Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mercy and Wrath: Two Aspects of Spirituality

Introduction:
Habakkuk was a little known prophet who lived about 700 years before Christ during the same period as the prophet Jeremiah, who was more well-known. He served during a period of deterioration of religious principles and personal relationship with God had reached a new low in their culture. Our modern culture has a lot of similarities to Habakkuk’s day, which is why we should study this nearly forgotten small book.

Habakkuk 3:1-3, 12-13, 16-18
A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth. 2 LORD, I have heard the report about You; LORD, I stand in awe of Your deeds. Revive Your work in these years; make it known in these years. In Your wrath remember mercy! 3 God comes from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. His splendor covers the heavens, and the earth is full of His praise. 4 His brilliance is like light; rays are flashing from His hand. This is where His power is hidden. 12 You march across the earth with indignation; You trample down the nations in wrath. 13 You come out to save Your people, to save Your anointed. You crush the leader of the house of the wicked and strip him from foot to neck. 16 I heard, and I trembled within; my lips quivered at the sound. Rottenness entered my bones; I trembled where I stood. Now I must quietly wait for the day of distress to come against the people invading us. 17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will triumph in Yahweh; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!

Verse 1 - A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.
             Through the painful situations he observed around him and through the exciting visions God had given him, Habakkuk remained committed to prayer.
             Far too many of us neglect our prayer time. Sometimes we neglect it because things are so bad that we do not think God can help. Sometimes we neglect it because things are so good that we do not think we need prayer. Prayer must become part of the foundation of our daily lives, in both good times and bad.
             The Hebrew word shigionoth is a musical term. Though scholars disagree on its exact meaning, it comes from a root word that means to err, to go astray, or to reel. Most scholars focus on the concept of reeling in joy and say it means this prayer should be sung or shouted out joyfully! Other scholars focus on the idea that that if we do not spend enough time in prayer, we can expect to err or go astray. Perhaps both apply and God is reminding us that if we do not pray enough we will constantly go astray but anytime we are willing to return to the Lord, we will be filled with joy once again.

Verse 2 - LORD, I have heard the report about You; LORD, I stand in awe of Your deeds. Revive Your work in these years; make it known in these years. In Your wrath remember mercy!
             Though Habakkuk had witnessed great pain in the world around Him, he had also heard of amazing things that God had done.
             When we go through difficult times, we tend to focus on our pain and forget that God is still doing many amazing things around us.
             Despite all the pain around him, when Habakkuk thought about all that God had done, he stood in awe and amazement. Habakkuk asked God to do the same things again and spirituality revive his messed up society.
             The Hebrew word for revive is chayah. It literally means to keep alive, to recover, to repair or to restore. Habakkuk was asking God to restore or repair the spirituality that his people once had. It is important to point out that it is impossible to restore or repair something that does not exist. Therefore, this prayer would only work because the people had been in relationship with the Lord in the past. That relationship needed to be renewed.
             Think about how this relates to our own situation. Before a person, a church, or a culture can be re-vived, they must first be vived! We must first be born again and come alive spirituality. If that has not happened to us yet, God is not obligated to answer our prayers. Once we are born again through faith in Christ, then when we go through a challenging time or wander from our faith, we can return to the Lord and be revived immediately through prayer. If we fail to return, then at some point we must face the discipline of God, since God disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6, Proverbs 3:12). Most of us prefer to think about all the great things God has done FOR us, not all the things God could do TO us if we continue to live in ways that displease Him. Though we do not need to dwell on it every day, sometimes it is good to consider the wrath of God. The wrath of God would be too terrible to even think about if it were not also for the mercy of God. Mercy is not getting the punishment that we rightly deserve. We have all received mercy, and for that we should be ever thankful. But we must not take God’s mercy for granted.

Verses 3-4 - … His splendor covers the heavens, and the earth is full of His praise. His brilliance is like light; rays are flashing from His hand.
             Having a healthy understanding of the nature of God is important for a balanced spirituality. When we first think of God we should think about his splendor and the beauty of His creation. That should cause us to want to praise Him. We should think about how God is light and how He is shining that light everywhere. Do not miss the subtle hint in this verse about why that light is so powerful, it flashes from His hands. It was the hands of Christ that were pierced for us and they are proof of God’s deep love for us.

Verse 12 - You march across the earth with indignation; You trample down the nations in wrath.
             However, a healthy view of God is not just all sunshine and love, for God also knows how to dispense judgment when it is deserved. His mercy keeps most of His judgment at bay, for which we should be grateful. But we must not take His mercy for granted. There are times when His wrath falls.
For those who are Christians, the best way to avoid God’s wrath is to keep a “short list” with God. We should confess our sins daily so that we can go to bed with a clean conscience each day. This will keep us from getting into situations in which God must display His wrath toward us. If we fail to have that daily time of confession, then at the very least we should confess our sins to the Lord before we take communion. Taking communion when we are not in right relationship with God is extremely dangerous.
             For those who are not yet Christians, the ONLY way to avoid the wrath of God is to become a Christian. Observing all the religious rituals without having first been born again is of no spiritual value. It will only produce emptiness and spiritual disillusionment.

