August 2009

Formations Lesson for September 6 — Updated

August 26 2009 by Ken Vandergriff, former adjunct instructor of religion, Campbell University, Buies Creek, NC

(EDITOR’S NOTE — The Sunday School commentary originally posted for the Sept. 6 Formations lessons erroneously followed an out-of-date schedule. This lesson, originally printed in the April 14, 2001, issue of the Biblical Recorder, follows the same text as the updated Sept. 6 Formations lesson. We regret any confusion this may have caused.)
Formations Commentary – Acts 5:27-32

At its birth, Christianity was one Jewish sect among several, and these existed alongside scores of Greco-Roman religious sects. While most of those died, Christianity thrived. By the end of the 4th century it was the official state religion the Roman Empire. By the Middle Ages it dominated all of Europe. Since then it has become the world’s largest religion.
Today’s text takes us to the earliest days of the church. By observing it we can better comprehend why it appears that “nothing can stop the gospel.” Three things stand out in this text: the opposition, the Christian witness, and the work of God.
The Opposition
Acts 5:17-21
Verses 17 and 21 identify the opposition to Peter and John as the high priest, the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin (or, the “council” according to some translations) and the elders of Israel (or, the “senate” in some translations). In the Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures, each city or region had several ruling assemblies, variously termed city councils (boule), councils of elders (gerousia), or Sanhedrin (councils).
These overlapped in terminology, in composition, and in function, and hence cannot always be clearly distinguished. A supreme Sanhedrin appears to have operated in Jerusalem.
All such councils were concerned with the general well being of the state – civil, religious, political and judicial matters fell under their purview.  Because the councils were also a link to the Roman government, we can better understand the concern of the Sanhedrin expressed in John 11-48:50 and Acts 4-5 – the Jesus movement might cause unrest, provoking the Romans to attack the Jews.
Our interpretation of the text will be more legitimate and more challenging to our thinking if we do not immediately characterize the Jewish leaders as “bad.” We can recognize mixed motives in them. On the one hand, they were jealous (v. 17), but they were also leaders desperately trying to maintain order in their community, lest the Romans strike against them. We should try to understand why they considered the Jesus movement a threat, and we should ask ourselves how we perceive those who differ from us and what measures we take to silence them.
The Christian witness
Acts 5:29-30
Today’s text is the continuation of a story that began in chapter 3, and it will be helpful in our teaching to review that entire story. Already Peter and John had been ordered not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, but they had refused to be silent (4:18-20). Their response in 5:29 resonates with their earlier response in 4:20.
Peter enunciated a principle significant for Christians of all times and places – “we must obey God” (5:29). Notice the foundation of Peter’s affirmation (v. 30-32). He knew that God raised up Jesus because he had encountered the risen Christ. He knew that Jesus was exalted at the right hand of God because he had seen it (1:6-11). He knew that Jesus brought forgiveness of sins because his guilt had been cleansed. He knew the power of the Holy Spirit because he had experienced Pentecost. No wonder he was so calmly confident.
Three hundred years after Peter spoke these words the Christian church gained political power. For centuries the church would use political power to spread the gospel, and too often it acted like the Sanhedrin in silencing its enemies. The gospel of God, however, progresses not by political coercion but by the confident testimony of Christians: “we must obey God.”
The work of God
Acts 5:31-32
Theologian Douglas Hall notes that “the largely unspoken working assumption about the life and work of the church is that it is dependent upon our individual and corporate commitment, energies and promotion. And this working assumption is regularly and painstakingly reinforced by the whole machinery of our institutional churches from financial drives to the generally exhortational mood of most preaching. Precisely this working assumption is what we must now question . . .” (Confessing the Faith, 45-46)
He’s right. Notice again the actions of God in v. 30-32 and throughout the book of Acts. If nothing can stop the gospel, it is because of God, not us. The divine Spirit indwells and empowers Christians to live the life of Christ in the world.

