Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Biblical Baptism

• The rite of baptism has been an important step in the spiritual journey of Christians since Christ Himself was baptized in the Jordan River.
• In our modern world there are many different opinions about baptism, which has caused a lot of confusion about this subject.
• When trying to decide how we should handle confusing issues, Christians often ask themselves WWJD.
• WWJD stands for What Would Jesus Do.
• Though we do not know how Jesus would respond to every confusing situation that we might face in modern life, we do know how Jesus responded to the concept of baptism.
• Jesus chose to be baptized Himself in the Jordan River.
• Read Matthew 3:13, 16, 17
• Jesus was baptized and God the Father was pleased about it.
• God the Father is pleased with us when we follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
• Though we may not be able to be baptized in the Jordan River, we can follow the example of Jesus by being baptized right in our own community.

What do we need to understand to be baptized?

1. Faith Comes Before Baptism
• The New Testament reveals a clear picture of a person believing in Christ FIRST and THEN being baptized.
• Read Acts 2:38
• Peter said they had to repent BEFORE they could be baptized. Repenting of our sin and believing in Jesus must precede baptism.
• Read Acts 8:5, 12
• This scripture also shows that the people BELIEVED first and then were baptized.
• Notice that it was men and women, not infants or little children that were baptized.
• Read Acts 8:36-38
• One more example of the importance of belief coming before baptism. In this case it was pointed out that we must believe with “all our heart.”
• Read Acts 18:8
• In this example of belief before baptism it is pointed out that Crispus was the leader of the synagogue.
• This means Crispus was VERY religious and one would hope VERY spiritual. Yet Crispus was baptized AFTER he believed.
• In each of these scriptures the people first placed their faith in Christ. Then as an outward expression of that inner faith, they were baptized.
• The need to believe before being baptized was the clear teaching and practice of the early church that Jesus founded in the first century and is recorded in the Bible numerous times.
• Regardless of modern confusion, if we stay with timeless scripture, we will not go wrong.

2. What if a person was baptized as an infant?
• Because of all our modern confusion, there are many people who were baptized by their parents as infants before they were old enough to understand what it meant to be a Christian.
• Though parents meant well by trying to make this choice for their children, faith is deeply personal and no one should make faith choices for another person.
• How many people do we know who were baptized as infants into some church and now that church does not meet their spiritual needs?
• It does not mean that church has no spiritual value, it just means that church is not right for that person.
• Such people often find themselves in an awkward situation of being baptized into a church they are no longer interested in and feel guilty because they do not want to hurt their parents’ feelings.
• As many of those people grew up, they came to a more complete understanding of who Christ is and were born again.
• Since faith is supposed to precede baptism, what are those Christians supposed to do about baptism?
• People who were baptized before they made a sincere commitment to Christ should be re-baptized.
• This is important because the Bible teaches that people should be baptized only AFTER they come to committed faith in Christ.
• Though human traditions are hard to change, when our traditions go against scripture, we must always side with scripture.
• Re-baptism should be done out of obedience to the Scriptures and with all due respect to the parents and family who were doing what they thought best when we were infants.

What Method Should the Church Use to Baptize?
• The word “baptism” comes from the Greek word “baptizo,” which literally means “to dip under.”
• In the New Testament when a person was baptized they were always dipped under water as a picture of being completely immersed in Christ.
• Baptism is also a reminder of how Christ stood on the cross for us, was put under the ground for us, and rose again out of the ground for us.
• Baptism by immersion under water is the best symbol of this as the person stands in the water, is lowered under the water and then raised up out of the water.
• This symbol should be preserved as much as possible and only changed under rare circumstances.