Verse 13 - You come out to save Your people, to save Your anointed. You crush the leader of the house of the wicked and strip him from foot to neck.
             Though God can display His wrath for any particular sin, we see it most often when God moves to save His people from an oppressor. Many scholars believe this is specifically referring to the Jewish people. Other scholars say it also includes Christian believers. I think it applies to both.
             Those of us who are parents understand that what happens inside of us when someone messes with our kids! The most mild mannered person who is full of compassion can come out swinging when their kids are in danger. God is the ultimate parent; do not mess with His kids! He will CRUSH those who do!

Verse 16 - I heard, and I trembled within; my lips quivered at the sound. Rottenness entered my bones; I trembled where I stood. Now I must quietly wait for the day of distress to come against the people invading us.
             Habakkuk understood the wrath of God. Even while he called on God to show compassion to His own people, he trembled at the thought of wrath of God falling on God’s enemies. Habakkuk knew that the wrath of God would fall on those who deserved it, but he also realized it would come in God’s way and in God’s time.
             One of the hardest parts of the Christian faith is waiting for God to do what needs to be done. Many of us want to help God out when it comes to judgment and punishment. But that is not our job. We must wait for the day of distress to come.

Verses 17-18 - Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will triumph in Yahweh; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!
             Habakkuk understood that it would get worse before it got better, but he was determined to see it through all the way to the end because in the end he knew God would win! God had to let evil run its course before His wrath fell. Why? Because God is compassionate even to evil people and gives them a chance to change. But when the Hitler’s of the world refuse to change, then God’s wrath falls and they are destroyed. We do not want to be in that category.
             When God’s judgment falls, sometimes even good people feel the impact. Maybe God sends a storm to destroy the crops. Good people’s crops are destroyed along with the evil man’s crops. Those who believe in the Lord know to remain faithful during such times because in the end, the Lord triumphs over all the evil in this world. For that, we should rejoice! But we should be sure we are on the winning team so we do not experience the wrath of God.

Conclusion:
             Prayer should be an important part of our lives in both good times and bad.
             If we want our lives to be blessed, we must make sure we have been born again so that God can revive (renew) us again and again.
             A healthy view of God begins with understanding He is love and light, but also includes a realization that He will punish those who deserve it (and that includes us!).
             Those who mess with God’s kids, do so at their own peril.
In the end, God ALWAYS wins!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Postmodernism and Age

In yesterday's post I gave a brief description of postmodernism. In this post I want to discuss the connection between postmodern philosophy and age.

Postmodern people can be any age, but typically, the younger people are, the more likely they are to have a postmodern worldview. Dr. Jan W. van Deth, a political science professor at the University of Mannheim, and Elinor Scarbrough, a senior lecturer in government at the University of Essex and co-director of the Essex Summer School in Data Analysis and Collection, have studied postmodernism extensively. They have presented a number of papers and edited a book on the subject. Based on their studies, they conclude that “postmodern orientations are most common among young people and the well-educated.”


There is no set age at which individuals suddenly decide to become postmodern. Instead, postmodern tendencies are more like a graph in which the younger a person is, the more postmodern his or her worldview is likely to be. This connection between age and postmodernism comes from a past when people had access to a limited amount of information, so it was harder for them to question truth. Because of this, older generations often believed what they were told because they did not have access to information that would lead them to think otherwise. With the advent of technology, younger generations have become used to collecting information from a wide variety of sources, as have more-educated people. Even though much of the information collected may be inaccurate, it still makes younger generations question the validity of what others have told them. Instead, they want to discover truth for themselves. This desire to discover one’s own truth is the essence of postmodernism.

If church leaders want to reach the next generation, they are going to have to discover ways to help young people discover the truth of Christ for themselves. Young people are not going to just accept the pastor or priest's word on spiritual issues. Young people will delve deep into their own study of spirituality. Though this may frighten some church leaders, but many of us enjoy the discussions that arise from such deep study. For those church leaders able to embrace questions, the next generation will be a fertile harvest field for spirituality.

An excerpt from Terry Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Understanding Postmodernism

Though the term postmodernism was first used in the 1870s, it was not widely used until the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century. People who hold to postmodernism do not like to be classified, and therefore it is unlikely they will use the term to refer to themselves. But since there are now so many postmodernists in our culture, we should all have a working understanding of their worldview.

Postmodernism is the idea that individuals have both the intelligence and the right to decide for themselves what truth is. In the past, truth was a clearly defined fact that was generally accepted by each generation. Postmodern individuals see the definition of truth as less clear. As postmodern people search for truth, they base their conclusions on their own research, individual experiences, and personal relationships instead of on the truth accepted by their parents, government, or church. This does not mean postmodernists do not believe in truth; it just means they define truth for themselves.

Postmodern people are quite comfortable with the concept that dierent people will come to dierent conclusions about the same subject and all of them have discovered the truth, even if such truths contradict each other. For most postmodern people, the concept of absolute truth does not exist. It has been replaced with a more personalized sense of truth that may vary from person to person.