8/26/2009 4:59:00 AM by Ken Vandergriff, former adjunct instructor of religion, Campbell University, Buies Creek, NC | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for September 6: The Jesus People Should Know

August 26 2009 by Catherine Painter, Author, speaker Trinity Baptist Church, Raleigh

Focal passage: Mark 1:1-3, 7, 9-13, 21-28

A child, frightened by a storm, ran to get in bed with his mother.

“Don’t worry,” she assured him, “God is with you.”

“I know,” he said, “but right now I need somebody with skin on.”

Have you ever longed to know how Jesus looked?

We are familiar with other characteristics of Him — His uniqueness, His power to save, heal, and forgive, along with His claimed authority in heaven and on earth. Let’s consider a rarely discussed characteristic — His physical appearance.

Jesus lived before photography was invented. Even had there been portrait painters in His day, wouldn’t they have painted royalty rather than some itinerate preacher from Galilee?   

Gratefully, we have a pen picture of Jesus from which all artists have worked.

It first appeared in the writings of Saint Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century. Tiberius Caesar in Rome requested Publius Lentullus, then president of Judea, to seek Jesus and report back to him what Jesus was like.

Lentullus replied, “There appeared in these days a man of great virtue, named Jesus Christ, who still lives among us. Gentiles accept Him as a prophet of truth, but His disciples call Him the Son of God. He raises the dead and cures all manner of diseases. He is a man of stature, somewhat tall and comely, with very reverend countenance, such as His beholders may love and fear.

“His hair is the colour of a chestnut full ripe, plain to His ears, whence downward it is more orient and curling about His shoulders. In the midst of His head is a partition in His hair, after the manner of the Nazarites.

“His forehead is plain and very delicate; His face is without spot or wrinkle, beautified with a lovely red. His nose and mouth are so formed as nothing can be reprehended. His beard is thickish, in colour like His hair, not very long, but forked.

“His look is innocent and mature; His eyes are grey, clear, and quick. In reproving, He is terrible; in admonishing, courteous and fair-spoken, pleasant in conversation mixed with gravity. It cannot be remembered that any have seen Him laugh, but many have seen Him weep. In proportion of body He is excellent; His hands and arms are most delicate to behold. His speech is temperate, modest, and wise. A man for His singular beauty, He surpasses all children of men.”

I agree. Do you?

8/26/2009 4:58:00 AM by Catherine Painter, Author, speaker Trinity Baptist Church, Raleigh | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Aug. 30: Live Victoriously

August 18 2009 by John Carpenter, Pastor, Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, Yanceyville

Three Tests

Focal passages: 1 John 5:1-5, 13-21
How do you know that you know that you know God? Here we have three tests: love, life and faith.

The test of love shows in “whoever,” “whatever,” and “whenever.”

Real love loves whoever is born of God.

When we are saved we become new creatures who, as part of our spiritual DNA, love. First, we love the Father who gave us new life. And we love, “whoever has been born of Him,” other born again Christians.

Then we do whatever He commands (5:2f).

If we fail to obey these commands, then we have no basis to be certain about our salvation.

We’re giving disturbing evidence to the contrary.

When He tells us to love someone of another race, we don’t make up an excuse not to.

True love loves if whenever your brother or sister is in sin, you pray for them, you intervene (5:14-17).

True prayer meetings are not first concerned for health and wealth but for the will of God (5:15).

Pray not just for sicknesses but for sin, salvation and sanctification.

The test of our life shows in overcoming and perseverance. We must overcome our enemy, the world and be transformed by God’s word.

In that, we persevere.

The “grand mark” that sets true believers apart from hypocrites, is perseverance.

“He who was born of God” — that is, Jesus — protects God’s people (5:18) so we continue to overcome sin.

The test of faith shows in doctrine, fruit and exclusivity.

