Saturday, April 30, 2011

What is the Difference between Guilt and Conviction?

Many of us grew up in churches that took a hard line on just about every issue. Since the Bible teaches us to have certain standards about various things, the hard line approach we learned as children was not always a bad thing. But it does seem that some churches have taken the whole “hell, fire and brimstone” method a bit far. Some churches try to “guilt” people into doing the right thing. One problem with a guilt-based approach is that while it does tend to work in the short term, it seldom works in the long term. On the rare occasion that guilt does change behavior over the long term, it tends to rob people of the joy and happiness they should find in their faith. Another problem with a guilt-based approach is that most young people, who have a more post-modern worldview, simply refuse to be “guilted” into anything. Therefore, they consider guilt-based churches to be irrelevant and simply ignore them. This leaves pastors and church leaders in an interesting situation. We need to help people learn the Biblical principles for godly living, but need to do it in ways that are based on Holy Spirit conviction instead of the human emotion of guilt. This takes a lot of prayer and thoughtful contemplation.

Perhaps the first step in the process is to help people learn the difference between Holy Spirit conviction, which is healthy for a vibrant spirituality, and guilt, which is normally unhealthy. Sunny Shell, a writer for About My Father’s Business Ministries, says “It's often difficult to discern whether or not we're experiencing guilt or conviction over a mistake we’ve made or a sin we've committed. One of the reasons why this is so confusing is because they both start out the same way. Both guilt and conviction point out an error (either a sin or a simple mistake). But after this similarity, they take very different paths. Guilt reveals an error or sin then makes a person feel stupid, useless, overwhelmed with shame and causes a person to feel as if they will never recover from this and will never have anything good to offer to anyone ever again. This causes a person to either spiral into deep depression or for those who fight back, extreme pride in the attempt to self-justify the error or sin committed. And nothing good ever comes from this, only destructive behavior that continues to bring a wedge between a person and their reconciliation (for unbelievers) or intimacy (for believers) with God. Conviction on the other hand, not only reveals an error or sin, but uses this revelation as a catalyst to spur a person on toward love and good deeds.” Check out Sunny’s website on this issue at

When considering the difference between unhealthy guilt and healthy conviction, Jack Kelley, Director of Grace Thru Faith Ministries, says “The answer can be determined by checking which direction you’re going. If you’re headed for the cross to find forgiveness, then you’re experiencing the conviction of the Holy Spirit. If you’re running away from the cross and hiding from God, then its Satan making you feel ashamed. Either way, you can ask God’s forgiveness and you’ll receive it and begin feeling better (1 John 1:9). Then if you resist the devil he’ll flee from you (James 4:7) and you’ll be at peace again.” (Check out Jack’s website on this issue at

For those who like things plain and simple, think of it this way: guilt is from Satan and produces bad results while conviction is from the Holy Spirit and produces good results. Guilt leaves us with an understanding that we have committed an offense, a wrong, or a sin but offers no hope of redemption. Guilt fills us with the despair of condemnation. Conviction, on the other hand, also reveals an offense, a wrong or a sin, but conviction also reveals a way out of shame and condemnation by offering forgiveness and freedom in Jesus Christ. Once we have received forgiveness and changed our behavior then bad feelings go away and they are replaced with joy. When a person experiences Holy Spirit conviction, instead of mere human guilt, then he or she will have an inner desire to do what is right out of the joy of their salvation and not out of fear of punishment from God or the leaders of the church. When a person has a conviction about something, it gives order and meaning to their actions.

As Christian leaders, we must encourage people to study the Bible for themselves. We must urge them to consider what choices they will make when no one else is around. When people study the Bible for themselves and make choices about their actions without anyone else telling them to do it, then we know they are learning to act on their convictions and not out of guilt. For many of us, this is a lifetime process, so we must remember to be patient with each while we go through it, but it is a process worth experiencing.

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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I Got the Spirit, How About You?

As a high school student I remember going to pep rallies before the big game on Fridays. We would sit in the gym according to our classes, with freshman in one section, sophomores in another, juniors in their place and seniors usually in the best section of the gym. The cheerleaders would lead us in various cheers and then the classes would seek to outdo each other in displaying our enthusiasm for the team.

One of the cheers we often chanted went something like “We got the spirit, yes we do, we got the spirit, how about you?” This would be chanted by one class, and another class would have to respond. Whoever shouted the loudest was considered to have the most school spirit and therefore “won” the pep rally. When I think about those pep rallies, twenty-five years later, it occurs to me that we were all cheering for the same team. We were all there to show our support for the team and encourage them to play hard and bring home the trophy. It really did not matter who was the loudest. But back then it sure seemed important to win the pep banner and show the most school spirit.

I think this “we got the spirit, how about you” attitude sometimes creeps into the church. In my role as the Director for the Green Mountain Baptist Association I work with all kinds of churches. Some churches follow a more traditional path to worshipping and serving the Lord. Other churches follow a more innovative path. Still others are seeking to combine elements of both traditional and innovative ways to worship and serve the Lord. Like high school students, we tend to hang out with people in our own “class” and we tend to think our class has a lock on how the Spirit wants us to cheer on the saints to worship and service. At times it seems that we are acting more like high school students at a pep rally instead of mature leaders in the church of Jesus Christ.

I know many traditional pastors who think that innovative pastors have watered down the bible and abandoned biblical principles in their effort to be innovative. Those more traditional pastors have seldom actually talked to those more innovative pastors to learn why they use the methods that they do. I know many innovative pastors who think traditional pastors have quenched the Spirit and are riding a dead horse into the ground. Those innovative pastors fail to recognize the many lives that are being changed through more traditional churches. I know many pastors who are caught somewhere in the middle and are afraid to share their real ideas about these matters with anyone because they are not sure how those ideas will be received. Such pastors tend to drift back and forth between one group or another never really fitting in completely. This makes them feel less fulfilled in their ministry than they should.

