Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dealing with Worry

Take a moment to think about how we would complete this sentence: The more I worry about something . . . 

Perhaps we might end the sentence one of these ways:
…the worse the situation becomes.
…the more I realize that worry does not change things.
…the worse the situation gets in my mind because I imagine the worse case scenarios.

We are often worried about different things in life. Some of them may be trivial, but others are significant. Some of the things we worry about might include:
          Our parents getting a divorce
          Going through a divorce ourselves
          Failing a class
          A bad haircut/how we look
          Getting caught cheating on a test
          What others think of us
          What high school (or college) will be like
          Terrorist attacks or war in general
          Making friends
          Something being wrong with us physically (other than just our looks)
          Family fights
          Our relationship with God
          Not having enough money to stay in our home
          Not having enough money to go to college
          Hunger around the world

As we look over the list above, we might laugh about some of them, but there are moments when each of the things on that list becomes the source of worry in our lives. How can we deal with worry?

1 Peter 5:7 – Cast all your anxiety on Christ, for He cares for you.
          What is anxiety?
          What are we supposed to do with the anxiety that we feel?
          “Cast” means to toss away from us. All too often instead of casting our anxieties away, we internalize them.
          What happens when we internalize our anxieties?
          Why does this verse say we should cast our anxieties to Jesus?
          How has Jesus shown us that He cares for us?

Philippians 4:6-7 – Do not worry about anything, but in everything through prayer and petition with thanksgiving; let your requests be made known to God.
          This verse tells us not to worry about anything. It is possible to NEVER worry?
          Of course it is impossible to never worry. But the way this verse is written in the Greek language actually means that we are not to make worry a “habit.”
          What habit does this verse say we should have instead of worrying?
          We should be in the habit of praying about our problems.
          Prayer is simply talking to God about what is on our minds.
          Prayer does two things:
1. Prayer lets us get some stuff off our minds, which often helps us think more clearly.
2. Prayer is how we access supernatural power to help us overcome our problems.
          In the context of this verse, what is a petition?
          Petition is asking God for something. We can petition God through earnest prayer.
          What should our attitude be when we ask God for things?
          We should have a thankful attitude when we pray. There are two reasons we should have this type of attitude when we pray:
1. People who are not thankful for what they already have often act like spoiled brats. If we are acting like a spoiled brat, why would God want to reinforce our bad attitude by granting our request?
2. When we thank God in advance for how He is going to answer our prayers, we prove that we trust Him and we open our minds to seeing Him work in ways that we might not have expected.
·         But can we really trust God with our problems? What if things do not work out the way we hoped?

Romans 8:28 - We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”
          Does this verse mean that EVERY experience in our lives is good?
          NO ! ! ! ! There are many experiences in our lives that are NOT good.
          This verse means that God uses all the experiences in our lives to create some kind of good result.
          Look closely at the verse. Is EVERYONE promised GOOD results from their experiences in life?
          NO ! ! ! Only those who love God and are following His purposes for their lives are PROMISED good results.
          Many people have rejected God. God is a gentleman and will let those people go their own way and not force them to follow Him. But that also means they have rejected His power and ability to create a good result out of a bad experience.

          When we are worried about something, we should toss that worry at the feet of Jesus.
          We do that by praying earnestly with a thankful heart and talking out our problems with the Lord.
          We also do that by knowing that everything that happens to us, even the bad things, will eventually have good results in our lives. As we put our trust in the Lord, we find the good results coming even out of bad experiences.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Future of Church Planting in America

Last week I was at a church planting conference near Boston. It was a conference to train leaders of church planting networks. We were in classes all day learning the mechanics of leading church planting movements. In the evenings, we spent time fellowshipping together.

One evening after class two carloads of us went into Boston’s North End for dinner and to look at some historical sites. As we were sitting around the table eating, it occurred to me that there was an Indian, a South African, a Nigerian and several Brazilians around the table. Only two of us were Anglo. As I sat looking around the table at the wonderful diversity that was present, I could not help but think that I was looking at the future of church planting in America.

As people move to the United States from around the world, international missions has navigated to North America. Though we still need missionaries to travel to remote places around the world and share the Gospel with those who have not yet heard, increasingly, we can engage in international missions simply by crossing the street and meeting the new neighbors.

If we hope to be successful in this new paradigm of church planting, we will have to embrace such diversity. We no longer have the luxury of just encouraging the “white” people to reach the “non-white” people (though that is ALSO very important). We now have to move the “non-white” people into places of leadership and learn to follow them as they lead us to reach our neighbors with the Gospel. That is the future of church planting in America.

Is the American church up to the challenge?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Are Christians in "Customer Service?"

I often eat at McDonalds for lunch. It is close to the office and it is cheap! I know many of the people who work there and often see customers I know as well. Being a naturally friendly person and always on the lookout for opportunities to share my faith, I speak to many people I encounter when I am at McDonalds.

Yesterday I noticed a new cashier behind the counter. I smiled at her while I waited in line and then greeted her warmly when it was my turn to order. After taking my order, she asked if I was in “customer service.” I have been asked many things in my life, but until then, that had not been one of them. She went on to say that she noticed me greeting people when I came in and that I seemed happy. She assumed that I must be in some line of work related to customer service since I was so friendly.