It can be dicult to describe how postmodern people think because they do not like to be categorized. However, careful observation of their behaviors, combined with listening to what young people say and write, oer a glimpse of postmodernists’ common characteristics. Dr. Earl Creps is the director of the doctor of ministry program at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri. He writes extensively on postmodernism. He has discovered:

The average person influenced by postmodernism may never have heard a lecture or read a book about it. Nonetheless, the traits that embody the philosophy are all around us: the centrality of community, the primacy of experience, the subjectivity of truth, the complexity of human perception, the fragility of progress, the unreality of absolutes, the enormity of the spiritual [and] the plurality of worldviews.

Other writers have compiled similar lists of postmodern traits that frequently appear in the next generation. If churches wish to eectively engage postmodern people with the gospel, they will have to deal with these common traits.

An excerpt from Terry Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reaching the Next Generation Without a Starbucks or Laser Light Show

Many experts have written eectively about how cities and urban areas are changing. A number of fine books and well-written articles detail how urban churches have addressed cultural change. Numerous urban churches and mega-churches have developed new ministry models to reach their communities. Large churches are building Starbucks coee shops in their lobbies and health club—quality family life centers on their growing campuses. Some churches now use their spacious lobbies as art galleries. Others have professional-quality light and laser shows in their sanctuaries. Many large churches employ a variety of sta members to lead a growing number of programs aimed at reaching the next generation. Many of these large, urban churches are successfully reaching the constantly evolving culture and the younger generations that have emerged from it.

However, most of the ministry models used by large, urban churches do not fit the context of smaller churches, nor are they feasible in more rural areas or small towns. Few resources are being developed to help small churches and churches in rural areas impact their changing communities. Though some small churches may question the validity of some of these innovative outreach methods, for the moment, let us assume that since churches are led by godly, Spirit-filled individuals who pray through their decisions, that these methods are appropriate in the right context. Even if we all agree with that assumption, the majority of churches in North America are too small to do those specific types of things eectively. Regardless of available resources, small churches must not abandon the next generation to a life of spiritual and emotional pain without the hope that faith in Jesus Christ brings. Small churches must not abandon the next generation to an eternity in hell because the church cannot aord a Starbucks in the lobby or a laser light machine in the sanctuary. Small churches must find a way to reach the emerging generations. Small churches will have to learn new approaches without discarding their core values or theological distinctives. This will be a challenge, but it can be done.

An excerpt from Terry Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

GRANDPA’S CHURCH IS STRUGGLING

Mrs. Smith rose early on Sunday morning to bake homemade cinnamon rolls for her family, while her husband walked the family dog, Fido, down their tree-lined suburban street. When Mr. Smith returned home with the dog, he was very excited. “Sally and Tom from across the street are going to church with us this morning,” he exclaimed to Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith’s heart overflowed with joy as she made her way upstairs to wake her son and daughter so they would have time for breakfast before going to Sunday school. About an hour later, as the Smith family drove down the street in their minivan, they saw Sally and Tom pull out of their driveway and follow them the two miles downtown to First Church on Main Street. Mrs. Smith thought to herself, “What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday morning!”


Such idyllic scenes may have been common across America in the past, but in our increasingly post-Christian society, such situations are acted out less often. In this current era, it is much more likely that Mr. Smith and Ms. Jones will live together for years, raising their kids together without feeling the need to be married.  The neighbors across the street could be a married couple named Tom and John.  The two couples are more likely to go camping together for the weekend than to attend church, and if they do happen to attend church, it is probably for a special service at either Christmas or Easter.


By all accounts, the North American church is enduring dicult times. Most Christians realize that churches are struggling to reach out to the surrounding community, but people are not sure why churches are struggling or what they, as individuals, can do about it.


Though there are many reasons churches are struggling, the primary reason is that North American culture is experiencing rapid change, while most churches remain unchanged.  Therefore, churches are struggling to reach the generations that are emerging from this new culture.


Some churches have made it clear that they do not intend to change, even if it means their membership will keep shrinking. These churches have ignored culture and vainly hope that people will come to faith even though—because of cultural dierences—those people cannot understand the church’s message. Other churches have adjusted their core values and tossed out all their time-honored traditions in the hope that the community will respond positively to their radical change. Such churches have lost much of their identity and are frequently still in decline as they abandon biblical principles and find themselves adrift in an ocean of rapidly changing theology.


Many evangelical churches are looking for a third option.  These churches are willing to adopt certain levels of change to reach their community but are determined not to give up their core values and biblical principles in the process. Tough American culture is always changing; the timeless truth of the gospel remains the same. How we communicate the gospel may change, but the gospel itself never changes. The gospel is relevant to all cultures in all time periods. We must hold true to the gospel while discovering new ways to communicate with a non-Christian culture.


An excerpt from Terry Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A New Generation Seeks the Lord

God is doing something significant in the lives of young people in Vermont. Though the vast majority of them have grown up without any kind of meaningful connection to a Bible teaching church, they seem hungry for spiritual connection. Several churches across our state are seeing not only larger attendance in their youth ministries, but they are seeing a deepening of understanding and growing commitment to the things of God.