It seems to me that maybe we should stop acting like self-centered teens who want to “win” and instead focus on serving the Lord in the way that He leads us to. While I acknowledge that some traditional pastors may have indeed quenched the Spirit, there are others who are deeply in love with Jesus and serving Him with passion through traditional ways. Likewise, I know some innovative pastors who have taken far too many liberties with the bible in their efforts to be contextual. However, I also know many who have searched the scriptures and the things they are doing that look “innovative” are often simply ancient practices of the church re-packaged for a more modern clientele. I know a large number of pastors who fall somewhere in the middle, mixing what they perceive are the best practices of the traditional with the innovative. Though some of them may just be trying to ride a wave of human opinion, most are genuinely focused on finding the best way to reach out to a culture that increasingly sees the church as irrelevant.

Perhaps we would be more productive if we stopped judging each other and instead rejoiced when we see a fellow pastor leading his congregation to worship and serve in a way that is different than how we do it. Since we are all on the same team, we should rejoice when someone discovers a way to engage a group of people that we have not been successful in reaching. God is pretty big and He does not fit into a box of our own creation. The lostness of our nation is too great for us to fight among ourselves; we should recommit ourselves to being team players even if our position on the team is different than those around us. It takes all of us to reach the many different types of people in our society. Together, as a team, we can join God in His work and reach all those whom He is calling to Himself.

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I Don’t Mean to be Rude but . . .

A few weeks ago I was eavesdropping on a conversation of a group of teenagers. No, I am not a stalker. But I realized a long time ago that I can learn a lot if I stand a few feet away and just listen to teens talk. If I barge right into the conversation and start sharing my ideas, teens often stop sharing theirs. That seldom helps me learn what they are really thinking. That means that sometimes eavesdropping can be helpful.

This particular conversation was between some girls who did not appear to be getting along very well. As the conversation continued to become more and more tense, one of the girls said “I’m not trying to be rude but . . .” and then went on to say some things that were extremely rude. Her tone of voice, her body language, and the words she used, all indicated that she was indeed being rude and that she both knew she was rude and meant to be rude. Her “I’m not trying to be rude...” introduction was just a ploy to be able to say whatever mean thing she wanted while pretending to be nice.

Though this particular incident involved teens, I have heard similar things among adults. Far too often starting a sentence with “I’m not trying to be rude but . . .” is just a thinly disguised way to be rude and get away with it. While sometimes it might not be intentional, most often it is. Such rudeness, thinly disguised as politeness, fools no one and does not accomplish anything positive.

The world may treat each other that way, but we Christians should aspire to higher standards. We Christians should aspire to treat each other with dignity and respect as brothers and sisters in the family of God. If we do not mean to be rude, then we should not BE rude. If we realize we are being rude, we should stop mid-sentence and apologize. After all, none of us are perfect. What we cannot do is just continue to be rude thinking that we are fooling others into believing that we are polite.

Rudeness will not gain us friends nor bring honor to the Savior. As Christians, we should strive to be friendly (Proverbs 18:24) and we should seek to bring honor to the Savior in all that we say and do (Colossians 3:17). This gives us all something to think about the next time we are having a tense conversation with someone else and are tempted to be rude while pretending to be polite.

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

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Tomb is Empty - a sermon based on Mark 16:1-8 and 14-15

Developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett and preached at Faith Community Church, Barre, VT, on April 24, 2011.

Verse 1 - When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so they could go and anoint Him.
• In those days they did not have modern embalming methods so they prepared a body for burial by putting spices in a big cloth that they wrapped around the body.
• The Jewish faith required them to rest on the Sabbath, so they were not able to care for Jesus’ body until Sunday.
• Three ladies were brave enough to face the Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb.
• Are we willing to face the criticism of others for our belief in Christ?
• We should be willing to stand up for our faith no matter what.

Verse 3 - They were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb for us?"
• The ladies discussed how they would move the stone that was across the entrance.
• This stone would have been large enough to cover the entrance, which would have been between waist and chest 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 slide over the entrance to the tomb as it rolled down into the slot, but very hard to move it back out.
• In those days grave robbers were a real problem, which is why tombs had such systems to make it hard to get them open.
• It would have taken quite a force of strong men to open the tomb. There was no way these three ladies were going to be able to do it themselves.
• The women realized that the stone was a problem to be solved, but they walked by faith toward the tomb anyway.
• Many of us have a “stone” that keeps us from Jesus.
• Maybe we struggle with believing in the whole concept of God.
• Maybe it is the miracles in the Bible that we have trouble accepting as fact.
• Maybe it was some hypocrite we met along the way that discouraged us from believing.
• Everyone has some “stone” we have to overcome in order to believe.
• If we do not move toward Jesus, believing that somehow that stone will be removed, then we will never experience Jesus.
• We must stop looking for excuses not to believe, and start trusting God to help us find a way to overcome our doubts.

Verse 4 - Looking up, they observed that the stone—which was very large—had been rolled away.
• As the ladies neared the tomb, they looked up and saw that stone was already rolled away.
• When we start toward Jesus, even when we still have questions and difficulties, we begin to discover that our stumbling blocks have become stepping stones toward the Savior.
• Take one step toward Jesus and the rest will be easier to take.

Verse 5 - When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; they were amazed and alarmed.
• The ladies saw an angel as they entered the tomb.
• The other Gospels tell us there were actually two angels present, but the ladies saw this one first and he spoke to them.
• The ladies were both amazed and alarmed by the angel’s presence and his message.
• When we first begin to sense God at work in our lives, we may be both amazed and alarmed.
• We are amazed because can hardly believe God cares about what is going on in our lives.
• We are alarmed because we wonder what God might require of us if we follow Him.

