April 2009

Formations lesson for May 10: Mordecai Angers Haman

April 27 2009 by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage: Esther 3:1-15

It happened so fast you could barely see it.

The English sailors in James Clavell’s novel Shogun are shipwrecked near a Japanese fishing village. The district samurai chief comes to investigate. Both sailors and villagers line up for inspection. The villagers bow before their samurai master, all except for one old man, who stands proudly erect. In the blink of an eye the samurai’s sword flashes and the man’s head rolls — the punishment for not showing proper respect.

The old man was a Christian, a recent convert. He refused to bow down to anyone other than his true Lord, and he paid the price. As for the samurai, small-mindedness, a big ego and unbridled power are a dangerous combination. It might have been easier for everyone if Mordecai alone had been required to pay the price for his personal insubordination, but sometimes the consequences of our actions, like the causes, extend far beyond ourselves.

Esther has been queen for four years (2:16, 3:7). Mordecai is now a guard at the king’s gate (2:19). He’s in the right place at the right time, foiling an assassination plot against the king, who is so impressed he has the event written down (2:21-23). Another lucky coincidence?

Meanwhile a fawning narcissist named Haman has become the king’s right-hand man, and the king orders everyone to bow when Haman walks by. Mordecai refuses. Why?

It’s nice to think that Mordecai is simply following the example of earlier exiles (Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego) who, out of devotion, risked their lives by refusing to kneel. It’s an admirable quality.

Except that, in our narrative, Mordecai does not appear to be especially pious (remember the unmentioned name of God?). What else could it be? Pride, maybe, but bowing to Haman is not a problem for anyone else. You do what you have to do.

Haman is an Agagite (3:1). Jewish historian Josephus pegs him as a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15), for centuries Israel’s bitter enemies. If so, Mordecai is simply following the warning in Deut. 25:17-19: when it comes to the Amalekites, “never forget!” Old hatreds die hard.

Haman hears of the snub by the Jew Mordecai. It may appear “beneath him” (3:6) to retaliate for a personal insult, but apparently Haman knows his history, too. He jumps at the opportunity to settle an old score.

His proposal? Genocide: “to destroy, kill and annihilate all Jews” (3:13). On what grounds?  “They’re not like us” (3:8). Works every time.    

It’s no longer just a personal matter. And if God really is moving behind the scenes, He’s got a lot of moving to do — as always.

4/27/2009 7:54:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for May 10: Hannah: Ideals of Motherhood

April 27 2009 by Kenny Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva

Focal Passage: 1 Samuel 1:1-2, 10-11, 17-18, 21-28; 2:1-2

In a previous article I alluded to the fact that I have once again regained the pleasure of a previous hobby, collecting baseball cards. I have to be honest with you; it is more of an escape than anything. I find myself in my study late at night opening packs and organizing. It has a calming effect, and helps to bring a bit of order to an often hectic schedule. Right now there is one set that is eluding me — 2006 Topps Allen & Ginter. It is hard to find at an affordable price.

It has become a challenge, and quite unattainable, especially if I wish to remain married. It is something that I would really like to have, even more so, it is something that I really want. Has there ever been something that you have truly wanted in life, something that seemed out of reach? In 1 Samuel we read about Hannah as she constantly prays to the Lord. She longs to have a baby and is constantly faced with the fact that her husband’s second wife Peninnah has children.

It is felt that the husband, Elkanah, most likely took the second wife in a similar fashion as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob because of the first wife’s inability to give birth, but that this also foreshadowed the birth of a child of great significance. Hannah was greatly loved by Elkanah and his lineage was from the tribe of Levi. She was dedicated to him, and constantly prayed with fervor that the Lord would hear her prayers to allow her to bear him a child. She made a pilgrimage to the tabernacle at Shiloh were at first the priest Eli thought that she was drunk when he saw her praying, but her fervor convinced him of her dedication and he gave her a blessing after which she returned home.

It was following this that she conceived and bore a son named Samuel. In her fervent prayers Hannah had made a vow that she would dedicate the child to service to the Lord. She and Elkanah took him to Eli, made a sacrifice to the Lord, and Hannah’s song is recorded (1 Samuel 2).  

Hannah shows that persistence in faith is a noble trait, and can find favor in the sight of God. Her inability to bear children was in no way seen to be from a spiritual flaw or sin filled life. She is given to us an example of a committed wife, and eventually a committed mother that is willing to make the ultimate gift through her faith. She dedicates not only her life, but that of her child to service for the Lord. Children are truly a gift from God, and Hannah returns to God the ultimate gift as a gift of faith and service.  

