July 2003

A recipe for church extinction

July 25 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

A recipe for church extinction | Friday, July 25, 2003
  • Never, ever change. "The ways of the Primitive Baptists have not changed and probably never ever will," Blalock said. "I hope it won't anyway. They are deeply rooted and founded in the old ways, and they'll never change. We have no desire for change."

    Primitive Baptists believe "the old ways" of worship practice should be an accurate reflection of the first century church. So, if they can find no evidence of innovations such as a piano or organ in the early church, they assume they don't belong in churches of any other age.

  • Oppose innovation. Primitive Baptists consider innovations such as outreach programs and Sunday School to be "worldly" contaminants that should be avoided. "The things that the worldly people do are not appealing to the Primitive Baptists," Blalock said. "Other churches do things to entertain and draw in. They have breakfasts, cookouts, send the children off to Sunday School or another room. Not the Primitive Baptists. And we don't go for new Bibles. It's all the old King James Version."

    Choosing not to train up children in Sunday School and deciding not to "draw in" new members through intentional outreach activities or culturally relevant worship styles are obvious ingredients in a recipe for self-extinction.

  • Minimize education. The lack of Sunday School is not the only area in which education gets the short shrift among Primitive Baptists, where clergy are not expected to have any more theological education than the first disciples.

    In Blalock's words, "The preachers don't study nothing. Whatever is on his mind, and that is given by God, that's what they say. He will speak on that and he has nothing written down. I've heard them talk so fast you couldn't hardly listen that fast."

  • Downplay stewardship. Primitive Baptist clergy tend to be bi-vocational because the churches believe pastors should not be paid just as strongly as they believe money should not be collected for missions. "I've never seen a collection plate in a Primitive Baptist Church," said Blalock. "I don't think you can pay a man to preach."

    Primitive Baptists are not opposed to charitable giving, but do not believe the churches should set up organizational structures that require financial support.

  • Be satisfied. The churches' gradual demise is not a particular matter of concern for Primitive Baptists because they follow a strict brand of Calvinism, believing that God ordains who will be saved and who will be damned with no need for human intervention. The future of the church is likewise left in God's fore-ordaining hands.

    "I don't think the churches closing or the numbers being down bothers the Primitive Baptists that much," Blalock said. "I don't hear them saying that anyway, because what's coming is Primitive Baptist. We know it is all fixed. It is the way God would have it."

    I suspect I am not the only one who thinks that sitting on the sidelines and watching churches die (along with all the sinners they did not reach) is precisely not the way God would have it.

    Most other Baptists I know would strongly disagree with the Primitive Baptist approach to belief and polity. We should ask ourselves, however, whether our actual practice suggests that we are almost as averse to change, complacent about outreach, lacking in education, unconcerned about stewardship and satisfied with the status quo as our Primitive Baptist kin.

    If so, we could be well on the way down the same path to extinction, but without the comforting belief that God has predestined our demise.

  • Friday, July 25, 2003

    A recipe for church extinction

    By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

    A quick glance at the annual reports in almost any Baptist association's book of reports will reveal that many of our churches are clearly in decline.

    I'm not sure what strategy has brought them to that point, but I think we could learn something from the example of another group of churches that are not long for this world - the Primitive Baptists.

    There was a time, focused in the 1820's and 1830's, when the biggest controversy among Baptists was over the issue of missions and whether churches should form cooperative societies to support them.

    Anti-missions proponents argued that the first century church had no missionary societies collecting money for evangelistic efforts, so the 19th century church shouldn't have any, either.

    They shunned the missions movement, along with other ideas like teaching children in Sunday School and using musical instruments in the church, as liberalizing influences.

    Today, the North Carolina landscape is dotted here and there with Primitive Baptist church buildings, but very few of them hold regular services. Most have only a tiny handful of members, virtually all of them quite elderly.

    "Foot-washing" used to be a distinctive characteristic of Primitive Baptist worship, but now is rarely practiced because the few remaining members are often too disabled to carry the water and get on their knees to wash each other's feet.

    Raleigh's News and Observer recently published an interview with Ethel Blalock, an earnest lady from Stem who remains a staunch supporter of the Primitive Baptist movement. It is not my desire to criticize that dear lady who clearly loves her church and its ways. But, her straightforward comments explain a lot about why those churches - and others who follow their lead - are fast fading away.

    Here are some ingredients for insuring that a church has no future:

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    7/25/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments



    Stones or phones?

    July 25 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

    Stones or phones? | Friday, July 25, 2003

    Friday, July 25, 2003

    Stones or phones?

    By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

    Being heard is a wonderful thing.