Verse 6 - "Don't be alarmed," he told them. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He is not here! He has been resurrected! See the place where they put Him.
• The angel told the ladies not to be alarmed.
• While we may be amazed at God’s work in our lives, we do not need to be alarmed or afraid.
• Because God loves us so much, His plans will ALWAYS be best for us, even if we do not understand them.
• While there are many religions in the world, all religions are not all equal.
• Though other great religious teachers may have done good deeds and helped others, when they died and were buried, their bodies remained in their tombs.
• If we found the tombs of Buddha, Hare Krishna, Gandhi, Stalin, Joseph Smith, or any other religious leader, their body would still be there.
• Jesus is the only founder of a world religion whose tomb is empty!
• And the empty tomb is proof of God’s power to turn what looks bad into something wonderful!
• The empty tomb is not a myth. I have seen the tomb and touched the place where Christ lay. Here is the picture of Kay and I in the empty tomb:
• Here is a picture of Kay and I in the empty tomb in Jerusalem where Christ was laid:

Here is a picture of me coming out of the empty tomb in which Christ was laid:

Verse 7 - But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see Him there just as He told you.'
• The angel told the ladies to go and tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus was alive.
• Why would the angel tell the ladies to make sure Peter knew Jesus was alive?
• Peter had denied Jesus just when Jesus needed him most. Peter had failed the Lord.
• The angel wanted the ladies to specifically tell Peter that Jesus was alive so that Peter would realize there was hope for him to right what he had done wrong.
• Sometimes we fail in our faith and let Jesus down.
• But since Jesus is alive we can still come to Him and fix the wrong things we have done.

Verse 8 - So they went out and started running from the tomb, because trembling and astonishment overwhelmed them. And they said nothing to anyone, since they were afraid.
• The ladies ran from the tomb because they were overwhelmed.
• An interesting thing happens to some people when they experience God for the first time, they become so overwhelmed with it that they actually run from the experience.
• We have to take time to reflect on our spiritual experiences so that we can embrace them instead of run from them.
• Easter is a good time to reflect on what God is doing in our lives and ask ourselves if we are running from God or embracing Him.

Verse 14 - Later, He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table. He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who saw Him after He had been resurrected.
• Jesus appeared to the apostles and rebuked them for their unbelief.
• Rebuke is a strong word, but the disciples needed a strong word to get their act together.
• Though no one wants to go to church EVERY week and get beat up spiritually by the sermon, sometimes we need a good “kick in the backside” to get us going.
• We should consider ourselves “kicked”!!!!

Verse 15 - Then He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.
• When Jesus appeared to the apostles, He gave them a command to preach the gospel to everyone.
• Experiencing the resurrection power of Jesus is not something we are supposed to keep to ourselves.
• We must share it with everyone we can.

• We must move toward Jesus even when we have doubts because somehow the doubts will be taken away.
• We may be amazed at what God is doing, but we need not be alarmed because God’s plan is always best.
• We may let Jesus down, but He gives us another chance. Let’s not waste this chance!
• We may need a good rebuke from time to time, but if we listen and respond to it, we can become a powerful witness for the Gospel.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Good Friday Meditation from Luke 23:33-34 and 39-43

Verse 33 - When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals, one on the right and one on the left.
• This verse troubled archaeologists for centuries because the “traditional” site on which the Roman Catholic Church has built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre does not have a “place of the Skull” as described in the Bible.
• Many people longed to know for sure where the place called The Skull was.
• In 1842 a German Theologian named Otto Thenius first proposed the idea that an outcropping of rock outside the city, which is now known as "Skull Hill," was right beside the actual site of the crucifixion.
• This upset the “traditionalists” a lot.
• But the site was outside the city, looked like a skull and seemed to better fit the biblical description of the place where the crucifixion took place.
• However, few people took Otto Thenius seriously because his ideas went against the “tradition” of the established church.
• Otto Thenius’s idea lay seemingly dormant until the British General Charles Gordon began to publish similar ideas in 1882.
• General Gordon was so well respected in British Society, that people began to take the idea seriously.
• In 1893 the Garden Tomb Association was established in London by some lay people.
• In 1894 they purchased as much of the property around The Skull as possible.
• Kay and I visited the spot in January 2011.
• Here are two pictures of Skull Hill, just outside Jerusalem:

Verse 34 - Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing."
• Even as Jesus was terribly tortured, mocked unmercifully, and hung on a cross, He begged His Father to forgive the sins of those doing it.
• If forgiveness was that important to Jesus, how important should it be to us?
• Perhaps this Resurrection Season might be time to let go of old grudges and experience the peace that forgiveness brings.

Verse 39 - Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at Him: “Aren't You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!”
• Jesus was hung between two common criminals.
• Though the Romans may have meant this as an insult to the “King of the Jews,” somehow, I think Jesus took it as a complement.
• Jesus liked to spend time with “common” people, why not also die with them?

Verse 40 - But the other answered, rebuking him: "Don't you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment?
• Though one criminal mocked Jesus, the other knew who Jesus was.
• Though it was almost too late, this man realized who Jesus was.
• We often stereotype “messed up” people, thinking they could not possibly understand who Jesus was. But they often can.

Verse 41 - We are punished justly, because we're getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.”
• This criminal realized that he deserved his punishment.
• How often do we justify our sin and claim that we do not deserve its natural consequences?
• We could learn a lesson from this criminal!!!
• He also realized that Jesus was innocent.
• That was a deep theological statement.

Verse 42 - Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!”
• The criminal cried out to Jesus for help.
• The criminal asked the Lord to remember him when Jesus got to heaven.
• Some might argue that the criminal did say the “right words” or pray the “sinner’s prayer correctly.”

Verse 43 - And He said to him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”
• But Jesus assured the criminal that he would be with Jesus in heaven that very day.
• The devil would like us to doubt our salvation by telling us we did not do it right.
• All that is required for salvation is to acknowledge our sin, turn from it and cast all our hope on Jesus.
• If we did that in our hearts, we did it right regardless of what words we used.