I was pleased to inform her that I was a pastor and it was my faith that made me happy. Though I only got to share with her for a minute about my faith, I hope it was enough to make her think about spiritual matters. It occurred to me later, that in some ways, pastors, and perhaps all Christians, are indeed in “customer service.” We serve our communities in a variety of ways so that we can introduce people to our Boss. As we serve, we make genuine friendships and learn to sincerely care about what is going on in our friends’ lives. We do not have a “product” to sell, just an eternity to give away for free. For Christians, this one of the most important things we do. I hope that I can be even more successful in my “customer service” efforts in the future!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

How Should God’s People Respond to Challenging Sermons?

A sermon developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett based on Haggai 1:12-15.

This is sermon number two in a three part series on the Old Testament book of Haggai. To read the notes from the first sermon, click here.

          The people had been back in the land for ten years.
          Though they were the people of God and were asked to rebuild the temple of God, somehow, after ten years they had never gotten around to it.
          They kept making excuses for why it was not yet the right time to focus on God’s priorities.
          Haggai challenged them to consider what their priorities really were.

Verse 12 - …the entire remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the words of the prophet Haggai...
          Because prophets often challenged the way people thought about things and attempted to move people out of their comfort zones, they normally got negative responses.
          Perhaps to Haggai’s surprise, this group of people actually responded positively to his message about priorities.
          The ENTIRE group responded positively and that seldom happens!
          Usually only a few individuals respond to the voice of God and the rest ignore His calling.
          Haggai’s message sunk deep into the hearts of those who heard it.
          Perhaps because they already knew it was true and truth always resonates with those who are called by God.
          The people obeyed the “voice of the Lord.”
          Though God used Haggai to deliver the message, it was the voice of the Lord that the people responded to.
          It can sometimes be hard to hear the voice of God in our lives because of all the other voices that crowd out the Lord.
          When we take time to stop and think about our actions and our priorities, we often can hear the voice of the Lord more clearly.
          We must learn to build some quiet time in our lives so we can hear God speak.
          The people also obeyed the “words of the prophet.”
          Though we must be careful about blindly following people who claim to speak for the Lord, the Lord does often use people to show us His plan for our lives.
          If we have a discerning spirit, then we will be able to find pastors and teachers who can give us the right advice for godly living.

Verse 13 - Haggai, the LORD's messenger, delivered the LORD's message to the people, "I am with you" was the LORD's declaration.
          Though Haggai had been used by God to first deliver a strong message that shook the people up, he is now used by God to offer those same people a word of comfort and hope.
          God’s message to the people was the He was with them.
          If God is with us, who can stand against us?
          We enjoy hearing messages of hope more than messages that challenge the way we think or live.
          But hope that is built on wrong living or wrong thinking is false hope.
          Therefore, we often need to hear what we might perceive as a negative message first before the positive message will really help us.
          This is true for both Christians and non-Christians.
          Non-believers must first realize they are lost and in need of Christ before they can repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ.
          We cannot “sugar coat” the Gospel in hopes of attracting more people.
          We have to tell it like it is and only then will people understand what life COULD be like if God was involved.
          John 3:16 is more powerful when we first understand John 3:18. “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already . . .”
          Once people see that life with the Lord is much better than life without Him, then they will be more apt to commit to follow Him in a real and meaningful way instead of just looking for fire insurance against the flames of hell.

Verse 14 - The LORD stirred up . . . the spirit of all the remnant of the people. They began work on the house of Yahweh of Hosts, their God.
          The Lord stirred up the spirit of the people.
          We do not stir up our own spirits through good works, motivational speeches or external rewards.
          The Lord is the one who starts the process.
          The Lord must first do something inside of us that is deeply spiritual and transformational.
          Once the Lord has stirred our spirit, then we must decide if we will quench the Spirit, or join God in His amazing work.
          When the Jews got stirred up, they decided to get busy doing God’s work. They began to rebuild the temple.
          Though they had neglected this important work for ten long years, when they finally got their priorities right, they went to work with passion.
          Past failure does not limit a successful future if God is with us.
          Perhaps we have been only half-heartedly following the Lord for many years, but now something is stirring inside us.
          Will we allow that spiritual stirring to flow freely in and through us?
Or will we quench the Spirit’s work inside of us?

Sample Prayer:
          Dear Lord, today I sense You stirring my spirit to _____________. Give me the courage and commitment to follow that stirring completely. Amen.

          When we obey the voice of God, He will be with us like never before.
          When God begins to stir our spirits, we must decide how to respond.
          When God leads us to start rebuilding our lives on His priorities, life will be far better than it is now.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Call of God

I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be “called” by God. In a general sense, God calls all Christians to serve Him. No Christian is saved so they can just sit in the pew and soak up the music and the sermon. Instead of being called to sit and soak, Christians are called to serve. I think most Christians understand this, even if they are not living it out.