    Several news networks recently reported on a project in strife-torn Northern Ireland that utilizes a network of mobile phones to help people be heard and thus to keep the peace.

    Northern Ireland has suffered hundreds of years of violence involving clashes between political/religious groups divided along Protestant and Catholic lines. A "Good Friday accord" signed five years ago was supposed to bring peace, but the country remains divided (in places, by a wall more than 30 feet high), and riots are still common, often sparked by rocks thrown over the wall.

    Community leaders on both sides have been encouraged to pick up a phone instead of a stone.

    In the western part of Belfast, where summertime marches celebrating 17th century Protestant victories commonly spark riots, the Springfield Community Development Project distributed mobile phones to workers on both sides of the towering wall, along with the phone numbers of counterparts on opposing sides.

    Since riots are often sparked by rumors of what is happening (or getting ready to happen) on the other side of the wall, phone holders are encouraged to call informed contacts across the wall when they hear rumors of threatened violence. Where the rumors prove untrue, phone holders can spread the word and calm the passions of those who were getting worked up for a response.

    And the system is working - not perfectly - but often enough to have cut the number of riots by more than 50 percent.

    Baptists, of course, also know something about division. While we are more prone to throw verbal barrages than literal bombs, the walls between us are very real, the pain of conflict is very present, and the rumors of uncertainty run rampant.

    Imagine the difference it could make if more of us were willing to talk to each other about a common future, rather than plotting and planning on the basis of rumor.

    North Carolina Baptists tried that for several years. Talking to each other instead of about each other had a significant impact on the way many Baptists saw and understood each other.

    We haven't talked as much lately, and that's made a difference, too.

    Who's willing to pick up the phone?

    Can you hear me now?

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    7/25/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments



    Family Bible Study lesson for Aug. 3: Confronting Crises

    July 25 2003 by Kim D. Shaver , Genesis 37:3-8, 23-28, 34-36

    Family Bible Study lesson for Aug. 3: Confronting Crises | Friday, July 25, 2003

    Friday, July 25, 2003

    Family Bible Study lesson for Aug. 3: Confronting Crises

    By Kim D. Shaver Genesis 37:3-8, 23-28, 34-36

    "When you can't trace God's hand, you can trust His heart..."

    Even when we can't understand the tragic and devastating circumstances God sometimes allows in our lives, we can trust that everything passing through His hand and into our lives ultimately is an expression of His love. We can trust God because His love for us was forever settled on the cross of Calvary. Not only does the cross demonstrate God's infinite love; the cross demonstrates God's ability to bring beautiful results from hideous beginnings. From the suffering and humiliation of Christ, God brought forth a fountain of grace and eternal life that is still flowing centuries later. The cross is God's exclamation mark proclaiming that our suffering is never meaningless or hopeless. God promises to "work together all things for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). God's purpose for all His children is that we be conformed into the likeness of His Son. You can be sure that whatever you are facing today, God can and will bring eternal glory and Christ-like character out of your circumstances as you choose to trust Him.

    Remember God has a Plan (Genesis 37:3-8) Other than the redemption story itself, no other Bible story so demonstrates God's providential working to bring blessing from tragedy than the story of Joseph. Joseph was one of the patriarch Jacob's 12 sons, from whom originated the 12 tribes of Israel. Joseph was obviously his father's favorite. Jacob demonstrated his favoritism by making a "richly ornamented robe" for Joseph. Already seething with jealousy at the sight of Joseph in his expensive garment, his brothers were pushed over the edge when Joseph shared a dream with them in which they were depicted as "bowing down" to him. "Do you intend to reign over us?" his brothers asked Joseph in disgust. Jealousy is now degenerating into embittered anger. Sin is clouding the horizon, setting the stage for tragedy.

    Persevere in Spite of Shattered Dreams (Genesis 37:23-28) Tragedy struck one day when Jacob sent Joseph out into the remote fields where his brothers were tending the family's flocks. When his older brothers saw Joseph coming in the distance, they plotted to kill him. One of the brothers, Reuben, talked the rest of the crowd out of this drastic measure, and instead they decided to strip Joseph of his robe and throw him into a deep pit. When a caravan of Ishmaelites came along, the brothers sold Joseph to them for 20 shekels of silver. The Ishmaelites took Joseph in chains to Egypt to be sold into slavery. Clearly, this is an example of a sin-inspired tragedy. It began with Jacob's sin of favoritism and was aggravated by Joseph's bad judgment and youthful pride in sharing his dream with his brothers. The jealousy of the brothers fomented into bitterness, murderous rage and cruelty.

