are still subject to the poor choices that others make who are still in slavery to their own sin. This means that we will still experience pain when others make bad choices and their consequences spill over into our own lives. This is why we should share our faith with others. As we help others become empowered by the Holy Spirit to make better choices, the overall level of pain around us will decrease. We will never eliminate all pain in the world because not all people will chose to come to Christ and be filled with His Spirit, but the more who do, the better our world will be.

The next time something bad happens, instead of getting angry at God, take a step back and thank Him for giving you, and those around you, the gift of free will. Then ask Him to help you, and those around you, use that free will in a way that helps instead of hurts.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Resurrection Power

A sermon based on Luke 24:1-12 and preached by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett at Faith Community Church, Barre, VT on April 4, 2010

Verse 1 - On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared.
  • The resurrection of Jesus Christ happened on Sunday, which was the first day of the week.
  • In the Old Testament, the Jews worshipped on Saturday, which was the Sabbath.
  • Some people still worship on Saturday, and that is still okay.
  • But in the New Testament, many believers began to worship on Sundays in honor of Christ's resurrection.
  • What matters more than the day, is that we regularly worship the Lord. (see Romans 14:5-6)
  • Far too many people have allowed themselves to get so busy with life that they no longer worship the Lord regularly.
  • Though any amount of worship is better than no worship, to really gain the benefits of worship, we must be involved in it regularly.
  • Some ladies came to the tomb of Jesus early in the morning.
  • The Gospel of Matthew says it was 5 AM.
  • These ladies started their day by coming to Jesus.
  • This is something we should consider as well.
  • Though we can pray and read our Bible any time, when we start our day with a quiet time with God, it makes the whole day go better.
  • The ladies brought spices in order to preserve the body.
  • They did not have modern embalming techniques like we do today.
  • Instead they would preserve a body using natural spices.
  • The fact that the ladies come to the tomb with spices to preserve the body means that they were not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. They thought they would find His body in the tomb.
  • What a shock they were about to get!
Verse 2 - They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.
  • In that time period, they did not dig graves in the ground like we do today. They buried people in caves instead.
  • They would roll a huge stone in front of the mouth of the cave to keep animals away from the body and to keep grave robbers from stealing the personal items families sometimes buried with the body.
  • The stone would have been large enough to cover the entrance, which would have been about waist high for an adult.
  • The stone would have been fitted into a slot in the ground that sloped down.
  • That made the stone easy to move as it rolled down into the slot to block the entrance, but very difficult to get back out.
  • It would have taken quite a force of strong men to open the tomb. There is no way these ladies cold have expected to be able to do it themselves.
  • The Gospel of Mark tells us the ladies actually discussed how they would move the stone as they walked to the tomb.
  • They did not know the answer, but they went to the tomb anyway, trusting that somehow God would work it out.
  • When they got to the tomb, the problem was already solved because the stone had already been rolled away.
  • We all have questions about God and the world around us and wonder why certain things happen to certain people.
  • Sometimes those questions are like giant stones that keep us from believing in the Lord as firmly as we should.
  • We must journey toward Jesus anyway, not knowing how our questions will get answered, but trusting that God will work them out.
Verse 3 - They went in but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
  • The ladies were expecting to see the dead body of Jesus.
  • In their minds, it was all over and all that was left to do was put the ritualistic spices on the body.
  • It was not until that moment they realized that the adventure had just begun!
  • How many of us have written off "church" as being boring or just empty ritual?
  • While some churches may indeed seem more like tombs, there are many churches that are quite vibrant and alive.
  • We need to become involved in a vibrant church in order to have the strong faith that is needed to endure the difficulties of life.
  • Anyone who came this morning looking for rituals, we hope you are pleasantly surprised as you encounter the Living Lord!
Verse 4 - While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothes.
  • While the ladies were trying to figure out what was going on, they suddenly saw two men in dazzling clothes.
  • The other Gospels tell us these were angels.
  • In the Bible, angels were messengers sent from God to give people special messages from Him.
  • God still sometimes uses angels to do special things in our lives.
  • But most often God uses people to help other people.
  • Who has been an "angel" in our lives?
  • Who does God want us to be an "angel" to?
Verse 5 - So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground. "Why are you looking for the living among the dead?" asked the men.
  • The ladies were terrified by what they were experiencing.
  • An encounter with the divine should be encouraging, but sometimes it scares us because we do not know what the result is going to be.
  • We don't need to fear what God is doing in our lives because God will always do the right thing.
Verse 6 - He is not here, but He has been resurrected! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee
  • The angels told the ladies that Jesus was not in the tomb. Jesus had come back to life.
  • This must have seemed like an incredible impossibility to the ladies.
  • People have always struggled with the concept of a dead person actually rising again from the grave. Can this actually be true?
Ten Proofs of the Resurrection of Christ:
1. The Bible itself says the resurrection actually happened. For many Christians, this is the only proof they need.
2. The resurrection is also well documented by numerous historical sources. Josephus, Ignatius, Justin Martyr and Tertullian were all historians who wrote about the resurrection of Christ in the first 100-150 years after it happened.
3. There were numerous eyewitness of the resurrection who both talked and wrote of their experiences. If it was fake, someone would have exposed them immediately. At one point Jesus appeared to 500 people at once. How do you deny that?
4. The Roman soldiers would have never allowed anyone to take the body of Jesus. They would have been killed if they had.
5. All but one of the apostles died terrible deaths for their faith in the resurrected Jesus. If they had known it was a fraud, they would have never endured such torture.
6. The community at large had turned against Jesus and His followers. Why would thousands of those same people suddenly become Christians unless they had seen Jesus after the resurrection, or personally knew someone who had seen Him?
7. For 2000 years skeptics have set out to "disprove" the resurrection and after examining all the evidence, a vast number have decided to become Christians.
8. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, where is His body? All the Jews had to do to stop the spread of Christianity was produce the body. They never did because there was no body to produce!
9. There have been thousands of documented miracles that have happened since Jesus was resurrected that prove the reality of His power.
10. Many people in this room can give testimony of how Jesus changed their lives. If He were not alive and in possession of real spiritual power, how could He change the lives of people sitting all around us?