What is the Connection Between Baptism and Church Membership?
• There are a number of scriptures in the New Testament that seem to link baptism and church membership by referring to the people who were baptized as being “added to the number” of the church.
• Some have interpreted the phrase “added to the number” as meaning that the people were placed on a church membership roll.
• This is possible, but there are some scriptures that clearly separate these two issues.
• For example, the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 came to personal faith in Christ and was baptized in the middle of the desert.
• There was literally no church for him to join.
• Philip baptized him anyway, resulting in him being a baptized Christian but not a member of any particular church.
• Though history tells us that he later founded what has become the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, that church did not exist at the moment of his baptism.
• This means that baptism and church membership were not automatically connected in the New Testament.
• Therefore, we should be cautious about making them automatically connected in modern times.
• While baptism and church membership are not automatically connected, it is very important for people to make a commitment to a specific church so they can serve the Lord with their spiritual gifts and be accountable to the biblical authority of that church.
• Once a person has been baptized, they should prayerfully take the next step and become a member of a specific church.
• Though this would normally be the church that baptized them, we know from the experience of the Ethiopian eunuch that is might not always be the case.
• It is always best to take such things one step at a time, praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and making sure one’s commitments are genuine and sincere.
• We do not need insincere church members.

• Have we taken this important step and been baptized after we have made a personal commitment to Christ?
• If we have, then we should find a church to join and begin to serve the Lord with passion.
• If we have not, then we should prayerfully seek baptism even if it means we must be re-baptized.
• The next opportunity for baptism at Faith Community Church is Sunday, July 31 at 1 PM at Limehurst Campground in Williamstown.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Killer Cows and the Importance of Contextualization

I grew up in a medium sized city in the Midwest. As a teenager I moved to a small city in Virginia and after college I lived in a small city in South Carolina. Since my entire life had been spent in the city, what a culture shock it was when I moved to rural Vermont in 1993 with my wife and family. We had come to a small village to serve as missionaries with the North American Mission Board (SBC). We served a rural church with less than 20 members that was struggling for survival. The first week I lived in that tiny village I had what was then a traumatic experience but has since become quite humorous. It was also a great teaching moment which impacted how I view ministry.

I love to walk in the mornings and pray about what God is doing in my life. That first week of living in a rural area I struck out walking down the main street, which was also the only paved street in town. I did not get very far before I encountered a cow that had escaped from the pasture and was standing in the middle of the road. Having grown up in the city, I did not know what quite what to do, so I froze in my tracks. My life flashed before my eyes. My heart raced with fear. Would this cow charge me? Would it trample me? Would it eat me? Surely this vicious creature was a killer cow!

I do not know how long I stood in the middle of the road looking at that cow, but eventually someone drove by in their pickup truck and asked what I was doing. I replied that a “killer cow” had gotten loose and I did not know what to do. They looked at me, looked at the cow and laughed hysterically as they drove away. Eventually I realized that the poor creature was just an old milk cow who had wandered the wrong direction. I slowly eased past her and went on my way. But I have never forgotten my encounter with the killer cow on the main street in town. I knew I was not in the city anymore!

What does this story have to do with the Gospel? Just as I had to adjust to the presence of cows in the middle of the road, I also had to adjust to doing ministry in a different culture than I was used to. I was no longer living and working in a city. I was now in a different environment. I learned to show up at the post office each morning at 9:30 AM when everyone came to get their mail. I could visit half the town in an hour. I learned that I was the “community” pastor, providing weddings and funerals for the entire community and not just for the handful of church members I had. I learned how important it was to make a contribution to the annual 8th grade Town Dinner fundraiser. I learned not to wear a tie, as it made me look like I was a Mormon or a bill collector, neither of which was very welcome in that small village.

During the eight years I served that church, I learned a great many things about how to minister in a rural village. I think it is important to point out that at no point did I actually have to change the Gospel itself. The Gospel is always relevant to all cultures in all time periods and to all people groups. There is no other Gospel but the one found in the New Testament that begins with the sinfulness of mankind and ends with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ to reconcile us back to the Father. But methods and programs used to communicate the Gospel are constantly changing. Pastors, missionaries and other Christian leaders who want to reach their communities for Christ must understand this. One generation might use flannel graph and chalkboards, another generation might use video projectors and smart boards, but the message of the Gospel remains the same. One people group might like to meet in house churches and worship in a rare dialect, another people group might prefer giant cathedrals and the use of a more common language, but the Gospel remains the same for both people groups.