Last week I taught over 70 teens in Central Vermont about the concept of worship. To be honest, I chose the subject because two lay leaders had been working with a group of teens to form a new worship band. The band was to debut for a gathering of teens and I was concerned that the teens might not respond well since they knew nothing about worship. As I prepared, I tried to think of creative ways to teach about worship, but I must admit I was a bit skeptical about whether they would really be able to grasp the concepts. To my amazement, they not only grasped, but they embraced concepts such as: worship being focused on God, not ourselves; worship being something we do both privately and corporately; worship being something we not only feel but respond to; and worship being beneficial to all aspects of our lives, not just Sunday morning.

One young man approached me afterwards and said “When I went to church more often, I used to feel what you were talking about. Now I don’t.” Knowing some of the current challenges in his life, I simply asked him, “Who do you think moved, you or God?” He lowered his head and whispered, “Me.” We then had a great discussion about how he could re-center his life around the Lord once again. Pray for this young man, and hundreds of others like him across Vermont who are sensing the powerful pull of God’s Spirit to a deeper walk with the Lord.

Dr. Terry Dorsett

Dr. Dorsett's book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, details many of the methods God is using to help churches in Vermont reach the next generation. 


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Creating a Sermon Series

While some scripture texts and topics can be adequately dealt with in a “stand-alone” sermon, other texts and issues are better suited for a sermon series. A sermon series allows you to delve deeper into a text or subject than a stand-alone sermon. A sermon series is used when the material is simply too much to be covered in a single sermon.

A series can be as short as three sermons or as long as eight. Less than three is just not enough to make a real series. More than eight is probably too long for people to connect all the parts to the whole.

A series should have an overall theme. Each sermon in the series will address some aspect of that theme. For maximum effectiveness, some sort of review will be necessary during each sermon to connect the individual sermons to the whole series. Handouts tend to help the series be more effective because it provides a written summary of the entire series after it is completed. If the series would interest the community, it can be used as an outreach tool.

Creating a strong series of sermons is a lot of work. It is easy to question the validity of all that work once the series is over, especially if there were no immediate results from the series. However, a sermon series can continue to be useful long after all the sermons have been preached.

Ways to use a sermon series after it is complete:

1. Use
CDs/DVDs of the series to give to church visitors as a welcome gift. This is especially helpful if it is a series that explains what the church believes.

2. Use CDs/DVDs of the series as an outreach tool to the community. This is especially helpful if it covers some topic that might be of interest to the greater community, such as how to be an effective parent, or how to have a happy marriage or how to manage personal finances.

3. Use CDs/DVDs to build a “library” of the church’s teaching on a particular subject. This is especially helpful if the church has a lending library so that people can check the series out.

4. Distribute CDs/DVDs to those who have become home bound temporarily or are residents at a nursing home. This allows them to keep up with what is being taught at church.

5. Use the series to provide
theological training to others. This is especially helpful if others in the church want to become pastors or lay ministers.

6. Convert the sermon series into a weekend seminar or week long revival so it can be used again.

7. Publish the series on
YouTube so that the general public can have access to the information as well.

8. Convert the notes from the sermon series into a booklet that can be mass produced and distributed widely.

Though creating a strong series of sermons can be a lot of work, by using the series in other ways besides the original intent, it can be well worth the effort.

If a guest minister or lay preacher only has to fill the pulpit from time to time, then each sermon might be independent of the others. But when a person becomes part of a pastoral leadership team and begins to preach on a more regular basis, then it at some point that individual will end up either preaching an entire sermon series or preach one sermon in a series that the rest of the team is helping to preach. Therefore, understanding the value of using a sermon series is important.

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

Holding Onto the Vision

This is a sermon written by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett and preached at Resurrection Baptist Church (Montpelier, VT) on April 15, 2012 and at Faith Community Church (Barre, VT) on April 22, 2012. It is part two of a three part series on the Old Testament book of Habakkuk.

Introduction:
Habakkuk was a little known prophet who lived about 700 years before Christ. He would have served as a prophet about the same time as the prophet Jeremiah, who was more well-known. This was a time in which the nation of Israel was in midst of being destroyed, mostly due to their unwillingness to serve the Lord wholeheartedly. It was a period of general deterioration of religious principles and conviction. Personal relationship with God had reached a new low in their culture. Our modern culture has a lot of similarities to Habakkuk’s day, which is why we should study this small book that hardly anyone reads.

Scripture Text: Habakkuk 2:1-4, 14-16, 18-20
1
I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the lookout tower. I will watch to see what He will say to me and what I should reply about my complaint. 2 The LORD answered me: Write down this vision; clearly inscribe it on tablets so one may easily read it. 3 For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it testifies about the end and will not lie. Though it delays, wait for it, since it will certainly come and not be late. 4 Look, his ego is inflated; he is without integrity. But the righteous one will live by his faith. 14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD’s glory, as the waters cover the sea. 18 What use is a carved idol after its craftsman carves it? It is only a cast image, a teacher of lies. For the one who crafts its shape trusts in it and makes idols that cannot speak. 19 Woe to him who says to wood: Wake up! or to mute stone: Come alive! Can it teach? Look! It may be plated with gold and silver, yet there is no breath in it at all. 20 But the LORD is in His holy temple; let everyone on earth be silent in His presence. (HCSB)

Explanation of Each Verse:

Verse 1 - I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the lookout tower. I will watch to see what He will say to me and what I should reply about my complaint.
             Habakkuk poured out his heart to God over the complex problems he saw around him and then he waited for God to respond. Habakkuk did not have a casual attitude toward waiting on the Lord, he was serious. The verse uses a military illustration to demonstrate the clarity of focus that Habakkuk had while he waited on God. He was like a guard on duty watching earnestly to see what would happen. Even in the midst of all the struggles he saw around him, he had faith that God was going to do something, even though he did not know what that something would be.
             We can learn a lot from Habakkuk’s attitude. When we cry out to God and he does not respond as quickly as we want, or in the way we want, we must resist the temptation to give up on our faith and stop trusting. We must remain diligent in believing that God will respond, in the right way and right time. We must continue to wait on the Lord. Waiting on God is not idle time to do nothing. Waiting on God involves spending time in His Word and in prayer seeking answers from Him. It also involves being with God’s people so we can get godly advice from them.
             A key component to waiting on the Lord is to be watchful. We must have faith that something will happen and then be watching for it so that we do not miss it. Only the Lord knows how many times we missed something big that He wanted to do.

Verse 2 - The LORD answered me: Write down this vision; clearly inscribe it on tablets so one may easily read it.
             When the Lord responded to Habakkuk, He told him to write down what was said so everyone could read it. It was common practice in those days to place public notices at key crossroads or at the gates of a city so everyone could read them. These notices were written with large letters so a person rushing by could still read it. Though God often remains silent longer than we would like Him to, when He does respond, He usually does it in ways that everyone can see. Remember when God told Noah to build an ark to save his family from a worldwide flood? But God waited 120 years to send the rain. But when it came, no one missed it! Remember when Joshua and the Israelites marched around the walls of Jericho for a week, but when the walls finally fell down, it got everyone’s attention. Remember how when Jesus walked the earth, He performed miracles that astounded the crowds and no could deny were from God.
             God may work behind the scenes for weeks, months, or even years, but when He is ready to display His work, it will be very hard to miss! In fact, the only people who will miss God’s activities are those who have become so wrapped up in the world that they are no longer paying attention to God.

Verse 3 - For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it testifies about the end and will not lie. Though it delays, wait for it, since it will certainly come and not be late.
             Though God wanted everyone to know what He was going to do, God also made it clear that it would not happen until the time was right. Despite Habakkuk’s deep burden, God still made him wait until the timing was right.
             Sometimes God puts a burden for something in our hearts, and we know clearly that it is from Him, but the timing is not yet right and we have to wait. As time passes, it is tempting to let the vision begin to fade, or even forget about it completely. We must not let that happen. If it is really a vision from God, then it will certainly come to pass. We must cling to the clear visions that God has put on our hearts and believe that when the time is right, they will happen.

Verse 4 - Look, his ego is inflated; he is without integrity. But the righteous one will live by his faith.
             Verse four can be hard to understand unless we remember what God said in chapter one. In Habakkuk chapter 1 God explained how He was going to use the Chaldeans, an evil and treacherous people, as a tool for furthering His Kingdom work. Habakkuk struggled with this idea because the Chaldeans were such a terrible group of people. It was hard to understand how God could use them to accomplish part of God’s overall plan. We must remember that God can and does use all things to accomplish His ultimate purposes.
             The Chaldeans arrogantly thought they were the ones running the show, when really it had been God’s plan all along. Even now there are many groups around the world that do terrible evil. They think they are in charge of  their little sphere of influence. But they are only pawns in a much larger plan that God is working out for His ultimate good purpose.
             Like the Chaldeans, we often think we are in charge and the fulfillment of our God given dreams depend solely on us. But God is the one who is in charge and He will decide when, where and how His vision for our lives will be fulfilled. We must learn to live by faith, trusting that God knows what He is doing. Living by faith means holding true to the visions God has put in our hearts even when it seems like God has forgotten us or like the bad guys are winning. This can be a real challenge, but the rewards for living by faith are so rich that they cannot really be described, they can only be experienced. 

Verse 14 - For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD’s glory, as the waters cover the sea.
             Just as we cannot miss the ocean when we drive by, those with eyes to see and ears to hear cannot miss what God is doing. Though the wicked may think they are in charge, anyone who is filled with the Spirit and living by faith knows better. Everywhere those who live by faith look, they see evidence of the Lord’s power and might. Someone said, “Those who leave everything in God’s hands, will see God’s hands in everything.” This takes great faith, but it also relieves a great deal of stress.

Verse 18 - What use is a carved idol after its craftsman carves it? It is only a cast image, a teacher of lies. For the one who crafts its shape trusts in it and makes idols that cannot speak.
             The people around the Jews loved to make up their own gods. They would spend great amounts of money to have someone carve a fancy statue out of wood or sculpt one out of stone. At first, the person who makes an idol knows it is fake, after all, he is the one who made it. But then he gets impressed with his own abilities to make such a pretty piece of art and in time he forgets it is just a chunk of wood or stone. He begins to trust in it, even though it has no power to help him and cannot give answers to any problems in life.
             We may not carve physical idols, but we do carve out ideas and attitudes that we know do not come from the Lord. At first we struggle inwardly because we know the idea is not from the Lord, but in time we become comfortable with it. We replace God’s ideas with our own and begin to trust in our own wisdom. Though this is tempting, there is no lasting power to be found in our own ideas.