As we celebrate this Mother’s Day we can look back to the gifts that we ourselves have been given by faithful mothers throughout the ages. May God grant us Christian homes!

4/27/2009 7:53:00 AM by Kenny Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for May 3: The King Chooses Esther

April 22 2009 by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage: Esther 2:1-18

How can there be a book in the Bible that never mentions the name of God?

In seminary, Esther was the book we started with in introductory Hebrew.  One of our first words was “hamelek” — “the king” — occurring 26 times in the first chapter. You can bet I memorized that word!

How about Yahweh (the Lord)? It doesn’t appear once. Elohim (God)? Nope. Maybe El Shaddai (God Almighty)? Not there, and neither is any other divine name, not anywhere in the book.  Esther is the only Bible book with that distinction. What’s going on?

Some commentators see Esther as a nationalistic folktale celebrating two bold and clever Jews who outfox their more powerful enemies — a popular storyline for any oppressed people. Esther and Mordecai are the heroes, and everything that happens can be explained by their ingenuity and bravery. There’s nothing left for God to do.

Others notice that Purim, the festival instituted in Chapter 9, is not found in the law of Moses.  That, plus the Babylonian-sounding names of the feast itself (from “pur,” the lot Haman cast in 3:7) and Esther and Mordecai (Ishtar and Marduk were Babylonian gods), suggests that the festival may have had Persian, not Israelite, origins. This is not one of God’s own stories.

And Purim is a boisterous feast. It lasts into the wee hours. Revelers drink until they can’t distinguish between “Cursed be Haman” and “Blessed be Mordecai,” which they shout whenever the men’s names are read aloud. This is not God’s kind of party.

For these and other reasons, Esther had a hard time getting into the Hebrew Bible. It was one of the last books selected. Still, Esther made it — and again, without even mentioning God! What’s going on?

The first chapter is almost comic. Persian King Xerxes “ruled over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia” (1:1), but he can’t make his own wife come to his celebration (1:12). Nervous men all over the empire fear that their wives will now treat them with similar contempt (1:17). So King Xerxes banishes Queen Vashti and decrees “that every man should be master in his own house” (1:22).

Chapter 2 introduces Mordecai, the resourceful Jew, and Esther, his cousin and adopted daughter, who is equally resourceful and courageous, not to mention drop-dead gorgeous. Esther enters the royal beauty pageant and lands Vashti’s old job. She wins the king’s heart, of course; but she also has his ear, which will come in handy when her people face a threat to their very existence.

Is all this merely a happy coincidence? Or can God still be present, even if His name is not?

4/22/2009 5:03:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for May 3: Barzillai: The Man Who Grew Old Gracefully

April 22 2009 by Kenny Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva

Focal Passage: 2 Samuel 17:27-29; 19:31-39; 1 Kings 2:1, 7

I was raised in a small town in southeastern North Carolina, and there were certain expectations placed upon me by my mama. Those expectations are quickly going by the wayside in today’s society, and they are called “manners.” Simple things such as greeting those that are older than you with respect. These were staples in conversations, and if they were forgotten a quick tug on the ear would remind one how to speak. There are other simple terms of respect that seem to have been forgotten as well.  

However, the responsibility does not just fall on the younger generations; many seniors may not see it as their calling to maintain these levels of decorum. One friend told me, “I look forward to becoming an elderly Southern lady; I will grow tomatoes and wear funny hats.” It involves more than that, and in life we have responsibilities and expectations of what we will leave the future generations. Growing old with grace and leaving a legacy for posterity, most especially a legacy to point toward a commitment to God. In 2 Samuel and 1 Kings we see the interaction between King David and an elderly man named Barzillai who shows his faith through his actions.  

David is facing an insurrection led by his son Absalom and he is fleeing for his life. How disconcerting it must be to face a rebellion led by your own son, and find yourself fleeing from your capital city. One of the loyal subjects, an elderly gentleman, assists David. The subject’s wealth supported David for his stay in the city of Mahanaim east of the Jordan River. This created a bond because Barzillai was willing to do this and possibly faced retribution from Absalom’s army. In David’s final words (1 Kings 2:7), he tells Solomon to be faithful to Barzillai’s family.

David is so overtaken by the actions of Barzillai that he asks him to cross the Jordan River with him and return to Jerusalem after the revolt had been put down. David wished to repay him for his support and kindness during his exile. Barzillai realizes his age and infirmities will keep him from traveling and he desires to die at home, so he sends what is felt by most commentators to be his son.

