August 2008

Formations lesson for Sept. 7: A Time For Nurture

August 26 2008 by Lamar King, retired minister, High Point

Focal Passage: 2 Chronicles 34:1-7  

In 1975, while pastor of First Baptist Church in Duncan, S.C., I was asked by a local helping agency to organize a ministry at the Duncan Prison Camp. I began by leading an early Sunday morning worship service. I usually had from 40-50 inmates to attend, and most of them seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say.

One morning, I began my sermon by quoting Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.” It had a mesmerizing effect:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too …


I finished the first verse and started on the second:

If you can dream and not make dreams your master,
If you can think and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same …

In the middle of the second verse, a young inmate in the front row interrupted. He stood up and tearfully asked, “But what if you can’t?”

I was startled. My first thought was, “You can’t ask questions in a sermon. I don’t have answers, I just have words.”

But when he asked the question, every head in room looked at him, and, then, in sync, every head turned and looked at me. I smiled, I frowned, I looked at my feet, and I realized he wanted an answer. I looked straight at him and said: “Sure you can.”

From the back of the room came another voice, “Sure you can, man.” And suddenly, other men in that room started nodding their heads and saying: “Yeah, you can,” and “Man, you can make it,” and “Go for it.”

That’s as far as my sermon got. One after another they made their way down to the front of the room and stood around the young inmate, and, one after another, they began to nurture him by telling of circumstances in their lives where they thought they couldn’t but they did. It was a moving service.

Webster’s dictionary defines nurture as “that which nourishes.” Ephesians 6:4 says Christian parents are to bring children up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Our task as Christians is to encourage those about us “in the Lord.” To the discouraged and disheartened in this world, we affirm in the Lord, “Sure you can!”  

8/26/2008 2:57:00 AM by Lamar King, retired minister, High Point | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for Sept. 7: Forgive Early and Often

August 26 2008 by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace

Focal Passage: Matthew 18:21-35

You may remember the movie from a few years back called, “Pay it Forward.” The movie begins with a student who comes up with an idea for a class project. If someone does something for you, you don’t pay it back. You pay it forward by doing something good for three other people within 24 hours. Each of those three people then does something for three other people and so on. After two weeks of this process more than four million people will be touched by a good deed.

Apparently the servant in our story didn’t see the movie. If he felt gratitude, joy or thanksgiving he certainly didn’t pass it forward to anyone else. At the beginning of our story we see the servant has incurred a debt of millions of dollars. How did he get such a huge debt — embezzlement, misuse of funds, stealing? We have to assume the master trusted this servant and gave him a lot of freedom with his money.

Although the servant offered to repay the debt, a servant simply does not have access to that kind of money. The master canceled the entire debt, telling the man, “You are free to go.”
The first person the servant saw was someone who owed him something like $20. We might expect, “Hey guess what just happened to me? I want to show you grace like that.” Instead he grabs his friend by the neck and demands his money.

The other guy says, “Be patient with me and I will pay you back.”

But our forgiven friend is not going to cut him any slack. He is not going to show any mercy.

When the master heard what happened he threw him in jail, where this time he is to be tortured until he pays his debt. It seems the servant’s debt was settled but his heart was not. He should have come from his experience overwhelmed with the generosity of his master so that he wanted to pay it forward to others. Instead he took the gift for granted and never considered the implications.

We sympathize with the main character, then rejoice in his good fortune. We stand in shock when he grabs his friend and demands his money, then cheer when he gets thrown in jail. It’s all good until you realize that Jesus is talking about you and me. Look again at the main character — he’s got our face.

As a saying attributed to Confucius goes, “Those who cannot forgive others break the bridge over which they themselves must pass.”

8/26/2008 2:55:00 AM by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace | with 0 comments



Formations lesson for Aug. 31: Transitions

August 19 2008 by Lamar King, retired minister, High Point

Focal passage: Philippians 4:4-9

It was the late 1880s, and he was a cowboy from Oklahoma. He had been to Kansas City seeing things he had never even imagined.