Since my fateful encounter with the killer cow so many years ago, I learned to communicate the Gospel in a variety of ways as I have started churches and led evangelistic activities across the mountains, valleys and small towns of Vermont. Each town is a little different, but in each one God has called a group of people to Himself. My ministry is to join God in His work and communicate His Gospel in a way that the called can hear and respond. When that happens, the Gospel goes forth and God is glorified, and His people rejoice, even if it looks differently than what we are used to.

For more devotionals like this one, consider Touching the Footprints of Jesus

Sunday, July 17, 2011

How to Submit Our Finances to God

A stewardship sermon prepared by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett and preached at Faith Community Church on July 17, 2011.

1. We must be good stewards of what God gives us.
• Everything we have comes from God. - 1 Chronicles 29:14, 16
• We must be good managers what God gives us. - 1 Corinthians 4:2
• When we manage our resources well, God will give us more to manage. - Matthew 25:20-21

2. Return God’s portion to Him
• Though everything we have is a gift from God, God has asked us to give a portion of what He has given to us back to Him.
• God does not actually need this, as He can create whatever He wants.
• God asks us to give back to him to see if we are willing to be obedient, faithful and sacrificial both for God and for others.
• In numerous places in the Bible we are told to “tithe” of our income.
• The word “tithe” means tenth.
• Therefore, God wants us to return one tenth of our income back to Him.
• We give the tithe through the local church and it is to be used for the God’s work.
• We can also give offerings in addition to our tithes if the Lord leads us to do so.
• In 2007, the research revealed that just 5% of adults tithed.
• When we fail to tithe, we rob God.
• Malachi 3:8-11 (For a complete study on Malachi, see: "Malachi: Finding Hope in the Midst of Adversity.")

3. Prepare for the future
• We should have an emergency fund. - Proverbs 22:3
• If we set aside a small amount each time we are paid, then when an emergency happens we will have at least some of the money that is needed.
• We should be saving for “change of life” events such as children going to college or our eventual retirement. - Proverbs 30:7-9
• We should save in advance for big purchases such as buying a car, or appliances, or a home. Luke 14:28
• Far too often we fail to count the entire cost of a purchase. This will always get us in trouble.
• Take the time to count the full cost.

4. Avoid Debt
• Debt should not be the way we finance our life. - Romans 13:8
• Some people owe everyone, and that is no way to live.
• We should NEVER become slaves to our debt. - Proverbs 22:7
• We are in debt whenever we have purchased something with borrowed money and if we were forced to sell the item we would not be able to make enough money to pay off the debt.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What God Expects a Pastor to Do

Reprinted from http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/7/prweb8635898.htm

Despite the rise of mega-churches in North America, the vast majority of churches remain small. It is often necessary for pastors of small churches to work another job in addition to serving their church, leaving them in danger of burnout if some of their duties are not delegated to others. Author Dr. Terry W. Dorsett identified that leadership teams working in partnership with pastors can truly make pastors healthier and ministry more effective.

In his book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church (published by CrossBooks), Dr. Dorsett provides concise and effective guidance for small-church congregations and pastors looking to build and strengthen their leadership teams. Using New Testament church leadership principles, Dr. Dorsett offers lessons, exercises, and worksheets to train lay people to help their pastors with two of the most important and time-consuming ministry duties—preaching and pastoral care.

“I strongly recommend that pastors let lay people preach on a regular basis,” said Dr. Dorsett. “In fact, I show how that is what God expects a pastor to do. Whereas, most pastors prefer to do all the preaching themselves.”

Six fun, easy-to-use and successfully tested training sessions show pastors how to confidently empower students to fill the pulpit and make pastoral visits when needed. Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church is written by an effective bivocational pastor who desires to share what he discovered were some of the best practices for bivocational ministry.