Verse 19 - Woe to him who says to wood: Wake up! or to mute stone: Come alive! Can it teach? Look! It may be plated with gold and silver, yet there is no breath in it at all.
             When the idols of old did not help people, instead of abandoning them, they spoke to them even more. They tried to make them prettier by covering them in gold and silver. But none of that helped because it was just a chunk of wood or stone!
             When we realize that some of our ideas are not from God, we should abandon them and cling to the visions that God has placed in our hearts. But our pride often gets in the way and we try instead to make our own ideas look better. We work hard to convince ourselves that we are smarter than God, knowing all along we are not.

Verse 20 - But the LORD is in His holy temple; let everyone on earth be silent in His presence.
             The Lord is not in the false idols carved by men, no matter how pretty we make them look. The Lord is also not in the ideas and methods of our modern world, no matter how “rational” and “sophisticated” we make them sound. Though we tend to get focused on our own ideas and the world’s philosophies, what we need to do is focus on the Lord. We need to stop making such a big deal about ourselves and make much of Jesus instead.
             Remember, in Habakkuk’s day, the temple was a physical building where the people worshipped the Lord. In our modern times the “temple” of the Holy Spirit is our bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Even in times in which it seems like God is silent, He is present in the temple of our bodies. He has not gone anywhere. God is ready to fill us with His Spirit and empower us for His service anytime we are willing to stop, listen, and respond to Him.

Conclusion:
             When God puts a vision in our spirit, we must cling to it no matter how long it takes to fulfill.
             Despite what we observe around us, God is always at work behind the scenes in our lives.
             We must have faith to trust Him while we wait on Him to bring about the dreams He has given us.
We must not get sidetracked by the world’s philosophies or ideas, but stay focused on the Lord while we wait for His plans to happen.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

How to Deliver a Strong Sermon

Many sermons with good content are less effective than they could be because of poor delivery. Once the sermon is prepared, the preacher’s work is not yet complete. Additional effort must be expended to think of ways to deliver that sermon so that it catches the attention of the congregation. Though nothing can replace the power of the Holy Spirit, good rhetorical skills are important for effective preaching.

When considering ways to keep the audience’s attention, preachers would do well to realize people learn in different ways and what helps one person learn may not help another. In a classroom teaching environment, there are dozens of teaching methods that might be used. In the church setting in which a sermon is normally delivered, there may be fewer options available, but variety can still be effectively utilized.

Some people are auditory learners. These learners listen carefully and comprehend the spoken word easily. One might say their motto is “tell me.” These are the learners who gain the most from a traditional sermon that is delivered via lecture method.

Some people are visual learners. These learners rely on pictures to help them learn. One might say their motto is “show me.” They will enjoy a graph, diagram, chart, or other such visual aids that help them “see” what is being talked about. These are the learners who gain the most when a preacher uses a power point presentation, provides a handout, or uses an object lesson as a part of his sermon.

Some people are kinesthetic learners. There are the learners who need to do something physically. One might say their motto is “let me do it.” They want to get out of their seat and take part in the learning experience. These are the learners who gain the most when asked to give a testimony or sing a piece of special music that illustrates the truth of the sermon. They also learn more when the preacher asks the congregation a question for which he wants some type of actual response (i.e.: verbal answers, clap, saying “Amen,” etc), or when the congregation quotes something together. They are often more moved by some of the liturgical aspects of worship, such as taking communion or lighting candles. They need to “experience” something that drives home the point of the sermon.

As the preacher moves from the study of the text to logistics of how the sermon will be delivered, the following principles can be helpful:

1. A well delivered sermon will have a strong central thesis that can be easily communicated to the audience. That thesis should be communicated early and often using a variety of ways so that auditory, visual and kinesthetic learners can all understand it.

2. A well delivered sermon will include facts, dates, figures or other objective points of information that can be verified by others. This gives credibility to the sermon and shows that the preacher knows his subject well. Document those sources if it is appropriate. These can be passed out in printed form, or included in a power point presentation.

3. A well delivered sermon only uses sources that are reliable. Avoid using commentaries or study Bibles that are known to contain incorrect material or poor translation/interpretation techniques. Individuals in the congregation may know more than the preacher realized and stop listening if they perceive he is using inaccurate materials to make his points.

4. A well delivered sermon has a good flow of logic without huge gaps in thinking. The congregation should be able to follow along the minister’s flow of thought without too much difficulty.

5. A well delivered sermon uses body language and tone of voice to project the right message at the right time.

6. A well delivered sermon is articulated clearly and the words are pronounced correctly. Otherwise the audience will tend to focus more on the lack or articulation or poor pronunciation instead of the point that is being made. They may even conclude the speaker does not know the subject matter very well that has serious long term implications for a preacher.

7. A well delivered sermon shows genuine emotion in appropriate ways and at appropriate times.

8. A well delivered sermon has been practiced out loud before being preached to others. Even though the sermon may change some during the actual presentation, hearing the words spoken will make the preacher more confident. It will also help determine the length of the sermon and adjustments can be made beforehand if needed.