• Traditions can be wrong, but the Bible is always right.
• Jesus modeled forgiveness, we must also practice forgiveness.
• Even “messed up” people can come to Jesus.
• Salvation is having a heart that totally trusts in Christ alone instead of trusting in human rituals, traditions or religious activity.
• Do we have salvation? Are we sharing it with others?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Week Meditations

My wife and I had the joy of making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in January 2011. It was a very moving experience. I wrote a number of blogs about what the Lord revealed to me while touring that sacred land. I posted those blogs over a period of several weeks after I returned from the trip. But since this is Holy Week, in which we remember what Christ did for us at Golgotha, I thought I would re-post the links to the most appropriate blog entries for others to use as meditations during Holy Week.

Lessons from Caesarea

Lessons from the Sea of Galilee

Lessons from the Beatitudes

Lessons from Peter's House

Lessons from Mark 3

Lessons from the Carpenter Shop

Lessons from the Jordan River

Lessons from the Inn of the Good Samaritan

Lessons from the Via Delarosa

Lessons from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Lessons from the Garden of Gethsemane

Lessons from the Garden Tomb

Lessons from the Church of the Ascension and the Eastern Gate

As you read through these various posts, I pray that the Spirit of the Living God falls fresh on you. May our dry bones discover new life and may our contemplation of Holy Week bring greater appreciation to us all for what Christ did for us. Feel free to leave comments on any of the posts that speak to you in a special way, so that others may be blessed through the sharing of the Spirit of Christ.

Theses lessons are part of the devotional book, Touching the Footprints of Jesus.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Better Late Than Never - A Palm Sunday sermon based on Matthew 21

This Palm Sunday sermon is based on verses 1-2, 6-11, 23, 28-32 of Matthew 21 and was developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett to preach on April 17, 2011 at Faith Community Church, Barre, VT.
• Jesus was nearing the end of his 3 ½ year earthly ministry.
• It was nearly time for the Jewish feast of Passover and Jesus made His way toward Jerusalem to celebrate it.
• Passover was when Jews remembered how God had spared them during the 10th Plague in Egypt when the Death Angel had killed the first born son in every house expect the Jews.
• For centuries the Jewish people have expected the prophet Elijah to show up one year during Passover and announce the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5).
• Therefore, many Jews would to travel to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple during that special time of the year in hopes that would be the year that the Messiah would be revealed.
• It was a time of great anticipation.
• Since Jesus had been gathering huge crowds during this sermons and since He had been healing many people as well as doing other miracles, many people had begun to wonder if Jesus could be the long awaited Messiah.
• Many of them had come to Jerusalem in hopes that Jesus would reveal Himself as the Messiah during Passover.

Verse 8 - A very large crowd spread their robes on the road; others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them on the road.
• There was always a large crowd in Jerusalem for Passover. But the excitement about Jesus had swelled the crowd to be “very large.”
• Even today, when a church full of people get excited about Jesus, it will swell the crowd!
• Spreading robes on the ground and waving palm branches was the equivalent of bringing out the “red carpet” for Jesus.
• It was a traditional Jewish way of honoring someone special.
• What have we done to honor Jesus in our lives lately?

Verse 9 - Then the crowds who went ahead of Him and those who followed kept shouting: Hosanna to the Son of David!, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!
• The New Testament word “Hosanna” actually comes from an Old Testament phrase “Hoshiya na.”
• That Hebrew phrase is only found in one place in the whole Old Testament, Psalm 118:25.
• The literal translation of this phrase is "Save me, please!”
• It was a desperate cry to God from His people for help.
• Perhaps today some of us need to offer this desperate cry to God in our own lives.
• Notice that they also shouted “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
• The word “blessed” often means “happy” in the New Testament.
• But sometimes it means “anointed or special” which is what it means here.
• Jesus was anointed by the Father to do a special work which no one else could do, which was to free mankind from the curse of sin.
• Have we allowed Jesus to free us from our sin yet? If not, why not let Him do it today?

Verse 10 - When He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken, saying, "Who is this?”
• The city was shaken by the presence of Jesus.
• Some were shaking with excitement because they knew who Jesus was.
• Some were shaking with fear because they knew who Jesus was but did not want to follow Him.
• Some were shaking with confusion because they did not know who Jesus was but clearly He was someone special.
• How have we responded to the presence of Jesus in our lives?
• Are we excited to have Jesus in our lives?
• Are we afraid of what it would happen if we got “too much” of Jesus?
• Are we still confused about what kind of connection we should have with Jesus?

Verse 23 - When Jesus entered the temple complex He began to teach parables . . .[one went like this]
• Parables are earthly stories that have heavenly meanings.
• Jesus often taught in parables because it helped people relate to the spiritual truth He was teaching and also because He wanted people to have to think through what He said.
• Jesus told a parable about a man with two sons.

Verses 28-29 - "But what do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'My son, go, work in the vineyard today. "He answered, 'I don't want to!' Yet later he changed his mind and went.
• In the parable, the father asked his first son to go work in the vineyard.
• At first the son says no, but then he realized that was wrong and went and worked.
• How many of us have felt the call of God to do something in our lives and at first refused?
• Obviously, we should learn to obey immediately when we sense God leading us.
• But sometimes we are hard-headed and need time to see the error of our ways.
• It is better to obey Christ “late” than to never obey Him at all.

Verse 30 - Then the man went to the other and said the same thing. 'I will, sir,' he answered. But he didn't go.
• In the parable, the father went to the second son and asked him to also go work in the vineyard.
• The son said he would obey.
• He even pretended to show respect to the father by calling him “sir.”
• But once the father walked away, the second son ignored what the father asked him to do, showing that he was neither obedient nor respectful.
• Too many Christians pretend to be spiritual and put on a face for others when they are actually not obeying the Lord at all.