Ministry does not have to be done alone. By learning how to work together on a pastoral leadership team, lay leaders and pastors alike can more effectively share the Gospel with their community and can assure the maximum long-term health of their church.

About the Author
At the age of 16, Terry Dorsett joined one of America's largest congregations, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. While in college, he joined the pastoral staff at that church and learned important concepts about how to reach a community for Christ. Next came a brief period serving in youth ministry in South Carolina before working with the North American Mission Board (SBC) in 1993. In 2001 Terry became the Director of Missions for the Green Mountain Baptist Association. Terry and Kay partnered with three other families in 2004 to start Faith Community Church. Terry is known for his energetic sermons and often travels around the nation leading workshops on bivocational ministry and on how to help small churches reach the next generation.

About the Publisher
CrossBooks, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, is a Christian publishing company committed to bringing more Christian voices into the publishing industry. For more information, visit http://www.crossbooks.com.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

No Small Churches - a Guest Post by Rev. Michael Duncan

I am under the impression that there are some in the wide world of God’s kingdom who view the size of a congregation as the empirical test of spiritual power and prestige. Somehow the idea that “bigger is better” has crept into the mindset of those who see the church as a montage of programs and that the only blessed ministry is a fully-funded, highly-staffed and overtly energetic experience. There is, however, no biblical basis for such a systemic view of the church.

But, let’s leave that aside for a moment and wax pragmatic. Let’s tackle the idea that “bigger is better.”

By way of illustration, consider a nuclear explosion. The bomb that devastated Hiroshima had a core of uranium of about 141 pounds. However, it had the same explosive force of approximately 30 million pounds of TNT. Just because it’s small does not mean it lacks power.

Which is worth more: a five-hundred dollar diamond ring, or a five-hundred dollar car? I’m sure that my wife would much prefer the diamond ring over the car. The car is bigger but that does not mean it is better.

Okay, enough of the pragmatic realities of the “bigger is better” mentality. Let me wax spiritual for just a moment.

I attended a church many years ago that had a “prayer chain” ministry. Before you go ballistic on me, I’m not against prayer chains. In fact, I am very glad that the people of God want to connect their lives together in prayer. Anyway, I was confronted by someone looking to put something “on the prayer chain.” I encouraged that person and offered to pray with her but she insisted that the more people praying the better. I asked her, “why?” Her answer: “Because God will be able to hear it if more people are praying!”

Does God have a quota? Is there a minimal requirement of praying people? Can you imagine the Father in heaven saying, “If only they could get thirty people praying for this, then I would answer?”

The attitude of the small church is not unlike the attitude of the woman wanting the prayer chain: that the more people involved, the more God will respond. Surely, then, God is magnanimous to those “mega” churches who have thousands in attendance every week and He must be equally minimalistic to the church of ten. To quote Paul, “God forbid!”

In the sight of heaven there are no small churches! Every born-again body of believers who has Christ Jesus as the Head and the Word as the source for faith and life has the same power as any other gathering of God’s people. There are no small churches because there is no small God.

Think about it like this. One widow’s offering was worth more than all the offerings of the wealthy combined. It took one man’s stone to kill a giant. It took one boy’s lunch to feed a multitude. It took one man’s prayer to bring a drought. It took only twelve men to change the world. So, “small church” what are you doing?

Jonathan and his armor bearer defeated the Philistines. Consider Jonathan’s words: “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6).

There are no small churches, but there is small-mindedness.

The moment you say that God’s plan is impossible is the moment you have shrunk in your thinking. Every church, whether large or small, is called by God to accomplish His purpose in the community He placed them. However, to look out over the field of work and the little resources available, might bring a sense of distress and a feeling that you’re just too small to handle the task.

This same thing happened to the people of Israel. As they prepared to cross into the Promised Land, twelve spies returned and ten had developed a small-minded point of view.