We must believe that Jesus is the Christ (5:1), born as fully man and fully God, crucified to take away God’s right wrath at our sins; that Jesus is who He claimed to be, equal to the Father, and as such demands of every believer absolute surrender.

Faith is a fruit of life.

That’s plain in the Greek of 5:1. Everyone who has believed (past action continuing into the present) “has been born of God” (a past completed action).

That is, God made them alive and as a consequence they had faith.

Faith comes not first as a work of human (so-called) “free will,” but as a fruit of the gracious work of God in the human heart.

This is “the faith” that overcomes the world.

Our faith is genuine faith if we understand it is exclusive.

There are really only two options: either we serve God or idols (5:20f).

These aren’t tests we have to pass to graduate to eternal life.

These are tests we will pass if we have eternal life. So do you pass the tests?

8/18/2009 9:51:00 AM by John Carpenter, Pastor, Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, Yanceyville | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for Aug. 30: Will You Remain Faithful?

August 18 2009 by Catherine Painter, Author, speaker Trinity Baptist Church, Raleigh

Focal passages: Matt. 26:36-46; 1 Pet. 4:12-19

My parents referred to Christians as “the faithful few.”

I didn’t understand the term, nor did they explain it.

In time, I defined “the faithful” as the nucleus around whom success for any great cause is achieved.

Faithfulness doesn’t depend upon education or station in life, and its ranks are open to any who are willing to dedicate themselves to the victory of a cause.

Jesus said, “Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and whoever is unrighteous in very little is also unrighteous in much” (Luke 16:10).

How can we know God’s will? E. Stanley Jones’ suggested, “When in doubt, do the most Christlike thing. If any guidance seems at variance with what you see in Christ, doubt that guidance, for it cannot be of God, however implemented by reason or emotion.”

Peter urged us neither to be surprised nor ashamed when we suffer because of our faith. We’re to continue to do right, entrusting ourselves to God (1 Pet. 4:19).

The closest I’ve come to suffering for my faith occurred when, at a faculty party, those of us who didn’t drink, or laugh at immoral jokes stayed a while, then thanked our host, and left.

The following morning, Brian, a student of mine, reported that a teacher said, “We had a great time last night once ‘the sticks in the mud’ went home.” Brian said, “I knew she was referring to you.”

“I’m honored you could identify me as one she described,” I said.

Peter wrote, “When the fiery ordeal arises to test you, don’t be surprised, as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead … rejoice, so that you may also rejoice … at the revelation of His glory” (1 Pet. 4:12-13).

We exhibit our willingness to follow God’s will by acting upon it. Jesus cried on the night before He died, “My Father!

“If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).

When we question whether we missed God’s perfect will for our lives, let’s agree that God will use and bless whatever we dedicate to His glory. Now, retired from teaching, I’ve become a Christian writer; and Brian, my former student, is a minister.

As George Eliott said, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”     

8/18/2009 9:50:00 AM by Catherine Painter, Author, speaker Trinity Baptist Church, Raleigh | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Aug. 23: Embrace Love

August 11 2009 by John Carpenter, Pastor, Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, Yanceyville

Love is . . .

Focal passage: 1 John 4:7-21

There used to be a cute little fad of defining love. “Love is . . .” You fill in the blank. Here, in 1 John 4:7-21, we can fill in that blank, “Love is . . .”

Life-giving. The famous early church leader Augustine prayed, “Lord, you command self-control. Grant what You command and command what You will.”

Here, God tells us to love then that He has granted that love (4:7-12). Love issues out of us like good fruit from a good tree (4:7). God demonstrated His love by sending His Son (4:9, c.f. John 3:16).

He showed us His love by giving us life, “so that we might live through Him,” (4:9b). Once we have that life, we will love.

If we don’t love, then, it is because we don’t know God (4:8). All the religion in the world won’t make up for a refusal to love. And the reason: “God is love.”

Those who don’t love don’t have the life of God.

