Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Black Friday Commitment - Guest Post by Phil Wilkes

Here is something I want Christians to think about. Last weekend millions of people collected all the sales flyers and mapped out the stores they wanted to go to on Black Friday. They thought strategically about what order they would go to those stores. They may have clipped some coupons and then downloaded other coupons on their phones. They stood in line for hours, showing up before the store even opened.  Once the doors opened they pushed and shoved their way through to get what they wanted. Many charged what they purchased on credit cards and will be paying for it well into 2017 or beyond. All this preparing for the sales, standing outside in cold weather for hours, buying things most could not afford was all for the sole purpose of accumulating material possessions that for the most part will be broken, forgotten or replaced in a matter of weeks or months. None it it will last a lifetime and none of it will impact eternity.   

What would happen if Christians displayed that same fervency as we prepared for church each week?  What if we prayed for the service all week? We could use the weekly prayer guide or the previous week's bulletin to pray for people and their requests. What if we went to bed early so we could get a good nights sleep so we could get up early and spend time praying for the the service? What if we determined the weather would never be an obstacle to our attending worship? What if we joyfully brought our tithe to church to support God's work? Imagine what church would be like!

Imagine. Dream. Pray. Talk about it with others. Then determine to make it happen! We control our level of commitment to the Lord. Surely we can be as committed to Him and His church as we are to Black Friday shopping.

Rev. Phil Wilkes is the pastor of New Colony Baptist Church, Billerica, MA, and a member of the Board of Directors for the Baptist Convention of New England.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Six Key Elements of Powerful Sermons

In my role as a denominational administrator I get to hear a lot of sermons from a lot of different pastors. Some sermons are powerful, even life changing. Other sermons …. ah …. well …. to be honest, lack a little on the potency side. While I prefer some delivery styles over others, I try hard to look beyond stylistic differences, instead seeking what really makes some sermons more powerful than others. Over the years I have observed six elements that seem to make sermons stronger.

1.    Remember it is a sermon not a seminary paper.
Far too many sermons I’ve heard were basically running commentaries of everything the pastor had read about the verses he was preaching on. While study is important, the congregation does not need to hear five quotes from five theologians on each verse in the text. Sermons should give enough background to set the context but the focus should be on what the Word actually says, not on what a bunch of scholars 500 years ago think it said. Save that stuff for seminary papers and just give the congregation the Word.

2.    Make sure your illustrations actually make the point.
Jesus often used illustrations in His sermons and we should too. Illustrations help the audience connect the Word with real life. But we need to make sure our illustrations actually reinforce the point we are trying to make. Too often preachers tell interesting stories, or share funny jokes, but the listeners are confused about how it connects to the text. While this might be entertaining, it distracts from the Word instead of enhancing the Word.

3.    Keep the length of the text reasonable
I am not a fan of “sermonettes” that sound more like feel good devotional thoughts than meaty sermons one can wrestle with all week long. But I am also not a fan of sermons that are so long that no reasonable person can remain focused on what is being taught. On more than one occasion I’ve sat through verse by verse style sermons that covered an entire chapter of the Bible. A verse by verse exposition of 25-30 verses is just too much for one sermon. In most situations, 4-7 verses are all people can handle at a time. Honestly, it is all most preachers can handle well in one setting. Instead of preaching on a whole chapter at once, break those 30 verses up and make it a series. Congregations will be able to understand and apply the Word more effectively if preachers refrain from dropping the whole truckload at one time.