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” – Numbers 13:31-33

Don’t let yourself be lulled into a sense that you cannot accomplish the work of God simply because you’re small. God is not hindered by the size of a church’s budget or the number of participants. The only thing that will keep you from accomplishing God’s task is an unwillingness to trust Him.

To wrap this up, let’s hear it from our Lord Jesus:

To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. – Revelation 3:7-8

There are no small churches.

©2011 - Rev. Michael Duncan - used with express permission of the author.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Power of Effective Prayer

A sermon based on James 5:13-18, developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett

Verse 13 - Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises.
• It is interesting to note that the book of James opened up with an emphasis on dealing with suffering and it closes that way too.
• This is because the world we live in is under the curse of sin and is filled with suffering.
• A significant part of the Christian life is learning how to deal with suffering in our own lives and the suffering we witness in the world around us.
• Our very first response to suffering should be to pray.
• Far too often that has become our last resort instead of our first response.
• Prayer has the capacity to change our attitude and lift our spirits.
• Prayer often produces cheerfulness, even in the midst of difficulty.
• When our hearts are cheered, even in the midst of struggle, we can give praise to God.
• Praise turns our minds away from the negative and refocuses our hearts on the positive.
• The power of positive thinking may be limited, but the power of positive praising is unlimited!

Verse 14 - Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord.
• Though there are many different types of suffering, one that we all face in our lives is sickness.
• While this might be referring to any type of sickness, the context of suffering seems to indicate that it is a serious sickness, not just a common cold or a headache.
• Though doctors and modern medicine are very important and should not be neglected, Christians should also look to the Lord for help when we face serious physical challenges.
• If a person is sick, he or she should call for the elders of the church.
• This is an indication that in most cases the sick person should initiate the request and the elders go to the person who is sick, probably in their home or the hospital.
• That does not mean that public healing services are not appropriate. It simply means that the primary place of healing was private.
• A sick person should call the for the elders to come pray with them and anoint them.
• The elders of the church are those who have been given the responsibility for leading the church and teaching the Word.
• This does not mean that people who are not elders can not pray. It just means the elders definitely should be part of the process because they can rally the entire church to prayer if needed.
• While praying, the elders anoint the sick person with olive oil in the name of the Lord.
• Olive oil is not magic.
• Olive oil has been symbolic of the Holy Spirit throughout the scriptures.
• Therefore, when a person is anointed with oil the person is symbolically asking the Spirit to be poured out on them and to fill them up so they may be closer to the Lord.
• We anoint a person not in the name of the church, or in the name of the elders, but in the name of the Lord.
• This is IMPORTANT!!!!!
• Healing power belongs to Christ alone.
• Neither the church nor an individual controls God or His healing power.
• What James is telling us to do is to submit ourselves to the Lord and trust in Christ alone.
• When we are willing to do that with a sincere heart of faith, we remove the barriers inside our hearts that have held back the Spirit and quenched His power in our lives.
• Freely flowing faith has great power.

Verse 15 - The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
• James makes a connection between healing and forgiveness.
• We find this unique relationship between healing and forgiveness frequently in the Bible.
• Psalm 103: 2-3 -Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases.
• IF a person has sinned, they will be forgiven. Clearly some sickness IS a result of sin. But not ALL sickness is a result of sin.
• It is easy for us to directly connect certain sinful behaviors with certain physical illnesses. Other sicknesses have less direct connections to sinful behaviors and some have NO connection to sinful actions.

Rev. Harold Shepherd of St. David’s Anglican Church in Toronto, Canada reminds us that:
We often reap what we sow. We bring some illnesses on ourselves by our own actions. Examples include heavy drinkers developing liver problems, smokers developing lung cancer, drug addicts sharing needles contracting AIDS, and the like. Choices with respect to diet, exercise and stress management can also have a direct effect on our health.

Some psychological conditions can manifest themselves physically. In some (but not all) cases, a healing of the body also involves a healing of the mind. Putting the past behind us and experiencing the unconditional love and forgiveness of God is sometimes the first step to physical well-being. Forgiveness may be needed to purge us of psychological poison and restore wholeness to our whole being.