A key concept to remember when preaching to adults is that they want to know “WHY SHOULD IT MATTER TO ME?” Often sermons contain theological truths but fail to explain why that truth is relevant in daily life. A well delivered sermon seeks to think of ways to make the truth come alive for daily living. Delivering a sermon is often as hard as preparing the sermon. But when a good sermon is delivered well, it can be life-changing for the hearers. Therefore, it is worth the extra effort to deliver the sermon well.

This material is adapted from a chapter in the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Examples of Good and Bad Hospital Visits

In a previous blog I mentioned the importance of lay people serving alongside their pastors in offering pastoral care to church members by making hospital visits to members in the congregation. While this kind of teamwork is important in churches of all sizes, it is even more vital in smaller churches where the pastors may work second jobs in addition to serving their churches. In smaller churches where pastors are likely to have additional jobs, it is unlikely that those pastors will have the time to make all the hospital visits that are needed, which is why teamwork with lay people is so important.

Though I have written about this issue before, I realize that different people learn in different ways. Therefore, I thought it would be fun to give two brief scenarios of hospital visits. They are both obviously oversimplified and a real visit would probably entail more, but I am simply trying to use these scenarios to help make some points about effective hospital visits. One scenario below demonstrates how an effective visit might look. The other demonstrates now NOT to make hospital visits. Though the two scenarios below are made up, they are based on parts of actual visits I have observed over the years. Enjoy reading it and I hope they make the points in a way that is fun to learn and easy to understand.

A deacon or lay person making an effective hospital visit might have a conversation something like this.

Visitor: Hello, Brother Smith. I wanted to stop in and say hello for a minute and pray with you. Is that okay?

Patient: Yes, please do. I have been so lonely and worried while I’ve been in the hospital and I really need the prayer.

Visitor: We have been praying for you at church.

Patient: Thank you. I received the lovely flowers from the Sunday School class, which really made my day.

Visitor: Is there anything we can do at the house for you while you are in the hospital? I can send one of the teenage boys by to cut the grass and my wife can collect the mail and newspapers for you if you would like us to.

Patient: The grass was pretty high when the ambulance brought me to the hospital. If one of the boys cut the grass, it would be wonderful. My cousin is collecting the mail and papers for me, but thanks for offering.

Visitor: Would you like me to read you a scripture before I pray for you?

Patient: Yes, that would be a blessing.

Visitor: Do you have a favorite scripture you want me to read?

Patient: I always feel comforted when I hear Psalm 23; how about that one?

Visitor: Okay, and then I’ll say a prayer for you and let you rest.

Patient: Thanks so much for coming by.


A deacon or lay person making an ineffective hospital visit might have a conversation like this.

Visitor: Hello, Brother Smith. I wanted to stop in and see if you were going to make it. I heard you were real bad off.

Patient: Ah, yes, it has been a rough few days.

Visitor: From what the ladies said at church, the doctors do not give you much hope.

Patient: Well, they have said that my chances are not as good as they had hoped.

Visitor: You know my cousin Tom had the same thing and he suffered for months and months before he finally died. But he was a Christian so we knew he went to heaven, so it was okay.

Patient: Well, I am a Christian; I came to know the Lord ten years ago, so I guess I will be okay if I do not make it.

Visitor: Well, I hope you are a Christian. But if you have ever doubted it, now would be the time to make it right. Can I share the Romans Road with you?

Patient: Well, I guess, but I am kind of tired; maybe you can come back later.

Visitor: Don’t you want to hear the Gospel? It’s what you need most of all, especially if you are doubting your faith.

Patient: I do not doubt my faith, but I am worried about how my wife and kids will get by if I die.

Visitor: I am sure they can get welfare; the state will not let them starve.

Patient: Ah . . . . , well . . . ., I guess that’s reassuring. Thanks so much for coming by. I think I need to rest now.

Visitor: Okay, well, it was good to see you, and I will tell everyone all about your situation so they will know just how bad it is. That way they can pray better about it.

For further reflection: What made the first scenario more effective than the second one? Read through the second scenario again. How many things are wrong with that visit? What could have been done differently to make the second scenario more effective?

The above is an excerpt from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett. The book contains six easy to use lessons to teach lay people to work as a team with their pastor. Though the book is designed specifically for bivocational pastors, many fully funded pastors and many lay people are finding it equally helpful.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Defining Worship

Think about each of these statements and contemplate whether they are true, false, or somewhere in between:
             The best place to worship God is in church.
             I feel close to God when I am in church.
             I never understand the lesson at church.
             The music at church helps me focus on God.
             I feel comfortable inviting my friends to church.
             I like a church service that is entertaining.
             Going to church helps me make better choices all week.

People go to church for a lot of different reasons, some of them are:
             To be with our friends.
             To learn about God.
             To help us know how to make better choices.
             To pray about something that is bothering us.
             To sing songs to the Lord.
             To feel God around us or in us.
             While these all may be valid reasons for going to church, another reason that should always be on our list is to worship God. Sometimes all of the other reasons crowd out worship and we must be intentional about not letting that happen.