In Barzillai we see an image of growing old with grace and an example of wisdom. He followed his heart and his faith. He knew that which was right and followed the direction that God laid before him. He also knew when to say no and stand firm upon his decisions, even when speaking to a king. For his commitment and faith, his family was rewarded with eating at the king’s table. What will be the benefits that our decisions will leave the generations we leave behind?        

4/22/2009 5:02:00 AM by Kenny Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for April 26: Rejoice in Hope

April 14 2009 by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage: 1 Cor. 15:42-58

She lay propped up in bed. The family had gathered, filling the room and spilling out into the hall. Death was in the air.

She had attended our church years ago, a young mother with children in tow. Now the kids were grown with children of their own. She lived with a daughter and went to her church, at least whenever she was able.  

She had sent word for me to come and pray for her one last time. I asked, “Are you afraid?”
“Why should I be? God has never let me down before, and I don’t expect Him to start now.”

Frederick Buechner wrote a book he called Wishful Thinking. Hope might be called wishful living.

Hope is not some pitiful benign whining in the dark: “Well, maybe, if only, I guess so, I surely hope so …”

Hope is not some superstitious incantation: “OK, if I believe with all my heart, and shut my eyes real tight, and clap three times …”

Hope is looking directly into the face of the worst the world can throw at you, and still believing that God cares for you and will provide for you, and then living like it.

I once heard Samuel Proctor, pastor emeritus of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, preach a sermon entitled “Living in the Subjunctive Mood” — as if. That’s hope.

Hope looks up at a cloudless sky, prays for rain, and then goes to the shed and gets the hoe and heads to the vegetable garden — as if.

Hope hears the dreaded diagnosis, “cancer,” and the almost equally dreaded prescription, “radiation, followed by chemotherapy,” and on the way home from the doctor’s office stops at the travel agent’s to book a flight to Houston in October for the birth of the new granddaughter — as if.

Hope dares to believe that we are all created equal and are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, and to prove it marches over the crest of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., into the teeth of the police dogs — as if.

Hope stands in a pew on Easter Sunday morning, singing boldly, “Where, O Death, is now thy sting? Where thy victory, O Grave?” The next week that same hope stares misty-eyed at an open grave as the preacher declares, as boldly as possible, given the circumstances, “Look!  I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” — as if (vv. 55, 51).

Paul concludes this wonderful chapter (v. 58), “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” — as if. That’s hope.

4/14/2009 3:02:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for April 26: Jesus the Savior: Accept or Reject?

April 14 2009 by John Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva

Focal passage: Acts 2:22-24, 32-41

I still remember the discussion last September as I looked at the sweet little face before me and I heard the words, “Yes daddy, if you get me a small dog I won’t be afraid.” Famous last words! These words were spoken by our oldest child, our eight-year-old daughter Kenley. She has been uneasy around dogs since birth, and we had already tried to help her through this with one dog.

This was a big mistake. We added a Bouvier (Ranger) to the family in June 2008; he is now saddled and ridden by our two younger boys. So it was from this discussion we added a Miniature Schnauzer named Deacon. Her acceptance of him lasted exactly one day.

Acceptance and rejection create a fine line in our lives, and fears are hard to overcome. It is not something that can be forced upon a person. I know this full well, for no matter what my five-year-old John Isaac might say, I now am the proud owner of two dogs because of my bright ideas about overcoming fears. Our fears are strong and can cause us to react in various ways, even in harmful ways. They can cause us not just to make our own lives difficult but to possibly harm others. Our Savior faced the ultimate sacrifice of His life through God’s plan, and the fears of those who would not accept why He had come.

As we continue to look at the Book of Acts we see Peter sharing a sermon following the miracle at Pentecost, and speaking to the large crowd. Many had seen the miracles and signs performed by Christ, yet they still would not believe. Instead they delivered Christ over to be nailed to a cross by “godless men and put Him to death” (2:23). In Peter’s words he is exposing the people to the fact that they, and we, are responsible for our own actions.  

In verses 32-36 Peter shares with those gathered concerning Christ being exalted to the right hand of God the Father, and emphasizes that the Holy Spirit has been poured out through Jesus Christ and none other. It is Christ that sits in heaven, not their ancestor David. Though he may have been great, Christ is the Messiah for whom they waited. He references Psalm 110 to share that Christ is the Lord in this passage of scripture, and He now sits in the seat of honor.  “How terrible then was the act of His crucifixion,” Peter emphasizes (v. 36).

Upon hearing all of this, one translation states, “. . . they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” Peter does not miss a beat and he responds in a fashion that gives each of us the words to use, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Peter continues to tell them that this gift is in essence for all people. And with this nearly 3,000 were added and the church was beginning an amazing journey!