    God does allow His children to suffer the consequences of sin in the world in general, and of specific sins against them and by them. However, He is always at work to accomplish good in His people's lives and move forward His kingdom purposes even through tragic circumstances of our own making.

    Acknowledge Grief (Genesis 37:34-36) Even before the caravan carrying Joseph into Egypt disappeared on the horizon, sin leads to more sin in this tragic plot. The brothers deceive their father and tell him Joseph is dead. They slaughter an innocent goat and dip Joseph's infamous robe in its blood. Taking the bloodstained robe to their father Jacob, they ask him if it belongs to Joseph. Jacob recognizes the now-ruined robe and said, "Some ferocious animal has devoured my son!" Jacob then tore his own robes in grief and became inconsolable.

    Now we see this crisis from Jacob's vantage point. We see that God is dealing with His called-out patriarch, who He had renamed Israel. Before his life-changing encounter with God, Jacob himself had deceived others many times, (including his own father in Genesis 27:35). Now, although he is blessed and called by God, Jacob is facing the consequences of his sins. "God disciplines those He loves" (Hebrews 12:16).

    Through a seemingly senseless situation, God is working to shape the characters and destinies of His beloved children.

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    7/25/2003 12:00:00 AM by Kim D. Shaver , Genesis 37:3-8, 23-28, 34-36 | with 0 comments



    Family Bible Study lesson for Aug. 10: Being Faithful

    July 25 2003 by Kim D. Shaver , Genesis 39:2-10, 19-23

    Family Bible Study lesson for Aug. 10: Being Faithful | Friday, July 25, 2003

    Friday, July 25, 2003

    Family Bible Study lesson for Aug. 10: Being Faithful

    By Kim D. Shaver Genesis 39:2-10, 19-23

    When last we left Joseph, he had been sold by his brothers to some merchants and was headed by caravan through the desert towards Egypt. Once arriving in Egypt, the merchants sold the teenager Joseph to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials, and Joseph worked as a slave for several years. He matured into a handsome, strong and capable young man.

    The drama that unfolds next will teach us about the faithfulness and overruling sovereignty of God. We will see also the faithfulness of Joseph to God in the face of extreme temptation.

    Remain Trustworthy (Genesis 39:2-6a) "The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master."

    What do you think of when you hear the word "prosperity"? Most of us think of the world's definition of prosperity, which suggests wealth, ease and good fortune. How could anyone experience prosperity as a slave in a foreign land among strangers? Yet Joseph was indeed prospered by God in this adversity. The passage states that Potiphar "saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did ... from that time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, and the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph..." Ultimately, we experience prosperity not because of what happens to us or where we are, but because of the prevailing presence of God in our lives.

    God was at work continually, causing Joseph to succeed in the work undertaken. This consistent success is described in Psalm 1:3. "He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." When we put the roots of our lives down deep into the Living Water, who is Jesus, then we will bear eternal fruit and continually experience the presence of God. This doesn't mean we will have a lack of hardship. Rather, it means that God will be with us to "bless the work of our hands" and give us inner peace and joy despite adversity.

    Resist Temptation (Genesis 39:6b-10) Joseph was such an able manager that Potiphar "entrusted to his care everything he owned." Joseph had earned the explicit trust of his master, and was enjoying a time of peace and well being. Perhaps Joseph was in what we would call "a comfort zone." Those who God intends to use mightily seldom get to stay long in such a comfortable place.

    Sure enough, conflict enters this complacent scene when Potiphar's beautiful wife "takes notice" of the handsome Joseph and invites him to come to bed with her. Joseph displays utmost integrity by refusing her, not tentatively - but with authority. He gives three reasons for refusing. First, doing so would violate the great trust Potiphar had placed in him. Second, such an action would be "wicked." In Egypt, morals were loose, but Joseph didn't fall into the trap of "when in Egypt, do as the Egyptians do." He might be miles and years away from his religious training, but he remained faithful to the commands of the Lord. Third, said Joseph, committing adultery with Potiphar's wife would be a "sin against God."

    Ultimately, every time we sin, we are offending a Holy God. King David understood this when he wrote in his Psalm of confession, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight" (Psalm 51:4). Joseph refused to betray the God of his fathers. He continually stood firm when it would have been far easier to give in, as Potiphar's wife "spoke to Joseph day after day," tempting him repeatedly. But wisely, Joseph refused to "even be with her."

    Sometimes, the only way to overcome temptation is to completely avoid the situation where temptation might occur.

    Recognize God's Faithfulness (Genesis 39:19-23) Potiphar's wife was unaccustomed to being spurned. She retaliated, telling Potiphar that Joseph had made advancements towards her. Joseph's master "burned with anger" and threw Joseph into prison on these slanderous charges.