Verse 31 - "Which of the two did his father's will?" "The first," they said. Jesus said to them, "I assure you: Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you!
• Jesus asked the crowd listening to His parable which of the two sons was actually obedient to the father.
• It was obvious to the crowd that the first son, though at first refusing to obey, was in the end, the one who did the right thing.
• Jesus then made a comparison from the story to the people who witnessed Him enter Jerusalem as the long awaited Messiah.
• Though many sinful people had not obeyed God for much of their lives, they now had seen the light and had become true believers.

• Jesus is the Messiah and deserves to be treated special.
• We may have failed to treat Jesus special in the past, but with God’s help we can change.
• As we see other people whom we may think are more broken than us also be changed, it should cause us to look deeper into our own souls and change even more.
• Jesus is the only hope any of us have for lasting change in our lives.

Friday, April 15, 2011

What if the Whole World Was a Village of 100 People?

Some time ago I was reading Phill Butler's book, Well Connected: Releasing Power, Restoring Hope through Kingdom Partnerships, and discovered this interesting illustration of what the world would look like if it was a village of just 100 people.

If we kept the demographics the same, but compressed the entire world into a village of 100 people, this is how the "village" would look:

• 57 would be Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 would be from North and South America, and 8 would be African.

• 70 would be non-white, 30 white.

• 70 would be non-Christian; 30 Christian

• 50% of the wealth would be in the hands of 6 people, all of whom would be Americans.

• 70 would be non-literate or functionally illiterate.

• 50 would suffer from malnutrition.

• 80 would live in substandard housing.

• 1 would have a full college education.

Phill challenged the readers of his book to consider forming partnerships with others to deal with the vast numbers in the world who are have little education, inadequate housing or food, little hope for education, no access to wealth creation and few chances to consider who Jesus Christ is.

The church I serve as pastor is determined to do something about some of these issues, especially in the lives of orphans. We are currently focusing on Haiti, though we have interest in Ethiopia as well. Most of this effort is driven by young adults, who really believe they can change the world with the help of Almighty God. Check out their facebook page and join them in changing what our "world village" looks like.

Mission: Hope

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Defining Moment of the Cross

As we approach the start of Holy Week, I wanted to take this moment to reflect on the cross of Christ. Take a few moments and watch this short video that shares some of my thoughts about the cross.

Dr. Terry Dorsett talks about the Defining Moment of the Cross

Monday, April 11, 2011

Steps for Creating a Leadership Team in the Small Church

I have written frequently about the need for churches to be led by teams instead of just one person. A number of pastors have asked how they should go about creating such a leadership team. Though each church will have to weigh the situation of their individual church, the following steps can serve as a guideline for how a pastor might gather a leadership team in his church.

1. Pray and seek the will of God to determine if this is the right style of leadership to pursue for your specific church at this specific time. Though healthy churches should be led by teams, sometimes the timing is not right and pastors have to put off creating a leadership team for a short period while they deal with others issues. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you if this is the right time to move forward with this idea.

2. Spend three to six months teaching the congregation why this leadership style would be right for your church at this particular time. Do not just make an announcement on a Sunday morning and expect people to follow without question. Preach from a number of passages that demonstrate team leadership. Consider teaching chapters 1-3 of the book Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church to the entire congregation over a period of time. This material can even be used in churches that are not led by a bivocational pastor.

3. Ask the congregation to “test” out this leadership style for one year before actually making any changes to the church constitution or bylaws. People tend to resist structural change when asked to do something they have never done before. Therefore, remove that barrier by asking the congregation to simply experiment with the idea for a while. If the concept does not work, the “old way” will still be there. If it does work, then the structure can be changed at a later date.

4. Ask the congregation to set aside those individuals who will be a part of the leadership team. Pray over the group and ask God to give them wisdom as they move forward. Ask God to give them flexibility as they try a new way of leading. Ask God to help them be willing to change mid-stream if the system adopted is not working as well as it should. Elect the individuals to this leadership team if that is what your congregational polity calls for.

5. Create a pastoral care schedule that includes each person on the team. The goal is to spread out the visitation and ministry duties so that the pastor is not doing it all. This not only makes the congregation healthier, but it gives the pastor a break in order to avoid burn-out. Any system that meets that goal will be a success but you might consider these options: splitting the entire congregation up into groups with each team member assigned a group, giving each team member one week a month to do whatever visitation needs to be done, having the team members make any visits that arise on the pastor’s day off or when out of town, or having one week a month when the pastor makes no visits and the rest of the team makes all the visits.

6. Create a preaching schedule that includes each person on the team. The schedule can be any system that works for your team, but a suggestion would be that the pastor preaches three Sundays a month and one of the other people from the team preaches one Sunday a month. In a month that has five Sundays, a second person from the team would preach one time. Or, if the congregation prefers that the pastor do most of the preaching on Sunday mornings, then assign mid-week Bible studies and other teaching times to the other members of the team so the pastor can focus on making his Sunday morning sermon the best it can be. This is particularly important if the pastor has to work a second job and has limited time to devote to sermon preparation.

7. Meet once a month to plan sermon topics and update each other on whom in the congregation received a visit and who still needs one. Spend a day together once a year to plan the major annual focuses of the church.

This is an excerpt from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway. The book contains six easy to use lessons to train lay people to assist their pastor in ministry.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

What to do if Something Goes Wrong on a Pastoral Visit

In my previous post I wrote about how to avoid a visitation disaster. Though there are some ways in which a pastor or lay minister can lessen the potential for a visitation disaster, there is no way to completely eliminate them. If a pastor or lay person makes regular visits to members of the congregation, a visit will eventually go bad. When a visit turns into something negative, follow these steps to help navigate the path back to positive territory.

1. Stay as calm as possible by remembering that the Holy Spirit knew this situation would happen and yet He sent you on the visit anyway. Trust the Holy Spirit to get you through the situation.