4.    Make your main point early.
I once listened to a young energetic pastor preach for 42 minutes (yes, I timed him!) before he made his first point. He gave us a lot of context, read a lot of quotes from people about what the passage meant, told a couple of stories of things that had happened to him that week, which I am still trying to figure out how they related to the text, and prayed a long pastoral prayer over the scripture that seemed more poetic than spiritual. By the time he made his first point, 42 minutes into the sermon, my mind had already checked out. Get to the point quickly, then reinforce your point with the rest of the text, tell us what to do with your point, wrap up your point, give us a chance to consider the personal implications of your point and then sit down.
5.    Occasionally use a short sermon.
As I stated in point three, I am not really a fan of sermonettes. But if the best part of your sermon is the first ten minutes, or the last ten minutes, perhaps that is all you should have preached. If what you really need to say about a text produces a shorter than normal sermon, go for it! Sometimes I feel like a pastor had one good thing to say but didn’t think that was long enough so he added a lot of filler to make himself feel better. Trust me, the filler might have made the pastor feel better but it did not make the sermon better. In fact, it probably made it weaker. People can tell filler when they hear it. Though a steady stream of ten minute sermons may not be appropriate, having one every so often because that is all that is required can be more powerful than we think. My Christmas Eve sermons rarely lasted longer than 10-12 minutes because I knew that the vast majority of the people already knew the context and details, after all, it was the same story every year. I would try to focus on one aspect of the story that would make some fresh point people might not have considered before. People always seemed moved by them and not once did anyone complain that the sermon was too short.

6.    Make sure your preaching is genuinely gospel centered.
The current buzzword in the church growth universe is “gospel centered.” We hear all about gospel centered churches, gospel centered missions, gospel centered discipleship and gospel centered sermons. Though different people define that term in different ways, it must be in our church literature if we want to be part of the cool crowd. Sadly, many preachers who claim to preach gospel centered sermons are not living up to their claim. Preaching for 40 minutes about some other topic and then taking 90 seconds at the end of the sermon to mention Jesus is not being gospel centered. If we want to call ourselves gospel centered, then the gospel must be woven through the entire sermon. That does not mean we use the word “gospel” frequently during the sermon, it means we weave the redemptive message of Christ through the entire sermon. It means we offer the hope of reconciliation with a holy God throughout the sermon. The gospel should not just be a “tag on” to the end of our sermons. It must be the central element of our preaching.

While I am sure there are many other elements of powerful preaching, keeping these six ideas in mind is a great start.


Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Racism: Alive and Well Around the World

Racism. It is an ugly word. It is a hard thing to overcome. One challenge when talking about racism is that people’s defenses immediately go up and they struggle to hear what the other side is really saying.

A few years ago I witnessed a terrible experience of racism. I was literally trapped in the middle of it. It was a painful experience. My wife and I were on a plane headed to Israel. Regretfully we were not seated together. I was in a middle seat between an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man and an Arab businessman. The Jewish man engaged me in conversation and asked if I was Jewish and if I spoke Hebrew. I told him I was Christian and only knew English. Undeterred, the Jewish man asked all about where I lived, my family, and why I was visiting Israel. The other man made lots of snorts and mumblings at the various things the Jewish man had to say and he became more and more agitated. He put his jacket over armrest so that it laid across my lap. He leaned over my armrest into my space mumbling all about how bad Jews were. He stretched one leg out so that it was in front of me most of the trip. I tried to engage him in conversation the same way that I did the Jewish man, but he simply turned away. His sense of frustration grew with each hour of the plane ride, as did his constant efforts to make the trip uncomfortable for everyone in the row. Thinking that such displays of racism were only for wild fringe elements of groups like ISIS, I was disappointed to see it from a well-dressed businessman in public.

The situation changed once we got off the plane and we were in “Jewish territory.” We were met by our Jewish guide and he led us around the nation for the next five days. At every opportunity he bashed the Arabs and told us how much they had damaged his nation. At one point his racial prejudice became so great that several members of the group could no longer remain silent and asked him to refrain from making racist comments about Arabs. He managed to hold them back for the afternoon, but the next day he was right back at his anti-Arab conversation. He did not even seem to be aware of how racist he was. It was too ingrained within him.

Neither “side” had the corner on racism. Both sides clearly hated each other. And that hatred was so ingrained in both sides that neither could see their own part in it. It was sad to see how common racism is in the Promised Land, the land where Christ walked, lived, preached, died and rose again to free us from the chains of such sin. As I pray for the peace of Jerusalem, I pray for those who live in that land to see each other as people created in the image of God and to treat each other accordingly. In light of all that has been happening in our own nation the last few months, I have also been praying for America as well. Though we have made great progress, America clearly still has a very long way to go. Join me in asking God to help each of us eliminate racism both in our lives and from across our land.