    On the surface, it seems that Joseph fared worse for doing what was right. Most of us have experienced this harsh reality. Instead of taking the path of least resistance, we chose the harder right over the easier wrong. Then everything seems to fall apart, but God always has the final word and will reward those who are faithful. So it was with Joseph. Even in prison, "the Lord was with him and showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden and gave Joseph success in whatever he did."

    We serve a God who can prosper and bless us even in dark, cold and lonely places like prison.

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    7/25/2003 12:00:00 AM by Kim D. Shaver , Genesis 39:2-10, 19-23 | with 0 comments



    Family Bible Study lesson for Aug. 17: Acting Wisely

    July 25 2003 by Kim D. Shaver , Genesis 41:15-16, 25-28, 33-40

    Family Bible Study lesson for Aug. 17: Acting Wisely | Friday, July 25, 2003

    Friday, July 25, 2003

    Family Bible Study lesson for Aug. 17: Acting Wisely

    By Kim D. Shaver Genesis 41:15-16, 25-28, 33-40

    "I've been around the block a few times..."

    "I wasn't born yesterday..."

    "I can handle it..."

    These are just a few of the catch phrases we use to express the world's view of wisdom. The world views wisdom as a savvy competence that comes from experience, graduate degrees or the sheer power of our will and intellect.

    The Bible, however, clearly teaches that God is the only true source of wisdom. The Bible repeatedly warns against acquiring knowledge and information that is empty apart from God's enlightenment. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding," is the counsel of Proverbs 3:5. "Do not be wise in your own eyes ... in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths."

    In this lesson, Joseph displays such wisdom that even pagan Pharaoh perceives that his discernment comes from the one true living God. We can develop a lifestyle marked by godly wisdom that will cause others to look to the divine source of that wisdom. We can bring glory to God by displaying true wisdom in the marketplace, home and church.

    Acknowledge God as the Source of Wisdom (Genesis 41:15-16, 25-28) Things seemed to go from bad to worse for Joseph, who was enslaved in Egypt miles from home and then thrown into prison on false charges. But while in prison, Joseph continued to succeed because God was with him. While in prison, Joseph correctly interpreted the dreams of the king's cupbearer and baker. Later, Pharaoh had a dream that none of Egypt's wise men could interpret. The cupbearer remembered Joseph's talent for interpreting dreams, and Pharaoh sent for Joseph. In a matter of hours, God raised up Joseph from the dungeon to the throne room of the most powerful man on earth. As Joseph stood before Pharaoh, he was asked if he could interpret the mysterious dream. Joseph's answer is a timeless example for us. He replies, "I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires." In that response, Joseph revealed the complete inadequacy of human knowledge while acknowledging his dependence on God as the source of wisdom. How God blesses such a humble dependence on him!

    King Solomon, whose wisdom remains legendary in both religious and worldly realms centuries after his death, displayed humility in a similar way. As young Solomon assumed the throne following the death of his father King David, God gave him the opportunity to ask for anything he wanted. Solomon humbly replied, "Oh, Lord, I am just a child and hardly know when to come out or go in ... so give me a heart of wisdom to govern your people."

    As God rewarded the humility and dependence of Solomon, he also rewarded Joseph, providing an accurate interpretation of Pharaoh's dream. Joseph told Pharaoh that God was revealing seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine in Egypt.

    Act in Harmony with God's Plan (Genesis 41:33-36) True godly wisdom moves beyond theory and philosophy to a plan of action. Joseph offered a strategy to prepare for the coming crisis that was in harmony with God's plan. Joseph recommended that Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man to put in charge of the land of Egypt. And, Pharaoh should appoint commissioners to collect a fifth of Egypt's harvest, during the seven years of abundance, and store the grain under the authority of Pharaoh to be used during the seven years of famine.

    Carry out Responsibilities (Genesis 41:37-40) "The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. So Pharaoh asked them, 'Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?'" After making this declaration, Pharaoh appointed Joseph as second in command in Egypt. In effect, Joseph became the chief operating officer of the land. Joseph had made a dynamic impression on Pharaoh. Joseph stood out. He didn't stand out because of his superior intelligence or natural abilities. Joseph stood out because Pharaoh and all his officials, like Potiphar before them, recognized that God was with Joseph.

    While you and I are unlikely to have national authority, we too can "stand out" in our homes, churches, neighborhoods and workplaces as we seek wisdom from God and walk in that wisdom daily.