What fears today might keep someone from joining this continued journey with Christ?

4/14/2009 3:01:00 AM by John Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for April 19: Contemplate Mystery

April 7 2009 by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage: 1 Cor. 15:20-41

“Watch out for people who think they know it all,” my mother used to say. “Most of the time, they don’t.”

I was barely in school. We sat at the dinner table, or on the living room floor during a long, lazy summer afternoon. One of us would ask a question – something about science, or arithmetic, or history, but often about religion.

My questions, obviously, were a child’s: “If heaven is up, which way is it for the people in China?”

Mom’s questions were harder: “If God knows everything before it happens, does that mean it has to happen?”

Mom would do her best to explain difficult ideas in words that a child could understand. We’d discuss it upside down and all around until neither had more to say. Then, almost every time, she would sign off with the warning about know-it-alls. It was her way of saying some things just can’t be explained, at least not completely.

Paul was doing his best to explain difficult ideas in words even grownups found hard to understand.

“Resurrection?  What resurrection (v. 21)? She’s just as dead now as she was last week. Paul, how do you know?”

“‘As in Adam all die (v. 22)?’ What’s that about? Is sin inherited, like blue eyes or flat feet? How do you know that?”

“God will destroy ‘every ruler and authority and power’ (vv. 24-28)? Evil and corruption and oppression? Even death? Come on, Paul, get real.  Read the papers!”

“And what’s this business about heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, and sun and moon and stars, and seeds dying in the ground (vv. 35-41)? Somehow that’s all supposed to explain something? Paul, how do you know? How do you know for sure?”

Finally Paul came right out and admitted it: “Look!  It’s a mystery” (v. 51). Some things can’t be reasoned out by logic or explained by the natural order of cause and effect. Some things you just can’t know by the normal ways of knowing. Some things you can only know by faith.

“But if you want proof,” Paul said, “think about this (vv. 30-32): Why do I put myself in danger all the time? Why did I fight wild animals at Ephesus, if my hope were only for this life, and on this earth? But … the resurrection!”

A minister friend was in the hospital, seriously ill. In recent years his family had suffered tragedy after tragedy, and now this. “How do you manage to keep going?” I asked.  

“I couldn’t,” he said, “except for one thing: the resurrection!”

Anybody can be a know-it-all, with an answer for everything. Betting your life is another thing altogether.

4/7/2009 7:06:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for April 19: Jesus’ Followers: Witnesses or Wishful Thinkers?

April 7 2009 by John Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva

Focal passage: Acts 1:4-8; 2:1-4, 12-16

If there is one thing that our house rarely has in abundance it is silence.  My lovely wife Shelley has blessed me with three wonderful children (ages eight, five and two). In addition we have two dogs -— one moose and one miniature breed — as well as five fish. The fish do not seem to add much noise, but we had a previous problem with one that ate everything else we put in the tank with it. There are constant sounds filling the air with the familiar auditory pleasures of life. Quite often these sounds may seem to be nothing more than noise, while at other times they are a joyous melody. It is in those moments that I am able to hear within the hoopla a distinct message and interpret what is underneath; below the “noise” there is love. And in love we find meaning.

In the opening chapter of Acts we see the beginning of the early church, but it is not fully born. It was awaiting something, and Christ appeared to this group of believers that had clung together following the crucifixion. He shared that they were to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, a baptism far greater than that of water. With this they would become witnesses to all the world. Note that the Greek word for witness and martyr are the same. This draws attention to the fact that sometimes our loyalty to Christ demands more than we are aware will be required.

This little group, led by the disciples, were to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, and it came upon them as a “rushing wind” and they were suddenly filled with “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3). The amazing event in this miracle is that each person began to speak a different tongue, or language, and they went out among the many Jews that were in Jerusalem for the Festival of the Weeks, also known as Pentecost. This was celebrated seven weeks after Passover and was a time to give thanksgiving for the grain harvest. It was one of three major festivals and was a required time of celebrations. It expected that Jewish males would come to the Temple. Jerusalem was filled with people.  

The many people present were mystified; some in a sense of awe, while others mocked the believers as they shared the gospel of Jesus Christ. As it was true for these first Christians, it is true for witnesses today. Our faith is not validated by the response of those listening; it is made real by that which we experience through Jesus Christ and His teachings in the Scriptures.  

Some of those present even stated that the Christians were drunk, but Peter rose boldly and spoke in defense of the believers. He spoke boldly without hesitation with the possibility of a large crowd turning against him. I find his words humorous in stating it is too early in the morning to be drunk, but he was direct and to the point. His words exemplify what I see as the greatest miracle of Pentecost concerning the gospel, making things plain, clear, and easily understood so everyone can know what it is all about.