His eyes had been opened on that visit, and he went back to Oklahoma singing to his friends, "Everything's up to date in Kansas City. They've gone about as far as they can go."

He then proceeded to describe just how far they had gone. He saw 23 gas buggies in one day.

He put his ear to a strange apparatus and heard someone talking. They called it a telephone.

He saw a skyscraper seven stories tall, "about as high as a building ought to go."

No wonder then that he went back home shaking his head in wonder at all those folks in Kansas City who have "gone about as far as they can go."

That cowboy reflected an instinct as old as humanity and one that is still a problem for us today.

It is the feeling that we have gone about as far as we can go.

In 1886 the United States Patent Office very nearly closed its doors because some congresspersons balked at including it in the budget, feeling that the country had already gone about as far as it could go. One congressman stated in the Congressional Record, "It now appears that everything practical has already been invented."

Fortunately, the Patent Office remained open, and that office went on to approve patents for such things as automobiles, gas engines, airplanes, telephones, radios, televisions, and you know the rest of the story.

The history of humanity is the story of change, of transitions from one world to the next. Our task as a church is not to decide whether we will change as we transition in life, but how we will change. We do not fear change because we have a changeless core — Jesus our Lord. His word does not change. His character does not change. His message of love and salvation for all people does not change.

In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey says that having something changeless anchors us in the midst of a changing world.

"People can't live with change if there's not a changeless core inside of them," he said. "The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you are, and what you are about, and what you value."

That "changeless core" in the believer is Christ Himself. "My hope is built on nothing less ..."

8/19/2008 4:54:00 AM by Lamar King, retired minister, High Point | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for Aug. 31: A Consistent Life

August 19 2008 by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace

Focal passage: Hebrews 12:1-15

I picture this scripture as a conversation between God and a Christian full of good intentions, but missing some important information about what it means to lead a consistent life in Christ.

God:
Are you ready for the race?

Christian:
What race?

God: The race I have called you to run will lead you to a better country — a heavenly one (Heb. 11:16).

Christian: That's it! That's the race I want to run.

God: What's with the backpack?

Christian: That's where I carry all my past sins and guilt.

God: Doesn't that weight slow you down?

Christian: Well, I guess you are right. I never thought about it before.

God: If you want to finish this race you have to throw off everything that hinders so you can run with perseverance the race marked out for you (Heb. 12:1).

Christian (setting backpack aside): Boy, that feels better!

God:
Are you ready now?

Christian:
Yes.

God:
On your mark, get set...  (Christian takes off running.)

God:
You started before I said "Go!" That's cheating.

Christian:
But I want to win.

God:
I have given you rules to follow so that you can finish the race.  You can try to break those rules, but it never turns out like you thought it would. That is why I discipline you — to keep you on the right path and to help you avoid the pitfalls of sin (Heb. 12:5-11).

Christian: You're right. I've tried cheating before and it isn't worth it, even if I do win.

God: OK, let's try again. On your mark. Get set. Go! (Christian takes off in the wrong direction.) Wait a minute! Where are you going?

Christian: I don't know. Does it matter?

God: Sure it does. You will never reach the goal of eternal life unless you know where you are going. You need to keep your eyes on Jesus. As long as you follow Him, you will reach your destination (Heb. 12:2).

Christian: OK, now I know where I am headed. Let's try again.

God: On your mark. Get set. Go!  (Christian starts in the right direction determined to finish the race. After a while he becomes tired and discouraged.) Look around you at all the other believers who have run this race. They are watching you and encouraging you with prayers.  You are not alone. Don't give up (Heb. 12:1).

8/19/2008 4:48:00 AM by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace | with 0 comments



Formations lesson for Aug. 24: Challenges

August 13 2008 by Lamar King, retired pastor, High Point

Focal passage: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

I read a story about a woman named Annie. She had no family, lived alone, and had worked for 30 years at the same job. Her only companion was her cat.