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    7/25/2003 12:00:00 AM by Kim D. Shaver , Genesis 41:15-16, 25-28, 33-40 | with 0 comments



    Formations lesson for Aug. 3: The Promises of God

    July 25 2003 by Tommy Bratton , Numbers 34

    Formations lesson for Aug. 3: The Promises of God | Friday, July 25, 2003

    Friday, July 25, 2003

    Formations lesson for Aug. 3: The Promises of God

    By Tommy Bratton Numbers 34

    "On Jordan's stormy banks I stand And cast a wishful eye To Canaan's fair and happy land Where my possessions lie. I am bound for the Promised Land, I am bound for the Promised Land; O who will come and go with me? I am bound for the Promised Land." (The Baptist Hymnal, 1991, page 521).

    From Dream to Reality The text for today begins with instructions for the new generation of Israelites on how to enter the Promised Land. This new generation never lived in Egypt but had spent their entire lives wandering through the wilderness. They had heard stories and celebrated the memories of God's guidance of their parents and grandparents.

    As they come close to entering the land God had promised so long ago, the dream that had guided them along the way was soon to become a reality. Because this generation was wanderers, there were no complaints of returning to an idealized Egypt. Instead, their eyes were focused on the future God had promised and their journey led them forward.

    Boundaries Given A study was once done in which children were placed on different playgrounds, one that was surrounded by a fence, and one that was free of boundaries. In the fenced playground, children played all around, up to the edges of the fence, even playing on the fence. However, on the playground with no boundaries, the children huddled near the middle of the playground. Boundaries often give us a sense of security and freedom. The lack of boundaries often prevents us from exploring the edges for fear of not knowing our limits.

    To prepare for entry into Canaan, the borders and boundaries are made clear to the Israelites. Because they had lived as nomads for so long, it was necessary to delineate the areas each tribe would occupy to prevent disagreements over the choices of land. These boundaries gave the Israelites the freedom to inhabit the land and to fill it without fear and fighting.

    Leaders Appointed Numbers 34 also identifies the leaders who would help divide the land among the tribes. By this time, Moses had died and the torch had been passed to Joshua. After many years of faithful service to the Israelite people and to God, Moses' and Aaron's leadership had been passed on to a new generation of leaders.

    Eleazer and Joshua, along with 10 other leaders (one being Caleb, the faithful spy who believed the land of Canaan could be taken with God's help) are identified in order to make it clear that God will continue to guide them into the Promised Land. The etymology of the names reveal this point: Shemuel means "name of God;" Elidad means "God has loved;" Bukki means "proved (of God);" Hanniel means "favor of God;" Kemuel means "raised by God;" Elizaphan means "my God protects;" Paltiel means "God is my deliverance;" Ahihud means "brother of majesty;" and Pedahel means "God has delivered" (The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. II, page 302). The new leaders will guide the people in the ways of God into the land God has promised.

    Nation Building After years of wandering, the challenge to the new generation of Israelites will be the building of a new nation. For many years they had moved forward with vision of a new life in a new land. Now that they have arrived at the place God has given them, they must begin the quest to live faithfully within it.

    It is important to have a dream that drives us forward, but it is equally important to live faithfully in the everyday moments God gives us. When the adventure passes and the difficult work of everyday living arrives, the temptation to become complacent becomes real.

    The story continues for the Israelites, filled with ups and downs. The story also continues for us who dream of the Promised Land, yet who also find ourselves living in the ups and downs of life. May we, along with the apostle Paul, proclaim, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstance." Let us go forth with joy into the Promised Land, sharing the story of God's goodness to us.

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    7/25/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tommy Bratton , Numbers 34 | with 0 comments



    Formations lesson for Aug. 10: Parents and Children - Rebekah and Jacob

    July 25 2003 by Tommy Bratton , Genesis 25:19-34

    Formations lesson for Aug. 10: Parents and Children - Rebekah and Jacob | Friday, July 25, 2003

    Friday, July 25, 2003

    Formations lesson for Aug. 10: Parents and Children - Rebekah and Jacob

    By Tommy Bratton Genesis 25:19-34

    Thomas Mann once described Genesis as a "book about dysfunctional families and the ways in which God seeks to use those families as agents of divine grace to all the families of the earth." The marvelous truth found in Genesis is that God is present even in the midst of our dysfunction to carry out God's exalted purpose in the world.

    Prayer The narrative begins after Rebekah and Isaac have married. However, the text quickly points out that just like her mother-in-law before her, Rebekah is unable to conceive. Even though Isaac was the child of promise given to Abraham and Sarah, and Rebekah was the wife chosen by God for Isaac, they were unable to continue the line of promise on their own efforts.