Dear Lord make it so today.

4/7/2009 7:06:00 AM by John Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for April 12: Remember the Resurrection

April 1 2009 by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville

Focal Passage: 1 Cor. 15:1-19

We called it The Blizzard of ’93.

It was March 13, and in our mountain town the daffodils were in full bloom.

Then it started snowing, and kept it up for three days.

A friend measured 42 inches of the white stuff in his yard.

The daffodils won, of course.

As the late snow melted their blooms began to reappear, one by one.

Old Man Winter gave it his best shot, but he couldn’t keep spring from coming.

Poet Charles Hanson Towne wrote:

If this bright lily can live once more,
And its white promise be as before,
Why can not the great stone be moved from His door?

If the green grass ascend and shake
Year after year, and blossoms break
Again and again, for April’s sake …

Faint heart, be sure, these things must be.
See the new bud on the old tree!
If flowers can wake, oh, why not He?

But Easter is not about lilies, or green grass, or new buds, or even daffodils. Those things are natural and normal and will surely come, even after Old Man Winter’s last gasp.

Easter is about the resurrection, and the resurrection was neither natural nor normal. It didn’t happen all by itself.  

There’s a key verb in verse 4, in the passive voice: “was raised.” Jesus didn’t wake up. Jesus didn’t get up. Jesus was raised up.

The resurrection happened by the power of God. It wasn’t natural. It wasn’t normal. It was wonderful!

Maybe that’s why it was so hard for some of those at Corinth to believe, and for some people to believe today.

But it’s the heart of our faith, Paul said, the “most important thing” (vv. 3-8): Christ died, Christ was buried (He was really dead!), Christ was raised, and Christ appeared (He was really raised!).

Without the resurrection our preaching is in vain, our faith is in vain, our hope is in vain, and “we are of all people most to be pitied” (vv. 12-19). We aren’t asked to explain it, or even to understand it. We’re invited to believe it, and then to live by it.

The resurrection, after all, isn’t for April’s sake. It’s for Jesus’ sake, and for God’s sake, and for our sake, and even for the sake of the world.

4/1/2009 7:54:00 AM by Ed Beddingfield, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fayetteville | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for April 12: Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Fiction?

April 1 2009 by John Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva

Focal passage: Luke 24:1-8, 36-40, 44-46

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the ability to bring something back to life, breathe life into it?  
People are constantly seeking to do just that when they painstakingly restore things such as cars, furniture, or various other items. Sometimes the key is just finding that special item that often seems to allude.  

I have recently been reintroduced to a former hobby — collecting baseball cards — by a dear friend and fellow pastor. It involves these searches for those rare finds, and hopes for discoveries.

Unfortunately, with baseball cards there is not much hope of bringing them back to life. How you find them is how you find them. There are those moments when you come across a rare find and you wish that a “resurrection” was possible. I am trying to find a rare set of 1971 Topps cards because that is the year I was born, and they are hard to find. Imagine looking for a body in a tomb and arriving to find that it too was suddenly hard to find. This was what greeted the women on that first Easter.  

They arrived at the tomb to find the stone rolled away and suddenly were surprised by the appearance of men in dazzling clothing, angelic messengers, which shared with them, “He is risen” (v. 6). The verse which is most poignant to me is the statement, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead?” (v. 5).  Christ had shared in all of the gospels that He was to suffer and He was to die, but most importantly He was to be raised from the dead (Matt. 16;21; 17:9,22-23; 20:17-19; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34; Luke 9:22; 18:31-33).

Following the tomb discovery and Christ’s appearance on the Emmaus road Christ appears to a group as disciples were sharing their Emmaus experience. In this moment Jesus was affirming that it was no hallucination and that He had truly been resurrected from the grave and was back among the living. The physical resurrection of Jesus was the fulfillment of that which began on the cross and now the risen Christ and Jesus of Nazareth are the same.

Jesus continued to speak with them in verses 44-46 about the fulfillment of Old Testament scriptures by referencing the “Law of Moses” which is the first five books of the Old Testament; the “Prophets” refers to the books of Joshua-2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea-Malachi; and the “Psalms” to the rest of the Old Testament. He shared with them that His suffering and resurrection were the fulfillment of that which was written. One prominent example of that is the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53).  

And in the Easter miracle we have the greatest “find” of all. It is rarer than a ten gem mint 1951 Bowman rookie Micky Mantle card, and far more precious.

4/1/2009 7:53:00 AM by John Byrd, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Sylva | with 0 comments