Verse 6 - He is not here, but He has been resurrected! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee
  • It is the very truth of the resurrection of Christ that separates Christianity from all other world religions!
  • Though many world religions share various good concepts and seek to make the world a better place, only Christianity has a resurrected Savior.
  • Buddha founded Buddhism. He was born around 563 BC. He taught that mankind could find enlightenment, be reincarnated and find peace within themselves. He died around 483 BC. His tomb is occupied.
  • Confucius founded a philosophy of life that is practiced by hundreds of millions in Asia. He was born around 551 BC. He taught that rituals provide balance, you must govern yourself first and you must respect your ancestors. He died around 479 BC. His tomb is occupied.
  • Muhammad founded Islam. He was born around 570 AD. He taught that he was the last messenger of God and that good works lead to paradise. He died in 633 AD. His tomb is occupied.
  • Joseph Smith founded Mormonism. He was born December 23, 1805. He taught that what man is, God once was and what God is, man may become and that good Mormon men will populate a planet with their spiritual offspring. He died June 27, 1844. His tomb is occupied.
  • Charles Darwin founded the evolutionary theory. He was born February 12, 1809. He taught that mankind was just an animal that resulted from millions of years of cosmic accidents. He died April 19, 1882. His tomb is occupied.
  • Jesus Christ founded Christianity. He was born around 4 BC. He taught people to have a personal relationship with God through faith and said we should love our neighbors as well as our enemies. He died around 30 AD. His tomb: unoccupied!!!!!!
  • The angels told the ladies to remember what Jesus had said.
  • Jesus had taught for months that He would be killed, buried and rise again.
  • But His followers had not been ready to hear that message until Resurrection Day!
  • Whether we grew up going to church every Sunday or whether this whole Jesus thing is new to us, sometimes we don't get the point until we are ready to hear it.
  • Are we ready to hear this message today?
  • Are we ready to experience Resurrection Power today?

To experience Resurrection Power we must:

  • Worship the Lord regularly
  • Spend time daily with God
  • Have faith even when we don't understand
  • Not fear what God is doing in our lives because it will ALWAYS be the right thing!
  • BUT it all begins with a commitment to the resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ!
Those who have never known Christ in a personal way might consider this Prayer of Acceptance:
Dear Lord, I believe in You and in Your resurrection. Right now I turn from my sin and place all my hope in You. I commit my life to You and will follow You for the rest of my life. I realize this is a big commitment and that I will need Your help to accomplish it, but I trust You to help me do it. Amen.