    It is encouraging to note that when he found out that Rebekah was barren, Isaac didn't go inventing an alternate plan. He didn't follow his father's example and attempt to fulfill God's plan through someone other than his wife. Instead, Isaac trusted God and prayed to God "for his wife." His love for his wife and his trust in God's promise is evident through his prayer, and Rebekah conceived.

    Rebekah had a difficult pregnancy, even saying that death would surely be easier that living with her pain. Her response was to turn to God for help. The Lord told her that there were two nations in her womb, and that the elder would serve the younger. Surely, the weight of this pronouncement remained with Rebekah. Not only would she conceive twins but one would be heir to the promise of God.

    One lesson we learn from this text is that when we experience barren periods of life, literally or figuratively, we must turn to God in prayer and trust in God's love and care.

    Birth of Twins The narrative continues as the twins are born, children of the promise. The first was hairy and was named Esau, meaning "rough." The second was born gripping the heel of Esau and was named Jacob, which means "supplanter," a name which foreshadowed what was to come.

    Esau grew up to become a skillful hunter, which pleased his father. Jacob lived in the tents, which kept him close to his mother, and endeared him to her as her favorite. It was probably from his mother, Rebekah, that he learned to cook.

    Esau, being the firstborn, would receive twice as much property as Jacob because of his birthright. But more importantly to this story, the eldest son became the spiritual leader of his family upon his father's death, and in this case, the inheritor of God's promise to Israel.

    Some parents play favorites at the expense of their children. This only leads to division and conflict. God's call is to show love to all and to trust God's presence in the lives of our children.

    Mixture of motives One day, as Esau arrived home from hunting, he smelled a wonderful smell. It was a lentil stew that was being cooked by Jacob. Esau asked his brother for some of that "stuff." His cunning brother, Jacob, jumped on the opportunity and suggested a trade, the pot of stew for Esau's birthright.

    Esau was much more concerned with his immediate hunger than a promise that seemed far into the future, so he agreed. The scripture for today ends with the statement, "Esau despised his birthright." He took no account of it and saw it as more of a burden than a blessing. Esau was more concerned with satisfying his appetites than in living up to the calling of God, working to fulfill God's promise to God's people.

    Jacob is often looked down upon for his cunning. However, Jacob was right to seek the great gifts of God and to covet the promise of the future blessings of God. We overlook Jacob's desire to fulfill God's promises when we too closely focus on his sin, taking advantage of his brother.

    We are a nation of grabbers, trying to get as much as we can for our own immediate gratification. In this story, Esau is the one who carelessly trades on the promise. As long as we settle for the pot of stew we will never discover the greater promises of God.

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    7/25/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tommy Bratton , Genesis 25:19-34 | with 0 comments



    Formations lesson for Aug. 17: Deception and Blessing - Jacob and Esau

    July 25 2003 by Tommy Bratton , Genesis 27:1-33

    Formations lesson for Aug. 17: Deception and Blessing - Jacob and Esau | Friday, July 25, 2003

    Friday, July 25, 2003

    Formations lesson for Aug. 17: Deception and Blessing - Jacob and Esau

    By Tommy Bratton Genesis 27:1-33

    We all strive to discover a sense of purpose for our lives and for the lives of our children. As parents, we seek to bless our children and entrust our values and hopes to them. Yet sometimes, we assume that our children know of their worth and their potential without our telling them.

    In Genesis, we encounter a story of blessing, a passing on of the covenant of God to the next generation. The basic elements of the blessing, as we see in Genesis 27, include touch, speaking a message, expressing value, depicting a significant future, and an active call to live into the promises of God.

    In the text, we continue to witness the interaction of members of Isaac's family. It is a narrative of deception and blessing, of trickery and promise. Our modern sensibilities are called into question as we read this text, yet the rawness of the story speaks to us of God's presence in the messiness of life, and the purpose He has for those whom He has chosen.

    Isaac Prepares to Bless Esau (Genesis 27:1-4) As the story begins, we are told that Isaac has become blind in his old age. Because he is unsure of how long he will live, Isaac tells Esau him to prepare a tasty meal for him, that Isaac may afterwards bestow a blessing to his son.

    The longing of a father to bless his son and the desire of the son to receive the blessing was an indication of the intergenerational quality of life. Parent and child are bound together through the heritage of the past and the promised hope of the future.

    Isaac is probably aware of the exchange of birthright between Esau and Jacob, and is intent on blessing his eldest son whom he favors. Blessings were usually given at the end of life, yet the Bible tells us that Isaac lived many more years. One might imagine that the blessing has become a burden for Isaac. He is ready to bless Esau to help Esau see the value of the promise of God. Yet, as the story continues, we will see that the blessing becomes a burden for the others as well.