Lord, fill us with love for each other and help us see beyond our ethnicity to find the special creation we all are in the eyes of God. Lord, bring peace to Jerusalem and bring peace to America. Let it begin in me. Amen.

You can read about Terry’s entire trip to Israel in a devotional guide he wrote called:  Touching the Footprints of Jesus. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Paul's Detour - Acts 16:16-34

Acts 16:16-34 tells the story of Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul planned to revisit all the places he had previously started churches at. God sent him a supernatural vision that told him to go to Macedonia instead. Paul obeyed the vision, changed his plans, and ended up in Philippi, which was a key city in Macedonia. There he met a business woman named Lydia, who became a Christian because of Paul’s ministry. Paul stayed in Lydia’s home and shared Christ with anyone in town who would listen. A closer look at each verse reveals some powerful truths.

Verse 16 - Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit of prediction and made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling.
Paul and Silas were on their way to pray when they encountered a demon possessed slave girl. This slave girl could tell the future through the demon that possessed her. The owners of this slave girl made a lot of money from her fortune telling. When people play with the occult, they open themselves up to demonic attack. Though the occult may at first seem to give a person special power, in reality it makes a person a slave to demonic power. Demons do not care about the people they possess. They only care about power and control.

Verse 17 - As she followed us she cried out, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.”
This demon knew Paul was a man of God. It is fascinating that demons know the truth! Even though demons know the truth intellectually, they have refused to accept the impact of the truth. We must remember what the Apostle James said in James 2:19 - You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder.

Verse 18 - And she did this for many days. But Paul was greatly aggravated, and turning to the spirit, said, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out right away.
The demon possessed slave girl followed Paul and his group around for days telling everyone who Paul was. The Bible says that Paul became aggravated about this and cast the demon out of the girl. The Greek word for “aggravated” is diaponetheis. The word can also mean “burdened.” Paul was not as much aggravated at the girl herself as he was burdened about her situation. She was after all demon possessed! When we minister to people whose lives are messed up by sin, we must be careful not to get aggravated at the person. Instead, we should be burdened for how the sins that bind them are slowly destroying their lives. We should be praying for God to deliver them from the chains that bind them. Paul decided to do something to help this young lady. Using the power of Christ, he commanded that the demon leave the girl. Notice he did not use his own power, but the power of Christ. The demon had to obey because Jesus Christ is on the throne and Satan is just a pretender. Satan only has power if we let him have it. Jesus’s power triumphed over Satan on the Cross! But we often let Satan convince us otherwise.

Verse 19 - When her owners saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. 
The slave owners did not care if the girl was freed from the spiritual chains that bound her. All they cared about was money. When they realized they would not be able to exploit the girl any longer, they got very upset. What we get upset about reveals a lot!

Verses 20-21 - They said, "These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews, and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice.”
The slave owners distorted the truth. They said Paul was disturbing the city when all he had done was help a desperate little girl. People should have been rejoicing at this good deed, instead they called good, evil, and attacked the good doers. Notice they used a racial slur, “They are Jews.” Racism has been used to justify many sins throughout the ages. Notice they appealed to their customs and their laws. Their customs and laws allowed little girls to be enslaved for the profit of others. Whenever our customs and laws create situations where one person can be wrongfully exploited by another, it is time to chance those customs and laws!

Verse 23 - After they had inflicted many blows on them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to keep them securely guarded.
Paul and Silas were arrested, beaten up and thrown in jail. The jailer was specifically told to guard them “securely,” which meant to put them in the maximum security section of jail. The world’s reaction to the things of God sometime seems severe. But remember, Satan was fueling this response because he had lost a major battle in the spiritual war. Remember what Paul said in Ephesians 6:12 For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness and the spiritual forces of evil.

Verse 25 - About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
Paul and Silas had been unjustly beaten by a mob and then chained to the floor in the maximum security section of the jail. Their response to their situation was praying and singing praise to God! How do we respond when we are treated unjustly?
Notice that the other prisoners were listening! Other people notice how Christians respond to unjust difficulties. We must resist the urge to be complainers and instead learn to use the power of prayer and praise in challenging situations.