Those who once felt close to Christ but have wandered from the faith might consider this Prayer of Rededication:
Dear Lord, There was a time in my life when You were very important to me. But I've let myself get so busy that I have wandered from You. But I now realize that was not a good idea and I am coming back to You. Lord help me make You a priority in my life once again. I need You! Amen.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Sufferings of Christ

A reflective sermon based on Matthew 27:45-54 and preached by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett on Good Friday, April 02, 2010, at Faith Community Church, Barre, Vermont.

Matthew 27:45-54 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
 45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land. 46 At about three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni?" that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" 47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling for Elijah!" 48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, fixed it on a reed, and offered Him a drink.49 But the rest said, "Let's see if Elijah comes to save Him!" 50 Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. 51 Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened and many bodies of the saints who had gone to their rest were raised. 53 And they came out of the tombs after His resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they were terrified and said, "This man really was God's Son!"

Why did Jesus have to die?
  • Jesus died for our sins. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

What is sin and why is it bad enough to cause death?
  • Sin is anything we say, think or do that is wrong.

Why is sin wrong?
  • Sin is bad because of the hurt that it causes.
  • Sin hurts other people.
  • Sin hurts us.
  • Sin hurts God by rejecting His perfect plan. 
Verse 45 - From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land.
  • Sin was so bad that when it was piled on Jesus, it caused darkness to come over the entire land.
  • When we think of what sin has done to our nation and to our state, we understand that darkness is coming over our land.
Verse 46 - At about three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni?" that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"
  • Sin is so bad that the Father had to look away from Jesus once the sins of the world were resting on Him.
  • God the Father just couldn't look at that much sin.
  • Think of how much this must have made Jesus suffer.
The Suffering of Christ:
  • Crucifixion was a common form of capital punishment used by the Romans.
  • The Romans liked to use crucifixion because it was so gruesome and terrible that it scared people into obeying the Romans.
  • Crucifixion began with beating Jesus' back with a whip called a flagrum. It had small pieces of bone and metal attached to a number of leather strands. During the beating, the skin was ripped from the back, exposing a bloody mass of tissue and bone.
  • Roman soldiers also ripped Jesus' beard from his face and slapped him over and over again.
  • They then crammed a crown of thorns onto his head. They crammed it on hard enough that it stayed on while he walked through the city carrying his cross. This means the thorns must have been embedded in his scalp.
  • Jesus was then forced to carry his own 100 pound crossbar on his bloody back through the streets of Jerusalem to the execution site.
  • Then spikes about 7 inches long and 3/8 of an inch in diameter were driven into the wrists. The spikes would hit the area of the nerve, causing shocks of pain up the arms to the shoulders and neck.
  • The crossbar was then lifted on to a 7 foot tall post that was already on the site.
  • Jesus' feet were then awkwardly turned so that the feet could be nailed to the post.
  • At this point, there was tremendous strain put on the wrists, arms and shoulders, resulting in a dislocation of the shoulder and elbow joints.
  • The position of His nailed body held His rib cage in a fixed position, which made it extremely difficult to exhale, and impossible to take a full breath.
  • To breathe on a cross, Jesus was forced to push up on His feet to allow for inflation of the lungs. As the pain in His feet and legs became unbearable, Jesus was forced relax His legs and hang by the nails in his wrists again.
  • Having suffered from the beatings, Jesus was described as extremely weak and dehydrated. He was probably losing significant amounts of blood.
  • As time passed, the loss of blood and lack of oxygen would cause severe cramps, spasmodic contractions and probably unconsciousness.
  • Jesus' lungs began to fill up with fluid.
  • His heart began to fail.
  • Depending on how strong the person was, crucifixion could last a couple of hours, or could drag on many hours. Jesus was on the cross at least six hours. Some say longer.
  • Jesus suffered numerous hours of horrible and sustained torture on the cross of Calvary.
  • And at any moment, He had the power to simply step off the cross and heal himself.
  • It was not the nails that held Him on the cross; it was His love for us.
Verse 54 - When the centurion and those with him . . . saw . . . the things that had happened, they were terrified and said, "This man really was God's Son!"
  • The people witnessing the crucifixion were deeply moved by it.
  • How would we have felt if we had been there?
  • What thoughts would have been running through our minds?
  • More importantly, what should our response to the crucifixion be today?

Jesus made a great sacrifice for us in order to pay for our sin.
Though we can never pay Jesus back for this sacrifice, we should seek to live our lives in such a way that demonstrates our deep appreciation of His sacrifice for us.