    Rebekah Plots with Jacob (Genesis 27:5-17) Rebekah remembers the oracle of God that disclosed Jacob would inherit the promise, and she uses her cunning to trick Isaac into blessing Jacob to fulfill the words of God. Was it right for Rebekah to favor Jacob and plot with him against her husband? Of course not. In our modern sensibilities, we understand that the ends do not justify the means.

    We also know that she understood that Jacob was God's choice. He was the son who prepared for the future rather than living for the moment. He was the son who valued the birthright and the great things of God. He was the son with an active commitment to fulfill the blessing.

    Jacob Deceives Isaac (Genesis 27:18-29) Following the instruction of his mother, Jacob deceives his father by disguising himself as his brother, Esau. Isaac's sight is impaired, so he is unable to see the son he would bless. Scripture even records that Isaac recognized the voice of the imposter as Jacob and confronted him by asking to feel his skin. It is the sense of touch and the smell that leads Isaac to be convinced.

    Isaac blesses Jacob, which includes ruling over his brothers. The plan designed by Rebekah works and Jacob becomes heir of the promise. God's covenant is passed on to Jacob, but the consequence of his sins will follow him.

    Isaac Grieves with Esau (Genesis 27:30-33) The power of blessing is larger than Esau and Isaac. They grieve over the deception, but both recognize that it is out of their hands. The blessing cannot be withdrawn and there is only one to be given.

    By not treating the blessing with care, they find themselves disappointed and left out. We all desire to be blessed, but many of us choose immediate gratification over the responsibility of following God's call.

    The story continues in the next chapters, and Jacob will realize the cost of the blessing - broken relationships, loneliness, fear and anger. Though God allows people freedom to choose their way, God also allows people to reap the resulting consequences. But thanks be to God that He is always present to us as we go through the difficulties of our own making.

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    7/25/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tommy Bratton , Genesis 27:1-33 | with 0 comments



    Family Bible Study lesson for July 20: Good News! Free to Serve

    July 11 2003 by Kim D. Shaver , Galatians 4:8-9; 5:1-8,13-15

    Family Bible Study lesson for July 20: Good News! Free to Serve | Friday, July 11, 2003

    Friday, July 11, 2003

    Family Bible Study lesson for July 20: Good News! Free to Serve

    By Kim D. Shaver Galatians 4:8-9; 5:1-8,13-15

    The good news is that God, through Christ, has set us free from sin and death and the condemnation of the law.

    Now what?

    Now that we are free, how are we to live?

    In his letter to the Galatians, Paul proclaims that we are set free to serve. We live out our freedom in Christ by serving Him and others in love.

    Paul's teaching is in contrast to how the world views freedom. The worldly viewpoint is that freedom is a ticket to do as we please. We are free to "pursue happiness" with no restraints. We're free to seek convenience, comfort and selfish gain and run over whatever or whoever stands in our way. Paul's teaching is consistent with that of the entire Bible, which proclaims that we have been set free from such a self-centered way of life. We have been redeemed from a selfish way of life to live for God and others, not ourselves.

    Cherish Your Relationship with God (Galatians 4:8-9) Before we know God through a saving relationship with Christ, we are slaves. We're slaves to sin. We're slaves to self, and we're slaves to our fallen nature. But when we put our faith in Jesus, everything changes. Jesus said to His disciples in John 15, "I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." Once we become a friend of Christ, there is no reason to ever return to a life of slavery to sin and self.

    Stand Firm in Your Freedom (Galatians 5:1-8) "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free," Paul proclaims. "Stand firm, then, and do not let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."

    The freedom Paul speaks of is freedom from the bondage of the law. The Jewish leaders misled the people to "take the yoke of the law," which was the futile bondage of trying to get right with God through their own efforts. "Christ will be of no value to you at all," Paul writes, if you try to be justified by the law. Paul means that Christ's provision for our salvation will not help us if we are trying to save ourselves. Paul concludes this section by teaching that, "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." Love for God and for others is the natural response of a forgiven sinner. Jesus said that those who are forgiven much love much (Luke 7:47).

    How would you describe the temperature of your love for others and for God? The depth of your love says much about the sincerity of your faith.

    Exercise Your Freedom through Service (Galatians 5:13-15) We are set free to serve in love, not to indulge our sinful nature. We cheapen the grace of God and misuse the freedom bought at great price when we exploit freedom in self-centered living. Paul echoes the words of Jesus when he reminds us that "the entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself."