Verse 16 - Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful.
• If the particular sickness we have is caused by our own sinfulness, we need to confess our sins.
• Notice that in this passage it says we should confess our sins to each other.
• This is not a formal “going to confession” but a sharing between Christian friends.
• Do not get confused. We actually confess our sins directly to God because God alone can forgive sins.
• But sometimes we need the help of Christian friends in order to overcome a habitual sin that has bound us for a long time.
• When we are honest about our sin, it has real healing power.
• Notice that along with the confession of sin to each other is the commitment to pray for each other.
• We are all in this together and we must support each other through prayer.
• Everyone can pray. We need everyone to pray.
• Some people have the gift of faith and have developed an intensity in their prayer life. We REALLY need those people praying!
• For prayer to be really intense, we need to be living righteously. Righteous simply means “right” before God.
• A person who is living right before God and has developed an intense prayer life is very powerful.
• But no one is perfect. Therefore to keep living right and to stay intense in our prayers, we must be constantly confessing our sins and seeking purity in our hearts with God.

Verse 17 - Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land.
• James gives us the example of Elijah.
• Elijah was a powerful prophet of God who had worked miracles.
• But sometimes he got discouraged. In 1 Kings 19:4-5 Elijah was so discouraged he wanted to die.
• Elijah had to spend time resting so he could regain his strength.
• Then God had to remind Elijah that God was still in charge.
• Though Elijah had times when he was discouraged, when a prayed an intense prayer of faith, it did not rain for 3 ½ years!!!!

Verse 18 - Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.
• When Elijah prayed again, it rained and the crops grew again.
• Elijah was a powerful prayer warrior even though he had human weaknesses and limitations.
• We do not have to be perfect to pray effectively, but we do need to be constantly seeking a closer relationship with God.
• If we constantly seek a closer relationship with the Lord, then we will be able to overcome our temporary weaknesses and refocus our prayer life so that it is once again intense and powerful.
• If we did a “relationship check” today, would we be pleased with how close we are to God?

• Suffering is a part of life.
• The Christian response to suffering should be first to pray and then to praise the Lord.
• When our suffering is physical, we should examine our hearts for sin and then ask the elders to pray for us and anoint us with oil as a symbol of our submission to the Holy Spirit.
• When we live rightly and pray intensely, our prayers have great power.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Bivocational Ministry is not just a "Rural" Issue

Though I grew up in a city, the Lord moved me to rural Vermont in 1993 to minister in small valley towns and mountain villages. I have had to adjust my thinking in many areas in order to relate to a more rural culture. One of the first challenges I had to overcome was the concept that all "good" pastors are fully funded by their congregations and have the luxury of only serving the church as their vocation. I quickly realized that ministry in a rural area was most often going to be a bivocational experience.

I realized that just because a pastor had to be bivocational did not mean that he had to be a second class pastor. He could be just as trained and just as talented as his more urban peers if he wanted to be. I even wrote a book (Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church) to help provide some of that training. As I have promoted the book across the nation in a variety of venues, I have come to the realization that my thinking needs to be adjusted once again. It has become obvious to me in the past twelve months that bivocational ministry is NOT just a rural issue.
There are many small churches in urban areas that are also served capably by bivocational pastors. This might surprise some people because urban areas typically have better jobs and more financial resources than rural areas. Since this is the case, why would urban pastors need to be bivocational?

The simple answer is that though urban areas may have more financial resources, they are also much more expensive to live in than rural areas. Since pastors have the same cost of living as everyone else; if they are serving urban areas they will need to make significantly more money than their rural counterparts. While a church of 75 committed adults with an average middle class income may well be able to fully fund a pastor in a rural area, but it is unlikely that the same size congregation in an urban area would be able to fully fund a pastor even though their budget might be significantly higher. This is especially true if the rural church has a parsonage for the pastor to live in (as is often the case) but the urban church does not (which is also often the case).