2. Make a written record of what happened as soon as possible after the visit while you still remember the details. Though it is possible you will never show this record to anyone else, writing it down will help you sort it out in your own mind. In the unlikely event you do need to remember the exact details at some point in the future, you will be glad you have this written record.

3. Talk to your pastor or other appropriate leadership to apprise them of the situation. They are most likely going to hear about it eventually anyway, so get the awkward conversation out of the way as soon as possible. They will respect you more for being up front instead of trying to hide what happened.

4. Be prepared to admit and correct any part you played in creating the negative situation. Even if you are only partially at fault, be willing to admit to that part. If you are the primary person who caused the negative situation, be willing to admit that as well.

5. Pray for the grace and mercy of God to be upon the situation. Many times prayer changes the situation. When prayer is involved, disasters do not seem as dark as they did when they first happened. Often the Lord begins to calm everyone’s nerves as time passes through the power of prayer.

6. Make a follow up contact in a timely way to help remove relational barriers. Be honest and tell the person you are sorry the situation turned out the way it did. Try to reach out and show kindness to them. Even if they are unwilling to accept the apology or kindness at the present moment, in time, they may have a change of heart and you want to have already done your part to resolve the situation.

Though it is impossible to keep every visit positive, it is possible to have a positive long term outcome of even a negative situation. Following the steps above is one way to navigate the path back to a positive position after a difficult visit.

This is an excerpt from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway. The book contains six easy to use lessons to help empower the laity to assist their pastor in serving the needs of the congregation.

Friday, April 8, 2011

How to Avoid a Visitation Disaster

No matter how much a pastor or lay person prepares for a visit to a member of the congregation and no matter how experienced a pastor or lay person may be at making such visits, eventually a visit will go poorly. How the pastor or lay person responds to a poor visit will determine if the visit escalates into a disastrous situation or not. Visitation disasters take a tremendous amount of time and energy to repair relationally and spiritually.

In order to avoid visitation disasters, consider these practical ideas regarding pastoral visits:

1. Pray before the visit starts. Release the power of the Spirit over the situation.

2. Know the situation before you go. This will keep you from walking into a situation that is already tense without being prepared.

3. Phone in advance to state the purpose of the visit so there is no confusion.

4. Arrive on time. Being early or late creates tension.

5. Refuse to be drawn into an argument or gossip session. That is never helpful in a pastoral visit.

6. Take your Bible and other appropriate literature. If the visit begins to turn negative, open the Bible and read an appropriate passage as a way to stop the flow of negativity.

7. Take someone with you; it is rarely a good idea to visit alone. This is especially important if you are visiting the home of a person of the opposite sex or a minor.

8. Accept, but do not expect, hospitality, such as a cup of tea. Otherwise you might offend the person wanted had planned in advance to serve something to you.

9. Introduce yourself to those present whom you do not know so that you do not come off as rude or aloof.

10. Take care of your personal needs before the visit (bathroom, etc.).

11. Be non-judgmental in all situations, but do not imply affirmation of all things.

12. Know your limitations. Do not intentionally get into situations you are not equipped to handle. Capitalize on your strengths. This is why lay people should work as a team with the pastor and other church leaders. Each person is good at something, so focus on what you are good at.

13. Build visitation times into your regular schedule. Otherwise, more time may elapse than you realize and that creates hard feelings. A disciplined time for visitation leads to productivity and successful time management.

This material can be found in the book “Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church” and was adapted from a number of sources, including “Pastoral Visitation” by Nancy J. Gorsuch, Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, 1999, pages 70-73 and a website by Roger Loomis,

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

You Want Me To Do What!

Pastors care deeply about the people in their congregations and seek to do their best to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of each person in the parish. However, when a congregation is unable to fully fund the pastor’s salary, the pastor may have to work a second job in addition to serving the church. In such situations, the pastor will have significantly less time to devote to offering pastoral care to their congregation. Pastors feel very bad when this happens, but there is very little they can do about it. Such situations become even more of an issue if church members please unreasonable demands on a pastor who works a second job in addition to the church. The added pressure of such unreasonable demands impacts the pastor negatively far more than most people realize. The following is a somewhat humorous “made up” conversation between a church member named Sister Exaggeration and her pastor. Read the conversation below and consider how realistic the church member’s expectations are.

NOTE: this is a made up scenario and any similarity to real life events are purely coincidental.

Member: Pastor, did you know that I am having some serious medical treatments tomorrow?

Pastor: No, Sister Exaggeration, I did not even know you were even sick.

Member: Yes, I am having my toe nail removed. It has been infected for nearly a week.

Pastor: Oh, I did not know. I am so sorry.

Member: Well, I wondered why you had not come by to see me, or send flowers, or bring a meal. Why I have been hurting all week long with no support from you or anyone else.

Pastor: I really am sorry. No one told me about your condition.

Member: Well, of course no one told you; we are not a gossiping church. But if you would visit each person in the church each week to check on them, then you would know about our needs.

Pastor: Sister Exaggeration, it is hard for me to visit when I am working down at the factory full time in addition to serving the church.

Member: I know. You always bring that up. I still think if you had more faith you would quit working at the factory and just trust God to provide for you.

Pastor: I know you feel that way, Sister Exaggeration; you have mentioned it many times.

Member: I just think the pastor ought to be totally devoted to God, and working at the factory keeps you from being as devoted as I think you ought to be.

Pastor: I know Sister Exaggeration, but with the church only paying me $75 a week, it is really hard to buy groceries for my family of 5, not to mention the rent and the utilities and gas for the car.

Member: If you were a real man of prayer, God would provide those things for you.

Pastor: God has provided them, through my job at the factory.

Member: Yes, but since you are working at the factory, you will not be able to come sit with me all day when I have my toe nail removed. And you did not have time to cut the grass for Mrs. Lazy last week when she went on vacation. And you did not have time to take a meal to Brother Fatz last month when he got the hiccups. And you never even bothered to show up to my second cousin’s step sister’s best friend’s funeral. It really hurt me to think that you did not have time to comfort me in such a time of personal loss.