When one cat died, she got another. Every year she was given four weeks of vacation leave, but she had never taken it nor had she ever taken a trip outside the town where she lived.

Many of her friends had asked her to go on trips with them, but she always replied, "I can't leave my cat. He's never been outside the house for any reason."  

Finally, a few of her friends planned a trip, made reservations for Annie, and confronted her with a demand that she go with them. They even arranged for Annie's neighbor to take care of the cat.

Annie reluctantly agreed to go, but she gave explicit instructions to her neighbor: "Whatever you do, don't let my cat outdoors. He has never been out in his life, and he would not know what to do."

The neighbor heard nothing from Annie for two weeks, and then came a postcard which stated, "I am having a wonderful time. Please let my cat out."

Our lesson this week is on "challenges." Challenges inevitably demand changes. Unfortunately, we Baptists often find ourselves reluctant to change. The message of the church never changes, but the method for sharing that message must change as each new generation arises.

Several years ago an editorial in the Biblical Recorder caused me to change the way I was sharing the message of Jesus.

The article stated that since 1980 the population of North Carolina had grown by 29 percent but membership in North Carolina Baptist churches had only grown by 5 percent. Why? Many churches are not adequately prepared to transition to the challenges of the future. We do not effectively understand the cultural shifts that surround us, and, therefore, we have not learned how to focus our message and our ministries through the lens of culture. The need exists to offer the gospel through new and innovative ways.

Our willingness to change is almost always contingent on our willingness to trust a Lord who says "Behold, I make all things new." Faith is not a creed; it is a passion.

Our message is not a doctrine; it is a person. That person is our Lord. He is calling us to "follow me." If we can begin a new journey with Jesus, then we may also find the courage to "let the cat out."

8/13/2008 5:45:00 AM by Lamar King, retired pastor, High Point | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for Aug. 24: A Confident Life

August 13 2008 by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace

Focal passage: Hebrews 10:19-36

The audience addressed in the letter to the Hebrews would be very familiar with the story of Aaron's two sons who came to present "unauthorized fire before the Lord" (Leviticus 10:1).

"So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord"  (Leviticus 10:2). For the writer of Hebrews to say, "we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place" was a powerful statement.  

I believe we have lost much of our sense of awe about God. Because we have reduced God into something far less than He is, we seldom think, "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

Our confidence to approach God must not come at the expense of His majesty and awesomeness.

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?  Who may stand in His holy place (Psalm 24:3)?  The passage for this week answers that question for us.

Those with a sincere heart — A friend pointed out to me the origin of the word "sincere." The Latin root words mean, "without wax."

Imperfect vessels were patched with wax, then glazed to cover the gaps and cracks in the surface. Vessels that had no imperfections were called sincere, meaning they needed no wax to prevent leaking. A sincere heart is a heart that is perfectly formed and shaped by the potter's hands.

God tells us that He will give us a new heart and a new and right spirit. These gifts come from our faith in Jesus as the atonement for our sins.  

Those in a caring community —
Imagine a person in an office building suddenly becoming aware of a commotion out on the street.  As she looks out her window she can tell that the people below are watching something in the sky.

From her location in the building she cannot tell what is causing all the excitement, but she knows there is something because the others see it. In those times when we get in a place where we cannot see God, we need to know there are others who still see His face and feel His presence.

Those who walk with God — You cannot walk on paths that lead to sin and still claim to follow Christ.  There is a difference between those who stumble on occasion and those who "deliberately keep on sinning."
 
An elderly woman was fond of saying, "It is no sin to have head lice. It is a sin to keep them."

8/13/2008 5:43:00 AM by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace | with 0 comments



Formations lesson for Aug. 17: Opportunities

August 5 2008 by Lamar King, retired pastor, High Point

Focal passage: Joshua 1:1-9

Several years ago, I saw a billboard on I-85 in Spartanburg, S.C., that stated: "Nursing: the opportunity that knocks twice."