This issue was reinforced in my mind earlier this week when I met with a denominational leader who serves 150 churches in the Philadelphia area. He told me that 70% of the pastors in those churches were bivocational. These are not rural churches. These are urban churches. Many of them are historic and have fine facilities in great locations. But they are no longer able to fully fund a pastor's salary. Fortunately, many men are willing to serve small churches because of their calling to ministry and their love for the saints. Pastors who serve small churches are not in it for the money, and most are not trying to "build a career." They are just trying to faithfully serve the Lord and grow His church.

Bivocational ministry is growing in America, so this is an issue that is not going away. The church must accept the reality of this and adapt current thinking on resource development and organizational structures of seminaries and training conferences and materials so that ALL bivocational pastors can be resourced adequately, whether they serve in a rural or urban area. I have been pleased that many urban pastors have found the resource I developed helpful and I pray that many other leaders will also begin to adjust their thinking on this issue.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Postmodern Perspective on 2 Chronicles 7:14

Earlier today a friend of mine posted 2 Chronicles 7:14 on his Facebook page: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” It caught my attention because I had been thinking about that very verse earlier this week after having some conversations with friends who hold to a more postmodern worldview. I tried to run the verse through the worldview filter of some of my postmodern friends in an effort to understand the verse from their perspective.

With a bit of tongue in cheek, I posted these comments on my friend’s Facebook page:

1. Gary, a majority of the people I know have a few problems with this verse.

2. They do not like the idea of humbling themselves.

3. They do not see the need to seek God's face.

4. They do not think their ways are wicked; therefore there is no need to turn from those ways.

5. Since they do not think their ways are wicked, they also see no need for forgiveness.

6. Since most of them do not believe in the hereafter, there is no need for them to hear from "heaven."

7. So all that leaves from that verse is the phrase "heal their land."

8. My friends like that part of the verse.

9. From my interactions with friends it seems that many of them feel that if God could just give them all the money, fun and fame they want while they continue to live however they want without any consequences from their choices, then they will believe in God and follow Him, or Her (let's not be sexist). So how about it? Can we cut that kind of deal with God (or goddess)?

10. Playing the devil’s advocate, I asked rhetorically, “That is how it works right? We get to negotiate with God and tell Him (or her) how to run the universe, right? We are so smart, so intelligent, and so logical that we can out think God and correct His (or her) old fashioned out of date thinking with our more postmodern mindset. And all will be right with the world, when God finally runs it "our way." And if anything does go wrong, it's God's job to fix it. After all, it could not possibly be OUR fault; we are too smart to make a mistake.”

Though many of my friends would be uncomfortable saying these things out loud; it is what they declare by their actions. Sadly, too many Christians act this way too. Perhaps instead of trying to pick apart this verse, we should just take it at face value. Perhaps we should actually trying humbling ourselves, repenting of our sins and seeking God’s face. If we did that, God would begin to change our hearts offering healing to us both as individuals and as a nation. On this July 4th holiday, that sounds like a great offer to me.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Valley of Decision – Part Two

A couple of days ago I wrote about my conversations with some friends on Facebook about their struggle to make the commitment to follow Christ. Lately, I have also had a number of conversations with friends who have already made sincere personal spiritual commitments to Christ but are struggling with how to deepen their spiritual commitments so they can become more godly people.

For example, several of my friends are struggling with the issue of baptism. The Bible teaches that baptism is for believers. In the scriptures baptism was done by immersion under water as the outward expression of the inward cleansing of sin. Some of my friends have come to realize these truths about baptism, yet still resist being baptized. Perhaps it is the “embarrassment” of being baptized in front of others. Perhaps it is concern that they will offend their parents, who may have had them baptized as infants before there were old enough to make their own decisions for Christ. Perhaps it is simply the realization that once they go “public” with their “private” faith, which is what believer's baptism is all about, there is no going back. To these dear friends, I say, just do it! Christ commanded it and we are always blessed when we obey the commands of Christ. Why put off doing what we know God wants us to do? Baptism is another step in the journey toward a closer relationship with Christ. Just do it.