Pastor: I know, Sister Exaggeration. I do not think I have ever met all your expectations. I just do the best I can with the time God gives me.

Member: Well, I just wish we had a real pastor. Maybe one day our church can grow and we will be able to hire a pastor that has time for his congregation.

Pastor: Sister Exaggeration, maybe someday you will be able to hire a real pastor who will have time for you. But in the meantime, you are stuck with me. I will try to do better and find time to come by tomorrow and visit you when you have your toe nail removed.

This is an excerpt from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway. The book contains six easy to use lessons to train lay people to assist their pastor in ministry.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How Should Lay People Respond to a Crisis in the Church?

Large churches often have multiple staff members who may be on call and able to respond to any manner of crisis that may occur in a church. Smaller churches seldom have that luxury. In churches where the pastor works a second job in addition to the church, even the pastor may not be immediately available during a crisis situation. Therefore, lay people in the church may be called upon to respond to a crisis in the congregation. Such situations often have a high level of confusion and anxiety revolving around them. There is no real time to prepare one’s thoughts on how to deal with the situation, so the lay people who respond should simply seek to bring a sense of calmness to what may be a chaotic situation.

In such situations, it is important to realize that people who feel overwhelmed with a crisis may turn to a lay person at church because they do not know who else to call. The lay person may not be the person they should have called, but once the call is made, a caring Christian should respond the best way they know how. There are some things lay people can do in advance to prepare to respond to a crisis in the congregation, such as take whatever crisis training may be available in the community. Schools, hospitals and other organizations often provide training in how to deal with issues such as domestic abuse, first aid, suicide intervention, disaster relief, sexual assault, and grief counseling. Sign up for which ever courses seem most suitable and learn as much as possible about how to deal with these issues.

When first learning of the crisis, attempt to establish a rapport with the person in crisis. A crisis makes a person feel like no one can understand why he or she is upset, which in turn makes him or her more upset. To defeat this cycle, it is important to win the person's trust. Never tell someone in crisis how to feel. Instead validate their feelings by saying something like: “I might feel that way too if I were in your situation.” Speak in a calm, even voice, which is not always easy if someone is angry or screaming. Stay focused, remember whatever training has been taken, and seek to be a source of calmness in the midst of the crisis. In many situations, once a lay person has been a “listening ear” to the person in crisis, it is best to refer the person to other more professional services in order for the person to receive real help.

Let the person in crisis tell his or her story. People often feel better if they can tell their story and know they have been heard. Be an active listener. Show understanding by asking questions and/or repeating back what they just said. Be alert for certain words and phrases that might indicate a person is in profound distress and might be considering suicide because of the crisis. Statements such as "This is hopeless" or "My life is over" may be indications of serious danger. If the person seems to be considering suicide, be very direct about it. Ask them outright if they are planning to hurt themselves. Though this may feel awkward, if it saves the person’s life, it is worth the awkward feelings.

Offer hope without misleading the person. If it is a situation which the lay person is experienced in handling, say something based on past experience about the likelihood of a positive outcome. Or if some of the training that has been previously taken included some factual information about such situations, offer that information as a way to bring hope into the crisis. Such statements let the person in crisis know the odds are on their side. But such statements also acknowledge that the situation may not be resolved the way everyone wants it to be. Offer hope, but do not make up stories or statistics that are not factual or that provide false hope. Otherwise more harm than good might be caused if a worst case scenario happens. It is important to avoid a response that blames the person for what happened.

Once enough information has been gathered, help the person in crisis explore his or her options by developing an action plan for what to do next. After the situation is under control, formulate a plan for moving forward and finding a solution that will help the person get through the short-term state of a crisis.

After the immediate crisis has passed, contact legal authorities or other agencies if required. Make a follow up visit or phone call to the distressed person within 24 hours. Make a written record of the situation and how it was responded to. Keep that record on file in case the situation comes up again or if legalities regarding the crisis develop.

Responding to a crisis is never easy. But Christians must be there for each other, especially in times of crisis. Lay people willing to seek advance training and follow the steps outlined above can be a calm presence in the midst of crisis situations that may erupt in the lives of church members.

This is an excerpt from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway. The book contains six easy to use lessons to train lay people to assist their pastor in ministry.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Taming the Tongue – A sermon based on James 3:1-10

Theme: It is important to use our words in a way that helps others instead of hurts.

Click here to review part one in this series (James 1:1-8 – Maturing Through Difficulty)
Click here to review part two in this series (James 1:9-18 - We Don’t Want to Be Rich!)
Click here to review part three in this series (James 2:1-13 – Treat Everyone the Same)
Click here to review part four in this series (James 2:14-27 - A Faith that Works)

Some interesting facts about words:

• No English words rhyme fully with orange, silver, or month.
• Until the seventeenth century the word "upset" meant to set up (i.e. erect) something. Now it means the opposite: "to capsize.”
• According to the third edition of The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, there are 20 valid words containing no vowels.
• The first word spoken on the moon was “okay.”
• The first words spoken by Thomas Jefferson over the phonograph were “Mary had a little lamb.”
• "Queueing" is the only word with five consecutive vowels.
• It is estimated that women speak at a rate of 250 words per minute while men average 125 words.
• It is also estimated that women speak about twice as many words as men per day.

Verse 1 - Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment.

• The passage begins with a warning to those who want to be teachers in the church.
• God will hold Bible teachers accountable for what they teach others.
• This does not mean that we should not aspire to be teachers if we feel a call from God to do so, it simply means that we should approach that calling with caution and understanding.
• Even if we are not a Bible teacher in the formal sense, anytime we tell people we are Christians, they immediately begin to expect something more from us.
• Our friends may think of us as the “religious one” in the group and ask us Bible questions.
• In a sense we have become the “teacher” for our peer group even if we did not intend to.
• We need to take that role seriously because when we use our words the wrong way, it hurts the person we are talking to, it hurts us, it hurts the church and it hurts God.
• One day we will have to answer to God for how we used our words in our role as a “teacher” of God’s Word.