I was never certain what that billboard meant because opportunity seldom knocks twice. If one ignores an opportunity, the next time it knocks, it is not an opportunity. It is an issue. Many Christians and churches close the door to opportunities because they are unwilling to take a chance. The Christian life is filled with new opportunities for witness, growth, progress, new life and hope. But opportunity doesn't always knock twice. Two words are very important as we face opportunities.

One dangerous word is tomorrow. Richard Crowder writes about driving through the mountains of North Carolina and hearing on the radio a stem-winding radio evangelist preaching on "Satan's Favorite Word." Crowder listened for 15 minutes as the preacher ranted about Satan's favorite word, but he never said what it was. Just as Crowder started to change stations, the preacher shouted, "Satan's favorite word is tomorrow. Satan would rather hear you say tomorrow than any other word in the English language."

The word tomorrow has a paralyzing effect on humans. The Bible doesn't have much good to say about tomorrow. In fact, the Bible warns about putting off until tomorrow what we should do today. If a person says tomorrow often enough, it becomes the only word he knows how to say.

The second wonderful word is now. The word now is used in the Bible 1,582 times. It almost always means the same thing: God's acceptable moment is now, and we have an opportunity, right now. If we do not act now, the moment may never come again. Yesterday is gone, and there is not one thing we can do to bring it back or to change what happened.

Tomorrow is not yet here. One can plan for tomorrow and dream about tomorrow, but what happens tomorrow largely depends on decisions that are made right now.

Joshua believed in the importance of "now." He led the children of Israel back into the Promised Land. Shortly after arriving, he gathered the Israelites at Shechem. His speech to them was bold. He told them of a new opportunity God was giving them, and then he spoke powerful and challenging words: "Choose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." He was not threatening them. He was setting before them a new opportunity. The God of the church is that same God.


8/5/2008 1:18:00 AM by Lamar King, retired pastor, High Point | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for Aug. 17: A Maturing Life

August 5 2008 by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace

Focal passage: Hebrews 5:11-6:12
    
These verses stir many questions about what it means to "fall away" (Heb. 6:6), and offers few answers to those questions.

The writer, however, does not want us to focus on concerns about falling away, but on confidence of attaining salvation (Heb. 6:9). Our confidence comes from a growing and maturing faith. Ed Young, pastor of Fellowship Church in Dallas/Fort Worth, uses a table as a powerful visual to illustrate different levels of spiritual maturity.

One seat at the table is for the spiritually mature. These are the folks who understand that they are children of God who have been invited by His grace. You can identify the mature because they are the ones who know when it is time to push away from the table and serve. The writer of Hebrews says the mature, "by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish between good and evil" (Heb. 5:14). They are known by the "work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people" (Heb. 6:10).

You will also have spiritual toddlers who are learning the elementary truths of spiritual things. Toddlers are messy as they learn to handle things that are new to them. They ask a lot of challenging questions that do not always have simple answers. The key to recognizing healthy children, both physically and spiritually, is that they are growing and learning.

Spiritual toddlers are acting and talking more like Christ every day.

The illustration of the table is not complete without a high chair. Although infants are cute and adorable, there is nothing cute about a 50-year old infant. Picture a 250-pound man sitting in the high chair. Ed Young calls it the "I" chair. His cries are constantly, "I want my way," "That's my seat," "I don't like her." His legs do not touch the floor because he has no intentions of going anywhere. His arms are always reaching out, but they are seeking what others can give, not what he can offer. These spiritual infants require lots of attention from the spiritually mature, often draining them of time and energy that should be invested in others. It is often the behavior of the spiritual infants that turns seekers away from church and away from Christ. Only God really knows the heart of these people who bear no spiritual fruit.

Those who sit in the chair of the spiritually mature can be "confident of better things." Their hope is made sure as Christ lives and loves through them.