    When we are not motivated by love, we are like animals "biting and devouring each other," Paul warns. This is not freedom; it is anarchy. Yet, God set us free to serve in love. "By this the world will know you are my disciples, if you love one another," Jesus said.

    When the world sees us serving one another in love, they glimpse the promise of eternal freedom through Christ and are drawn to Him.

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    7/11/2003 12:00:00 AM by Kim D. Shaver , Galatians 4:8-9; 5:1-8,13-15 | with 0 comments



    Family Bible Study lesson for July 27: Good News! Controlled by the Spirit!

    July 11 2003 by Kim D. Shaver , Galatians 5:16-26; 6:7-10

    Family Bible Study lesson for July 27: Good News! Controlled by the Spirit! | Friday, July 11, 2003

    Friday, July 11, 2003

    Family Bible Study lesson for July 27: Good News! Controlled by the Spirit!

    By Kim D. Shaver Galatians 5:16-26; 6:7-10

    Have you ever remarked or heard someone comment about a godly person by saying something like this: "He (or she) is really Spirit-filled." That's a wistful kind of comment. The implication is, "They've got something special, and I wish I had more of that."

    However, the fact is that the moment a person trusts Jesus as their personal Savior, they receive all of the Holy Spirit that they will ever have. Therefore, it is not that some people have more of the Holy Spirit; it is that the Holy Spirit has more of them. As long as we live in this fallen world, we will struggle with an inner conflict between the indwelling Holy Spirit and our sinful, selfish nature. Daily, we choose to surrender to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to control our thoughts, words and actions, rather than following our self-centered desires and sinful impulses. We choose daily to give more of ourselves over to the leadership of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

    The Holy Spirit is not a ghostly creature or an impersonal force, but is a person. He is a person just like Jesus. He is the third person of the Godhead. And, wonder of wonders - this divine person is "Christ in you, your hope of glory" if you are a believer in Christ (Col. 1:27).

    Obeying the Spirit's Control (Galatians 5:16-18) "So I say, live by the Spirit," Paul exhorts. To live by the Spirit means we are led by the Spirit, influenced by the Holy Spirit and, ideally, controlled by the Holy Spirit. This sounds simple enough, but a Spirit-controlled life is not an "auto-pilot" type of dynamic. In His sovereignty, God has allowed the inner conflict between the "sinful nature" and the indwelling Holy Spirit to go on within the believer.

    Our loving and all-wise Father doesn't allow this conflict simply to exasperate us. His purpose is that we will experience victory through daily yielding to Him as He dwells within us. We make this choice to yield to Him when we begin each day with prayer, asking God to live through us. Often, my morning prayer springs from the words of Galatians 2:20 - "May it not be me who lives today, Lord, but Christ who lives through me." We choose victory when we pursue God through a consistent devotional life. Familiarity with God's word saturates us with the "mind of Christ." This gives us the sensitivity to discern between our emotions and personal preferences and the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit. God's word tunes us in to the will of God. And, God's word equips us for victory in the internal battle between self and the Spirit.

    Rejecting Sinful Attitudes and Actions (Galatians 5:19-21) In this passage, Paul gives us a list of sinful activities ranging from jealousy to selfish ambition. We all have evil desires, and we can't ignore them. In order for us to be controlled by the Holy Spirit, we must deal decisively with our sinful nature. The sinful nature is sometimes called the "old man," while the new, spiritual nature is called the "new man." Perhaps this word picture will be helpful to you: "Starve the old man and feed the new man." If you do this, the old man grows weaker and weaker, while the new man flourishes. We starve the old man by avoiding certain places, people, books, magazines, movies, TV shows and practices. We feed the new man by fellowshipping and worshipping in a local church, reading our Bibles and devotional materials, through praying and actively serving God.

    Showing the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26) As we increasingly yield to the control of the Holy Spirit and "feed the new man," the victorious result is that the fruit of the Spirit is manifested in our lives. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Notice that the fruit of the Spirit is singular. This one fruit, however, manifests itself in a beautiful cluster of nine graces. Spiritual fruit is singular because it flows from the one true vine - Jesus Christ - dwelling within you. None of us can "muster up" fruit in our own strength. But as we increasingly know, trust, love, remember and spend time with the one true vine, we give Him more room to grow and flourish fruitfully in our lives.

    Reaping a Transformed Life (Galatians 6:7-10) What kind of seeds are you sowing? Every thought, word and action has some kind of results. If you plant to please yourself and the "old man," you will reap a crop of sorrow, emptiness and despair. If you plant to please God and the "new man," you will reap life and peace.

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    7/11/2003 12:00:00 AM by Kim D. Shaver , Galatians 5:16-26; 6:7-10 | with 0 comments



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