Verse 2 - for we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a mature man who is also able to control his whole body.

• Everyone makes mistakes with their words, even good Christians and Bible teachers.
• But there is a difference between making an occasional mistake with our words and living a lifestyle of careless comments to everyone about everything.
• Mature people control what they say.
• If we can learn to control our tongue, then we can learn to control ourselves in other ways too.
• How does controlling our tongue affect our self control in other areas?
• If we cannot control our tongue in sports, we probably get too physical too.
• If we cannot control our tongue in the office, we probably get in trouble in others ways in the office too.
• If we are kind with our words, we will probably have a lot more friends than if we are not kind.

Verse 3 - Now when we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide the whole animal.

• James gives the example of how we can control a horse by putting a bit into his mouth.
• When the rider pulls one way or the other, the horse will go in the direction it is suppose to.
• When we learn to control our mouths, our lives can be directed the way it is suppose to be.

Verse 4 - And consider ships: though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.

This is a $150 million mega-yacht owned by a very rich person. It takes a crew of over 20 people to operate the ship. The yacht comes with its own helicopter and speedboat. It can travel across the Atlantic Ocean whenever the owner wants to cruise the Mediterranean. The ship is steered by the two rudders pictured below:

Just as this huge ship is guided by these two small rudders, so our lives are directed by the words that come from our mouths.

Verse 5 - So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites.

• The average human tongue is 4 inches long.
• The human tongue has 8 muscles in it.
• The average human tongue weighs only 2 ½ ounces.
• Yet, this small part of the body gets us in a lot of trouble.
• Our whole lives can be set on fire by our tongue.

Verse 6 - And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies; it pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell.

• The tongue can create an entire world of unrighteousness.
• Unrighteousness = something that is not right.
• The tongue can mess up our whole life.
• The tongue can make our entire life a living hell.

Verses 7-8 - For every creature—animal or bird, reptile or fish—is tamed and has been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

• People have managed to tame 49 different types of wild animals who can now live peaceably with humans on a mass scale.
• But people have not yet managed to tame the 2 ½ ounce human tongue.
• The tongue can be full of poison.
• It only takes a little poison to spoil what was once something good.
• Even a little bit of poison can make us sick.
• A lot of poison can kill us.
• Words can make us sick and can even lead to a premature death.

Verse 9 - With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in God's likeness.

• We say prayers with our tongue.
• We sing God’s praises with our tongue.
• We read the Bible and share God’s Word with others with our tongue.
• Then we curse, lie, gossip and cause drama with the same tongue!!!

Verse 10 - Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things should not be this way.

• James says that the “brothers” should not act this way.
• “Brothers” refers to Christians.
• Though non-Christians may be two tongued with their words, Christians should not be that way.
• Christians MUST get a grip on how we use our tongue.


• All Christians are Bible teachers, some formally and some informally.
• Therefore all Christians are accountable for how we use our words.
• Though controlling our tongue can be a challenge, Christians must learn to do it.
• When we learn to control our tongues, our entire lives will be better.

Friday, April 1, 2011

How to Make an Effective Visit to a Person Who Has Been Absent From Church

People go through phases in life. Sometimes they are very faithful in their church attendance. Sometimes they are less faithful. When people go through a phase in life that causes them to stray from church, they often do not realize how much time has elapsed since they last attended. The phase might have started as a short absence due to an illness, or perhaps a change in work schedule, but the more time that goes by, the easier it is for a short term absentee to become a long term absentee. A well timed and uplifting visit from a caring deacon or other lay person can help absentees know they are missed and encourage them to return to church.

Before going to visit an absentee, we should pray to God for wisdom to respond to whatever they may say. We should also pray that the individual will receive the visit with joy instead of embarrassment.

Make an appointment if the visit will be at the person’s home, few people like someone to drop by unannounced. In some situations, it might be appropriate to stop by their place of employment instead of their home. In such situations, make sure not to create a situation that will cause them difficulties with their supervisor. If one is sensitive to the Spirit, it is also possible to turn a causal encounter with an absentee in the community into an opportunity for a kind invitation for them to return to church.

Remember that the primary motive for speaking to an absentee is to express concern and let them know they have been missed at church. Though difficult issues may come up in the conversation, the primary motive is not to “fix a problem.” If significant issues come up about why they have not been in church, schedule a longer period of time at some later date to discuss those issues with the person instead of making the initial contact long and protracted. The obvious exception would be if they have said in advance that they have significant issues and want to talk specifically about them during the visit.

Sometimes it is better to invite an absentee to lunch first or to attend a concert or play together and just reconnect with them on a personal level first. Then a second contact can be made letting them know how much they have been missed at church. Never condemn people for not coming to church. They may have a legitimate reason for not coming. The goal should be to find out what that reason is and see if it can be resolved.

During the visit seek to answer any questions that may come up. Perhaps something happened during a worship service that they did not understand and that made them hesitant to come back.

Offer to sit with them when they come back to church. They may feel less self conscious than just showing up after a long absence and sitting alone. Encourage others to warmly welcome the person back when he or she arrives.

Be persistent. Many people have filled their lives with other things and it may take time for them to readjust their schedule enough to find time to come back to church. Others have significant emotional or spiritual baggage they are dealing with and it may take a while for them to work through it and be comfortable coming to church. Extend repeated invitations over a period of time without being pushy at any particular point.

Perhaps most important, remain friends whether they return to church or not. Since people go through phases in life, they may not yet be ready to return to church. When they are ready, they will remember who showed real friendship to them. When the time is right absentees will return to church.

This is an excerpt from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway. The book contains six easy to use lessons to train lay people to assist their pastor in ministry.