Many southern churches used to exclude people because of their skin color.

Loving pastors were run off because they tried to reform that sin. Here we see how dreadful that sin it.

As a lack of love, racism shows a lack of the life of God.

God gave us life, by giving “His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10b).

Propitiation means a sacrifice to take away wrath.

In our sins, God is angry with us. Rightly angry.

The Father sent the Son to bear that just anger. And one of the lavish gifts God gives His people is confidence.

We no longer fear God’s punishment because we know that Christ has taken it for us.

God’s love is lavish. God has given us His Son to save all kinds of people (4:10-14) and He’s given us the Spirit (4:13).

God has given all of Himself, in three-Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So we can “abide,” live, in God.

He gave us this love first. His love takes the initiative. We love, now, because He loved us first (4:19). That’s lavish!

God’s lavish love in us will demonstrate itself. It’s easy to say, “I love God” (4:20; c.f. 4:12).

After all, how are we supposed to tell? There is one indisputable evidence: whether we love Christians we can see. Practically: providing a ride, money, food, welcoming all kinds of people. Seeking to give to others the life God has so lavishly given us.

We love an invisible God by loving visible people.

8/11/2009 9:07:00 AM by John Carpenter, Pastor, Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, Yanceyville | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life: Are You Running from God’s Will?

August 11 2009 by Catherine Painter, Author, speaker Trinity Baptist Church, Raleigh

Focal passages: Jonah 1:1-3, 17; 3:1-5, 10; 4:5-11

Growing up, I decided neither to marry a farmer nor a preacher.

How I was reared by one and married the other is beyond me.

When Jack and I met, he was running from God, preparing to teach science.

By the time we married, he had surrendered to God’s call to the ministry.

In those days we attended the Southern Baptist Convention annually.

I was especially inspired by the commissioning service for missionaries. When the speaker appealed to us to surrender for foreign missions, I gazed at Jack for his reaction.

Sensing my stare, he whispered, “I’m called to pastoral ministry in America.”

Years later, I confessed that I didn’t turn complete control of my life over to God for fear He’d say, “Gotcha! Pack your bags; you’re going to Africa as a missionary and eat spinach three times a day.”

“Don’t worry,” Jack said. “I don’t think God would invest in sending you to Africa.

“If He called you, you’d be so excited that your bags would already be packed.”

Jonah 1:1 says, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah: Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because their wickedness has confronted me.”

Not wanting the Ninevites saved because they were enemies of the Jews, Jonah fled to Tarshish, Spain.

Does kinship with Jonah lie dormant within us all?

Of course, we don’t run for the same reasons Jonah ran.

Perhaps we run passively, forgetting that we are indeed missionaries, witnessing for Christ daily by what we are, what we say, and all we do.

The key to obeying God’s will is to walk close enough to Him to hear His voice.

Should He call today, how might we respond?

“Sorry, I’m not available to take your call.”

“May I put you on hold?”

Or simply hang up?

Looking back upon life, we’re certain that at times we acted within God’s will.

At other times, we confess to running alongside Jonah, away from God. But we’ve sought and followed God’s will enough times to verify what E. Stanley Jones said: “Outside the will of God we cannot succeed; inside His will we cannot fail.”

You and I have today.

That’s all anyone has. Through ordinary ways of serving God, we can experience extraordinary living. See you in Nineveh!

8/11/2009 9:06:00 AM by Catherine Painter, Author, speaker Trinity Baptist Church, Raleigh | with 0 comments

Formations lesson for Aug. 16: Care for One Another

August 6 2009 by John Carpenter, pastor, Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, Yanceyville

Focal passage: 1 John 3:11-22

The Apostle John tells us that to be truly saved, we must love.

And love shows itself.

If we are truly saved, our actions will tell.

It is true that our actions will never save us but our actions will tell if we are saved.

There is evidence in our lives.

God showed His love by doing for us what we needed: the Son laid down His life for us.