But I also believe that some Christians are called to deeper service. Some Christians have an inescapable sense from the Lord that they should serve as a pastor, a missionary or in some other vocational ministry role. For some Christians, such as myself, that calling comes at a specific moment of time. I still vividly recall the moment in which God called me to ministry. I was sitting on a porch in front of the “Lobster Trap” cabin at Treasure Island Camp in Lynchburg, VA. The Spirit spoke to me and told me that I was to devote my life to Christian ministry. That has been the focus of my life since that moment. For others, the calling of God to special service comes over a period of time and is less easy to identify, but the pull to ministry in those situations is no less compelling. Though many Christians many not understand this call to deeper service, those who have experienced such a call understand exactly what I am talking about.

The calling of God to ministry is very real, both in a general sense for all Christians and in deeper sense to those Christians called to some kind of special vocational ministry. That part is easy to understand. The more challenging part of answering the call of God is to know the WHERE and the WHEN of one’s calling. Should a lay person who wants to serve teach Sunday School, or be a deacon, or join the choir? He or she may not be able to do all three. How do they know which one? And how do they know when it is time to end one’s involvement in one kind of lay ministry so more time can be devoted to a different type of lay ministry. For those called to vocational ministry, how do they know if they should become the pastor of church A or church B? How does the missionary know if they are to go to Africa, Asia or post-Christian Europe? These life altering questions can be hard to answer.

In my efforts to recruit church planters and pastors to Vermont, I attempt to help men determine the answers to those very questions. It is not always easy. Though I am still sorting out my own thoughts on this subject, it seems to me that God typically uses a verse of scripture, often coupled with some unique experience, to speak to people in very specific ways. For example, a young man I am currently working with realized God wanted him to be involved in church planting through his study of scripture. But a chance encounter with a childhood friend in a restaurant led to a conversation that convinced him that Vermont was the place he was to plant that church.

I hear similar testimonies from many who are seeking a place of special service for the Lord. I would like to hear from some of my readers about how God showed them the specifics of a calling they have in their lives.  If you have such a testimony, please consider leaving it in a comment below. Let each us seek God’s will and plan for our lives, whether that be through the general service that all Christians owe the Lord, or through some deeply level of service that God calls us to.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Are We Glorifying God or Just Jealous?

Lately I have heard a lot of talk from some Christian leaders about how other Christian leaders are “self- promoters.” The best I can understand, their definition of self-promotion is anything in which the person in question writes, says, does, preaches, shares or advises in which he does not put the tag “to the glory of God” on. They cite examples of “self-promotion” as such things as blog posts in which the person signed his name instead of making it anonymous or any author whose book actually begins to sell or a newsletter that mentions numbers of any kind, or a conference in which person accused of “self-promotion” shares how God worked in their life or ministry to expand the kingdom.

I have mixed feelings about all this talk against “self-promotion.” I have definitely heard some speakers who seemed to cross the line into arrogance. It seemed like they felt they had ALL the answers and if the rest of us would just do it their way, everything would be right with the world. They sure seemed guilty of self-promotion to me. It was hard to see how God was glorified in those situations.

But I have also heard key Christian leaders share their passion for God. I am amazed at how God used that passion to change the world. Such leaders talk about how God used their brokenness and their mistakes and their faults to accomplish much good for the Kingdom. It sure did not seem like their motive was to promote themselves, or they would not have shared the negative aspects of their own struggles.

Sadly, the “pro-humility” crowd has a tendency to lump all Christian leaders who have achieved any level of “success” in the same group, and that group is not viewed very positively. There seems to be a lack of discernment between those who are actually self-promoters and those that have a kingdom focus that compels them to share what God has taught them with others.

What is the cause of this criticism of “successful” leaders? I want to be very careful not to cross the line into judgment, but in my experience, many (but definitely not all) of the critics seemed to be less effective in ministry than the leaders they were criticizing. I am not saying there were ineffective, just less effective. Most of the time I think this less effective situation is caused by a lack of experience or a lack of skill. Both of those issues are easily addressable over a period of time through learning, whether formal or informal, whether in a group or on one’s own. If such critics would invest as much time learning as they do complaining, they would become much more effective in ministry. Sadly, a small number of critics simply seem to be bitter, perhaps even jealous. Neither is becoming for a Christian leader. Since bitterness and jealousy tends to drive people away instead of gathering them in, a ministry marked by bitterness and jealousy will almost always be less effective than it could have been. People who are bitter or jealous find it easier to attack someone who they perceive as more “successful” than to examine their heart, training and talents. Self-examination is vital for healthy spirituality and healthy relationships. Though calling successful Christian leaders “self-promoters” may sound spiritual, rarely does the facade of false piety or false humility stand up to scrutiny.

No one is perfect. Successful leaders must battle pride on a daily basis so that they remain Kingdom promoters and not self-promoters. But less effective leaders must battle bitterness and jealousy with the same vigor. In the end, every leader should aim to bring glory to God by being conformed to the image of His Son. When that becomes our goal, then we will be “successful” in the eyes of God and avoid a bitter or jealous spirit, which is what matters most anyway.