8/5/2008 1:16:00 AM by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace | with 0 comments



Formations lesson for Aug. 10: Risks

August 5 2008 by Lamar King, retired minister, High Point

Focal passage: Genesis 11:1-9

Early in my ministry, my six-year-old son would get up early on Sunday mornings to go with me to church. One Sunday morning, on Johnson Street, we saw a stalled auto on the shoulder of the road with a driver at the wheel. I slowed but did not stop. At the next red light my son asked,  "Dad, what about the Good Samaritan?"

Without speaking, I began to compose, in my mind, a response about the risks of stopping to help strangers and of getting tied up on a Sunday morning when I had "church" things to do. And suddenly, we were at the church, and I never did answer his question. But neither did I forget it.

Ten years later, when my son was 16, I bought him a used car, and he suggested later that day that we go for a ride. We left the house and headed down Johnson Street. In the distance was a car parked on the shoulder of the road with flashers on.

As we got closer, he slowed down, then stopped and leaned over me to ask, "Ma'am, can we help you?"

"No," she replied. "I have called my husband. He is on the way."

That same light was red. As we waited, I glanced at him and said,  "Chris, you were right, and I was wrong."

He, too, remembered after 10 years, and suddenly the light changed, and we were moving again. He did not look at me, but he smiled and patted me on the leg. "Dad," he said, "sometimes you need to take a chance."

George Barna identifies three stages in the life of a church: risk-takers, when the church is young and growing; caretakers, when the church is older and works primarily through committees; and undertakers, when the church begins saying,

"We've never done it that way before." Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the Jews had become caretakers and undertakers.

I am not one who likes to take chances. I like to do things that are familiar and safe. I don't eat escargot and squid. I never wear pants without a belt. I don't get on roller coasters. I do not rappel high mountains. I do not ride untamed horses. And
I do not stop and help a stranded motorist. But I repeat: my son was right and I was wrong. What he did was closer to conforming to the image of Christ than what I did.

If you are a Christian, sometimes you need to take a chance.

8/5/2008 1:12:00 AM by Lamar King, retired minister, High Point | with 0 comments



Bible Studies for Life lesson for Aug. 10: A Faithful Life

August 5 2008 by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace

Focal passage: Hebrews 2:14-18; 3:1, 5-14
    
There is an old saying, "Well begun is half done." Although this may be true, it is not the complete picture. Think in terms of a horse race, a work project, a novel or a Christian life. It is finishing well that really makes the difference. The writer of Hebrews offers suggestions for finishing well the race that God has called us to run.

Look to Jesus (Heb. 3:1)
Jesus is called the pioneer of our faith. He is the one who has gone before us and has remained faithful to the end. He not only showed us how to live faithfully, He also showed us how to die.

Because He was obedient to the point of death, God has lifted Him up above all others (Phil. 2:8-9). By keeping our eyes on Jesus we can find encouragement, "so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Heb. 12:3). It was when Peter took his eyes off Jesus that he began to sink in the water.

Learn from the Jews (Heb. 3:7-11)

The people of Israel were well on their way to the Promised Land. God had brought them out of Egypt and had opened a way for them to cross the Red Sea. When they came to the land of Canaan, however, their hearts became hard. They did not believe that God could empower them to overcome the enemy, so they turned away from God and from His promises.

"These things were written as examples for us." Imagine driving down the highway when suddenly the car in front of you drops out of sight. Surely you would have enough sense to stop and head in another direction.

Lean on each other (Heb. 3:13)
Remaining faithful is much easier when we are surrounded by others who are also seeking God.

Before I gave in to convenience and bought a gas grill, I always cooked on charcoal. I would pile all the coals together and squirt lots of lighter fluid on the pile. When the match hit the coals they would ignite into a roaring flame that quickly settled into a glow. As long as the coals stayed together they would grow hotter and soon be ready for cooking. If a coal rolled away from the pile, however, it would quickly turn cold and useless.

The same is true for us. When we are away from other believers, it is easy to "lose the fire." Our hearts become hard, and we become useless to the kingdom.

8/5/2008 1:09:00 AM by Jim Baldwin, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Wallace | with 0 comments