Verse 26 - Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's chains came loose.
Though we might be tempted to think that the earthquake was caused by the terrible singing of Paul and Silas, it was actually caused by the POWER of their prayers and praise! Never underestimate the power of prayer and praise! When God’s people start praying and praising, the foundations of Satan’s deepest cells are shaken. When God’s people start praying and praising, closed doors of every kind are opened! When God’s people start praying and praising, the chains of every sin that binds us come loose! We need to be praying and praising God more, especially when we are treated unjustly.

Verse 27 - When the jailer woke up and saw the doors of the prison open, he drew his sword and was going to kill himself, since he thought the prisoners had escaped.
In those days, if a prisoner escaped, the jailer would be executed publicly. When the jailer saw the doors of the prison opened, he assumed all the prisoners had escaped and he decided to kill himself and get it over with. 

Verse 28 - But Paul called out in a loud voice, "Don't harm yourself, because all of us are here!”
Paul saw that the jailer was about to kill himself and called out to stop him. Paul had been beaten by a mob, arrested unjustly, chained to the floor of cold stone cell and yet he still cared about the jailer, whom most would have considered his enemy. How we treat our enemies says a lot about the kind of people we are.

Verse 30 - Then he escorted them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Notice the change in the jailer’s behavior. He had chained them to the floor but now he was “escorting” them out of the jail. When God gets a hold of our lives, we often begin to change our behaviors without anyone having to tell us to do it. But an outward change of behavior is not enough.  We must not just have a temporary change of outward behavior. We must experience an inward change of spiritual condition. We must be born again. The jailer asked the most important question that anyone can ask, “What must I do to be saved?” We are all sinners and because of our sin we all deserve to spend eternity in hell apart from God, family, friends and all that we hold dear.
Many people ask why a loving God sends people to hell. The answer is that God does NOT send people to hell. People send themselves to hell as a result of their own wrong choices. No one forces us to sin; we do that quite well all on our own.

Verse 31 - So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
Paul answers the jailer’s question by telling him to believe on the Lord Jesus. If we want to be saved from a dark eternity separated from God and all that we hold dear, then we must believe in Jesus. Believing in Jesus means believing that Jesus is who He said He was and trusting Him to guide us in our lives. Notice that Paul calls Jesus, “LORD Jesus.” A “lord” is a ruler that tells others what to do. But Jesus is not a cruel ruler who tells others to sacrifice while He sits in a castle living well. Jesus is the kind of ruler that gave Himself for those who follow Him. Jesus is the kind of ruler we WANT to follow. Believing in Jesus is more than just an intellectual acceptance of the historical Jesus. Believing in Jesus is allowing Jesus to become the Lord, or ruler, of our lives. If we want to be saved from a dark eternity in hell, we must believe Jesus is who He said He was AND we must allow Jesus to become the ruler of our lives. If we have not yet been saved, we should consider turning from our sin and placing our faith in Christ. We might express that through a prayer something like this:

Dear Lord, I know I am a sinner and I deserve to be separated for all of eternity from You and from all that I hold dear. But right now I turn from my sin and place all of my hope in You. I want You to be the Lord of my life and help me know how to live. With Your help, I will do my best to follow You and serve You for the rest of my life. Thank you Lord, Amen.

Verse 33 - He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized.
As soon as the jailer made this personal commitment to Christ, his life was changed. The jailer took Paul and Silas home and washed their wounds. What kind of jailer does this for his prisoners? The jailer and his entire family were baptized as an outward of expression of their new faith. Baptism is IMPORTANT! Far too many people have treated baptism as if it was just a sweet ritual that we should go through to make our grandmother happy. Baptism is a public declaration of our inner faith and a shout of praise goes up from the angels of heaven every time a person is baptized in the name of Jesus. If we have not yet been baptized, it’s time.

1. We are in a spiritual war against the forces of evil and should not be surprised when demonic forces oppose us and distort the truth.
2. There is power in prayer and praise that will overcome evil and give us strength to endure difficulties in life.
3. Outward behavioral change will only last if it comes from an inner spiritual transformation that begins with believing and following Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

4. Once we have had that inner transformation, we should be publicly baptized to proclaim that faith to the world.


Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at: