August 2010

Formations Lesson for Sept. 12: Trusting God’s Direction

August 25 2010 by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passages: 1 Kings 18:1, 17-40

There comes a time in life when fundamental choices must be made before anything else can be done.

You decide who you’re going to marry then begin a covenant life. You say “Yes” to a job offer then begin your work.

You tell your family what God you will worship then order your lives accordingly.

Elijah has earned the reputation as a “troubler” of Israel, because he has confronted King Ahab and Queen Jezebel about the nation’s fundamental allegiance.

He has affirmed that Yahweh is the only true God and Baal is not.

He has claimed that Yahweh is the instigator of the multi-year drought because Yahweh, not Baal, is in control of all that sustains life. Confrontation has come to a head.

These fundamental opposing worldviews are going to collide. The collision is going to happen at Mount Carmel.

Elijah singularly takes on 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah. The odds seem overwhelming, but this isn’t a battle between prophets.

It’s a battle between Gods. It’s a battle between Yahweh, the one and only true God and Baal/Asherah, false gods that don’t exist. So the outcome is never in doubt.

That’s why Elijah can taunt his opposing prophets when their god doesn’t send fire down on their sacrifice.

It’s not that he is hard of hearing, on a trip, or perhaps gone to the bathroom (a possible euphemism derived from the word translated “busy”). Baal can’t answer because Baal doesn’t exist.

Then Elijah calls on Yahweh who answers with fire.

The fire is so ferocious it consumes not only the meat on the altar, but the very stones, water, and dirt surrounding the altar. God makes it clear that He has no legitimate rivals.

But that doesn’t mean other gods receive no worship. Ahab and Jezebel wanted to worship both Baal and Yahweh, you know, cover all the bases, “Just in case.”

We may not identify with these wicked Old Testament characters, but do we allow little league baseball to compete with our worship of God? What about soccer for the kids? Leisure for ourselves? 

I had a man in my church whose daughter got married on Saturday. A friend invited him to go fishing on Sunday.

He went and had the best time of his life. But he never went fishing on Sunday again. I asked him, “Why?” He said, “I figured I was confronted with the god of pleasure or the God of creation. And I chose not to serve the god of pleasure.” And for the rest of his life, he kept that promise.

Who is your God?
8/25/2010 5:11:00 AM by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for Sept. 12: The Case for God’s Existence

August 25 2010 by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church

Focal Passages: Psalm 19:1-6; Acts 17:22-29; Hebrews 1:1-2

I could summarize this lesson in one verse: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1b, RSV). Case closed.

God doesn’t need our defense. He doesn’t need us to plead his case. He is God.

Need some proof?

Try reading Job 38-41 out loud and see for yourself. It begins with the Lord answering Job out of the storm. God said, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?

“Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!” (Job 38:2-5a, NIV).

I’ll try to keep my commentary on this lesson simple and straight to the point.

The Bible begins and ends with God in charge:
  • “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1, NIV).
  • “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…He who was seated on the throne said … I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 21:1, 5-6, NIV).
I would say God has an airtight case concerning this matter on His existence.

But in the event there is someone out there who actually needs further evidence, our focal passages point us to four witnesses to the existence of God:

1) Nature points us to God. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps. 19:1, NIV).

Paul made it abundantly clear: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — His eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20, NIV).

2) The Bible is God’s Holy Word.
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways” (Heb. 1:1, NIV).

3) Jesus is the Living Word. “But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:2a, NIV). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn. 1:1, 14, NIV).

4) Our spirits bear witness to God. Paul told the Athenians who were worshipping an unknown god, “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23b, NIV).

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8, NIV).   
8/25/2010 5:08:00 AM by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for Sept. 5: Trusting God’s Supply

August 24 2010 by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passage: 1 Kings 17:1-24

This is the kind of text that attracts derision from modern people. Birds bringing bread and meat to starving prophets. A widow feeding prophets with a little flour and oil that never runs out. A dead boy revived because a man lies on top of him three times and offers a prayer.

Moderns look at these incredible tales and ask, “Why can’t this be replicated today? In Haiti?”

Perhaps it would do us good to look underneath the miracle and discover what this story might be leading us modern Christians TO DO in our comfortable world.

Perhaps we would witness more miracles if we followed in the footsteps of Elijah and this mystery widow from Zaraphath.

First, we might notice that Elijah has gone into enemy territory, Sidon, the heartland of Baalism. Elijah’s life mission is to struggle against King Ahab, his lovely bride Jezebel, and the syncretistic tendencies of God’s people.

Trusting God from the security of our Bible study group, local church, familiar geography, and a supportive family leads to a benign, impotent faith.

It’s only when we step out of our comfort zones and place ourselves in the jaws of risk that our faith can mature and witness the power of God.

We don’t see more miracles because we’re too busy calculating the loss of our retirement portfolio, instead of risking opposition and danger for the sake of God’s call.

Second, notice the adjectives of this story describing the small beginnings to a great work of God.

Elijah wants a “little water.” He wants a “piece of bread.” She doesn’t have “any bread,” only a “handful of flour,” only a “little oil.” She is gathering a “few sticks.” She anticipates having a “last meal” and dying of starvation with her son. Elijah tells her to make him a “small cake of bread.”

The miracle begins when she willingly offers her last meal to this man of God.

Miracles often follow on the heels of letting go of what we have. When I was graduating from seminary one of my fellow graduates was a Korean with a Ph.D in biology. I can only guess what kind of salary cut he was facing.

Another graduate was a lady with a law degree from UNC. The graduate seated next to me was the co-pastor of a church with 3,000 members. God was calling her to start a small prayer retreat center in the mountains of Georgia. 

Here’s a thought: If God is not in the process of asking you to give up something for the promise of something better, either you’re not listening or God has stopped asking.
8/24/2010 4:46:00 AM by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for Sept. 5: Making Your Case

August 24 2010 by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church

Focal Passages: Acts 21:40-22:10; 1 Peter 3:15-17

On a scale of 1-10, I would rate the importance of this lesson as a 10! The foundation of this lesson and the next 12 lessons in the unit form the basis of not only what we believe as Christians — but also why we believe what we believe. This concept is known as apologetics — defending the Christian faith.

This lesson is critical for every believer. As Christians, we need to know who we are; we need to know what we believe; and we need to be able to share our beliefs with those in our circle of influence.

For example, do you know what to say to a team of Jehovah’s Witnesses when they come knocking at your door? Are you comfortable responding to someone who tells you they do not believe in God?

How do you answer when someone asks if Jesus is the only way to get to Heaven? Can you explain to someone why your life is different from theirs simply because you say you are saved and they are lost?

Paul gives us three keys to making our case to an unbelieving world:
  • Be prepared.
  • Know your audience.
  • Share what Christ has done in your life.
First of all, you cannot share what you do not have. “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord” (v. 15a, NIV).

Be sure of your own salvation. “Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Tim. 1:12, NIV).

Paul instructs believers, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (v. 15b, NIV).

Two essential preparations are Bible study and prayer. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, KJV). “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Col. 4:2, NIV).

Second, know your audience. Paul spoke in Greek when he was talking to the Roman authorities (v. 37-40) and then in Aramaic when he was talking to the Jews (v. 1-10). Try to connect with people on their level. Listen to what they are saying. Find a common bond and use that as a bridge to share the gospel with them.

Finally, share what Christ has done in your life. Paul simply told his story (v. 3-10). You simply tell yours.

A changed life is a powerful testimony! You do your part — God will do the rest.
8/24/2010 4:43:00 AM by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for August 29: Closure

August 13 2010 by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passages: Gen. 33:1-17; 35:27-29  

If you are using the Formations you have been studying the life of Jacob/Israel for the past 5 weeks.

Jacob, his mother’s favorite, has moved from conniving scoundrel to a man with a new name and a new heart.

Israel, as he will be called henceforth, finally comes face to face with his longtime estranged brother Esau.

As a buffer he puts his lesser loved wives and children in front, and his more beloved wives behind them.

Favorites Rachel and Joseph will bring up the rear (33:2). Israel is a changed man, but there’s no point in being careless!

He doesn’t know how Esau is going to respond to his gifts and appeals for friendship.

In a stunning act of reconciliation and forgiveness, Esau runs to Jacob (Esau doesn’t yet know of the name change), hugs and kisses him with abandon (33:4).

Together they weep for joy in the reconciliation. And they weep in sadness for all the years they wasted in hostile estrangement.

When the tears have been wiped clean and Esau can see clearly he notices all the women and children surrounding Jacob. He asks, “Who are these with you?” (33:5).

Jacob introduces his wives and children to Esau as they bow down in ritualistic subservience. Jacob wants to give Esau droves of animals as a gift “to find favor in your eyes.”

Esau doesn’t need nor does he want the gift. It is gift enough to have his estranged brother back as a wiser, more humble person. But Jacob insists. He reveals the depth of his gratitude, putting it on the same level as divine offering, saying, “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably” (33:10).

These words of Jacob bring closure to the enmity between him and his brother because they reveal he finally understands the interrelatedness between earthly brother and heavenly father.

He sees God in his brother and he sees his brother as divine gift. This is true closure.

It ties all the loose strings of sin and failure into a gracious knot of holy reconciliation. These two brothers are one again. They have seen God in one another and they have received God’s grace by receiving one another as brother. Closure isn’t simply about putting an end to things, putting something deep in the closet of our minds. It’s about ending things well, giving them proper placement in the great scheme of God’s providence.

This week, think about what needs to end well in your life. Name it and give it the kind of closure that will honor God.
8/13/2010 4:37:00 AM by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for August 29: Face Crises with Courage

August 13 2010 by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church

Focal Passages: 2 Samuel 15:13-14, 24-26, 30-37; 19:7-8a  

John F. Kennedy said, “When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”

Times of crisis come into our lives when we least expect them. Health problems. Financial difficulties. Death of a family member. How you handle the devastating circumstances in life will be determined by how you live your life on a day-to-day basis.

If you trust God each day to supply your needs, guide your steps, and take care of your family when things are running smoothly — your natural inclination will be to trust Him to do the same things when life seems out of control.

King David is a perfect example of this. The background passages found in 2 Samuel 13-19 describe David struggling with crises almost beyond our ability to comprehend: rape within the family unit (13:1-22); family revenge resulting in murder (13:23-38); reconciliation between estranged family members (14:1-33); rebellion from a beloved child (15:1-17:29); the death of a child (18:1-33); and finally, the necessity of returning to the responsibilities of life following a time of great trial and tragedy (19:1-43).

Life is a wonderful gift from the Lord. But if you live long enough, trials will surely come your way. The keys to David’s ability to endure and persevere through the trials he had to face were his faith, his friends, and his commitment to fulfill his responsibilities to God and others. 

David’s faith in God never wavered. He wrote these words in the midst of dealing with the crises in his life.
  • “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall” (Ps. 55:22, NIV).
  • “For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe” (Ps. 61:3, NIV).
  • “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (Ps. 63:8, NIV).
David also turned to trusted friends for help and advice in his time of need. He asked Hushai to stay in Jerusalem as he and his men fled the city. He said, “Then you can help me by frustrating Ahithophel’s advice” (15:34, NIV). David also listened to wise counsel from his troops when they advised him not to march out with the units headed for battle. The king answered, “I will do whatever seems best to you” (18:4, NIV).

And in spite of his personal loss, David knew that his people needed him. “So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway” (19:8, NIV).

Need courage for facing your next trial? Read 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 and remember the keys to King David’s perseverance.
8/13/2010 4:35:00 AM by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church | with 0 comments

Formations Lesson for August 22: Reconciliation

August 10 2010 by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham

Focal Passage: Gen. 32:3-32  

Today’s lesson from the drama of Jacob-Esau reveals the power of God to effect reconciliation. Jacob, having cheated his brother, conned his father, and used his mother finds himself alone in the wilderness exiled from family and home.

At Bethel (31:13) God told Jacob to return home. This meant returning to the place dominated by his brother Esau. Jacob is justifiably scared about meeting with this big, hairy brother who now has 400 men to back him up (32:6). Ever the wheeler-dealer, Jacob sends livestock ahead as a bribe (32:13-21). He also prays to God seeking safety and reminding God of his promises of blessing (32:9-12).

The night before the dramatic encounter Jacob wrestles with a mysterious man (with God?) until daybreak. Jacob prevails, but never ascertains who his opponent is.

Theories abound. Was it God himself suggested by Jacob’s new name Israel, which means “he who wrestles with God”?

Was it Esau, who has snuck into Jacob’s camp under the cloak of darkness to deal with his brother man to man, suggested by Jacob’s words to Esau the next day “To see your face is like seeing the face of God” (33:10)?

Or was Jacob intensely wrestling with himself, and all the demons and angels vying for preeminence in his soul? I favor the first option.

Not only is Jacob given a new name, and consequently a new identity, the text casually informs us that Jacob walked away with a limp. The Hebrew tense of the verb implies he limped the rest of his life.

This was not a one-night stand with a religious emotion. This was a life-changing event initiated and consummated by Almighty God.

Reconciliation is hard work and like Jacob we run from it. It almost always requires a change on our part.

Most of us have become quite comfortable with our sins and the barriers we have erected against others. But Jesus knew we couldn’t truly worship God and be in right relationship with God if we remain estranged from our brother. He said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24).

Are you running from anyone? Avoiding them because of past sins, slights, misunderstandings?

If you want to be right with God you’ve got to get right with your brother, your sister, your mother, your fellow church member. Don’t expect to worship well if you’re not reconciled to one another.  
8/10/2010 9:09:00 AM by Don Gordon, senior pastor, Yates Baptist Church, Durham | with 0 comments

Bible Studies for Life Lesson for August 22: Deal with Personal Sin

August 10 2010 by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church

Focal Passages: 2 Samuel 11:2-5, 14-15; 12:7a, 10-14; Psalm 51:1-4  

Sin is not a topic most people like to discuss. We talk about the weather. We talk about the economy. We talk about ourselves. We even talk about other people.

But you don’t find most people openly discussing the sin in their lives with the people they know and love. We don’t even like to bring up the subject of sinning when we’re talking to God.

Sin is dark. It makes us feel guilty.

So rather than confessing our sin to God and receiving forgiveness, many people just let it slide under the rug and pretend it isn’t there. But it is there — until we confess it to God who is “faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9, NIV).

David was the king of Israel and “a man after God’s own heart.” And David sinned. He sinned against Bathsheba. He sinned against Uriah the Hittite. And he sinned against God. No one is immune to sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom, 3:23, NIV).

Preachers sin. Deacons sin. Sunday School teachers sin. You and I sin.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8, NIV). David was tempted when “he saw a woman bathing” (2 Sam. 11:2). Instead of fleeing from the temptation, however, “David sent someone to find out about her” (v. 3). “Then David sent messengers to get her” (v. 4a). Then “he slept with her” (v. 4b). That initial temptation led David to sin.

David could have chosen to stop at any point in time. But instead, he allowed each sin to lead him deeper and deeper into areas where he should not have gone. And in the end, Uriah was killed to cover David’s sinful tracks.

After being confronted by Nathan, God’s prophet, David confessed his sins. Psalm 51 records David’s heartfelt plea to God for forgiveness from his transgressions: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (v. 2, NIV).

God forgave David completely and erased the sin from his life. God’s forgiveness, however, did not erase the consequences of his sin. Nathan told David that because of his sin, “the sword will never depart from your house” and “the son born to you will die” (2 Sam. 12:10, 14, NIV). 

Our sins are costly. Deal with your sins on a daily basis. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).
8/10/2010 9:07:00 AM by Phyllis Elvington, speaker, author, member of Tabor City Baptist Church | with 0 comments