If worship is so important, what exactly is it?
The dictionary says worship is:
             Treating somebody or something as deity and showing respect to that person or thing by engaging in acts of prayer and devotion.
             To love, admire, or respect somebody or something greatly and be willing to follow or commit to that thing or person.
             To take part in religious rites as a way to show adoration, devotion, and respect for a deity.

Watch this short video of another person’s idea of what worship is:
http://youtu.be/kMwDLHkg2EQ


Worship can be hard to define because there are so many different aspects of worship. For example:
             Worship is something we DO. Think about all the different kinds of things do we do when we worship.
             Worship is something we FEEL. Think about all the different emotions we feel when we worship.
             Worship is something that CHANGES us. Think about the all the different ways worship has changed us.
             Most of us only experience brief moments of worship from time to time.
             But when we have those moments, it is a wonderful experience that makes our lives better.
             If we had more worship experiences, and they lasted longer, our lives would be happier and less stressful.

We all have our opinions about what worship is. But how does God describe worship?

Worship often involves going.
             Genesis 22:5 - Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there to worship; then we’ll come back to you.”
Exodus 8:1 - Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and tell him: This is what Yahweh says: Let My people go, so that they may worship Me.

             1 Samuel 1:3 - This man would go up from his town every year to worship and to sacrifice to the LORD of Hosts at Shiloh…
             Though we can worship the Lord anytime and anywhere, we are often so busy doing our own thing that we forget to worship. Therefore, getting away from our regular environment and going somewhere else can break us out of our routine and help us worship the Lord better. That is why we often “go” to church to worship. It is not that we cannot worship in our homes, or on the lake or in the woods; it is just that we rarely do. We tend to get absorbed in what we are doing and forget to worship unless we are in a place that in our minds and hearts we identify as a “sacred” place.

Worship often involves our bodies
             Exodus 34:8 - Moses immediately bowed down to the ground and worshiped.
             Nehemiah 8:6 - Ezra praised the LORD, the great God, and with their hands uplifted all the people said, “Amen, Amen!” ….and worshiped the LORD …
             Some people kneel (bow down) when they pray.
             Some people stand when the worship, especially if they are singing.
             Some people raise their hands when they pray or sing.
             People do not have to kneel, stand, or raise their hands to worship, but these things do help many people worship better. Physical involvement helps many of us stay focused on the experience. Though it is hard to understand why, many people feel the Lord more if they let their whole body get into the worship. For some people, using their whole body in worship is also a way to symbolically give themselves to the Lord more completely.
             However, it is also important to remember that the Lord is more interested in the posture of our hearts than He is the posture of our bodies, so we should all make sure our heart is right with God when we worship. If our bodies remain still but our hearts are stirred, then we will have a powerful worship experience. But if we see someone else who seems to be more physically involved in worship than we are, we will understand why.

Worship often involves our voice.
             Psalm 66:4 - All the earth will worship You and sing praise to You. They will sing praise to Your name.”
             Hebrews 5:7- During His earthly life, He offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the One who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.
             1 Timothy 4:13 - Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of scripture, exhortation, and teaching.
             We worship when we sing songs to the Lord out loud.
             We worship when we pray out loud.
             We worship when we read scriptures out loud.
             We worship when we explain the Bible to someone else out loud.
             Just as going somewhere special to worship helps us stay focused, or using our bodies to worship helps us to feel God more strongly, using our voice helps us verbalize what we are feeling and also helps those around us who may not be believers understand what is happening. Also, if we only do these things in our minds, some of us struggle with day dreaming or get distracted in some other way. This does not mean that we cannot worship by singing, praying or reading the Bible silently; it just means that we have to try harder to focus. Some people can have very powerful worship experiences by sitting silently and thinking about the Lord, but that is harder for other people.

Regardless of how whether we stay where we are, or go someone special, whether we use our bodies or not, or our voices or not, we must always remember that real worship is focused on God, not us.
             Psalm 29:2 - Give to Yahweh (God) the glory due His name; worship Yahweh in the splendor of His holiness.
             God is the one who should be gloried (praised, honored, uplifted) in worship, not us. If we were honest, we would have to admit that sometimes we try to bring attention to ourselves when we are in church. Take a moment and think of some ways we have seen this happen. What we should be doing is focusing all the attention toward the Lord. Take a moment and think of some ways we can keep our worship focused on God?

Worship often involves receiving a blessing
             Exodus 23:25 - Worship the LORD your God, and He will bless your bread and your water (daily life).
             Though worship is focused on God, not us, when we worship the Lord, we are always blessed (made happy) by it. Take a moment to think about some of the blessings God has given us when we worshipped Him.

Worship involves making a choice.
             Joshua 24:15 - But if it doesn’t please you to worship Yahweh, choose for yourselves today the one you will worship: the gods your fathers worshiped beyond the Euphrates River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. As for me and my family, we will worship Yahweh.
             No one can force another person to worship. Our parents, or some other authority, may force us to go to church, and we may outwardly go through all the motions, but true worship only happens if we want it to. We must decide if we will follow the Lord. Then we must decide if we will worship Him. We must decide each day if we will have a time of private worship through Bible reading, prayer and music. We must decide each time the church meets if we will show up and if we will come ready to worship or just pretend by going through the motions. What choice about worship will we make today?