So too, we must do what we can for other Christians. Christians must give to charity, help neighbors, oppose racism, include all the kinds of people God has made His own.

We know if love has lifted us, if we are hated. If you are truly saved, you will be opposed by the world.

The truth is that to be a Christian is to be committed to Someone and something that will not be popular.

Jesus would never win an election. The world may profess to love a Jesus of its own making. But the real Jesus who calls us to forsake this world, to take up our cross – that will never be popular with the world.

So don’t be surprised, as we’re told in 3:13, that the world hates us.

They don’t understand us, because they’ve never really seen that amazing grace that has transformed our lives. And when they are made aware that we have a grace they don’t have, they will, like Cain did to Abel, hate us for it, 3:12. So don’t be surprised.

How do we know we’re really saved?

We’re amazed by grace, we trust and obey, and loves lifts us to love and to be hated.

How do we know?

If our hearts convict us, then we can believe that God is greater than our guilt.

We all have guilt.

We all stood before God as condemned sinners, pronounced guilty and deserving of eternal punishment. But then for those who obeyed His command to believe in His Son Jesus Christ, the guilt is done away.

And so we begin this journey of the Christian life, the first step being repentance, conviction, admitting that I’ve sinned and need cleansing.

We keep admitting that every step of the way.

That’s why humility and contrition, an increasing awareness of our own sinfulness, is a good sign that we have the Holy Spirit living in us.

Have you made practical efforts to love people who are not just your friends or family? Has your church sought to love people who are outside its usual “kind of people”?

8/6/2009 8:50:00 AM by John Carpenter, pastor, Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, Yanceyville | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life lesson for Aug. 16: Do You Require Signs?

August 6 2009 by Catherine Painter, author, speaker, Trinity Baptist Church, Raleigh

Focal passages: Judges 6:14-16, 36-40; Matthew 16:1-4; Romans 12:1-2

Growing up, I heard adults say, “If the Lord wills, I will do thus and so.”

I considered the statement old fashioned and never used it.

I now realize they were on biblical ground, seeking divine direction.

Paul wrote, “I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills” (1 Cor. 4:19), and the apostle James scolded, “You should say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (Jas. 4:15-16).

Gideon demanded a sign to confirm God’s will when it seems no clearer revelation was possible.

We consider Gideon a Bible hero, but when we first meet him in Judges 6, we might label him the patron saint of all doubters. Israel was at low ebb due to their disobedience, but Gideon blamed God for their situation.

So, when God sent an angel to him, saying, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (v. 12), Gideon answered in today’s jargon, “Lord, if You’re with us, where’s the evidence? You brought us out of Egypt only to abandon us into the hand of Midian. Where are the wonders our fathers told us about?” (v. 13.)

God answered, “Go and deliver Israel from Midian.”
Gideon argued that his tribe, Menassah, was the weakest tribe, and he was the youngest in his family.

We sense God’s response: “Great! Since you can’t conquer Midian, maybe you’ll let Me do it through you.”

Still demanding proof of God’s will, Gideon “put out the fleece” twice (vs. 36-39).

He even apologized to God, revealing disbelief and rebellion.

Even though God honored Gideon’s request, we should not follow Gideon’s example as a way of determining God’s will for our lives.

Jesus refused the Pharisees and Sadducees’ request for a sign from heaven because they refused to accept the signs they already had (Matt. 16:1-4).

As we submit our lives and minds to God’s purposes, and become more like Christ and less like the world, we’ll be better able to discern His will (Rom. 12:1-2).

God can change us when we’re willing to be changed, but even God cannot possess the self-possessed who remain filled with their own spirits. When we invite Christ to possess us, our lives will show it, and we’ll see people respond.

Next week we’ll study Jonah … if the Lord wills.

8/6/2009 8:48:00 AM by Catherine Painter, author, speaker, Trinity Baptist Church, Raleigh | with 0 comments