I have other friends, also strong believers, who struggle to make a commitment to a specific church. They resist the process of becoming official members of any church. Though there may be many reasons for this, it seems that most of my friends who are struggling with the issue of church membership all had terrible experiences in church business meetings in the past. They are afraid that if they join a specific church, they may have similar negative experiences. So they float around on the edges of various churches, drifting from church to church, being involved in some areas of ministry while avoiding the deepest levels of commitment that may take them into a spot where they could experience negativity from others. While I can sympathize with their fear, it seems to me that what churches need are a few people who have been through such difficulties so they can share the wisdom they learned from those experiences. That might keep such negative experiences from being repeated again and again. To my dear friends struggling with the issue of church membership, if whatever church you are currently attending is meeting your spiritual needs, then just join up. There are no perfect churches, but there are many good churches. Find a good church and work as hard as you can to make it a great church.

I could go on and on giving examples of other spiritual commitments that various friends need to make, but I think I have made my point. When God begins to call us to go deeper with Him, we can always find excuses to put off making those commitments, or we can press in closer to Him and walk in obedience to His calling in our lives. We will be happier and more fulfilled in our lives when we choose to walk in obedience. So, just do it!

Sometimes we just have to accept the reality that it is time to come out of valley of decision and make a choice. When we climb out of the valley, there is only one place to go, and that’s up! We can climb mountains and view the world from a whole new perspective if we let the Lord guide us. Let’s stop making excuses. Let’s say YES to Jesus. Let’s pass through the valley of decision and climb to the mountain top with Jesus today!

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Valley of Decision - Part One

I enjoy talking to my friends on Facebook. Since I am a pastor, frequently friends will use Facebook to engage in conversations with me about spiritual issues they are facing. Sometimes they seem more comfortable talking on Facebook about some of these issues than in person. Perhaps this is because they can end the conversation any time they want to on Facebook, which might be more awkward to do in person.

Just in the past three weeks I have talked to several young men on Facebook about their commitment to faith in Christ. Each is struggling through various issues, trying to answer questions in their minds and decide if the whole Jesus thing is for them. I admire their willingness to ask the hard questions and wrestle with spiritual issues before making a commitment to Christ. We need more of that kind of deep thinking because it produces more thoughtful and sincere believers in the long run.

But I must confess that at times I wonder if some people use the “I have lots of questions” approach as a way to simply put off making a decision for Christ. After all, we will ever really have all our questions answered? I have been a follower of Jesus since I was ten years old. I hold three degrees from two different accredited seminaries. But I still have questions. I am still learning and growing. Trusting God when we do not understand all that He is doing around us is what faith is all about.

If we wait until all of our spiritual questions are answered, we may never make a commitment to Christ. I am not suggesting we make rash spiritual decisions, for those never last and are seldom genuine. We have enough “fake” Christians already and we do not need any more that are less than genuine. But sometimes, we just have to take the plunge and chose to believe. Peter Hitchens, brother of the infamous atheist Christopher Hitchens said, “I realized at one point that I simply had to I choose what I was going to believe.” The Hitchens brothers both had lots of questions about faith. They each embarked on a journey to look for answers. Each made a choice about what to believe. Christopher chose to reject Christ. Peter chose to embrace Christ.

We may not be famous, but we face the same choice. We can choose to follow Christ. We can choose to not follow Him. Though I do not want to trivialize the choice to become a Christian, the reality is that at some point we simply have to choose one way or the other. If we wait too long and pass from this life into eternity without making a choice for Christ, then our destination will be eternal separation from Christ in hell. Hell may not be a popular option to consider, but hell is nevertheless real. We can choose the “hell option” if we want to. But do we really want that option?

To my dear friends in the valley of decision, think issues of faith through carefully. Ask those questions. Seek those answers. But at some point, make a choice and I pray the choice will be to follow the Lord.